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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

That time Indiana Jones met Han Solo in the strangest Star Wars story ever

By Mike Avila
Star Wars Tales #19

With May the Fourth approaching and the conclusion of final season of The Clone Wars dropping the same day, I've been re-reading a ton of old Star Wars comics, from the original Marvel series to a bunch of the great books Dark Horse Comics put out when they had the comics license. I do this every couple years, and one I always make time to read is "Into the Great Unknown," a short story first published in 2004 in the anthology comic, Star Wars Tales #19.

It marked the first — and thus far, only time — the paths of Han Solo and Indiana Jones crossed. The premise alone makes it one of the most peculiar tales in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, whose glory is sadly fading into the dustbins of history much like the Jedi did in the original trilogy. It's a compact ten-page story, written by W. Haden Blackman and drawn by Sean Gordon Murphy, yet it manages to pull off the impressive feat of satisfying fan fiction-like curiosity while also being profoundly depressing.

Star Wars Tales #19

The story begins with Han and Chewie desperately evading an Imperial fleet in the Falcon. They take a blind hyperspace jump and wind up crash-landing on a lush green planet, which looks just like Earth. That's where it gets really nuts. Because almost immediately … the duo come under attack by Native Americans, and Han gets killed.

(What, you expected a spoiler warning? C'mon, it's 16 years old!)

Star Wars Tales #19

That's right. Han Solo, the greatest scoundrel in the galaxy, dies in a hail of arrows. After Chewie takes him back to the Falcon, his lifelong friend dies in the captain's chair. The story then jumps ahead 126 years, where a certain archeologist named "Dr. Jones" and his sidekick "Shorty" are searching for evidence of the creature haunting the area for decades. They discover the Falcon, and inside, the skeletal remains of a "poor bastard" who looked human. Jones says he's never seen anything like it, "but it's all somehow familiar."

The pair call off their search and figure it's best to leave what they've found, and the creature they didn't, "as part of the great unknown." The final panel shows Chewbacca on a tree limb, staring at the remains of the ship he co-piloted for so long. The legendary Sasquatch is really a stranded Wookie who lost his best friend.

Think about the tragedy in that. Chewie will never see Leia, Luke, Lando or the droids ever again. And he's been sleeping by his pal's bones for over a century.

It wrecks me. Every. Damn. Time.

Star Wars Tales #19

Like many of the one-shots in the Star Wars Tales series, this story wasn't canon then, and it certainly isn't now. But I remain baffled that in the subsequent decade, we didn't get another visit to poor, lonely Chewbacca. Think of the story possibilities of following Chewie as the mythical Bigfoot, or of Luke and Leia spending their remaining days wondering what happened to their friends (in the case of Leia, her husband and the father of her kids).

During an interview with Vanity Fair, Blackman explained the inspiration behind the tale. He had heard that while shooting the Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi in the Pacific Northwest, crew members accompanied Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew while wearing bright-colored vests so hunters wouldn't think he was Bigfoot and accidentally shoot him.

The writer worked in clever nods and references to both franchises, like Indy mentioning Atlantis. The Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis video game and comic adaptation were set in 1939. Given that Short-Round ("Shorty") looks like a college-aged kid in "Into the Great Unknown," it puts the timeline for this story around 1943. I appreciate that sort of due diligence.

I also tip my cap for incorporating one of my favorite lines from The Empire Strikes Back, when the guide spots the Falcon: "This is no cave."

Star Wars Tales #19

When I say they don't make Star Wars stories like this anymore, they really don't. If someone pitched this today, there's no way this wouldn't be a 12-part maxi-series with three dozen variant covers. And that's assuming it would actually get greenlit. Back in 2004, Star Wars comics provided a breathtaking diversity of stories, like Dark Empire and The Knights of the Old Republic. Some canon, others not. Stories that were, for the most part, free of corporate guardrails and competing interests. You didn't have to worry about getting approval from several factions of a global media behemoth who may veto the idea because it may not jell with film or television plans. As long as George Lucas didn't have a problem with it, you could go nuts.

It's part of the Disney conglomerate, and that means more eyes on everything Star Wars. With so much money at stake, taking real risk becomes harder to do. But as we all gear up to mark May the Fourth by binging the movies or Season 1 of The Mandalorian, let's take a moment to appreciate a time when crazy ideas like having Indiana Jones and Han Solo appear in the same story could actually happen.

What's your favorite Star Wars Expanded Uni ... er, excuse me, LEGENDS story? Let me know on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram -- I'm always looking for new SW material to devour!

And don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained during these strange and stressful times we're in. Our video series is chock-full of my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.