When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and rebooted the expanded universe continuity that had sustained Star Wars for decades, we got a whole new universe of Star Wars comics at Marvel. It’s one that, for nearly four years, has delivered some excellent stories. But this week, for one week only, we got to take a step back to the yesteryear of Star Wars storytelling.
Star Wars #108 was released as part of the ongoing celebration of Marvel (née Timely) Comics’ 80th birthday this year, and reading it is like opening a portal to another universe. It was penned by Matthew Rosenberg with an all-star crew of artistic talent, including modern Marvel mainstays like Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Andrea Broccardo, Luke Ross, Stefano Landini, Ze Carlos, and Leonard Kirk. It also includes special turns from the likes of Kerry Gammill and Jan Duursema, whose history with Star Wars comics stretches back into the days of Dark Horse’s ownership of the licence—and beyond that, back into Marvel’s original iconic run.
It’s another universe where, in 1986, Marvel did not cancel the ongoing Star Wars series that had first begun in the months just before the original movie changed the course of cinema history forever in 1977. One where, in 2014, Disney and Lucasfilm did not announce that it was consigning 23 years of Star Wars stories to the mythological status of “Legends,” in order to forge an entirely new timeline for the galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars #108 picks up as if the last 33 years had never happened, a relic from another world—a relic that is as gleefully alien in its nature as it is wholly loving of an often overlooked chapter of Star Wars’ old expanded universe.
In many ways, reading the issue really is like the last three decades had never happened. It’s an almost impressively impenetrable issue, with no concern over whether or not hearing names like Valance the Hunter or Domina Tagge sends a nostalgic chill down your spine, or even whether or not you only know of Jaxxon as a jokey space rabbit rather than the unequivocal arsehole rogue he was meant to be before he was quietly written out of the series (purportedly at George Lucas’ own, furious behest). Hell, the issue itself doesn’t even really pick up where #107 left off—with Han, Luke, and Leia battling the interstellar Empire of the Tof kingdom—but is actually a sequel to the Archie Goodwin, Tom Palmer, Walt Simonson, and Al Williamson storyline “The Crimson Forever” from Star Wars #50.
Does Star Wars #108 ever stop to tell you this? Absolutely not, and it’s all the better for it, casually marching along at its own old-school drumbeat. It’s ludicrous that it gets away with it. It’s ludicrous that it even exists.
There are admittedly some moments of leniency in Star Wars #108’s reckless, nostalgic abandon. Valance the Bounty Hunter, a former Imperial turned self-loathing cyborg bounty hunter who was convinced by Luke not to hate the droid parts that are now part of his own body, gets a quick recap of his history before he’s re-introduced as part of the new narrative. But that’s pretty much it, and from there on the issue just throws callback after callback at you, from the return of the aforementioned Domina Tagge (sister to A New Hope’s General Tagge, the sole remaining figurehead of the powerful House Tagge) to even the titular Crimson Forever, a set of powerful jewels capable of causing a toxic force disease that drains the life force of people around them when separated. It’s a satisfying tale and conclusion to some of these Marvel-made icons of long ago, but there’s something almost joyful about how it expects you to pick up these threads as if the Expanded Universe as this story knows it is still alive and well today.
Even beyond EU context and into the literal form of the issue there is a sense of nostalgia—the book is divided into eight chapters, each ending with a cliffhanger immediately resolved pages later, just like the Marvel Star Wars comics of old. The art, even from more modern comics artists, effectively evokes the stylization of the original run, and Chris Sotomayor’s vivid, candy-coated colours run through a classical kaleidoscope that makes the whole thing feel like it dropped straight out of the 1980s.
It even reads like a yesteryear throwback, with Rosenberg channeling the pulpy tones of Goodwin and his colleagues in a way that feels like a respectful homage rather than a cheeky nod at how silly and retro it all sounds. It’s an issue that is unabashedly old-school cheese, but instead of acknowledging that as part of its metatext as many throwbacks do—to keep a knowing distance from the hokey source material it is lauding, lovingly but not too lovingly—it simply embraces that cheese as what it is.
Freed from the constraints of having to “matter” to the vast, ever-growing tapestry that is the current real canon of Star Wars material, there’s something liberating in Star Wars #108’s unequivocal retreat into a universe that once was, inviting us all back to a strange yesteryear future, one that is now a merely a hypothetical to the “true” canon we now have. It harkens back to a different time, one that feels far removed from the Star Wars we have today. What we have is pretty dang great, don’t get me wrong—but even if just for a moment, it’s nice to have a trip back into a universe that could have been.