By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 09/04/2013 10:00 am EST
Every Wednesday, there is one comic at the top of Graphic/Novels editor Brian Martin’s “pull list.” Whether it’s because the comic is consistently brilliant, it’s the beginning of a new series or run, or it’s purely a whimsical choice, one book must be read before all others. In this weekly column, Brian examines the book he’s anticipating most, why he’s looking forward to it, and, after reading it, whether or not the issue met his expectations. Expect mild spoilers!
The Book:The Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.99)
Why is it at the top? Dark Horse has been promoting the heck out of this—so much so, we’re bringing Top of the Pull List to you a day early this week. Dark Horse releases several Star Wars titles every month (along with Aliens, it was one of the franchises that put the publisher on the map 20-some years ago), but this might be one of their most unique offerings ever. Adapted from George Lucas’ original rough draft of the movie that became Episode IV—A New Hope, this six-issue miniseries will feature plenty of familiar names, locales, and situations, but none of them will look quite like what we’re familiar with. It’s an interesting idea, and one that should gain plenty of attention from fans interested in seeing just how much changed from concept to execution. There is, however, a limit to how far The Star Wars can get on concept novelty alone. Will there be more to it than a simple, “Oh, so that’s who Luke Skywalker was originally,” once in a while? My fear is that this was a rough draft for a reason. That J.W. Rinzler and Mike Mayhew have created something of cultural interest is certain—but is it any good?
So how was it?The Star Wars is interesting so far, albeit mostly for the reason above. It’s fun to keep track of all of the differences between this and the film. As for whether or not it’s engaging on any level beyond this, well, that’s a bit harder to say at this point, since the plethora of stories this comic is juggling have all barely gotten started. A New Hope spends most of its first hour centered on two storylines: the Droids on Tatooine and Leia’s capture by the Imperials. The Star Wars’ focus, in what would be the equivalent of just its first 15-20 minutes, is all over the place.
There are elements of the familiar throughout, particularly in the story of Annikin Starkiller, who might be the primary protagonist. I say “might” because it really is impossible to tell with a cast this large, but Annikin clearly fills the “Luke” role in this version. His introduction is almost identical to what appeared in the shooting script for A New Hope (despite also not making it into the finished movie), and his Sith encounter is reminiscent of Darth Maul stalking around Tatooine in The Phantom Menace. Just because Lucas didn’t use all (or even most) of these ideas in the original film doesn’t mean they didn’t turn up in some capacity later in the series.
The actual Luke Skywalker we see here is like one-half of what became Obi-Wan Kenobi (the other half being Kane Starkiller), and he is easily the most interesting character in the comic. Striding onto the page with a commanding confidence, still a rabble-rousing general fighting his Rebellion from the shadows, Skywalker (bearing a visage that looks more than a little familiar) is one of the issue’s high points. It already seems extraneous to have both Kane and Luke in the story, which is indicative, again, of the fact that this was a very early version of Star Wars. Despite one of them being a recluse with diminished powers and an unfortunate affliction (although that revelation was plenty intriguing) and the other still a very active Jedi, the mentor persona both characters obviously possess feels a bit redundant. And of course it feels that way because it is.
Something that surprised me is just how similar this is…to the prequels. There are probably a lot of fans who don’t want to hear this, but as far as structure and pacing, this book is much more in-line with the latter-day trilogy than the former. You can tell even at this early stage that Lucas wanted to explore the politics of the Empire much more than the stark “Rebels good, Empire bad” that he actually ended up with, something he eventually did as he chronicled Palpatine’s rise to power. That story often became too overcomplicated for its own good, and it looks like The Star Wars might follow suit in this regard.
There are plenty of fascinating ideas and characters on display here. I love the idea of an entire sect of Sith, rather than a mere two, replacing the Jedi as galactic “peacekeepers” while hunting down the remnants of the previous Rebellion. And despite appearing for only a handful of panels, The Star Wars’ version of Darth Vader is certainly intriguing. As a whole, however, there is far too much going on—too many characters, too many plotlines, a complicated political stage (for the original trilogy, anyway). Lucas has often said that his original story was too large to contain in a two-hour film. Judging by how much happens in this first issue alone, it’s easy to see why significant alterations needed to be made. So this issue doesn’t quite rise above its novelty as a cultural curiosity, but it isn’t bad either. It’ll take a couple issues, and a little more time with each of its plotlines, to see how essential this story is to the Star Wars mythos.
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.