Robot 6

Star Wars #1: Fresh water from an old well

Dark Horse has long been the exemplar of how a smart publisher can make pretty great comics out of licensed properties, even those that might not even seem all that worthwhile to begin with. (Compare, for example, Dark Horse’s first few batches of Predator comics to Predator 2, or the publisher’s Predator Vs. Aliens comics to the eventual films bearing that title.) Certainly the company has had its greatest success with the Star Wars license; if there are any other relationships that have been as long and as fruitful as the Dark Horse/Star Wars one, I’m hard-pressed to think of them.

Despite those scores of Star Wars comics from creators who generally range from up-and-coming but professional talents to some of the best in the industry, the publisher’s new Star Wars series — called simply Star Wars, no colon or dash, no subtitle — seemed well-positioned to be something special: the new flagship of the comics line, something for new readers a la DC’s New 52 or Marvel’s NOW! machinations, a Star Wars comic for people who like Star Wars and like comics, but maybe don’t already read Star Wars comics.

Part of that positioning came from the unusual (for the franchise) creative team: writer Brian Wood, a longtime creator whose idiosyncratic work has always tended more toward critical acclaim than sales blockbuster, artist Carlos D’Anda, a newish-to-comics creator whose most recent high-profile work was Batman: Arkham City, and cover artist Alex Ross, the industry’s favorite painter of ’70s and ’80s nostalgia.

A greater part, I think, came from the focus. While Dark Horse has published comics about just about every character in the Star Wars “Expanded Universe,” and made a lot of them about the ancient history of George Lucas’ galaxy and the Clone Wars era (Lucas & Co.’s focus for the past decade or so), this new series is to center on the core cast of the original film trilogy, and to be set right after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

In this first issue, Leia, Luke, Han, Chewbacca, C-3PO and Darth Vader are established as the cast (I’m sure R2-D2 is in there somewhere; probably plugged into the back of Luke’s X-Wing fighter). As exciting as the new series no doubt is for readers of Star Wars comics and Star Wars fans coming to the comics for a more “pure” experience closer to the original films, it’s probably greatly overshadowed by the other news in Star Wars circles. You know, the whole Disney-buying-Lucasfilm thing, and publicly discussing making new films, like Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

As was noted by pretty much everyone in comics almost immediately, Disney already owns a comics publisher, one of the biggest in the North American comics industry, so it should only be a matter of time before Star Wars comics go the way of BOOM! Studios’ Muppets, Pixar and Disney afternoon comics. That is, taken away — although hopefully not to exist merely as Marvel reprints or to whither away into nonexistence.

Ironically, this new Dark Horse comics series, debuting just yesterday, weeks after the news of Disney’s purchase, covers the exact same fictional ground that Marvel’s Star Wars comics from 1977 did (Of course, Marvel’s comics were kind of forced to tell stories set immediately after the events of the first film, because that’s all there was at the time, and writer/editors like Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin were flying blind, making up the galaxy in 22-page chunks, with many of their innovations later to be contradicted by official Star Wars stories … like The Empire Strikes Back.)

The plot of this comic is even remarkably similar to that of the first Marvel Star Wars following the film adaptation: After the battle of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance is seeking a new base of operations, and Luke and others are scouting around the far reaches of the galaxy for a suitable planet.

And that may be where the similarities end.

The first issue opens with a trio of X-Wings scouting, and piloting them are Luke, Wedge and … Princess Leia?

I’ve seen all the movies and read some of the comics, but I am hardly a Star Wars expert — I’m not even as expert as I was when I was in grade school — having little to no experience with countless novels, video games and comics, but I was awfully surprised to see Leia flying a ship. I honestly didn’t know she could pilot. A few pages later, when she drills an Imperial pilot with a laser blaster, then strolls up to his prone body and fires two more shots into him just to make sure he was dead, I was even more surprised.

I know Leia’s pretty hardcore — did she did threaten to blow herself up and take all of Jabba the Hutt’s guys with her in Return of the Jedi, and then strangled the big slug monster to death, after all — but I was a little surprised by her soldierly depiction.

There’s nothing wrong with it of, course; like I said, I don’t even know enough Star Wars to know whether it’s out of character somehow, let alone care about it. However, I was a bit surprised. Does it have something to do with how attitudes toward women in pop culture might have changed between 1977 and 2012? Or is Wood choosing to focus on Leia simply because she’s a more interesting, less-explored lead than Luke? I don’t know; I think it’s pretty clear that at this point, though, Star Wars has long ago shed its boy’s fantasy origins (the biggest Star Wars fan I know, for example, is a 30-year-old woman librarian who occasionally cosplays as as Padme or Boussh).

