Star Wars #1 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)
The new Star Wars comic from Dark Horse is called… Star Wars. Not a single subtitle to be found, let alone the three or four that have become a common sight on the cover of Star Wars comics and novels. The premise, like the title, is simple: it’s two months after the events of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (or, if you’d prefer, just Star Wars), and Luke, Leia, and Han are coping with their losses and the changed circumstances of their lives, all while helping the Rebel Alliance scout out a new location for a permanent base.
This simple, no-nonsense approach makes this new book very appealing to Star Wars fans who aren’t steeped in expanded universe lore and would like to pick up something they can enjoy without reading five other books to situate themselves. One such fan is my brother, Tim. You might be familiar with Tim’s writing from the far more popular Tumblr blog, VHShitfest. For a change of pace, he and I will be discussing and reviewing this new Star Wars series together.
Tim: I wouldn’t call myself a casual fan of the expanded universe. By virtue of my relation to Dan, I know a lot about its various contributions, for good or ill, to the galaxy far, far away. I’ve read the occasional novel and a fair share of the old Marvel comics. That said, the most apt word for my feelings toward the expanded universe is ambivalence. I’m pretty satisfied, to say the least, with the story told in the six Star Wars films, and with few exceptions, I have little desire to see that story expanded.
Still, the prospect of an ongoing Star Wars comic written by Brian Wood is enough to get me excited. Over the past decade, Wood has proven himself to be one of mainstream comics’ most versatile creators, with notable works ranging across all genres. The choice of Wood as a writer and the decision to focus on the original cast in the direct aftermath of A New Hope was a clear ploy on Dark Horse’s part to pique the interest of fans like me. Though we’ve recently seen strong work from journeymen like John Ostrander and John Jackson Miller, this marks the first time Dark Horse has given a Star Wars project to a significant contemporary comic book writer in a long while.
In this excellent podcast interview, Wood says one need only be familiar with the original film in order to get all there is to get out of this series. The first installment sticks pretty close to that rule. Aside from some ominous foreshadowing near the issue’s end, even the narration seems unaware of notable events or revelations to come in The Empire Strikes Back.
Though Wood is clearly trying to evoke the vibe of the classic trilogy, he’s not simply treading old ground. Rather, he’s dealing with the emotional states of a cast whose lives have been significantly impacted by tragedy. Luke’s family, mentor, and childhood best friend have all died and Leia’s home planet was destroyed. The ceremony at the end of A New Hope was a brief sigh of relief, not a grand celebration.
Why do you think Dark Horse doesn’t reach out to bigger names to write Star Wars comics more often? I think Brian Wood has written an exciting entry point for casual or lapsed Star Wars comics readers like me. Does a more intricate knowledge of the expanded universe rob the book of some of its appeal?
Dan: Obviously, my interest in the expanded universe is much higher than Tim’s. I’m content to lose myself utterly in limitless tales of a galaxy far, far away—so long as they’re good. I remain very impressed with the intricacy of the expanded universe, and how, with very few significant exceptions, the chronology fits together with the satisfying snap of Lego bricks. I suppose that’s going to change in the next couple of years, but that’s another story.
Despite my love for it, I can certainly understand how all of that interconnected continuity can be intimidating to the uninitiated—both fans and writers alike. To answer your first question, Tim, I suspect that the strictures placed on writers working within the Star Wars universe (“That’s a good idea, but I’m afraid it contradicts the events of Darksaber”) are a strong deterrent to more established comic book writers, who, I imagine, would prefer to have more creative elbow room, especially if they’re already writing for Marvel or DC, where they’re also frequently straightjacketed by continuity.
As for your second question, I don’t find my enjoyment of this book at all inhibited by the fact that I’m an EU junky. First of all, there are enough nods to the expanded universe to be found here—mostly perfunctory ones, such as the mention of planets like Thyferra and Eriadu—to scratch that continuity itch. Beyond that, however, it’s nice to have a fresh perspective on the story, and some exploration of a time period seldom covered in the expanded universe. Besides, since there’s a lot about The New Jedi Order that I don’t like, a purer Star Wars story like this one is very refreshing.
Tim: Like most writers, Wood has a good grasp on Han Solo, but one of the most exciting things about this issue is its focus on Leia, a character who, in my limited exposure, has been unfairly neglected in much of the expanded universe. Here, she’s the true hero of the Rebel Alliance. Luke blew up the Death Star, but Leia risked her life to get those plans. Wood portrays her as an impressive pilot, much like her father and brother. In a strong wordless sequence after her X-wing is chased to the surface of Dominus III by a TIE fighter, she hunts down and kills the TIE’s pilot.
Wood also isn’t afraid to portray Luke and Leia’s relationship as it actually existed in the first two films. They engage in playful banter one could even describe as flirting! This is an aspect of Star Wars which fans are much too queasy about, whether it’s their kiss in Empire or Luke’s pining in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.
Good use is also made of a few of my favorite supporting characters from the original trilogy, including Wedge Antilles and Mon Mothma, who sets the book’s first storyline into motion when she gives Leia orders to form a small task force to find a planet for a new rebel base.
I also like the meeting between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine where Vader is stripped of command of his Star Destroyer and replaced by an ambitious young officer named Colonel Bircher. The tense relationship between Vader and Palpitine is at or near the core of the Star Wars saga, and Wood does a fine job portraying it here.
Carlos D’Anda has a clean, but expressive line which pays loving attention to facial expression. He shows off his storytelling chops as much in short character based scenes as he does in the big action setpieces. It’s a simple and direct style fitting for a refreshingly simple and direct story.
How did you feel about Wood and D’Anda’s characterization of the principal cast, especially Leia? Is the search for a new rebel base an exciting concept to kick off an ongoing series?
Dan: While I could point out a number of counterexamples, I agree that Leia is often neglected in the expanded universe. I appreciate that diplomacy is a unique part of Leia’s skill set, but too frequently, she’s relegated to the role of diplomat or negotiator. Here, we’re given a Leia much more reminiscent of the woman who took charge of Han and Luke’s bungled rescue attempt on the Death Star, or blasted her way out of Cloud City. In the case of all three of our protagonists, it was easy to imagine the voices of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill while reading their dialogue.
I also enjoyed D’Anda’s art; what I liked most about it was that it was distinctive and fun to look at. Many other Star Wars books have had art that, while pretty enough, feels static. The art here is very dynamic, and perfectly suited to space opera. This really shows basically any time he draws spaceships of any kind.
The “finding a new base” plot is not completely new territory, but it’s certainly a logical place to start. It leaves plenty of room for a variety of story arcs, and this excellent first issue certainly has me excited to see where Wood and D’Anda will go with it.
Tim will be back with us when we look at Star Wars #2 next month. You can read more of his writing at King and VHShitfest. In the meantime, catch me back here on Friday for the second part of James Luceno’s Agents of Chaos duology.