The Star Wars franchise has been in an interesting place ever since Disney wiped the continuity board clean for a fresh start. A few books have come out, Star Wars: Rebels has had a successful first season with a second season on the way (the first episodes were aired last month, but the season doesn’t begin for a while yet) and Marvel has been pumping out comics at a steady pace, but it has all been spaced out enough to not feel like we’re getting overwhelmed (yet, anyway). On the whole the reception has been pretty positive to the new stories, though perhaps a bit muted. Nothing stand-out has yet been published to replace old fan-favorites like Heir to the Empire or the Darth Bane books, but nothing has reached the depths that books like Darksaber or Crystal Star plunged to either. Similarly the Rebels animated series is producing quality adventures, but it still lives firmly in the shadows of the Star Wars: Clone Wars series that proceeded it. Over in the comics world, though, Marvel is getting a push that the former license holders, Dark Horse Comics, never really got.
Prior to Marvel gaining the license it always felt like the comics were something of an afterthought to the rest of the Lucasfilms media division. They barely contributed to any of the major events going on in the books, and what stories they were telling were rarely ever referenced outside of the comics. It was both a blessing and a curse for Dark Horse, especially in the last days of their tenure. It meant that they got to tell stories in the fringes without much interference (and often to great effect), but the impact from those stories was generally pretty minimal. Some of the best Star Wars comics Dark Horse published were in those last days, but sadly they will likely fall to obscurity thanks to their proximity to the wiping of continuity and consequently going swiftly out of print. Technically one comic series from the Dark Horse days, Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir, still exists in continuity, and is thus the first comic in the new continuity, but I bet that little fact will get lost in the footnotes before long.
Which brings us to now, with Marvel taking over publishing duties in a new era of Star Wars comics. As you would expect of Disney’s comics publishing arm, Marvel has received a fairly significant media relations push in regard to the new Star Wars continuity, and they will even be playing a major part in the build up to The Force Awakens later this year. But before looking into the future with that series Marvel has instead opted to fit itself into the cracks of the movies that are already out, specifically A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. All three of their initial books (Star Wars, Princess Leia and Darth Vader) all take place in this time frame, with Star Wars and Darth Vader even happening at the same time (there are a few scenes that happen in both books). Their fourth series did break this mold and moved back into the Star Wars: Rebels time frame, but it is interesting that between episodes 4 and 5 is where they chose to begin.
Prior to the continuity reboot the space between Hope and Empire was getting more than a little crowded with stories starring all the familiar faces getting packed in tight. You pretty much needed a PhD in Star Wars continuity to sort it all out, and even then there were parts that were just never going to fit together no matter how hard you tried. But all that is gone now, and this is fresh soil for Marvel’s top writers and artists.
Star Wars is, predictably, the flagship title of the new line, and as such drew the highest talent. Jason Aaron takes on the writing duties and John Cassaday is the main artist, with Laura Martin providing the colors. Their names may not be known much outside of comics the way guys like Neil Gaiman or Brian Vaughn are, but this is truly some top tier talent, and all of these creators are at the top of their game. The art, in particular, is some of the best we have had in any Star Wars comic, and there are many panels that would make amazing posters or computer wallpapers in their own right. The writing is a little more shaky, with dialogue sounding a bit off at times (C-3PO in particular does not sound right in certain scenes), but not enough so to detract from the experience. It is certainly more ‘on’ than ‘off’, and I found that I could picture exactly how the characters would sound most of the time. This is about as close as we are going to get to capturing the feel of Star Wars in a comic.
The first six issues actually cover two separate stories (rather rare in comics these days), with the first three involving our main heroes teaming up to take down a weapons factory and the second three splitting the group for individual adventures. Of the two sets the former is the more memorable and impactful, but the second half certainly has some key moments, too. The first half is dominated primarily by action since the rebel’s plan is blown by the sudden, and unexpected, appearance of Darth Vader at the weapons factory. They recognize a chance to take Vader out, even if it costs their own lives, and blow their cover in an attempt to neutralize him. Naturally they don’t really account for the power of the Force (which makes sense, given their limited interactions with it so far) and he makes a mess of things quite easily. This eventually leads to Luke facing off with Vader in a lightsaber duel (I’m being charitable here), that ends with Vader recognizing Luke’s lightsaber as his own from Revenge of the Sith.