That’s not the only thing about this first issue that seems new (or at least new-ish) to the franchise. The mood of the first scene is a somber one, but more mature and mournful than melodramatic. Luke and Leia talk about losing their family members in the film, but instead of focusing on the fantastical elements — remember, Leia’s whole planet got blown up by a cyborg space wizard using a giant laser gun the size and shape of a moon — Wood has Leia mention something specific and relative to the conflicts in our galaxy. Like a President Obama or Bush have in the past, Leia sighs about having had to attend far too many funerals.

After this conversation, the comic goes about its business as a space adventure: TIE fighters attack their X-Wings, Han Solo says “I have a bad feeling about this” and he has a one-sided conversation with Chewbacca about whether they should go back to their old lives or stay with the Rebellion, a plot regarding a spy in the Rebellion is raised, and we check in with Darth Vader and the Emperor. (One benefit of returning to this time period is now we, the readers, know Luke and Leia are Vader’s kids, and we know that Vader knows, or at least suspects, which makes their conflict seem a little more Greek tragedy than Buck Rogers good guy vs. bad guy.)

In other words, Wood checks off all of the expected boxes, he introduces (or re-introduces, I guess) the cast, sets up a multi-issue plot and offers a new take on a 35-year-old franchise, with a distinct tone that makes it seem of our time as much as something from our collective childhood. (It’s weird, I was reading and thinking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then I turn the page and see a crashed TIE fighter and a close-up of its pilot, and think of the toys I played with as a little kid. A writer could really do something with that kind of dissonance; I do hope Wood does.)

As for D’Anda’s art, which is colored by Gabe Eltaeb, I’ve no complaints, which was something of a relief, as I generally have complaints. Everything looks perfectly on-model, the characters all suggest their film appearances without ever striving for some sort of semi-creepy verisimilitude, and the story-telling is perfectly clear (I don’t know if it’s the difference in the way the writer scripts or the editors edit, but D’Anda’s art here is head and shoulders above what it was in Arkham City, the last of his comics I’ve read).

His style looks much less personal here than I’ve seen it elsewhere, but that’s perhaps for the best, given that these aren’t his characters, and pretty much no object in the Star Wars universe hasn’t already been designed and redesigned by dozens of other people.

It can be hard to judge a comic book series by its first issue, but this certainly passes my personal test of whether or not I want to read the next one. I don’t think it quite transcends its source material — like, this isn’t a comic book so great it will be of interest to someone who isn’t already at least Star Wars-curious — but it’s a perfectly decent, far better than average genre comic.

And depending on how ambitious Wood is and how much latitude Dark Horse, Lucasfilm and, I suppose, the audience give him and this book, it could go to some pretty interesting places. I’ve got a good feeling about this book.

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Comments

10 Comments

I’ve seen some of the complaints about the depiction of Leia as a pilot, as well as her dispatching of the TIE pilot. I don’t agree with those criticisms. In the original movie, Leia’s first action moment is blasting a stormtrooper in the face. Throughout the trilogy, she goes on to:
- Blast more stormtroopers, proving to be a crack shot (especially on Cloud City)
- Resist interrogation torture
- Serve as military commandeer on Hoth, specifically for the pilots
- Perform maintenance on the Falcon
- Murder a crime boss via strangulation
- Shoot even more storm- and scout troopers on Endor
- Deftly and creatively maneuver a speeder bike

Oh, and she just happens to be a Skywalker, a family noted for it’s force instinct and piloting skills (even if she didn’t know it at the time). I love Brian Wood’s Leia. I feel he captures her character perfectly, and extrapolating her as a capable pilot feels both logical and amazing.

I can see how new, or film-only fans, may enjoy this book. But as someone heavily invested in the Expanded Universe for nearly all of my fandom, it comes off as a generic, languid retelling.

Seconding Kent. I don’t think that Brian Wood or another series is unwelcome. Rather, a lot of the pushback I’ve seen from long-time, EU-following Star Wars fans is that “we’ve been here before.” Story-wise, the time between Episodes IV and V is PACKED with stories, when it’s only a three-year period.

