Issues of the Day – Star Wars #1

January 16, 2013

Some contributions to fandom cannot be summarized properly by one voice.  The Sci-Fi Christian recognizes that one such contribution may be Dark Horse Comics Star Wars number 1.  With characters from the original trilogy including Luke, Leia, and Han and the simple Star Wars name, one cannot help but be reminded of the Marvel series, which ran from 1977 to 1986.  And there is speculation that this could be the last new series that Dark Horse offers if Disney moves the rights to their own comic publisher Marvel at the conclusion of the current contract.  The name, the characters, and the real life drama have all made Star Wars a highly anticipated new series, but will it pass the test of the Sci-Fi Christians, in “Issues of the Day with Mike and Dan.”

 

Do you feel this story is a good representation of the original trilogy?

Mike:  With reservations, yes. The characters are clearly recognizable as the heroes and villains who first commanded our attention in 1977. The dialogue rings truer in some cases than in others—Han’s seems spot-on, for example, while Luke seems a little too fond of Star Trek-esque technobabble at points (I can’t quite hear 1977 Mark Hamill talking about a cold start of ship’s engines)—and some of the visual designs stylize the appearances we’re used to (most notably, Darth Vader on page 24 resembles Ralph McQuarrie’s original, highly angular, samurai-like design more than the body armor David Prowse wore on screen). All in all, however, there’s no mistaking this story for anything but what it is: a fairly straightforward space opera in a galaxy long ago and far away, still pristine and uncluttered with three decades’ worth of prequel and expanded universe accretions.

I especially think this issue does well by Princess Leia. We see her in action as an X-wing pilot, and even taking out an Imperial pilot with a blaster at close range. I don’t think a gun is any automatic symbol of strength, but I appreciate this issue’s reminder that Leia is a strong woman. Pages 10-11 show us the fiery princess we fell in love with in Episode IV, who has (I would argue) unfortunately been diminished in a geek culture that still can’t seem to get past the metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. Don’t get me wrong: I was 11 years old in 1983, so I get the appeal. But when dozens of women (and, worse, young girls) choose to cosplay “Slave Leia” at cons, and when the otherwise fantastic new Star Wars Kinect video game features a disturbingly svelte and scantily clad Leia willingly defending her status as “dance champion” in Jabber’s court, it’s great to see this issue putting Leia front and center as Rebel leader par excellence, not only militarily but also strategically and emotionally. As Luke says to an apparently chauvinistic male pilot, “She’s not like us. She’s better. Tougher” (page 17). Preach it, brother Luke!

Dan:   Overall yes.  And if anything this book really builds on the character of Leia as we know her in the movies.  She is the smart political mind we expect and a true leader.  But this series shows us that she is tough and resourceful.   They put her into a X-Wing at the beginning of the story and she expertly uses a blaster when facing stormtroopers head on.  If anything this book may have strengthened my feelings about Leia, who for me in the expanded universe reads more like a wife and mother than a warrior.  Honestly, the expanded universe depictions of her even as a Jedi read like she is the lesser Skywalker who lucked into a portion of the force.  Here, Leia is a strong backbone.  I think Leia also shows us how close we are to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope as she casually mentions Obi-Wan as General Kenobi.  Old Ben is still in her eyes a military hero of the Clone Wars, and not the spiritual mentor of Luke.  She has not yet made the switch mentally that he is a different kind of leader than she expected.

I was a little disappointed with how Han Solo and Chewbacca were presented.  They appear as distractions from the main arc.  I understand this could be for story reasons and an inability to work them cleanly into the main arc.  But I have a hard time believing that if the Rebels are looking for a new secluded home that they would ignore the advice of the smuggler in their midst, who would know a thing or two about hideouts.

 

What did you like the most?

Mike:  My favorite moment was the reveal of the Star Destroyer unleashing a full squadron of TIE fighters (spearheaded by a really sweet TIE interceptor) on pages 4-5. It may be the most perfectly placed beat in Wood’s script, injecting a sudden and much-needed shock of drama into a pretty placid first few pages; and D’Anda’s art captures the visual excitement so well I could almost hear the “scream” TIE fighters make in the films in my head.

Dan:  My favorite part was seeing my childhood heroes dog fighting in my favorite fighter of all time the X-Wing.  And luckily for me they started that sequence in the opening pages.  After reading more and more Star Wars comic titles in the last few months that have Skywalker grandchildren and Jedi Padawans centuries before the Battle of Yavin, it is also nice to have a comic home for the characters that originally ignited my fandom.

Along with the X-Wings I was thrilled that the opening sequence included a personal favorite, Wedge Antilles.  I do like to remind my children that Wedge got part of two Death Stars where Luke only got one!  This inclusion early told me that writers would be using the entire scope of original characters and not just the big three.  I loved seeing them recognize the entire cast has much to bring to the table.

 

What did you like the least?

Mike:  I didn’t care for the political maneuvering at play. To be fair, Mon Mothma doesn’t care for it, either: “This sort of secretive ‘shadow council’ is not something I am comfortable with… It reeks of the worst of the Empire, and we should be moving towards the light, not deeper into darkness” (page 19). The scene in which she gives Leia a secret mission to uncover the spy in the Rebels’ ranks is well-written enough, but it feels like a plot that would be more at home in the prequels than in the original trilogy. Ditto Mothma’s remark about how the economy of supply and demand regulates Imperial life as well as the Alliance’s—I mean, sure; but stopping to think about it throws cold bacta tank water on any fun readers might have been having. Remember how you felt when Episode I’s opening crawl talked about disputes over the taxation of trade routes? Yeah.

