A Cover Gallery of a Slightly Different Galaxy Far, Far Away
While recently rifling through the boxes of stuff I still have cluttering up my parents house, I found one containing my old Star Wars Weekly comics.
For many a young Star Wars fan in 1970’s Britain this was their first exposure to the galaxy far, far away.
While the movie was released in London at the tail end of 1977, over half a year after it debuted in the US, it took many months to reach the rest of the country outside the capital. The Marvel Comics adaptation first appeared on UK shores in the shape of a reprinted large format 2 issue US Treasury Edition, but more widely in February 1978 with Marvel UK’s immensely popular Star Wars Weekly.
The 6 issue monthly US run was divided and published across 12 black & white weekly UK issues – with various age-innapropriate back up stories making up the rest of the comic.
While Star Wars Weekly shared a few covers with its monthly US cousin, the vast majority were different – and at times bear little resemblance in terms of look, plot, or character to the actual movie. What they do have in spades is bombast and melodrama.
This was the way I understood Star Wars until I was actually taken to see it (in April 1978, a year after it’s US release). Seeing these covers reawakened evocative memories of those months before I saw the movie, of what I thought was happening in the story, rather than what actually did.
So here they are – to experience for the first time or to rekindle childhood memories – the first twelve Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly covers.
Checking out these covers was quite a blast down memory lane. One thing I do remember is that I was often more excited than my friends about the latest issue coming out – for instance I have a vivid memory of taking issue 5 out on the playground to read (in the rain) because I couldn’t wait until later, while my friends just wanted to run around. Even then it seemed I was a bigger Star Wars fanboy than my peers.
Star Wars is now back with Marvel Comics (as they are both owned by Disney), and a new generation of Star Wars fan is going to grow up with their own movies – starting with The Force Awakens – and hopefully a Marvel Comics adaptation too.
As we wait for Episode VII to be revealed to the world, I can’t help but wonder if my daughter will have her own memories of Star Wars comic covers, as vivid as those I have for these British ones.
Needing to kill an hour or so, I took a stroll around the Westfield London shopping centre this week. I naturally gravitated towards the toy shops, and I decided to amuse myself by indulging in a spot of gendered toys mystery shopping.
The first shop I went into was The Entertainer. They are a large independent toy retailer, and I have a particular soft spot for them as they began with one shop in my home town neighbour of Amersham, Bucks. But sentimentality aside, I had no idea what they were like as a toy shop these days.
I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the way they categorise their toys – eg. ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Arts & Creative’, ‘Cars, trains, and planes’ etc – not by gender. This seemed like such progressive (and logical) way to sort toys, that doesn’t exclude on the basis of gender – at least in how product is grouped. Bravo Entertainer!
What I didn’t realise (until I tweeted about it) was that this came about because of a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys (we were living outside of UK when this happened). So bravo to them too. 🙂
I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back to shop here, another branch, or online.
I was expecting the worst with the next shop I visited. I have written about the divisive way LEGO creates and markets its product before. The beloved Universal toy of my youth is no more. I have resigned myself to not buying any new LEGO, that in all likelihood my daughter will be playing with our ample hand-me-down supply throughout her childhood. So I went to the LEGO shop all prepared for their gendered marketing tricks.
But then I spotted this.
The female scientists minifigure set, that I had in my own little way campaigned so furiously for, that had finally been released only to be sold out everywhere… It was back! I stopped looking around the store, grabbed the set, and headed straight for the counter.
As I paid, I asked the staff about it. They told me they had only been delivered a small number of sets in the original release, and everyone in the company was surprised how popular it had been. The staff were keen to point out that they now have a much healthier stock of it. So if you’re thinking of buying some LEGO for your child (or you!), then I would strongly suggest that you get this one. I’m intending on saving it until Christmas day. Hopefully I can resist the urge to put it together it until then.
That’s all I can say about the LEGO shop. They could have had an entire wall of pink Friends sets, with a sparkling sign proclaiming ‘LEGO FOR GIRLS’, and I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how chuffed I was to finally have this awesome set in my hands.
So it had been a really positive experience so far. My final stop was The Disney Store, which I entered with trepidation. I love Star Wars & Marvel (both acquired by Disney) as much as I do not love princess culture (pretty much created by Disney).
Given that Disney & gendered marketing to kids go together like the Empire & the Death Star, I tend to browse Disney’s virtual and actual aisles with frustration. This occasion was no exception.
Starting with Marvel, there was nothing in the store featuring a female character. No Black Widow in the Avengers line, no Gamora or Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff, no additional female superheroes, nothing. *sigh
On to Star Wars.
