Star Wars: Death Mission, 1983-84
My life crossed a major milestone in May 1983 when two things happened almost simultaneously: Return of the Jedi finally arrived in theaters (after an excruciating 3-year wait) and I graduated from high school (after an excruciating 13-year wait). I’d bought and read the Marvel adaptation of Jedi before the film came out (how could I resist?), so my mind was already working on new stories to turn into fanzine comics.
However, it was my friend and Hitchhiker’s ‘zine collaborator Jim Emelander who gave me my first solid idea: where did the TIE Interceptor come from, and could Luke Skywalker maybe go on a covert mission to steal one? I found it way more enticing than the Indiana Jones comic I was struggling with, so I put that aside and dug right in.
I started drawing in late June 1983, a couple weeks after my 18th birthday. It provided me with some welcome comfort-food as I started to face the prospect of figuring out what sort of gorwn-up career I was going to have. Before the summer was over, I’d land a minimum-wage job designing ads for phone books. It wasn’t much, but ya gotta start somewhere.
Return of the Jedi gave me a lot of new elements to factor in, and I had the pleasure of drawing some characters and mecha for the first time. Now that Luke/Vader confrontations had an endpoint, the continuity for pre-Jedi stories was completely clear, and this would end up being my last one set in that time frame.
I’d decided over a year earlier that I would eventually publish a Star Wars fanzine of my own, and once I had my own income, there was a way to pay for it. For various reasons, I broke away from this story in August ’83 to head down that path, then came back to it again almost a year later. By that time I’d graduated to more high-quality drawing paper, which is why the line work gets crisper and more refined on page 22.
I finished in mid-July 1984 and it saw print the following month in the second issue of a fanzine titled Legends of Light. Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with Co-publisher Rebecca Walker, so I asked her if she might be interested in writing something about it, and she kindly agreed. Stay tuned after the comic pages to see what she has to say about this interesting, bygone hobby.
Okay, now the punch line. Ready? No? Too bad, here it is: I never got back to this story. Part 2 remains unwritten and undrawn. I was far more interested in continuing to push forward with my own ‘zine and post-Jedi stories.
If I were to reverse that decision and draw Part 2 today, here’s how I’d handle it: Luke would use the stolen TIE Intercepter (and The Force) in some amazingly clever way to intervene on behalf of the endangered rebel fleet. He’d foul up Vader’s pursuit forces with hit and run tactics that gave rebel ships the chance to escape.
He’d end up face to face with Vader himself by flying the Intercepter right up to the Executor‘s bridge window. They’d stare at each other for an eternal second with Luke surrounded on all sides, ready to blow the whole bridge apart. Vader would glance into the future, see no way they could both survive (we’d see several gruesome scenarios), and break the standoff by letting him go. Luke zooms away (deftly avoiding tractor beams and the like) to catch up with the rebel fleet, Death Mission accomplished.
Sorry you didn’t get to see that. Let’s all just pretend it happened that way and move on with our lives, shall we? Oh, hey, here’s Rebecca. I’ll let myself out…
Putting together a fanzine in “the old days” was a bit like herding cats – especially two issues of well over 300 pages each! However, that is what a friend and I did back in the early 1980s, when we published Legends of Light. We had been fans of science-fiction, both literary and media, since elementary age. We watched Star Trek reruns at first, then read the classic SF authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, etc. However, it was Star Wars that really got our creative juices flowing. We had already been buying Trek fanzines by then, but began devouring SW ‘zines as well. Right after we saw The Empire Strikes Back, I had an idea for a story that took off where it ended, and began writing with the intent to submit it to a fanzine for publication.
By the time I was wrapping up my story, my friend and I decided to put our own fanzine together. She agreed to handle the mail, help with editing, and support as needed. We had some art of our own to contribute and she was working on her own story. At the time, I was in college majoring in marketing/advertising and knew I could handle the physical requirements (typing, layout, and advertising) to make the venture a success.
This was before my family had a personal computer, so everything had to be typed on a typewriter. It was very time-consuming and errors had to be whited-out by hand and retyped. Working in the advertising department of my college newspaper taught me how to do cut-and-paste layout. I created my own oversized blue-ink grid paper on which to lay out each page. It was oversized so it could then be reduced, allowing me to fit more per page. I used rub-on lettering for titles and embellishments in the corners, and border tape for dividers. I even drew by hand all the little boxes for a 39-word crossword puzzle. It was a very labor-intensive project, to say the least!
Of course, while we were gathering and organizing our own art and writing materials, we needed to make connections with other writers and artists for submissions. We wrote to editors of other SW fanzines to get the addresses of their contributors. After many letters back and forth, we began to receive some quality work. We turned down a few submissions, but most of the people we contacted had done work we already liked, so the only issue we ran into was waiting for them to create new material. Illustrating specific stories was particularly time-consuming, as we had to wait for the artist to read the story, then draw the illustrations to compliment it.
I have to brag a little on the artists in particular that we were able to round up. Many of them went on to careers in the TV and/or film industries.
Mike Goguen became an Emmy-winning Art Director and Producer of animated TV shows. Mark Wallace worked for the Disney animation studio, Warner Brothers, and others as a layout artist, concept artist, and storyboard artist. Ernest (Max) Cervantes became a prop and model maker, set designer, and makeup artist for Star Trek, The Next Generation and other TV series. Tim Eldred became a storyboard artist and Director of many animated TV shows. Kurt Christensen was a character designer and model/prop designer for several animated TV shows. Wendy Ikeguchi was an Assistant Director for numerous live-action films and TV shows. I’ve lost touch with other artists, and haven’t looked up their accomplishments, but they were all talented and we felt honored to have their work in our ‘zine.
Idea by Rebecca, art by Tim
Our first issue was published in 1982 and the second in 1984. Both were printed by a local printer I knew through my job at the time. I had both issues bound with glue since they were so large (332 pages and 382 pages respectively). The whole process of gathering submissions, editing, typing, layout, printing, binding, advertising, and mailing was a labor of love. Creating those two issues is still one of the proudest accomplishments of my life (I’m now 63). I marvel at how, in my early twenties, I had the gumption and fortitude to put it all together!
I wish I could say that the experience led me to a job in publishing, advertising, or another related field, but, alas, that didn’t happen. After a few other career choices, I became a teacher of academically gifted children, which has had its own challenges and rewards.
Content by Rebecca, art by Tim
Putting together the fanzine did lead to life-long friendships and a lot of fun. During that time I went to many conventions, dabbled in other various fandoms, met a lot of interesting people, and relished the creativity I was able to practice freely. I have continued to write and am working on a novel that is currently half-(self)published. I also created a fan website for Pirates of the Caribbean that I was very proud of, but unfortunately it was removed when I had to delete the email address it was attached to.
I still have some of my fanzines from that time, but haven’t read them in a while. Maybe when I’m in a nursing home I can reread them and bore the nurses with my nostalgic fan memories. I highly recommend that others who have some artistic or writing talent should dabble in fan publishing. It’s a great way to practice your skills, meet interesting people, and have some fun doing it!
– Rebecca Walker Wise, 2023