Friday, March 13, 2015

Star Wars (2015), issues 1-3

Greetings, citizens! We continue the month-long Couchman birthday celebration with a look at Star Wars!

One of my earliest memories was of going to see my aunt and uncle in Chicago when I was three or four. I have various memories of the trip but one such memory was of playing with my aunt’s vintage Star Wars toys. I loved Star Wars even then, and knew the movie well enough to pick out some of the minor characters. I only mention this because I have no memory of ever actually having watched Star Wars before up to this point (they hadn’t done the theatrical re-release yet, and my family didn’t have any VHS copies yet). I somehow absorbed knowledge of Star Wars through the Force itself. Or from my mom, who was also a huge Star Wars fan, one of the two.

For as much of a fan of the series though, I have consumed very little Expanded Universe material. I’ve played a few of the games (most notably Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel), read some sections of books, and have browsed a decent amount on Wookiepedia. One of the things I had never done was read any Star Wars comics. Every time I’d gone to the comic shop and perused the Star Wars titles, I felt so clueless. I’d heard mixed things about all of the ones that Dark Horse had put out, and I didn’t have a good reference point of which ones would be good and which ones would suck, and until recently I was much less willing to pickup a comic without having an idea of what I was getting into.

After Disney purchased Star Wars, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Marvel (also owned by Disney) took over the publishing of Star Wars comics. That time came in January. When I’d heard it was coming, I was curious, but not really excited at the prospect. But then I saw a solicit for it and my mind was changed, primarily because of the writer of the book, Jason Aaron. Aaron is the writer behind Thor: God of Thunder, as well as the current Thor ongoing series with the female Thor, both of which I absolutely love. So, with a writer whose work I enjoyed attached to the book, I added it to my pull list.

The cover is pretty bland, unfortunately. Group shot of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2 and 3PO, a few TIE fighters and X-wings over head, all in front of a silhouette of Vader’s head with the hyperspace effect surrounded by a white void. It doesn’t show anything of what is actually in the issue, save for the characters, and even that we could’ve gleaned just from the title. Even working on the ludicrous assumption that someone looking at this had no idea what Star Wars was, it’s not terribly interesting. It’s drawing entirely on the iconography and name to actually sell the issue, which is unfortunate considering how much more interesting one could make the first cover of a Star Wars comic.

Appropriately though, the comic features the “a long time ago…” line, followed by a two-page spread of the Star Wars title, and even a one page “crawl.” On the one hand, it is kinda wasteful using up four pages of the comic for all of this instead of giving us more story. On the other hand though, these elements all help to set the tone. They’re things that every movie and at least some of the expanded universe material has used. They help to acclimate us to what is to come, to take us back to the first time we saw the films. Much as I would have liked to see the pages be used to tell more of the story, I think they were well used to help set things up.

The faux-crawl is pretty straight-forward, lacking some of the more flowery prose and extra details that most of the movie ones had. It sets up the timeframe of the story, shortly after the first Death Star has been destroyed, and tells us that the Rebels are on the offensive against the Empire. Short, sweet and to the point. We get another often-used element from the movies on the following page, where we see a ship pass-by from a low vantage point. It’s not as large and imposing as a Star Destroyer though. It’s just a simple shuttle, and it’s landing at a weapon factory on Cymoon 1. There’s a pretty heavy Imperial presence here, as we see two Star Destroyers in the sky above, along with several TIE fighters.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the artwork. Put simply, it’s great. Everything’s got a nice realistic look to it, which makes the familiar elements identifiable to us, and helps the new stuff feel like it certainly belongs. There’s a nice level of detail, lending to the realism, but it’s balanced out to not seem too busy. The linework, and colors are clear and consistent, so nothing blends together in ways that it shouldn’t, and the compositions of the panels all work well. Props to John Cassaday and Laura Martin, the artist and colorist respectively, for their excellent work.

Back to the story, we see that aboard the shuttle was Han Solo, along with R2-D2 and a pair of people dressed in the uniform of bodyguards of Jabba the Hutt. Han introduces himself to the overseer of the plant as an emissary of Jabba here for negotiations. The group is required to hand over their weapons, which they do without hesitation. We see that Chewbacca is looking over everything from above with a sniper rifle. Leia (disguised as one of the bodyguards) tells 3PO over a comlink that the plan is going well, and they’re brought inside the factory. In a nice subversion of the trope, 3PO says that he has a good feeling about all of this.

