My thoughts about Marvel’s many Star Wars titles from 2015!
In January 2015, Marvel relaunched the Star Wars line with a slew of new ongoings, mini-series, crossovers, and one-shots. On January 14th, Marvel introduced us to a new, completely canon, comic series starring the main cast of A New Hope:
The series was off to a wild start: weeks after the destruction of the Death Star, our band of Rebels setting off to wreck the Empire’s attempts at rebuilding the Empire after being served a crippling blow. The series showed Luke facing Darth Vader, Leia as a leader in the Rebellion, Han’s ex-wife(???), 3PO and Chewbacca’s rescue attempt and fight with Dengar, and Ben Kenobi’s secret journal from his time in exile! The series wasn’t the only one with a slew of surprises: Darth Vader introduced Dr. Aphra, Vader’s companion, and her murder droids BT and Triple Zero; Princess Leia showed Leia rescuing Alderaan’s survivors; Kanan showed, while showing us Palpatine’s replacements for Vader; Kanan shows us how a Padawan would survive Order 66; Lando showed us the origin story of Lobot…and Lando; and Shattered Empire showed us the outlook of the galaxy after Return of the Jedi. This is ignoring the crossover event, Vader Down, showing Darth Vader taking on the entire Rebellion army and fleet!
There was a lot to be excited about in the new series. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Expanding World…of Gender
One of the most disappointing things about studying Women and Gender’s Studies in my undergraduate was seeing the dearth of representation for women and minorities. A lot of people think that the franchise changed for the better with The Force Awakens by introducing Rey, but the comics were ahead of the curve. Each series introduced us to new women in major roles: Rebel Pilot Evaan, Dr. Aphra, Depa Bilaba, Sana Solo, Zarro, Chanath Cha, Shara Bey…all of these characters take major roles in every single title. That means that these women aren’t just tokens: each character is immensely important to the story in ways that would alter the title if they were changed into male characters. The creators seemed to take a direct charge in introducing many women into the galaxy.
Not only were the women introduced with little fanfare (nothing’s different, right? the galaxy is full of women!), the women are shown with a great range of emotions and jobs and abilities. We see Rebel pilots, Jedi Masters, archaelogists…I mean, weapons experts, smugglers and bounty hunters, children, the lot. The characters even showed a great deal of character growth: when Dr. Aphra was introduced in issue 3, we were introduced to a dark caricature of Indiana Jones. She grows, she learns, she fights, she stands alongside Vader and shows excitement and fear, and most importantly, she is well-rounded. We see her as a perfect foil for the insurmountable Darth Vader: one of the most iconic characters in the world has met his match in a woman! Not only that, but major roles are given to women: Shara Bey, Rebel pilot, is the mother of Poe Dameron: that’s right, one of the stories stars a mother. Leia and Padme no longer the only one holding the torch of gender representation, and these are just in a few comic series!
- The Sequels We Never Got
Most people say that The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest sequels of all time…if not one of the best movies of all time. That being said, there were still three years between A New Hope and the invasion of Hoth. The Legends canon definitely covered part of this time period well, but none of it felt…coherent to me. That changed when the new series all began.
The Marvel series stepped in to fill out this time period really well. The main series shows us how the main heroes struck out against the Empire…and the pitfalls along the way. Between Yavin and Hoth, we learned that Han has a wife, that Luke went on a galaxy-wide adventure to rebuild the Jedi Order by collecting artifacts and holocrons and information on the Jedi Order, and see the evolution of Leia’s role in the Alliance. Darth Vader’s series showed us Vader’s reaction to learning that he has a son, Palpatine’s machinations to replace Vader and Vader’s plan to stay relevant after the destruction of the Death Star, and Vader’s growing friendlist. We saw Leia rebuild Alderaan, how Lando and Lobot got along…there was a lot of good to see. These books don’t seem like random asides in the galaxy, but actually feel like genuine sequels to the original movie with the actual characters were fell in love with when we saw the movies.
Even more than that, the series take careful attention to not trample over the movies. Leia and Han have an undeniable chemistry in the series, but there are enough complications that it’s believable that they don’t kiss until they do on the Falcon. Luke doesn’t grow too strong on his own that he doesn’t need to train on Dagobah, and Vader grows in believable ways to reach the point where he might want to convert Luke on Cloud City.
3. Darth Vader
Okay, this one sounds like a cop out, doesn’t it? But here’s the deal: forty years later, it’s hard to keep Vader as exciting and terrifying as he was when he was introduced boarding the Tantive IV. After forty years, we got an origin story for Vader, drawn out over three movies, many side titles from Dark Horse, Dark Times stories, just constant Vader. At some point, we were going to reach overload. But Marvel had an advantage that Dark Horse could rarely use: Marvel had the entire canon available to them at once. Darth Vader’s portrayal changed and morphed over the years as we were introduced to new data. But Marvel had something different: they could write Darth Vader in direct succession to the Anakin Skywalker we know from the Prequels and from The Clone Wars.
The first major splash of Darth Vader shows Vader slaughtering a tribe of Tuskens 22 years after they killed his mother. This, while he was intimidating Jabba the Hutt to help the Empire rebuild. Vader goes to build an army from a droid factory on Geonosis built of Commando Droids. He takes on a cyborg group set on replacing him. He defends an entire moon and takes on an AT-AT by himself. When taken down over Vrogas Vos, he takes on the entire Rebel army on its own. The horror of Vader is back.
