Around the time of the release of the first Star Wars movie, Marvel Comics produced a comic-book adaptation of it. They continued from there, picking up after the movie left off, telling their own stories of the journeys and exploits of Luke, Leia, Han and the rest. It was the beginning of what would come to be called the 'Expanded Universe'. Fans of Star Wars who grew up in this era tend to have strong feelings about these comics, one way or the other. Personally? I have mixed feelings, but overall, I have a soft spot for them.
At the risk of damaging my 'geek cred' (not likely), I never was an avid comic book collector. Oh, I read them from time to time, sure, and would even buy one when the cover really appealed to me, but it was rather piecemeal. With the invention of the internet (thanks Al Gore) I've been able to do a lot of 'catching up' by reading synopses and the like. But though I have only partial 'direct' knowledge of the subject, I think I know enough to comment on them as a whole—and I certainly have my own feelings on how they shaped my concept of the Star Wars universe.
I'll start with what I consider the 'bad' aspects of the Marvel comics. The first of these, even to my eight-year-old eyes was the style of artwork. It was a funky 70's kind of style that threw me for a bit of a loop. It was very much in the vein of superhero comics of the day, with far-out costumes and over-exaggerated poses. I remember strongly just how bizarre Chewbacca appeared in the early books- like some great ape/sasquatch/hulk crossbreed—as wide as he was tall. As the series progressed, of course, the art changed along with it, but a lot of the comic book hokiness didn't. Therefore, you had this really strange mix of actually quite good artwork with stilted soliloquies and over-dramatic exposition. Plus, it seemed to take years before Luke, Han or Leia ever changed their clothes or hair-styles. I mean, it was just like they were superheroes, they always wore the same costumes.
Another negative, especially in the early comics, was a tendency towards the truly bizarre—a carnivorous green rabbit-humanoid named Jaxxon? A porcupine-guy? A crazy old man (jedi) named Don-Wan Kihotay? Yes, the early Star Wars comics had all these things (in the came comic, actually). At face value, it all seemed rather silly and even a bit disrespectful of the genre in general.
That having been said, however, there was something beneath the surface of this silliness that was intriguing. If nothing else, the Marvel Star Wars storytellers were bold—taking the Star Wars galaxy that Lucas had only just introduced and pushing back its boundaries. Jaxxon, porcupine guy and Don-Won were all actually part of a storyline reminiscent of the Magnificent Seven (in fact, the story-arc was called 'Eight for Aduba-3'). And actually, when you think about it, that setting fits well. A good old space-western.
As with many things in the Expanded Universe, you have to absorb the things that make sense to you and discard the things that don't. I think its actually kind of cool that Han and Chewie got into a Magnificent Seven type plot, duking it out with a gang of swoop-riders on a remote desert planet. The idea of a crazy old man who THINKS he is a Jedi is interesting, too (apparently lots of people agree, since not only was the idea re-used in ANOTHER Star Wars comic, it also appeared as a character template in the Star Wars RPG—the Quixotic Jedi). Green bunny-men? Umm.. well. Sure. But.. lets just keep those guys in the background huh?
The marvel comics series matured as I did, both in artwork and in literary complexity (okay, so..it never really got past adolescent, but at least it stopped focusing on the bunny-men). Oh sure, they had a lot of stories that were derivative (one story arc took the heroes to a planet very much reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom), but to me, it was a strength, not a weakness. It showed just how broad the Star Wars galaxy was—how inclusive it could be to just about any story you wanted to tell.
Strangely enough, I don't remember a lot of the story arcs nearly as much as I remember the characters in them. To me, that says something. As with the movies, it isn't the setting that's important as much as it is the characters and their memorable moments. The Marvel Comics gave us such memorable characters as Valance the Hunter, Fenn the Mandalorian, Kiro the Brash Jedi-Adept, The Hiromi, the Nagai, Dani the Zeltron hottie, Lady Lumiya the Sith Whip-mistress (okay, so.. maybe the last two just appealed to young men...).
I could go on for pages about each of these characters, but I'll save that for other postings. Suffice it to say that it was Marvel Star Wars (even with all its hokiness) that really pulled the veil back from the universe and got me thinking about just what kind of stories could exist within it. I know the ideas presented in these comics greatly affected my Star Wars campaign—spawning entire sub-campaigns based on Fenn's Mandalore and the Nagai themselves. But, yeah...still haven't included the green bunny-men.