There’s large section of the store devoted to movie merchandise, primarily the original trilogy. The lack of Leia merchandise was an early issue on this blog, so I was keen to see if things had improved at all. At first glance, it hadn’t. There was a prominent display featuring Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a Stormtrooper – but no Princess Leia.
I scanned the large selection of Star Wars stuff here, and eventually found a Leia. In fact I found a couple. They were each part of different play-sets figures. One set was Jabba’s palace, which of course means one thing – Slave Leia.
An eagle eyed fan on Twitter also spotted a Torryn Farr figure. Who is she? The blink and you’ll miss her Rebel Comms officer from The Empire Strikes Back. She may not be the most active character in the trilogy (she sits in a chair and relays orders), but I guess at least she’s a female Star Wars character figure.
That’s not all the Star Wars gear the shop has now though. There’s a big display of merchandise from the brand new TV show Star Wars Rebels. It’s early days for the show, but it has TWO major female characters that are prominently featured in the artwork of the toy display. So I was curious about what the the product would be like.
Product? What product?
That’s right. There was nothing, nothing, featuring either of the female characters of Sabine or Hera. Not an action figure, not a t-shirt, nothing. I asked a member of staff about this. She looked surprised, had a glance at the section, and then kind of shrugged “No, there’s nothing with any of the women”.
So in this flagship Disney Store, in one of the premier shopping centres in Britain, there were just three items including any female characters in the whole of their Marvel & Star Wars sections – nothing in Marvel, and Star Wars had a classic Princess Leia (as part of a set), Slave girl Leia (as part of a set), and an individual figure of a rebel who says “Stand by ion control…Fire!” and nothing else.
Apparently, Sabine & Hera will be included in the second wave of Star Wars Rebels figures being released by licensee Hasbro. Staff also told me “We’re going to get Princess Leia stuff soon. But they keep saying that”. They had no idea about female Marvel characters.
I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not planning on going back. I left the shop more frustrated than ever about the fact that The House Of Mouse now own Marvel & Star Wars. I really hope things change for the better, and they embrace the female – and girl – market for these brands.
I reflected that my previous positive toyshop experiences were both due to the willingness of brands/retailers to engage with feedback, listen to those seeking change, and take a good look at their offering.
In conclusion, in terms of gendered marketing and division of toys: The Entertainer good, The Disney Store sadly not, and the LEGO shop? Well, they had me at female scientist minifigure set and was the only shop I spent money in.
So while this may have been an unscientific survey, in the end it was all about science.
If Marvel can turn their obscure cosmic superteam into a must-see movie, then there’s no excuse for them not to break the mould again to finally give us a great female superhero movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy, adapted by Marvel from their post-millennial revamp of their 60’s cosmic superteam, has opened to glowing reviews, a $160 worldwide weekend box office gross, and delighted audiences (including this excited English at-home dad). It featured a couple of strong female roles, and while the lack of damsels in distress is great, we need more than empowered women in these flicks – we need female protagonists.
Well, are we seeing the beginning of that? The most likely candidate for a movie has long been mooted to be another cosmic character – Captain Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel, who like the galactic guardians also had a successful makeover and relaunch in the comics – and is now Captain Marvel. But who could play the smart, confident, kick ass blonde space captain? Many names have been bandied about over the past few years, with a few firm favourites.
Joss Whedon, Avengers director and the self proclaimed Tom Hagen of the Marvel cinematic universe, offered a great hint recently, in response to the recent publicity stunt news that Thor was going to become a woman in the comics.
ICYMI, that’s Katee Sackhoff as ‘Captain’ Starbuck from the revamped version of Battlestar Galactica, of which Whedon is a big fan. Frankly, she would be awesome casting, and would likely get everyone from feminists to misanthropic geeks onside.
Well just to add to the intrigue, Sackhoff herself posted the following cryptic tweets over the weekend.
Headed out for day one of a super secret job….I will send photo clues throughout the next 3 days! Clue #1 pic.twitter.com/1mVRmQKNmE
Even by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will probably be debunked. But #1 could be a face casting for a mask; #2 a close up detail of her red & gold costume, and #3 – a veil = Mar-VEL?!
Clutching at straws? Probably (yes). But we need really a decent female superhero movie, so I am latching on to any nuggets of hope that I can. Selfishly speaking, I need a decent female superhero movie in the next few years. My daughter is 2 1/2. By the time she is 8, I want to be able to take her to see an awesome superhero flick with a fantastic female protagonist.
5 years ago, I would NEVER have predicted there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, much less one as faithful yet mass market as this one. I hope that within 5 years Marvel can do something far less bold – female led fantasy movies are doing great box office – yet far more important.
And in case you’re in any doubt, here’s how awesome Katee Sackhoff would look as Captain Marvel.