- Ya’all thought I was gonna go with the Good, Bad, and the Ugly, didn’t you? Nah, nothing in the Star Wars comics have been really bad before. I may get crucified for this, but I’m not as gaga for Kanan: The Last Padawan as literally everybody else is. Don’t get me wrong: I love the story. I love Kanan as a character from the series and from Rebels. The story does a lot of really, really cool things: how does a Padawan survive in a rough galaxy after Order 66? What friends would they have? For fans of Rebels: what was Kanan’s relationship with Depa like? Who were his clone troopers? What was his role in the Clone Wars? This series gives us a lot of really solid and fun answers. Kanan and Depa’s relationship is extremely interesting, and it’s incredible to see some of the character perks that Kanan picked up from Depa and see how he became the Jedi that he is in the Dark Times as he’s adventuring with the crew of The Ghost.
That being said, Kanan struggles sometimes as a comic. The finale, the splash scenes from each issue, show an almost insurmountable problem. At the end of one issue, Kanan escapes to Coruscant after Order 66, only to be surrounded by a legion of ARC-170 fighters. In the next issue, Kanan escapes easily in like two pages. I’m sure, with a few minutes of screen time rather than 22 pages, the story would have unfolded much differently and the tension would have remained. The problem was that this story was told in a comic rather than in a show. In that sense, reading the series all at once is a lot more fun than waiting for a month between issues.
My hope is that after the second arc is finished, the whole series will take a more definite form. The first arc introduced us to a lot of side characters that we didnt know before, which was a bummer as some characters were sidelined. The second arc promises to dive a bit deeper into these sidelined characters (like General Kleeve) and show us more of Kanan’s supporting cast’s background.
- Chewbacca promised to be a fun series. A non-speaking character and a new side? The promise sold us with Chewbacca on a mission to free some enslaved people. We thought that this would be an excellent parallel to his history of slavery. Phil Noto did the art, and boy, did he do it incredibly.
As a whole, though? The series fell flat. The story didn’t deliver on parallels to Chewbacca’s past. We actually only got a few flashbacks to Chewbacca’s past. The side characters were flat, honestly? I can only remember a few of their names. There was Zarro; Jaum the bad guy who’s an alien of some species; a Shishatavenen; some miners, an Imperial, uhh…some droids? The side characters didn’t take off for me at all. The plot didn’t give any of them a chance to shine, either. The stakes felt really low as we knew Chewbacca would survive (which should be accounted for when writing a good story) and some side characters who weren’t cool enough to be memorable even if they died.
The series was moved from really bad to average when we saw the final few pages of the final issue. Check out the graphic novel at your local library when it comes out in February.
- Pacing Issues
I’ve already mentioned that Kanan struggled with it’s pacing. I don’t have a lot to say on this point, but Star Wars was kind of slow at some points. Darth Vader was almost too fast in resolving some plot details (especially the end of the second arc). Princess Leia in general was way too fast a series: issues 1-2 were well paced, but issues 3 and 4 sped through the new dimension of the story (a potential spy and delegations) that by the time the final issue hit, it had to sped through its 22 pages to tell a story that wraps up a huge story thread and four issues that led up to it.
So what stories do I think are the best? Here is my ranking of every series:
1. Darth Vader
2. Star Wars
4. Shattered Empire
5. Vader Down
6. Kanan: The Last Padawan/Kanan
7. Princess Leia
Some of my favorite moments:
The first arcs of Star Wars and Darth Vader both ended with the same scene: Boba Fett knows the name of the Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star that Vader and Aphra have been searching for. Boba confirms for Vader that the pilot is a Skywalker and Vader knows immediately that this Skywalker is his son. Kieron Gillen showed us an incredible scene where Vader’s anger welled up over the betrayal by his master, the shock of finding out that his son survived, and his whole world falling apart around him.
2. Doctor Aphra
Darth Vader 3 shows us the new character Doctor Aphra. Her introductory issue showed us an incredible parody of Indiana Jones: as she rolled away from a boulder, she saved a relic from the past only to fight over where it belonged (“in an armory!” if you were curious). This issue also introduced BT and Triple Zero, two of the best supporting characters from any Star Wars comic.
3. Leia senses Maul
Shattered Empire had some of my favorite scenes in the whole galaxy. Princess Leia, Shara Bey, and Queen Joruna of Naboo take flight in Naboo fighters against TIEs and Star Destroyers. This was one of our introductions to the new, connected galaxy that promised to bring together the Prequels, the Originals, and the Sequel Trilogies. The series definitely delivered: Han, Leia, and Luke all interact with a brand new character, the mother of a Sequel Trilogy character. We also get a look back, though: As Leia stands in Theed, she senses something…something cold and sinister. Not only do we see a new angle of Leia and her Force powers, but the series expertly bridges all three trilogies in only a few pages.
These are only a few points, and only a few comments. There are 50 some issues altogether, all worth reading in some respect. Hopefully this primer convinces you to look back on 2015’s excellent offerings before we move into new territory with 2016.