Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Star Wars 3, originally released March 11th, 2015.
Drew: Ah, The Treachery of Images. I remember chuckling mildly at Magritte’s pedanthood when he insisted that it really isn’t a pipe — it’s a picture of a pipe — but I think the painting is actually much more clever than it initially seems. That anyone would be given pause by a painting of a pipe insisting it is not a pipe speaks to some of our most basic assumptions about art. Indeed, that we’re confronted with the fact that a picture of a pipe is not a pipe forces us to question what it means for something to be a pipe. Clearly, it’s not just a matter of looking like a pipe, so some element of pipe-iness is lost in the translation. As Marvel’s new Star Wars series marches on, I find myself wondering if some piece of what makes Star Wars Star Wars isn’t also lost in the translation to comics.
This issue is particularly evocative of the films in that it is particularly action-heavy, recalling both the Hoth battle of Empire and the speeder chase of Jedi. Actually, it’s almost all action, with Luke et al. narrowly escaping from the clutches of Darth Vader. That lighter plotting leaves room for some fun sequences, but I’m afraid they suffer from just how strongly they allude to the films.
Luke slices off a piece of a speeder, causing its rider to careen into a stationary object. Replace the AT-AT leg with a tree, and you basically have one of Luke’s takedowns from Jedi. That sense of familiarity may be charming elsewhere, but it really works against this sequence. Part of what makes that chase sequence so exciting in Jedi is that each speeder was taken down in a different way, so repeating it here isn’t just boring, but is arguably not in the spirit of the very scene it’s referencing.
More importantly, the similarities to the film only highlight what is lost in these still images. To his credit, artist John Cassaday turns in some incredibly dynamic work here, but inviting comparisons to a thrilling film sequence would be unflattering to any comic. As hard as Cassaday is working to make us feel the motion in these scenes, they can’t help but feel static next to the scenes writer Jason Aaron is choosing to emulate here. The result is kind of self-defeating, strangling the scene with the very baggage it was aiming to capitalize on.
The scenes that break free of those direct allusions fare much better. The first comes in the form of Chewbacca’s triumphant return, rescuing both C-3PO and the Millenium Falcon from the tentacled scavengers.
Forcing me to think about Chewie’s hands notwithstanding, that’s one heck of an iconic image, and one that’s wholly original. Without a specific scene to measure this one against, it stands on its own (though it does set a rather charming precedent for Chewie rescuing partially dismantled Threepio). This feels like a genuinely new adventure for a beloved character, rather than a remix of a well-known adventure squeezed for every ounce of recognition.
The true breakout development of this issue, though, is the cliffhanger tease of some package for Luke hidden in Obi-Wan’s hut back on Tatooine. Readers of Darth Vader know that that’s exactly where Vader is headed next (though that’s also implied by the “Next Issue” cover, which features Vader looking off into Tatooine’s distinctive binary sunset, just like Luke did so dramatically back in A New Hope), which just might explain how he comes to realize the cocky thorn in his side is actually his son. That I can leap to that particular conclusion is a reflection of the limits of this series as a kind of interstitial, but Aaron manages to inject some mystery in the form of that box — I have absolutely no idea what it could contain. Actual surprises have been hard to come by in a series that seems so committed to familiarity, so even the hint of one is enough to keep me going for now.
What did you think, Patrick? I know issue 2 went a long way to easing your concerns, but I’m still struggling with how this series relates to the legacy of the films. I’ll accept that I might just not be cut out for extended universe anything, but for me, Star Wars is as much about the John Williams score or Ben Burtt’s sound effects (or those cheesy wipe transitions) as it is about Jedis and Wookies. Does this still feel like a picture of a Star Wars story to you, or is it now the genuine article?