I also didn’t like the Emperor’s “dressing down” of Vader over the destruction of the Death Star—not so much because it didn’t make sense, but because it only reminded me of the crude but hysterical “Robot Chicken” sketch on the same subject. Just because some things in the Star Wars universe can be treated realistically—political machinations, supply and demand, consequences for Darth Vader—doesn’t mean they must be.

Dan:  I really wanted a comic that anyone who had watched the original trilogy could pick up and jump into.  I think they are trying, but there are still hints at the Expanded Universe that could keep some readers from fully enjoying the title.  One example for me is the use of the word “squints” for TIE Fighters.  For readers who have just read one of the Rogue Squadron stories, this fighter jockey term will seem like second nature.   But for those that have not, squint is likely a nonsense word since they have only heard TIE Fighters in the movies referred to by their proper name.

I also felt the story felt flat.  I am willing to acknowledge they have much to establish for future stories.  But if George Lucas was directing this story he would be calling out for faster and more intense!  In the same way that I would never suggest a new viewer not start Star Wars: The Clone Wars with the poison iced tea arc, I would really liked this start to be page to page action packed.

 

Do you feel this story conforms to canon?

Mike:  I admit I’m still learning to love the prequels, and I have very limited knowledge of the EU; but I didn’t spot any canonical contradictions. I appreciated the minor ways this story is taking some first steps into a larger world: Han’s mention of Coruscant, for instance, and particularly Vader’s growing, still not fully formed fascination with the name “Skywalker.” I anticipate the series will let the original trilogy illumine the later developments—not, as often seems the case, vice versa. And that, in my judgment, is as it should be.

Dan:  Being a fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars I have gotten used to stories that contradict “canon” built in the Expanded Universe.  But I did not see anything that fans of the Expanded Universe would complain about, though that would not have been a concern for me.  My concern is does anything contradict the movies, which I would say no.

 

Do you see spiritual applications in this story?

Mike:  Not immediately; not without really “reaching.” I did note with interest, however, that the Rebel cruiser from which Han Solo departs is christened the Redemption. Perhaps we are to think that Han has, as it appeared by Episode IV’s conclusion, redeemed himself? Or, given the subplot about Han’s apparent temptation to misappropriate Rebel Alliance funds, are we being told that more redemption lies in Han’s future, perhaps after a (temporary) fall from the Alliance’s good graces?

In addition, the Emperor sets Darth Vader the task of redeeming himself for his disgrace at Yavin. It seems this arc, at least, will pay some attention to what redemption is, and how we can achieve it. As Christians, of course, we believe redemption is God’s free gift—but grace never absolves us of ongoing personal responsibility: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” asks the apostle Paul. “By no means!” (Rom. 6.1-2, NRSV).  I am intrigued to see whether and how Wood navigates that tension in his story.

Dan:  What you talking about Willis?  I think you would really need to dig to find spiritual lessons in this issue.  I love stories of redemption, in fact I’m a sucker for them, and even Han’s limited storyline does not seem to place him fully on that road yet.  Unless of course you take into account he has not run away from the Alliance, yet.

 

Does this make you more or less excited about more Star Wars?

Mike:   I was psyched about Star Wars the day this issue hit the stands, to the point of streaming John Williams’ scores for the films on Spotify while at work. As that eminent comic strip philosopher Snoopy once said, however, “The anticipation far outweighed the actual event.” The idea of new Star Wars in the original trilogy era excites me; however, we do know nothing can really change, given the “upper limit” of Episode VI. I think the announcement of Episodes VII and beyond , where everything in the GFFA really could be up for grabs, is where true excitement about Star Wars is now to be found.

Dan:  For me, I was excited about this new series because of episode VII.  It did not take away my enthusiasm for this future theatrical release, but it also did not get me more frenzied for it.

 

Do you plan to stick with the series?

Mike:  I will read through at least issue 3, the conclusion of the first arc, and then re-evaluate. It’s a promising start to the series, but (a) I wonder how long it will last, given the rumors that Marvel may regain the franchise’s comic book license; and (b) my Republic credits are limited, and my pull list is still in need of pruning. There’s a new Superman ongoing due out this year, after all…

Dan:  I am still not decided on this question.  I have not bought a single issue in the last 10 to 15 years.  I do read a lot of comics, as trades borrowed from a public library with an extensive collection.  And if my library had this as a trade I would check it out immediately.  But with this and another “historic” issue I broke my rule.  Last time I bought a comic, I had a nearby comic shop that was easy to get to.  Since my nearest bookstore which does carry comics had yet to put out any issues of Star Wars,  I had to make a 40 minute round trip to pick this up.  In many ways I wish I had waited for the trade on this story arc so I could have read the entire storyline at once.  I like to complete stories, so I will probably go ahead and pick up the next two issues and give Star Wars another chance.  But I may purchase the issues as digital copies and not in a physical format.  I did not hate this issue, but I enjoyed Star Wars: Agent of the Empire much more, which I did read as a trade.

My expectations were probably too high, as I have been preparing myself for weeks to read this issue.  I probably made it bigger than I should have!

Honestly, I am now considering collecting the old Marvel issues instead.

 

The final verdict of today’s “Issues of the Day with Mike and Dan” appears to be the series has potential, but has yet to win over the reviewers.  Hard core Star Wars fans, especially those that partake in Expanded Universe offerings, may wish to pick this issue up especially with it being a #1.  But casual fans may wish to wait for a trade version or find other outlets for this fandom.

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