Continuing the countdown to The Force Awakens, I am looking at past Star Wars comic books. Today I’m spotlighting two more issues from the original Marvel Comics series.
“The Apprentice” appeared in Star Wars Annual #3 (Summer 1983). Its sequel, “The Dream,” was in Star Wars #92 (Feb 1985). Both stories were written by Jo Duffy. “The Apprentice” was illustrated by Klaus Janson. “The Dream” was penciled by Jan Duursema and inked by Tom Mandrake.
Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, “The Apprentice” sees members of the Rebel Alliance on the planet Belderone investigating rumors of an Imperial project that threatens their base on the nearby world of Kulthis. Most of the locals are secretive except for two curious teenagers, Flint and Barney. Flint in particular is intrigued. Noticing the lightsaber Luke Skywalker carries, an excited Flint mentions that his late father was a Jedi Knight. The teens take the Rebels to the local tavern, which is run by Flint’s mother Zana. Princess Leia realizes that the two teenagers are star-struck by Luke, but he brushes this off, insisting that they have an important mission.
The Rebels’ arrival does not go unnoticed, and one of Zana’s neighbors notifies General Andrid. The Imperial officer dispatches assassins to eliminate them. But Luke’s connection to the Force alerts him to the impending ambush, and the Rebels are able to thwart the attack.
Off in space, Darth Vader’s ship is en route to Belderone. He has sensed that something important will take place there, and he is expecting Luke’s involvement. Vader learns of Andrid’s failed attempt to kill the Rebels, and the enraged Sith strangles the General. Vader decides to take personal charge of operations planet-side.
Luke, realizing Vader is near, leaves for Kulthis to summon reinforcements. Leia and the other Rebels are led by Flint and Barney to the mysterious installation where most of the population is employed by the Empire. Suddenly the ground splits open and a group of Imperial Walkers emerge. They begin marching to the nearby airfield, where they will be transported to Kulthis to attack the Rebels.
Flint and Barney, seeing the enormous AT-ATs heading towards town, rush off to warn everyone, including Flint’s mother. They are secretly observed by Vader and one of his men. The aid asks if they should have stopped the two teenagers, but the Sith is dismissive of the pair.
Before the Walkers can reach their ships, a group of Rebel X-Wings led by Luke arrives, catching them off guard. With the aid of Leia and Lando Calrissian, who have seized control of one of the AT-ATs, the Rebels defeat the unprepared Imperials.
Unfortunately, before the battle is over, one of the Walkers wrecks a path of destruction through the nearby town. Among those killed are Zana. Flint, crouching by his mother’s body, is distraught…
“It was all just a game… we were useless… we couldn’t do a thing… And they let us go on… pretending we could help… But we couldn’t… we were useless… I was useless… and now you’re dead…
“I swear… I swear to you… I’m going to learn… I’m going to get the training… the same training my father had… I’m going to become someone who matters… And then I’ll show them all!”
The grieving Flint does not realize that he is being watched. The observer steps forward and addresses him…
“I know how you feel… I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel that way… It has been some time since I heard anyone speak the way you do now… I did not take you seriously before, and I should have… forgive me. Let me make it up to you now…
“I could not single you out for special training right away… you would be just one of our men at first… but I have sensed the power in you… in time, I promise you, you will be tutored specially… and if you really wish it… you will become someone who matters very much!”
The way this scene is written by Duffy and illustrated by Janson, the reader is led to believe that it is Luke speaking to Flint, recruiting him into the Rebellion. However, a few pages later we learn from Barney, who witnessed this exchange, that the individual who has approached Flint is none other than Vader.
As the Annual closes, Barney leaves Belderone with the Rebels. Elsewhere, watched over by Vader, the grim Flint dons the armor of a Stormtrooper, joining the ranks of the Empire.
“The Dream” takes place several months after Return of the Jedi. The former Rebel Alliance is attempting to organize the newly-freed planets and to deal with the Imperial remnants still active across the galaxy. Luke is having a series of troubling dreams in which his now-dead father, Darth Vader, appears to him in an eerie mist-filled void.
A ship piloted by Prince Denin of Naldar arrives on Endor. The desperate Denin informs the Alliance that Imperial forces are laying siege to his world. The Prince demands assistance. He also wants to be trained as a Jedi by Luke. Reluctantly Luke declines, remembering how his own father Anakin Skywalker was not adequately trained, allowing him to be turned to the Dark Side of the Force.
Despite Denin’s brusque manner, Leia convinces the Alliance to investigate the Prince’s claims. Luke accompanies Leia and the others. Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Luke falls asleep. He is once again in the void, but this time he is greeted by the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and even his father Anakin. Luke realizes the image of Vader represents a new Dark Lord. Anakin explains to Luke…
“Do you not recognize him? We share the blame for his creation, my son.
“He is not beyond redemption, my son… but I am unable to return and undo the evil I did. Only you can save him, Luke.”
