Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Star Wars 27, originally released January 25th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
“I’m very conscious of the environments. I try to have at least three environments in a movie and I try to have them as different as possible. And then from movie to movie I try to have them as different as possible. Y’know, in the first movie, we were on a sand thing — it was all a brown kinda color— and in the second one we were in the snow and it was all kinda white, and a green, swampy kinda thing. And third one… what can you do in terms of environments? You have to shoot it somewhere on this earth. Unfortunately, you can’t go somewhere else. So a forest was really the only thing I had left.”
-George Lucas, on Return of the Jedi
Patrick: George Lucas spends a lot of time, energy and imagination developing the settings for his stories. This is actually one of the qualities that — no matter what else slipped in his filmmaking — never suffered in either of his trilogies. Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, the planet Naboo is stunningly realized and presents two completely separate environments and cultures. He’s a designer with a strong sense of place and history. That quality of passive storytelling doesn’t always trickle down into Star Wars games, comics and TV shows (or arguably, into the newer movies), but it’s interesting to see Jason Aaron and Salvador Larroca try to capture that same sense of place in Star Wars 27.
We’re in the second issue of “Yoda’s Secret War,” which has sort of a dizzying framing device. Luke — in the present — has Obi-Wan’s Jedi journal — which was written during his exile — which contains a story about Yoda — which took place at some non-specific point in the past. It’s a flashback within a flashback, and Aaron wants us to remember the layers by which we are separated from the actual story. In fact, we’re first introduced to the story from Obi-Wan’s perspective, before zooming out to Luke sitting alone in his X-Wing, and then zooming back in to Yoda’s adventure. Larroca masterfully communicates the arid locale of Tattooine in one panel.
Two blindingly hot suns? Check! Massive sand dunes that swallow the sky? Boy howdy! A lone man sticking out like a sore thumb on a lifeless rock? It’s the planet’s essence distilled down into a single image.
From there, the comic pivots about in time and space, eventually landing in a location that is both unknown to the reader and immediately mythologically important. Yoda is confronted by a small army of children — which already trips the “there’s a bigger story to this place than we’re getting” alarms — but it’s also apparent that there are some kind of force-sensitive stones all over this planet. Colorist Edgar Deldago announces these stones and spearheads with an otherworldly electric blue color, which is evocative of Luke’s lightsaber without being derivative.
From there, it’s all shortcuts: we understand the planet’s inhabitants’ struggle to control the powerful blue rock because it more or less mirrors the on-going struggle in the wider galaxy to control the force. The people that rely on it don’t particularly understand it, but they know it’s essential to their survival. To my first point about the specificity of Star Wars settings, it takes a minute before the environment reveals itself to be super compelling. There are some weird plants, maybe a fallen statue, but then… then there’s the statement piece.
Once we see Force Rock Candy Mountain, it’s sorta hard to focus on anything else, right? It’s the mythical energy of the Star Wars Universe made physical and literal, and as we’ll see, is enough to overwhelm even Yoda.
It’s sorta crazy that Yoda (Yoda!) gets knocked unconscious by one of these rocks, right? It’s a surprising moment, and Larroca captures that surprise perfectly on Yoda’s muppety face.
I can’t pinpoint how exactly Larroca and Delgado are achieving the trick of texture, shape and light of Yoda’s skin, but the result is almost uncanny. (My best guess is an ink wash, augmented with careful computer coloring, but what the hell do I know?) It is bizarrely like the character is actually there, in the space. I don’t know if that’s partially because Yoda is always an artificial element of Star Wars (in that he’s always a puppet or computer generated), but he seems as real on the page as he does on the screen.
All of which is to say that I totally buy that this is Yoda and that this is a Yoda story. Mark, I’m curious how you feel about Luke reading a story about Yoda before they ever meet. I think we’re meant to believe that Obi-Wan never refers to him by name in the journal, so some of that mystery is still in tact for Empire. But like, does the journal also leave out every time he’s called a mud frog? Or how about the allusions to his size? We are meant to believe that Luke is totally thrown off when he discovers a tiny frog-man can be a Jedi Knight, so does this story kind of mess that up?
One last question: Yoda’s obviously in over his head here. What do we hope to get out of stories of Yoda failing? Do we need to see the powerful taken down a peg? Are we having our preconceptions challenged? Maybe it’s just a fun excuse to see Yoda go force-cave spelunking!
Mark: Patrick, all of the questions you pose about the story’s framing device illustrate just how unnecessary it is. What’s gained? Why bother trying to tell this story in the framework of the original trilogy at all? I’ve discussed ad nauseam in the past how these Star Wars book are at their best when they’re dealing with elements far away from the movies, and the fact that we have to pass through two storytelling filters to justify this diversion is a perfect example of why that exercise is wasted energy. Because of course this messes up Luke’s surprise in Empire that Yoda can be a Jedi master. And while it could be argued that maybe dialogue like “little frog” never made it into Obi-Wan’s diary, that just puts the lie to the whole framing device even more.
Because stripping all of that away this is a fine Yoda story that can stand on its own. Even though, clearly, this is a Star Trek story. Like, first season Star Trek. Put Spock in the place of Yoda, replace the couple of short moments where Yoda uses the force with Vulcan or Federation technology, and it’s Star Trek. You even have a literary thread in the children’s Lord of the Flies alliances, and Star Trek is full of literary and cultural nods and references. It’s a science fiction story, not a space fantasy story. But I’m fine with Yoda as stand-in for Spock, and I’m interested to discover what lies inside the mountain.
Larroca and Delgado’s ability to illustrate Yoda is uncanny. Some of the panels capture Yoda’s expression so perfectly, I would believe that Larroca is occasionally sketching from stills from the films, or even tracing over them directly. Compare this panel from the issue:
With this frame from Attack of the Clones:
Whatever the method, the art team captures Yoda perfectly.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until I’m dragged from my home and thrown into Lucasfilm jail, but so much energy is being wasted in these Star Wars books by tying themselves in knots trying to make themselves fit in the larger Star Wars multimedia universe. But putting all of that aside, when creators are able to successfully capture the spirit of a character, I’m always down for more of their adventures.
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?