Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Star Wars 1, originally released January 14th, 2015.
Drew: I was eight years old when Michael Crichton’s The Lost World was published. I hadn’t read Jurassic Park (reminder: I was eight), but I LOVED the movie. Nothing, not even my reading level, could stop me from consuming this new tale of genetically resurrected dinos, so I convinced my parents to get me the book on tape. When the film adaptation came out in 1997, it was my first experience seeing a movie based on a text I was already familiar with. There were substantial changes to the plot, but I didn’t care — the draw for me was dinosaurs, and the movie definitely delivered. I was similarly undaunted by the streamlining of the plot in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations — the draw here was a heroes journey set in a lushly detailed fantasy world.
It wasn’t until Zack Snyder’s Watchmen that I was first apprehensive about a film adaptation — the draw for me was no longer the plot or specific characters, but the medium of the story itself. A film couldn’t hope to capture the formal elements specific to comics that makes Watchmen such an achievement. I find myself confronted with these questions as I think about Marvel’s new Star Wars series (my first foray into any non-film explorations of the universe) — what is the draw for Star Wars? Is it the space operatics? The characters? The actors that play them? The thrilling John Williams score? It turns out, my answer may be “all of the above,” but that doesn’t stop this issue from being a largely successful translation of the Star Wars universe onto the page.
The issue opens with a self-indulgent — if entirely understandible — simulation of the signature Star Wars opening title crawl. It’s a lot of pages to burn on preamble — what amounts to the opening seconds of any Star Wars film — but with an oversized issue, it doesn’t really take up any storytelling space, and it sure feels right. Actually, setting that tone may have been the biggest hurdle this issue had for making this feel like a Star Wars story — John Cassaday delivers some canny likenesses of the cast, and Jason Aaron slips in enough near-catchphrases to hear every line in the appropriate actor’s voice. That really just leaves a suitably Star Wars-y plot to make this feel like a lost film.
Aaron delivers, but again, largely by cannibalizing the films. The rebel plan to pose as friendlies in order to blow up an important Imperial installation is straight out of Return of the Jedi, but I’m mostly struck at how much this feels like Empire Strikes Back. Luke’s force powers are growing, the Millenium Falcon pretends to be garbage (and behaves like garbage even when it isn’t), and Han and Leia antagonize one another like a couple of schoolkids. This issue is set between the events of A New Hope and Empire, so it makes sense that it might presage some of the events there, though by issue end, some of that nostalgia is yielding diminishing returns.
In particular, I’m a bit disappointed by the closing standoff between Luke and Vader.
It’s not that that’s not a jaw-dropping, fist-pumping moment — on the issue’s own terms, that’s a hell of a cliffhanger — but, as a part of the established canon of the films, I’m not sure it really works. Wouldn’t this rob the climactic lightsaber battle at the end of Empire some of its weight as the first confrontation between Luke and Vader? Granted, we don’t know how this ends — maybe Luke just runs away, maybe Vader just learns his name, maybe this is just some kind of force vision, and Vader is still outside — but this calls into question one of the stickier, and unfortunately, less interesting questions that face this series: what is its relationship to the movies? Are they both canon to one another?
That may sound like a dumb question if you think the answer is “yes,” but I honestly think that answer makes this issue less interesting. It’s so obviously inspired by Empire — even down to specific lines — that it feels kind of redundant in a world where both exist. I may need to resort to some serious fanon to make this all work in my head, but I actually enjoy this issue much better if I just pretend that Empire was never made — or at least hasn’t been made yet. Without that, any scene between Luke and Vader is going to need some follow up where Vader kicks himself for not telling Luke about his true parentage.
Obviously, this issue wasn’t intended for that kind of intense fanon, which leaves the proceedings with a thick layer of dramatic irony — we roll our eyes especially hard when Han and Leia fight, because we know they’ll end up together in the end, for example. Dramatic irony isn’t my favorite narrative device, but when you think about it, all of our experiences with Star Wars are colored by knowing how it ends (you know, unless you’ve only seen the films once, which would be INSANE). In that way, Han and Leia fighting here is really no different from when they do it in A New Hope.
What do you make of that reading, Taylor? That our knowing the end might now be a definitive element of the Star Wars fan experience? I’m not totally sold on it yet, but it certainly makes me think of the familiar elements here a bit more fondly.
Taylor: That’s an excellent question Drew, especially for people of our generation and younger. I know I can’t speak for everyone our age, but who doesn’t know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father by now? We live in a world where practically all aspects of the original trilogy have been so suffused in our culture that anything involving Star Wars damn well better make reference to it. That being said, knowing just how the trilogy plays out means writers have to tread carefully when playing in the Star Wars universe. Either it can turn out wonderfully or or poorly.
So how does this issue perform? I would say somewhere squarely in-between. I’m not sure I enjoyed this issue as much as you did Drew and the reason essentially boils down to the above problem. Being one who knows his original trilogy well (as are you, no doubt), I recognize when Jason Aaron is giving a nod to the original trilogy. We see this happen many times throughout the issue in moments like this:
We all know the phrase “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” from A New Hope. Aaron here puts a spin on the old saying with the knowledge that any Star Wars fan worth their salt will recognize it. While I can appreciate this reference to the first movie, I feel like I’m being pandered too. It feels like an attempt to show continuity between the two mediums by using a well known line as opposed to having events or characters dictate the similarities between the two.
Indeed, the Luke of this issue doesn’t ring true to the Luke of the movies in any way. Shortly after his failed mind-trick shown above, Luke replies to the guard’s warning about not drawing his gun by stating “won’t reach for his blaster.” Again, we all know what he means here — here’s going to whip out his lightsaber. However, this quip doesn’t seem like something the earnest and serious minded Luke of the movies would say. A line such as this seems more at home in the mouth of Han.
However, where Aaron maybe shows a bit too much of his cards, Cassaday saves the day with some subtle and pleasing nods to the original series. Much of this is quite subtle and can be detected in the design of the environments and the ships in use. In particular, I appreciated the design of the Tattoine Shuttle our heroes use to infiltrate the Imperial weapons factory.
Those who have seen Return of the Jedi will surely see something recognizable in that shuttle. The design is quite similar (if not almost identical to) Jabba’s Sail Barge.
The slanted front, the tail fins, and the color scheme are essentially all one in the same. It’s the type of thing your one-time-Jedi-watcher might easily overlook, but for those who have an intimate familiarity with the movies the similarity is immediately apparent. This is a clever and fun way to show the connection between this issue and the movies that’s frankly just pleasing. It seems like a more honest way of acknowledging the Star Wars universe than simply cashing in on some well-worn dialogue.
One last thing: did anyone notice the big ol’ Disney logo at the end of the issue on the credits page? It was pretty startling to see that logo slapped on there instead of 20th Century Fox. Whether that’s nostalgia coming into play or a comment on our modern day society I’m not sure, but it sure is different, right?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?