The Falcon arrives to find Naldar completely decimated by the Empire. The ship is hit by a powerful energy cannon and crashes. While repairs are being made, Luke heads out with Lando and Denin to investigate. They are attacked by Imperial forces and soon surrounded. A black-armored figure approaches. Luke faces down the dark figure and challenges him…
“Why don’t you show us what’s under that armor? It’s not as though you need it to survive. Or are you afraid to face me without it?”
Grimly the armored figure removes his helmet… and, yep, it’s Flint!
Luke and Flint engage in a lightsaber duel. Flint reveals that Vader began training him in the use of the Force, and accuses Luke of killing him. Luke tries to explain that Vader was his father, and that in the end he turned away from the Dark Side, but Flint is too enraged to listen.
The crew from the Falcon then arrives, and Barney is among them. Flint is shocked to see his old friend. Barney approaches him, accusing Flint of fighting the people he once admired. When Flint argues that the Rebels couldn’t save him mother, Barney counters this…
“Was it an Alliance bomb that killed her? No, it was the Empire. And you couldn’t save her and be a hero… so now you’re gonna punish the whole universe, and kill a whole lot of mothers and sons and innocent people? That makes a lot of sense!
“Frankly, I don’t think you can. But I’ve been wrong before. So, prove it to me, for old times’ sake. See the face of one of your victims. Kill me first, Flint.”
And, despite all the crimes he has committed, Flint realizes that he is unable to murder his friend.
One of the Stormtroopers, watching this unfold, prepares to shoot Flint in the back for his “betrayal.” But Denin (who we now know to actually be Princess Vila, taking on her fallen brother’s identity) sees this and grabs Luke’s fallen lightsaber. Throwing herself in front of the Stormtrooper, Vila intercepts the blast meant for Flint, and kills the Imperial.
Witnessing Vila’s sacrifice, a disgusted Flint turns his back on the Imperial cause. He uses the controls on his armor to destroy the energy cannon.
Jo Duffy became the regular writer of the Star Wars comic book with issue #70 (April 1983) and, except for a few fill-in issues, wrote the series until its cancelation with issue #107 (September 1986). Her stories were a wonderful mix of drama and comedy. Duffy’s run is rather underrated, especially the later issues, where she was working to devise a new direction for the series after Return of the Jedi. Duffy showed the characters attempting to transition from freedom fighters to diplomats, politicians and teachers. She also introduced new adversaries to threaten galactic freedom.
“The Apprentice” and “The Dream” are two of my favorite stories that Duffy wrote for Star Wars. She examined Luke’s burden to continue the legacy of the Jedi. Luke was understandably reluctant to train a new generation of Jedi, concerned that if he did not do so properly that they could be corrupted by their powers. But with the events of these two stories Luke learns that if he neglects to take up that responsibility then those with the potential to utilize the Force, such as Flint, might fight other teachers who would not hesitate the steer them towards the Dark Side.
This is another one of those instances where I’m really left wondering if George Lucas was influenced by these stories! Flint is similar to how Anakin Skywalker was depicted in the prequels. Flint’s mother dying, resulting in him accepting Vader’s offer to train him, is remarkably similar to what would happen in Attack of the Clones, when Anakin’s mother was killed by the Sand People, beginning his descent towards the Dark Side. Vader’s own dialogue here implies that he was once in a situation that was similar to this. Flint even looks somewhat like Hayden Christensen!
Speaking of the artists, these two issues were both well done. Janson had a very moody, noir-ish style to his work on “The Apprentice.” That’s not unexpected, given that this was drawn around the time he was wrapping up his six year long association on Daredevil.
The battle between the X-Wings and the AT-ATs is unfortunately a bit on the sketchy side. Janson does much better work on people than machinery, although that splash page reveal of the Walkers is really stunning. Most of the scenes are well-rendered, especially the shootout in the tavern. Vader’s recruitment of Flint is effectively told, and Janson’s depiction of the Sith is menacing & sinister. On the lighter side of things, I always laugh at the expression Janson gives Chewbacca on finding the tavern food disagreeable!
Jan Duursema and Tom Mandrake happen to be married. I believe “The Dream” is one of the few occasions they’ve worked together. This was fairly early in their careers. Nevertheless, the artwork is extremely good.
Duursema and Mandrake have very different styles to their work. Duursema’s art is well suited to sci-fi and fantasy, while Mandrake’s is very much in the horror and supernatural vein. This makes their collaboration on Star Wars #92 especially effective. Duursema’s effectively pencils the characters and technology of the Star Wars universe, and Mandrake’s inking gives the story a genuinely eerie, atmospheric feel.
Although this was Duursema’s only work for the Marvel series, years later she would become a regular contributor to the Star Wars comics when Dark Horse held the license. From 2000 to 2010 she did great work on several of their of Star Wars titles. But hopefully more on that in a future post!
The cover to #92 is an interesting collaboration by Cynthia Martin and Bill Sienkiewicz. Martin was the regular artist on the Marvel series for its final two years. She had a rather cartoony look to her work. Having her finished by Sienkiewicz, with his bizarre, abstract style, results in a cover that very much suits the story within.
I recommend reading these two issues. I’m confident Marvel with be reprinting them in the near future.