Star Wars Dark Horse 1 cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s exactly the place long-time Star Wars fans always wanted to see more Star Wars adventures take place.  Not before the original trilogy.  Not during the Clone Wars.  We’re talking about the time our favorite characters were at their best–between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

Marvel Comics originally had the license for comic book spin-off stories during the 1970s and 1980s.  In that time they visited their own strange, new worlds, but the best stories featured Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and the droids.  After 114 issues (107 regular monthly, three annuals, and a four-issue Return of the Jedi adaptation) interest in the Marvel Comics Star Wars waned.  Flash forward to December 1991.  Dark Horse Comics’ writer Tom Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy, coupled with the best Star Wars comic book poster-quality cover art to date by the stellar artist Dave Dorman, created a new comic book series, Dark Empire.  Dark Empire followed the events of Timothy Zahn’s post-Return of the Jedi trilogy and brought comic book readers some of the best Star Wars universe storytelling produced in comic book form.

D'Anda's Darth Vader

Over the last few decades Dark Horse Comics has continued holding the license for Star Wars comics, and has produced some great reads, including the great Agent of the Empire series, reviewed here last year.  The new Star Wars promises to be the next stage of classic Star Wars storytelling.  Will any of this factor into Disney’s newly purchased Star Wars efforts?  Will there be any commonality between Star Wars of the comic books and the Star Wars of novels, TV and movies, or will the comic books remain separate from the canon of the films much like the Star Trek universe?  For now it looks like we’re looking at different paths, but maybe there will be some crossover elements.

The first story arc of the new Star Wars monthly beginning with the release of Issue #1 today, “In the Shadow of Yavin” picks up with Luke and Leia and a small band of rebels re-grouping on the edge of the galaxy two months after Luke destroyed the first Death Star.  Luke and Leia, flying X-Wings, are ambushed, forcing Leia to ditch her ship into the nearest planet.  They make it back to rendezvous with other rebels where Mon Mothma sets Leia on a covert mission.  Meanwhile elsewhere we find Han and Chewbacca struggling with taking orders from the new rebels they have joined up with.  Far away, Emperor Palpatine scolds Darth Vader for his failure to protect the Death Star.  Vader is demoted, removed from his own ship and forced to report to a new Imperial leader, the young Colonel Bircher.

Emperor and Vader Dark Horse Star Wars

Issue #1 gets readers back into the world of these characters.  It’s not so much new territory, but one possible segue between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back of all those stories we have read in novels and comics over the years.  This new Star Wars will need to pick up its pace in Issue #2 to reel in readers to stick with this series.  Readers want more than familiarity, but it is understandable that this first issue would need to spend time revisiting the set-up and background.  All said, Brian Wood’s story is a fine start (Wood has written for Dark Horse’s The Massive and Northlanders series).  Carlos D’Anda’s art has an action-oriented style–with a bit of Howard Chaykin’s 1970s Star Wars character art–but his best work is on his ship detail (D’Anda’s work has been featured in Justice League and Batman: Arkham City).  You will remember what it was like when TIE Fighters were the coolest ships ever created.  And Alex Ross’s painted cover–every bit a superstar Ross cover–is an effective way to get readers to pick up the book.

Negatives?  I wish a Star Wars writer would create a series without needing to grasp onto the cliché lines from the Star Wars main cast in the movies, “I have a bad feeling about this” is just too over-used in Star Wars stories as are concepts like “this is our only chance.”  Also, why is Leia the one with the downed ship, and Luke having to tell her everything necessary to fly an X-Wing?  Wouldn’t she have been around these types of ships more than Luke?  And what’s with the first rebel to greet her at the rendezvous sporting a chauvinist attitude?  Why is that relevant or necessary to the story?  The biggest problem with the Star Wars universe is its strange handling of female characters and its treatment of key females as something less than strong leaders.  Leia was tough, but look how weak her mother Padmé ended up.  If Dark Horse’s Star Wars is going to be successful–and if Disney’s new Star Wars empire is going to be successful in 2013 and beyond–new storytellers need to learn from George Lucas’s biggest mistakes.  First and foremost, embrace strong female characters.  Put men and women on equal footing in the Star Wars universe–there is no good reason not to.

Star Wars Issue #1 is available today at comic book shops everywhere.

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