The fandom reaction to Luke and Vader facing off so soon after the battle of Yavin has been a bit mixed, and I find myself of two minds about it, too. On the one hand it does set Vader on the path of finding out who Luke is (he already wanted to know, for obvious reasons, but now there’s a personal stake in it, too), but on the other I feel that having the two of them meet prior to their battle in Empire Strikes Back is a bit of a misstep. I honestly cannot recall if they met before Bespin in the old continuity or not (it seems likely they would have given the massive amounts of literature set in the time period), but regardless I feel it takes a little of the impact of that fight away. Part of what gave it meaning was the fact that this was the first time Luke got to truly face the man who killed Obi-Wan, and whom he thought had killed his father. I guess it is not that big of a deal, especially since they actually did the same thing with Obi-Wan and Grievous in the Clone Wars series and Revenge of the Sith movie — in the movie it seems like this is the first time the two have ever fought (and some of the dialogue suggests this), but they actually fight six or seven times in the series before then. Whoops. Either way, it does seem to be the one moment that trips up the flow of the book a bit.
That is just a minor distraction in the first arc, though, and on the whole everything flows together in such a way that it absolutely feels like a Star Wars story. There’s action, entertaining banter between the main characters, and most of the trademark elements are there (Threepio inverts the old “I have a bad feeling about this” line, which felt a bit forced). In short, it is three of the best issues of a Star Wars comic that we have yet had.
The second three issues of the book are a bit harder to judge since they still have ongoing plot threads by the end of issue six. Leia and Han I will only touch on briefly since their plot is mostly just a placeholder while Luke gets most of the real action. That said, there is a huge event at the end of the sixth issue for Han and Leia which will make the next several issues fascinating indeed. The buildup to that point, though, isn’t much to write about. So let’s focus on Luke, instead. As you might expect his portions of the story are about a quest for answers, and Vader is pursuing the same quest at the same time. The difference is that Vader has hired a proxy to do his hunting for him, which means we get a few issues of Boba Fett hunting Skywalker. These are a little bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately, as Fett gets to be a total badass for the first half of the arc, and then have most of that undone by the end.
For the first part of the arc Fett is trying to find out who Skywalker is and where to find him. This brings him to the cantina from A New Hope, where he participates in some aggressive questioning of the locals. The scenes here are honestly a bit over-the-top (that’s what you sign on for with Mr. Aaron as the writer, though), and can sometimes be a bit hard to swallow. On the other hand, if you are willing to accept them on face value they do go pretty far into establishing just how deep Boba Fett’s reputation goes. After all, how many people do you think could openly torture a guy in a busy bar with everyone doing their best to pretend absolutely nothing is happening?
The second half, though, is rougher. Fett finds and confronts Skywalker (who, coincidentally, returns to Tatooine to search Obi-Wan’s place for clues) and they fight. My first question here would be how Fett knew to find Luke at Obi-Wan’s hut. The guy he tortured wouldn’t have known that, and it is doubtful anyone else would have. It is possible that Fett just stumbled on him looking for clues himself, but the scene plays out like an ambush, which implies Fett knew where to go. It’s a bit sketchy. Add on to that the fact that Luke is blind for most of the fight, and Fett’s inability to take down Luke makes him look a bit foolish (maybe he has a weakness for blind people?). Granted some of that can also be attributed to Luke’s budding force powers, but this is Boba Fett we are talking about here. The whole sequence is just a bit hard to swallow.
Rough patches aside, this is a good entry into the new Star Wars canon, and should satisfy fans of the series whether they are die-hard continuity geeks, or only have a passing knowledge of the series. The characters act and sound like themselves, for the most part, and the situations feel suitably like what you would expect from a Star Wars movie or show. There are also some nice nods to the events happening over in Darth Vader, without bogging down in unnecessary details. It makes the books feel connected without being intrusive. At the end of the day, if you want to get some extra Star Wars in before The Force Unleashed you could certainly do a lot worse than starting here.
You can pre-order the collected edition on Amazon, or talk to your local comic shop about getting the individual issues.