After the Empire adaptation was finished, the first post-EMPIRE story had Luke Skywalker facing off against a probe droid, a piece of Imperial technology introduced in that film. This probe droid is considerably larger and more lethal than it’s movie counterpart, which simply sell destructed.
The next few issues are a bit off-beat and experimental, with a rotating focus on the different heroes; with Lando and Chewbacca searching for Han Solo but encountering an illusionary city built by a psychic rebel deserter, Leia facing Darth Vader on a banking world, and R2-D2 and C-3PO on a world of Droids.
Archie Goodwin left the title with issue #50, a story illustrated by his artist on the Star Wars newspaper comic strips, Al Williamson. The story-in which the search for Han Solo becomes side-tracked, and would remain so for many issues (They kind of had to do that, considering Return of the Jedi wouldn’t come out for another two years) dealt with a strange jewel that made Luke fall into a catatonic state, and featured a mental battle against Darth Vader, with the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, while the other heroes search for a cure-one linked to the past, in one of Han and Chewie’s adventures.
David Micheline (Known for his Iron Man and Spider-Man work) took over writing duties with issue #51, and wrote the two-part “Tarkin” storyline, with the Empire building a new, Death Star-style weapon named after the deceased Grand Moff/Death Star Commander.
In a few ways, the story predicts elements of Return of The Jedi. Like that film, there’s a second weapon capable of destroying a planet, and a strike team composed of Luke and co. (sans Han) infiltrate the installation by posing as a technical crew. Of course, there’s major differences-no Ewoks here, and the strike force is actually on the ship itself, not on the planet/moon below. The story also dealt with Imperial commanders plotting to overthrow Darth Vader, and almost featured a rematch between Luke and Vader.
The next few issues-after a somewhat bizarre story involving Leia in a John Carter of Mars type setting (apparently it actually was a John Carter comic story, but it was hastily rewritten and redrawn to accommodate Star Wars)- had the Rebels establish a new base on Aarba. They also befriend the native species, the Hoojibs, with Micehline once again anticipating an element of Return of the Jedi: Cute aliens helping our heroes fight the Empire. In this case, instead of teddy bears, they’re bunnies called Hoojibs.
The story-line also introduces Shira Brie, a fellow X-wing pilot and force-sensitive, as well as a love interest for Luke, helping Luke and Lando free Cloud City on Bespin from Imperial occupation. However, she is in fact, an Imperial spy working directly for Darth Vader. (A similar, red-headed, force-sensitive Imperial spy with a thing for Luke would eventually be introduced in the novels-Mara Jade-but that’s another story)
During a mission to destroy a new Imperial weapon, a group of rebel pilots led by Luke and Shira use captured TIE fighters in order to infiltrate the fleet and cause confusion. However, during the battle, Luke gets a little confused himself, and using the force to sense the difference between friendlies and bogies, he shoots Brie’s TIE fighter, killing her and resulting in him being court-martialed by the alliance.
However, evidence soon comes to light that Shira was an Imperial spy-provided by none other than a hologram of Darth Vader himself, and corroborated by Imperial records. While Luke is exonerated, it’s actually revealed that Shira is alive-barely-and recovering in a bacta tank.
So Shira’s story doesn’t end here-she’s to play a large part in the comics later on, and an even larger role in a novel series, Legacy Of The Force, down the line….