Taking over for Archie Goodwin -- who took his talents to the "Star Wars" newspaper strip -- David Michelinie proves he's up to his predecessor's high standards on his first batch of issues in the Marvel series. Granted, he makes some bad mistakes; Bespin has a planetary surface and Luke still uses an unexplained lightsaber at times. (Could some of the Luke-with-lightsaber issues be placed after the point in "Shadows of the Empire" when Luke constructs his lightsaber? It's a potential fix, although this timeline places this chunk of stories before "Shadows.") More than making up for that, the writer gives the best characterization of Leia so far in the series.
It helps that new regular artist Walter Simonson draws an absolutely gorgeous, spot-on likeness of Leia, favoring her white "Empire Strikes Back" outfit and hairstyle. Whereas Goodwin certainly understood that Leia was a hero on par with Luke and Han, he too often had her as a Rebellion figurehead while the boys were out on missions. Michelinie still has Leia as a revered figure, but now she shows genuine leadership skills. (She can still kick butt in the field, though, as Chris Claremont shows in issues 53 and 54).
Michelinie's run starts with "Resurrection of Evil"/"To Take the Tarkin" (51-52). The Tarkin is the superlaser from the Death Star with less of a structure around it; Kevin J. Anderson's novel "Darksaber" would later re-use this idea without giving it credit. In this arc, Michelinie shows his tendency toward bits of dark humor when Darth Vader uses the Force to have one of his underlings walk out an airlock. But I first knew the writer was up to the task of giving depth to these stories when he showed Imperial officers conspiring against Vader in the bowels of the Tarkin.
Claremont's ambitious "The Last Gift from Alderaan!"/"Starfire Rising" (53-54) is all the more impressive when you consider that the story was crafted around existing Carmine Infantino art that had been scrapped from a proposed "John Carter" series. Aron Peacebringer, who narrates the yarn starting at the point where Leia crash-lands on his war-torn planet, was originally supposed to be Carter. It's neat to see Leia through the eyes of an outsider, who understandably has a crush on her. Although this is one of those odd Marvel yarns with musclebound warriors, horses and hints of Earth history, Leia is in such fine fighting form that it works.
"Plif!" (55) is an issue close to my heart, because I fondly remember listening to the "Planet of the Hoojibs" read-along record as a "Star Wars"-loving kid before I knew it was adapted from Marvel. Just as Goodwin invented a proto-Mustafar with Golrath (issue 50), Michelinie sort of predicts Endor with the Rebels' permanent "Empire"-to-"Jedi" base, the lush Arbra. It also has a protective cave with convenient energy crystals.
"Sundown!" (58) dips into science (or pseudo-science) as Leia decides to hide the fleet inside Arbra's sun (!) using a protective energy field. It's interesting that Artoo uses his foam extinguisher (introduced in "Empire") for propulsion through space rather than his rocket jets (not introduced until the prequel movies).
Although Michelinie shows a mind for science in "Sundown!," he massively misfires on "Coffin in the Clouds"/"Hello, Bespin, Good-bye!" (56-57), where Lando and Lobot plummet to the surface of Bespin. As any fifth-grader on a space kick knows, gas giants don't have habitable surfaces; they are spheres of increasingly dense gas that culminate in a solid core. Wookieepedia informs me that there's a very cool ret-con for this arc: The "surface" is actually a floating platform a kilometer below Cloud City inhabited by Ugnaughts.
Still, with his flowing cape and reluctant-but-brave derring-do, Lando is nicely in character, making up for his mischaracterization as a warmonger back in issue 46 ("The Dreams of Cody Sunn-Childe"). Lando -- muttering "Blast! I knew I shouldn't have worn new boots!" -- makes a fine sidekick to the more traditionally heroic Luke in "Bazarre" (59). And Chewbacca makes a great cameo, fully prepared to follow Lando's instructions to rip the head off their contractor if he backstabs them.
Luke and Lando acquire four TIE fighters for the purposes of an upcoming story. Although his first batch of issues moves at a calm pace and doesn't feature many galaxy-shaking events, Michelinie gives the Marvel run an even more detailed continuity than Goodwin did; this is most notable through X-wing pilot Shira Brie, who is quietly introduced in "Plif!" The redhead -- whom the Hoojib Plif notes is "cute, for a human" -- pops up here and there, flirting with Luke, making Leia jealous (!), and dropping hints that she's hiding something.
Notably, in "Sundown!," she bursts out "How tragic!" when it appears the Rebel fleet will perish in the sun. Although the line could be dismissed as comic-dialogue bluntness, it also works as sarcasm in light of what we'll eventually learn about Shira. More on that in the (outstanding, if memory serves) arc ahead, but even with his first handful of books, Michelinie -- with no small assist from Simonson -- proves himself a respectable heir to what Goodwin started.