Patrick: Those are great questions, Drew, and I think the one generalized effect that the score, sounds effects, special effects, etc. build is spectacle. If Star Wars is anything beyond the characters and aliens and robots and shit, it’s the expectation that your senses will treated to some charming overload. But spectacle on the movie screen is not the same as spectacle on the comic page. Cassaday seems to be trying to recreate the cinematic experience on the page, which feels literally faithful, but spiritually dishonest. I’m going back a few issues in this example, but consider the Opening Titles in issue one: double-page splash, a star field and the large empty yellow block letters that read “Star Wars.” I had my heart in my throat when I opened to that page, but not only because the site of the page triggered the same neurons in my brain as when I see that image projected onto a 50 foot screen. There’s no music on the page, but my brain infers it anyway; I’m not in a theatre, but my brain thinks I’m in a crowded room experiencing something with an enthusiastic group; I’m not 11, but for a second my brain thinks I am.
But it’s just letters on a page. If you want to create a spectacular title page, you do something innovative with the text. What I find endlessly interesting is to consider how much it works when other series do this trick with their title pages. The first issue of Brian Michael Benids’ Guardians of the Galaxy or Jeph Loeb’s Nova both opened with double-page star fields under the title of the series – and that effectively borrows the aforementioned excitement by paying homage to Star Wars. Which leads me to the most up-my-own-ass question I’ve ever posed on this site (and I’ve posed a few): can a series pay homage to itself?
I’m tempted, just for the purposes of my own enjoyment of this series, to say that it can. After all, just because Aaron and Cassady have the legal right (and professional responsibilitiy) to use these characters, settings and scenarios doesn’t mean that they cannot also pay tribute to the 1977 film. I’ll stand with Drew on the assessment that comic is more interesting when it’s forging new concepts and crafting new iconic images, but I’m also trying to give myself permission to like even the more derivative bits of fun. I might have rolled my eyes when Han made a crack about Threepio taking an oil bath — seriously, that can’t be the only thing droids do to relax — but it’s positively thrilling to see Vader hack through an AT-AT’s leg like it’s a tree trunk.
In fact, this is a moment that’s actually fed by our familiarity with Luke’s take down of the AT-AT during the Battle of Hoth. Vader doesn’t need a plan, Vader doesn’t need some grappling gun, Vader doesn’t need explosive. He just needs to hack at it. I’ve loved the characterization of Darth Vader as a blunt object over in his own series, and it seems like that’s informing some of what we’re seeing in this issue. It’s the kind of battlefield confidence that makes me giggle and whisper “jesus” to myself after just about every action he takes.
Aaron’s building a little bit of that same self-assured recklessness into Luke too. Luke heads back in to the factory to manually overload the reactor, and he does so against Leia’s orders. Headstrong and foolish, but effective. There’s obvious irony when Luke asks his father’s forgiveness right before he thinks he’s going to die in a fiery speeder crash, but I think it’s richer than it might initially appear. Luke is asking is father to forgive him because he’ll never become a Jedi, and that’s funny on the surface because we know his father is Darth Vader, the man who killed the Jedi, blah blah blah. But! Luke is certain that he’ll never become a Jedi because he’s displaying all of the same characteristics we know he shares with Vader. He’s too much like his father to be what he thinks his father was.
I was also intrigued by the mystery box back at Ben’s place on Tattooine. But I’m almost more interested in the roundabout way that Aaron delivers us to that information — he kinda throws us a curve ball. We meet some aliens, neither of whom we’ve seen before, taking the body of a Rodian out to the middle of the desert to dispose of it. I’m a gigantic nerd, so I assume they’re talking about poor Greedo. I sat up and took notice at this point — I’m not super well-verse in EU stuff, but I love the story of what happened to Greedo’s remains after Han shot him (a franken-droid ground him up and used the goo in a cocktail that the bartender Wuher used to court Jabba the Hutt’s favor). I thought we were getting a newly canonized story about Greedo’s corpse, but the camera lazily drifts away to Obiwan’s shack and eventually the point of the scene becomes apparent. That’s cool, effective storytelling, and I can’t wait to see more stuff like that.
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?