It was only a decade ago that Dark Horse had launched STAR WARS: EMPIRE, which told stories about Luke and the Rebellion, and which was also set shortly after the Death Star.* That, and Marvel’s 107 issue series still existed, along with any other book Del Rey or Bantam had published. You put all that together, and there’s not a lot of room for new stories about Luke and company.

I guess the problem for the longtime EU reader is that regardless of quality, there’s a “what, this again?” reaction to the new series. We’ve been here over and over: Luke is a cocky kid slowly learning his Jedi legacy. It’s “fresh water” to others only because they haven’t been in this well for so long–some of us have been, and believe us, the water’s been here for a long time and is getting a little stale.

I get that there’s a marketing element to this–Brian Wood plus Alex Ross plus classic Star Wars equals lots more readers. However, if you want something REALLY fresh but from the same well, I recommend the upcoming relaunch of STAR WARS: LEGACY dealing with Han and Leia’s descendant. There’s a lot of EU-fandom buzz on that one.

* They called it “EMPIRE” because they already had an ongoing series called “STAR WARS” which was set before and after Episode I. When “EMPIRE” launched, they changed the existing ongoing to “STAR WARS: REPUBLIC,” basically distinguishing them as Prequel and Original Series titles.

Carlos D’Anda isn’t that new to comics, he’s been penciling since the late 90′s. He was mostly at Wildstorm for his first few years, but he’s done DCU stuff as well.
He seems a bit more restrained on this one, and although a few of the storytelling choices seemed weak to me, on the whole he did a good job.
Still conflicted about whether I’ll continue with the series, I follow Wood from title to title, but not sure if taking Star Wars seriously is something I’m up for. Hopefully there’s a bit more swashbuckling in issues to come.

The first comics that I ever read were the Archie Goodwin/Howard Chaykin Marvel Star Wars issues. I can read this and ignore the prequels, sequels, and expanded universe stuff even though I’m familiar with them. Good job, Dark Horse!

>with many of their innovations later to be contradicted by official Star Wars stories … like The Empire Strikes Back.

Actually, they made out pretty well – Goodwin did wrap up Jabba’s bounty on Han, but then he worked it back into the status quo before his ESB adaptation so his stories would still align with the movies. I think the prequels did more damage.

Furthermore, Goodwin took the time to establish Luke & Vader’s first face-to-face meeting and developed Vader’s quest for Luke as an ongoing plot about a year before ESB, which did a nice job of filling certain gaps between SW & ESB. I believe the only rules Goodwin had to abide by were to avoid furthering Luke’s training, avoid escalating the Luke-Leia-Han triangle and avoid a Luke-Vader duel.

Didn’t Leia pilot a Y-wing in the old Marvel series?

First SW comic I’ve picked up since (roughly) the late 90s. Picked up because of Wood. As the not-unique fan who does not like episodes 1-3, I really liked the issue. Haven’t decided whether to get the flops or trade-wait, but I’ll be getting it. The voices felt right, the tone felt right, and I agree with the first poster that Leia does not seem at all out of character.

Bravo, Brian Wood – you’ve done the first thing I’ve really liked with Star Wars in a long time.

**I did think that McGregor was decent as young Obi-Wan. His Django Fett sideplotline in ep 2 was the only part I cared for in the prequels.

Lazarus Pit Foreman

January 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I absolutely loved this. I really dig D’Anda’s art, at first I wasn’t so sure but he does the ships and tech really well with lots of detail. Brian Wood nailed this, can’t wait for issue #2!

I’m a casual fan (thought the prequels had a few good moments, played the first two Knights of the Old Republic games, watched a few episodes of both versions of Clone Wars) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wood’s more introspective approach helps to connect to Luke and Leia on the kind of personal level that we didn’t always get from either the writing or acting in the original trilogy. (I think Hamill and Fisher have both proven themselves to be very fine and capable actors in the years since — but they were often the weak links in the original films.) At the same time, it never got too talky; the action was solid and so were the atmospheric establishing scenes. Wood’s slightly-ostentatious narrative captions fit, because this is Star Wars, while they wouldn’t have worked quite so well in something more subtle like The Massive, and D’anda didn’t just do good work on the battles, I also really liked his Darth Vader.

I can understand why more hardcore fans than myself might feel like this is well-trodden ground. But I’ve only dabbled a bit in the Expanded Universe and to me this seems like a breath of fresh air.

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