What happens when you cross John Carter of Mars with Star Wars? A really odd Princess Leia story with a lacklustre plot that bears little visual resemblance to the Star Wars we know and love. Issues 53 and 54 of Marvel’s classic Star Wars run are not the worst Star Wars story of all time, but it is one of the weirdest ones.
After Marvel cancelled a John Carter of Mars series the unused artwork was left dormant and potentially wasted until Marvel decided to task the writers with the Star Wars comics with using the art in one of their stories. The result is the two-issue arc I am about to review.
Leia and a crew of rebels are scouting around a planet called Shiva IV when their ship hits a disguised mine which explodes crippling the vessel and plummeting Leia to the surface of the planet. There, on a hostile alien world, she befriends a loincloth-wearing warlord named Aron Peacebringer who earned his epithet when he successfully arranged a concordat between his people the Calian Confederacy and another local species known as the 12 Tribes.
During the next few weeks Princess Leia is a welcome guest at Aron’s palace where they celebrate the first anniversary of the Concordat. As time goes by Aron begins to fall in love with Leia and tries to hide his feelings from his wife, Alys. Alys, however, can tell exactly what he is thinking and feeling and she takes the news surprisingly well. Apparently she trusts her husband’s honour and character enough to know that in the end when the choice arrives he will remain loyal to her. More than likely the fact that Alys is donning a metal bikini long before Princess Leia herself made the garment popular helps her ensure that the muscle-headed warrior would prefer her in the end.
Soon after the anniversary party Aron tries to speak to the princess in private on a balcony (the always preferred location for romantic encounters) right before Leia breaks down and confides in him all her latent and unexpressed feelings about Alderaan and the family and friends she lost there. The Princess had apparently kept her pain over that loss inside her for the past 3 or 4 years and it is just now beginning to come to the surface.
However, before their conversation can get any deeper a pair of Imperial stormtroopers swoop down and snatch them and take them to an ancient fortress on the planet. There they are introduced to a towering blue-grey lizardlike alien named Sk’ar who is working for the Empire. Striking a deal with the Empire Sk’ar had incited civil unrest on Shiva IV to weaken it in preparation for an invasion from the Empire. In exchange Sk’ar would be allowed to rule the planet. In typical supervillain fashion Sk’ar tells Leia and Aron all the details of his evil plan including a plot to drop a nuclear bomb onto Aron’s home city.
Realising that they need to stop this device from exploding the two heroes decide to escape and steal a ship. Since their only obstacle is the combined might and competence of the Empire’s elite stormtroopers the escape is thankfully easily accomplished.
Aboard their stolen shuttle they eventually catch up to the vessel harbouring the explosive nuke and jump onto its surface. After fighting off a few bad guys with the aid of Luke, Lando, and Chewie who show up just in time a la Deus ex Machina Leia is given enough time to disarm the bomb and save the city!
At the celebration party Aron returns to his dutiful and, in my opinion, much too understanding wife, Luke and Leia bond over their unwittingly incestuous attraction to each other, and Lando charms a bunch of local ladies with his cape. I’m assuming it’s the cape. It’s gotta be the cape.
But the celebration is short lived when they discover that an Imperial Star Destroyer has come out of hyperspace heading toward the city. Luke and the gang get back aboard the Millennium Falcon and are immediately pursued by their enemies. Luke decides to lead the Star Destroyer into a black hole and escapes just in time thanks to the speed and maneuverability of the Falcon. Because logic.
At the end we are treated to a brief dialogue between Leia and Luke in which she admits she feels grief over the necessary deaths of their enemies. Why? Because all life is sacred and if our heroes get too callous and used to death then they will be no different than Darth Vader. Caring about the deaths of everyone, including enemies, is what makes our heroes different. Cue eye-rolling.
This story is really quite dumb. The tacked on moral about the sacredness of life, while not untrue, is sappy, pedantic, and unoriginal. It felt like something someone would say at the end of a G. I. Joe cartoon. Leia’s emotional crisis about Alderaan also feels tacked on and bears really no relevance to the rest of the story or how it is resolved. It seems to me the writers were attempting to add depth to their story about men and women in loincloths and bikinis brandishing swords and spears when they lacked the skill to do so.
I also think the unused John Carter artwork’s only positive contribution to the Star Wars saga was saving Marvel money. The aesthetic is too unlike Star Wars and has little signature pieces to make it stand out as a Star Wars story. If someone sent me pages of these issues without letting me know where they came from I would at first glance assume I was just looking at another old sword & sorcery comic based on Conan, Moorcock, or Edgar Rice Burroughs.
All in all issues 53 and 54 of the classic Marvel series offers little for Star Wars fans and doesn’t offer much more for John Carter fans either.
Check next week for a review of Classic Marvel Star Wars #55: Plif! and may the Force be with you.
You can find both of these issues in Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years: Volume 2. You can order it here.