Inside the factory, we learn that the Empire is trying to get new suppliers, since the destruction of the Death Star consumed a few billion tons of resources that the Empire could’ve otherwise used to make TIE fighters, blasters, etc. Y’know, things that are useful to have in a time of war. The overseer of the factory is pretty blunt about the negotiations just being a formality, saying that the Empire will get what it wants at the price it dictates is acceptable. If Han and the others were actually here to negotiate, that might be a problem. However, the group just kicks the asses of the Stormtroopers that are with them, take their blasters, and then threaten the overseer with R2’s shock probe to get the location of the power core. While our heroes start making their way to the core, we learn that 3PO is aboard the Falcon, waiting for the right time to engage the autopilot to go pick up the group.

While Han, Leia, and R2 get to work causing a meltdown, Luke decides to try and practice using the Force some more, and manages to get a feeling. He’s guided to a cell, containing an impressive array of many of the more well known non-human species of Star Wars. A guy who could not be confused for anything other than a slave driver appears and tells Luke to not reach for his blaster, which Luke agrees to. However, Luke decides to bust out a move that Obi-wan never officially taught him;

So with the meltdown enabled and the slaves freed, our heroes call to get the Falcon over there to pick them up. However, Chewie informs them that a shuttle is landing. And aboard the shuttle is none other than Darth Vader, who was supposed to be negotiating on behalf of the Emperor. Leia orders Chewie to try and shoot Vader, but… well, it’s Vader. He deflects the first shot with his lightsaber, and then uses a pair of stormtroopers as human shields from subsequent shots. Chewie does manage to kill several of the stormtroopers with Vader, which is pretty impressive, but Vader uses the Force to take down the sniper nest Chewie was using, but not before Chewie flees. The factory goes on high alert as Han calls for the Falcon again, but it turns out a bunch of salvagers have decided to start taking the nicer parts from the ship. Han and Leia find their way into a hangar housing several AT-ATs, and figure that’s probably their best way out. Luke however has wandered off and starts following Ben’s voice, leading him directly to Vader and the end of the comic.

The cover for issue two is much better than issue one. Vader in the center, and behind him AT-ATs, AT-STs, and a whole bunch of stormtroopers. In the foreground, Han and Chewie are hiding behind a pile of junk, with Han making a shushing gesture to Chewie. My only complaint is with the second printing version (which is the one I have, unfortunately). The first printing has the background looking like the atmosphere of Cymoon 1. The second printing instead has a field of stars, making me think that this is taking place on top of a Star Destroyer.

The issue picks up right where the last one left off with Luke and Vader. They have a brief confrontation, with more verbal jabs than physical ones, but it’s pretty one sided. Vader even takes Luke’s lightsaber away from him, and is about to cut him down when he recognizes the lightsaber as his own. And then the roof caves in.

Hah, take that Kool-Aid man!

This is, of course, the AT-AT that Han and Leia are stealing. Sadly it seems the thing didn’t have room for all the slaves, because a bunch of them are running along behind/beneath the thing, fighting the stormtroopers who are trying in vain to take the walker down. Vader isn’t one to take this shit lying down though, so he starts cutting through the slaves, and rallying the stormtroopers to him. Han and Leia would be contributing more, but apparently the weapons systems hadn’t finished being brought online yet, so while R2 and a couple jawas work on that, Han’s just trying to step on stuff. Leia gives 3PO another call, telling him to try and get rid of the salvagers. He takes a blaster that had been left in the cockpit and goes out to talk to them. If this had been just about anyone other than 3PO, it may have been a good idea. But of course, 3PO drops the blaster, one of the salvagers picks it up, and then blasts him. Show of hands, who’s surprised?

Back with the action, Luke has a “what the hell am I doing” moment, realizing that he’s completely outclassed by Vader. This is what happens when a low level fringer tries taking on a high level Jedi guardian/Sith lord. Fortunately, look finds a bunch of swoop bikes and decides that he’s got a need for speed. He plows through a group of stormtroopers and leaves Vader eating his dust. Immediately afterwards, Han tries to stomp Vader using the walker, but again, this is Vader. He not only keeps the foot from crushing him, but also starts crushing the thing himself. They manage to get the guns working just in time though, and fire a salvo at Vader, saving their hides. With the tides turned, our heroes start heading back towards the Falcon to try and finally get out of here, Luke managing to recover his lightsaber. After Luke speeds off, Vader emerges from the wreckage that the walker created, and the issue ends with him and a group of stormtroopers on speeder bikes heading after our heroes.

