REVIEW SUMMARY: The first issue of Dark Horse Comics latest Star Wars offering, returning to the characters from the original film.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Shortly after the battle at Yavin IV, both the rebellion and the empire struggle to recover from their losses and make headway in their campaigns. A rebel scouting party is ambushed, leading to the conclusion that something threatens the rebellion from within.
PROS: An interesting glimpse at our heroes, and some great scenes communicating just what a galactic rebellion entails.
CONS: Uneven pacing, with a lot of soul-searching and catch-up information interrupting the narrative and sapping the story of momentum. By issue’s end the story has barely started. It fails to feel like a continuation of the movie.
BOTTOM LINE: An imperfect first issue showing hints of promise, but its too early to judge. Not quite up to the standards Dark Horse has maintained with the property.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
The recent Disney/Lucasfilm deal has comic readers expecting that all Star Wars titles will be handed over to Marvel from their current home at Dark Horse. This is unwelcome news. Dark Horse has handled the Star Wars expanded universe far better, I would argue, than DC or Marvel have handled their own worlds. Now that we are in what we assume is the last phase of Dark Horse’s tenure, much attention has been focused on this week’s release of the eponymous Star Wars book by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. The fact that it’s set immediately after the events of Star Wars (Episode IV to young’uns and heathens among you) had chat rooms abuzz, as did the spectacular Alex Ross cover. When fandom pees itself with that much anticipation (moreso than was exhibited for other books this week, such as, say, Mars Attacks KISS), the product better deliver.
The issues opens as Luke, Leia, and Wedge fly X-Wings (something I wasn’t aware Leia could do) to scout out a possible location for a new rebel base. They are immediately set upon by a Star Destroyer unleashing a swarm of TIE fighters.
Well, not exactly immediately. First they spend three pages discussing how hard it is to carry on after the death of Obi-Wan, Owen, Beru, all the rebellion pilots, and the entire planet of Alderaan. It is a potent discussion, sounding a bit like some of the survivors’ guilt scenes the rebooted Galactica was so good at. But by the end of the third page of this I found myself saying, “Is this really the best time to be unloading your pent-up feelings? In the middle of an extremely important time-sensitive mission upon which hangs the fate of the rebellion?” And it would not have bothered me so much if the subsequent escape from the Imperial forces didn’t feel so anticlimactic.
I’m sure it did not help that last weekend I watched Phantom Menace with the RiffTrax running commentary. One of the recurring jokes is how the movie repeatedly comes to a complete halt so characters can have a discussion. As a residual side-effect I found myself wincing every time this comic paused to give us infodumps on the Empire’s difficulty filling recruiting quotas, the logistics of replacing all the ships lost by both sides at Yavin, and the dismal state of the Galactic economy.
This is not to say the issue is poorly written. Wood employs a good deal of character development as the issue progresses. The Emperor is exceedingly (and understandably) unhappy with Vader about losing the Death Star (“trillions of credits and nearly two decades of work,” he reminds his apprentice). Vader is concerned about the arrival of Skywalker. Han and Chewie have death warrants on their heads due to their involvement with the rebellion. Luke harbors deep doubts about his ability to live up to Obi-Wan’s expectations for him. We also see Mon Mothma having to make a difficult choice that goes against her nature. There are some wonderful dramatic moments: We get an accusation of elitism coming from the rebellion rank and file, hints of upward ambitions from an Imperial officer, and a genuinely surprising act of heat-of-battle savagery from a war-weary Leia. I hope these threads are developed through the rest of the story.
All of the above takes place in a plot ramp-up that is pretty standard and familiar. In the wake of the ambush it is apparent that the rebellion has (say it along with me, now) a spy in their midst. Both sides embark on secret missions imbued with great risk and significance. We’ve seen these before, and as such they feel a touch contrived. I was also irked that Wood begins utilizing unneeded narration captions halfway through the issue to illustrate the parallels between Luke and Vader, something their interactions with other characters had already established.
D’Anda delivers an admirable job with the art. Most noticeably, Vader is drawn to resemble the McQuarrie paintings, with his armor conveying a bit more menace than usual. All the characters are recognizable, and hardware and uniforms look great, but there’s an imbalance between establishing shots and close-ups that make the action scenes hard to follow at times.
I would love to tell you that this issue brings a wide panoply of aliens to life, but I can’t. Aside from Chewbacca, there is nary an alien to be seen. Dark Horse Stars Wars books are exceptional at conveying the multitude of species in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, even if only as background set dressing. This book sticks with pretty humans.
And that leads to my problem with this first issue: it strikes me as stylistically out of place among the Dark Horse books, where stories are chock-a-block with trademark intrigue, pursuits, escapes, and revelations. Wood, inversely, goes to great lengths to show us protagonists who are physically and emotionally exhausted from the events of the movie. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but as a result the scope, mythology, and casual sense-of-wonder that has been de rigueur under Dark Horse is absent. As much as it pains me to judge a comic by the other comics around it, it feels odd that a book situating itself so closely to the movie that started it all feels so foreign in the universe that movie spawned.
I will not dismiss this story by its first issue alone, and I’ll put my trust in Brian Wood. His track record is solid, and he’s done an excellent job on his run of Conan, showing he works well with licensed properties he has a passion for. But I can’t help think that if you are handed the keys to this particular kingdom you’d best start hard and fast out of the gate. Star Wars #1 fails to do that. It is competent and well-crafted, but not compelling.