Comic Book Review: Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 (Marvel, April 1, 2015)

April 6, 2015

Right now, my seven-year-old daughter is a huge Star Wars Rebels fan. She’s been watching and rewatching the first season; for a week after the season finale aired, she watched it three times a day. At dinner, she’ll ask me trivia questions: “Dad, do you know Zeb’s full name?” (I have to admit, I didn’t.) She’s read the Rise of the Rebels chapter book cover to cover more than once. She’s even illustrated her own picture book, featuring full-page portraits of all the characters—some more recognizable than others, but all fantastic, in this geeky dad’s opinion (completely unbiased, of course).

Marvel Star Wars Kanan The Last Padawan #1

Eager to fuel a nascent Star Wars fan, I read with her the first issue of Marvel’s new series Kanan: The Last Padawan. Set 15 years before Rebels, the story begins as the Clone Wars are ending. Jedi Master Depa Billaba and her apprentice Caleb Dume (as Kanan was known in his Padawan days) are leading the Republic’s fight against the Separatists on the planet Kaller. Surprised by Billaba’s military prowess, the vaguely Satanic-looking General Kleeve abandons the planet, leaving Billaba and Caleb to deal with its war-weary inhabitants, who see no real difference between the powers grappling for control of their world. Around a campfire after the battle, Billaba confesses to Caleb her criticism of the Jedi Order’s assumption of military leadership—just moments before one of her clone troops receives Chancellor Palpatine’s command to execute Order 66.

Depa Billaba as Caleb’s “Woman Wisdom”

Appropriate to its setting the larger Star Wars timeline, writer Greg Weisman’s story, at least so far, doesn’t share the generally lighthearted tone of Rebels (Weisman was also executive producer for the first season). But its seriousness hasn’t dissuaded my daughter from wanting to read this issue several times. She enjoys seeing Kanan as a young boy, and artist Pepe Larraz makes that enjoyment easy. He does a great job bringing just the right blend of youthful awkwardness and enthusiasm to Caleb’s face throughout.

Kanan_The_Last_Padawan_1_Preview_3We also both think Billaba is pretty cool . Weisman’s script makes allusions to Depa Billaba’s troubled past in the Expanded Universe, but it’s a backstory of which my daughter and I were completely unaware. You won’t need to know it, either, to appreciate her here. Billaba is a strongly defined, fully realized person, whose keen insight and sensitivity toward others are assets as important as her formidable lightsaber skills.

Billaba strikes me as a kind of “Woman Wisdom” right out of the pages of Proverbs. She tells Caleb his penchant for asking questions, a quality not always valued by others in the Jedi Temple, led her to choose him as her padawan. Billaba wants Caleb to be wise. She invites him to “learn prudence” and “acquire intelligence” (8.5). Like Woman Wisdom, she promises to show the right path: “Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips” (8.6-7). While it comes too late to save the Jedi Order, Billaba’s realization that it has strayed too far from its identity is a righteous truth she is unafraid to speak.  No wonder young Caleb idolizes Billaba (and carries grief for her the Inquisitor can still manipulate in the Rebels season finale).

Big Questions for Kanan

I was impressed by the number of serious themes Weisman highlights in these few pages—far more than I expected in what I wrongly assumed would be a comic “mostly for kids.”

  •  The perspective of victims of war. The leaders of Kaller are unimpressed with Billaba’s announcement that General Kleeve is gone: “We Kallerans don’t see much difference between one general and another.” I wonder what atrocities the Kallerans saw during General Kleeve’s occupation that led them to such despair. Their reaction to the “liberation” Billaba brings reminds readers that “war is hell” not only for those who fight it but also for those who must live it, at the mercy of competing military and political interests and agendas.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Caleb expresses some righteous indignation at the Kallerans’ moral equation of General Kleeve with Master Billaba. When he asks her why she didn’t defend the difference between the Separatists and the Repbulic, she tells him “actions will better demonstrate that difference than any words.” Talk is as cheap in the Galaxy Far Far Away as it is in ours. Not even the finest and fanciest language can substitute for deeds that make a real and positive difference. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,” asked the apostle James, “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (2.15-16). 
  • Life means change. Caleb feels he’s found his purpose in fighting alongside Billaba. She tells him, however, that neither the war nor his apprenticeship will last forever: “You must not grow too attached, too fond, too in love with life as it is now. Those emotions are valuable… but you must learn to rule them… lest they rule you.” Her advice is sound, if sometimes hard to hear. If we only find fulfillment when our lives are comfortable, we will be setting ourselves up for some difficult times. We must find value and meaning beyond life’s shifting circumstances. The apostle Paul learned this lesson: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have… I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4.11, 13).

Kanan sketchesI don’t know how long my daughter’s fierce attachment to Star Wars Rebels will last—that’s one reason I’m hoping the show’s second season arrives sooner rather than later—but I’m fairly certain it’ll at least make it to May 6, when Kanan #2 drops. But even if it doesn’t, I’ll be sticking with Kanan: The Last Padawan for a while, eager to see this hero’s journey unfold, and to learn how he wrestles with the big questions his adventure has already raised.

What do you think of Kanan: The Last Padawan?

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Detail of Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 cover by Mark Brooks from http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=56193. Preview page image from http://www.newsarama.com/23754-kanan-1-exclusive-first-look.html.  Kanan sketches from http://www.starwars.com/news/your-first-look-at-kanan-the-padawan-exclusive. 

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