I love the cover for issue three. This is Luke at his most badass, riding on a speeder bike, plowing through stormtroopers, firing wildly and wielding his lightsaber. It’s like some kind of fusion between Star Wars, and the Bat out of Hell album cover. It is glorious. Side note; holy crap, I’m reviewing something that came out this week!

We begin amidst the chaos of battle, with stormtroopers firing in vain at the stolen walker, slaves being shot up by the stormtroopers on speeder bikes, Luke mowing down stormtroopers like on the cover, and Vader just… walking through all the destruction. Like ya do, I guess.

We cut over to 3PO, who’s fallen to pieces in the grand fashion of the series. Fortunately, Chewie shows up and starts showing people what a badass a wookie can be, taking out the scavengers.

Back at the battle, we see that the Empire has finally gotten their shit together and has a group of tanks, AT-STs, and speeders all firing at the stolen walker, but damned if that thing isn’t a bullet sponge. Er, laser sponge, I guess. Anyway, Luke finally catches up, even though he’s in a much faster vehicle and logically should have caught up almost immediately, and continues to defy my expectations by being a badass. Amazingly, it seems like Vader is not far behind because on the next page we see him stalking up to the walker with his lightsaber. We also learn that the technicians back at the factory managed to avert the meltdown. Vader then proceeds to hack off one of the walker’s feet, causing it to come crashing down.

Luke swings back around (what is he doing, making victory laps?) and takes out the first wave of stormtroopers that try and assault the survivors. Luke and Leia both realize that the meltdown must have been stopped, so Luke goes off towards the factory to try and blow the damn thing up. Wait, shouldn’t he have to pass right through Vader and the squad of stormtroopers? The walker came directly from there, and Vader was following right behind it. Did he decide to move? Because that seems like a dumb idea, since if he stayed right behind it, the rebels would be flanked with him on one side, and all the tanks and stuff on the other.

Anyway, Vader decides to hop into a speeder and give chase to Luke. However, Luke manages to make it to the core and blast the whole thing a bunch, once again initiating a meltdown. Vader manages to shoot the speeder bike on the way out, and Luke thinks he’s not going to make it. Of course, he does get out, because otherwise we never would’ve gotten Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. Vader didn’t make it out, but yet again, it’s Vader. He just emerges from the burning wreckage and watches as the Falcon flies off. I was going to complain about how quickly it seems that the Falcon got back into the air and had everyone loaded onto it, but it’s not exactly clear that this is immediately after the factory blew up. Vader could’ve been unconscious for a while before we see this happen.

So, the Falcon manages to jump to light speed, running through the blockade of Star Destroyers. Vader chokes the captain of one of the Star Destroyers to death, and says that he’ll be the one to train Luke since there’s nobody else to do so. Luke mopes for a bit about how he’ll never be a true Jedi since there’s nobody to teach him how to Use the Force, and the issue ends back on Tatooine in Obi-wan’s old shack, focusing on a box that reads “For Luke.”

All in all, these issues were pretty good. Jason Aaron is a good writer, managing to craft dialogue that fits all of the characters, and move the story along at a good pace. It’s nice seeing Luke at this stage, where he’s trying to use his limited Jedi abilities, but mostly relying on his other skills. It helps us see him grow more gradually as a warrior, instead of going from someone barely trained in A New Hope to a legitimately skilled soldier in The Empire Strikes Back. I would’ve liked to have seen more with Han and Chewie, but I’m betting we’ll get more of them soon enough. The artwork is, again, excellent. I would say more, but honestly, I’ve more or less said everything there is to say about that earlier. There wasn’t a single panel I could pick out where there was some sort of weirdness I had to point out, but several that were pure awesome.

That’s all for this week. Join me next week, as I take a look at something in a medium that I’ve never looked at before. Until then, citizens!


  1. Great review. In my opinion, you should play the Star Wars theme for the first half of the first issue and then switch to the Imperial March when Vader shows up for the best Star Wars reading experience. That is what I did for when I read it.

    Also I hope you don't mind but I skipped the part regarding issue 3 because I haven't read it yet and didn't want spoilers. Can't wait for next week!

    1. I had the soundtrack playing in my head as I was reading. I almost started humming it, but I was reading the first issue in a Taco Bell, and I would've gotten more than a few weird looks. Also, it's hard to hum while eating a burrito.