Star Wars 31

Today, Taylor and Mark are discussing Star Wars 31, originally released May 17th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Taylor: The movie Crimson Peak, directed by the well-known and visually gifted Guillermo del Toro, received lukewarm reviews when it first came out. Its lackluster reception is understandable because the movie never truly reaches the heights of horror everyone was expecting it too. That, paired with a story that never truly paid off, doomed it to mediocrity. However, the movie does look impressive, and it nails the pace of a true Gothic horror story quite well, making it all the more disappointing that it didn’t pan out in the end — del Toro had the hard part complete already. Setting a pace for a Gothic story is difficult because it requires a delicate control to the narrative forward, almost at an achingly slow pace to build tension. If only del Toro had paired with Jason Aaron on writing Star Wars 31, we might have the perfect Gothic inspired issue.

Unfortunately such a pairing would is logistically (if not financially) impossible, which leaves us wondering “what if” about Star Wars 31 much in the same we do with Crimson Peak. But to truly understand why this issue never quite reaches the Gothic heights that it promises, it’s important to first look back at where Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel left off. It had just been revealed the Queen of the Citadel is some sort of vampire creature which almost certainly spells trouble for Luke. With that reveal, it would make sense to draw things back in this issue so as to once again build tension. Instead of this though, Aaron doubles down on the inherent danger of this place when writes a scene wherein an angry space lord is killed by one of the Queen’s guards.

This happens in the second scene of the issue, and it seems as if Aaron is trying to remind the reader that the Citadel is indeed a dangerous place. However, it’s already known that there is danger lurking in the Citadel, given what happened in the previous issue. This show of violence by one of the Queen’s henchman effectively doubles down on the action which releases some of the tension that Aaron could be building in these opening scenes instead.

This scene isn’t so offending in and of itself, because Aaron still has a lot of issue to rebuild tension. Heck, at this point Luke and Aphra have relatively little idea that their lives are in danger in the Citadel. Instead of creating a slow churning tension wherein Luke and Aphra’s peril is always hinted at but never fully understood by them, Aaron quickly reveals the Queen’s plans to them over breakfast.

The Queen plays her hand early and attempts to capture Aphra and Luke with some mind control bugs hidden under some plates. Obviously, Luke and Aphra now know that the Queen doesn’t have their best interest at heart, so any tension we may have felt knowing they were entering into her trap is now broken. With Aphra and Luke fully aware of the danger they’re in, we as readers don’t get to enjoy the pleasurable agony of watching them endanger themselves without their knowledge. Building that kind of Gothic tension is hard, and one can’t help but feel a little disappointed knowing Aaron doesn’t quite pull it off here for whatever reason. This turn isn’t a bad thing necessarily — it just means the future issues promise to be action-heavy as opposed to horrific, which is a matter of personal taste.

While the story falls a bit short of expectation, Salvador Larroca’s art doesn’t. One of the things that’s been curious to trace ever since Marvel started pumping out Star Wars comics is the way some of the well known Star Wars characters have been drawn. When it comes to Luke, Leia, and Han especially, artists have a tall order in front of them when drawing an issue. After all, these are three of the most well known faces in all of pop culture. Larroca not only accepts that challenge here, but surpasses all expectations.

Luke’s portrait here is damn near photo-realistic and surprising to find on the page of a comic book. Now, Larroca is a professional artist so this shouldn’t come as a surprise — most artists can draw a portraits in their sleep. But to see such a detailed drawing in a comic book is rare given the time constraints most artists have to work under. To see that Larroca has either spent a huge amount of time drawing Luke here or that he’s so skilled he drew his portrait easily is impressive either way you cut it. This is all the more true since Luke’s face, both pre and post car crash is so well known by most people reading a Star Wars comic book. To truly get every detail right, and having nothing look out of place is a certain kind of amazing.

Mark, what did you think of this issue? In a lot of ways I kept waiting for it to take off but then it ended just as it was getting going? Did you feel the same way? What do you think about Han and Leia leaving Chewie behind as they set out to find Luke? And what types of dangers do you think await Luke and Aphra in the Queen’s lair?

Mark: It’s no surprise that Larroca is able to capture Luke and the other original trilogy gang in immaculate detail. As I mentioned in our write-up of Star Wars 27, I’m fairly confident Larroca is tracing over film stills in order to replicate their likenesses. It’s a striking effect, but one that has limitations. Note that in most instances where Luke, Han, or Leia are in poses that don’t easily lend themselves to tracing their faces are obscured. Luke spends a lot of this issue facing away from the reader or having his head cut off by the frame, sometimes to awkward effect.

I agree that Star Wars 31 suffers from slack pacing. A lack of tension is inherent in a mid-quel stories like this — we know that Luke has to escape the citadel unscathed so he can star in The Empire Strikes Back — but it’s exacerbated here by a number of storytelling decisions.

Like Crimson Peak, the title “The Screaming Citadel” is incredibly evocative, allowing the mind to run wild with possibilities. But while no one story could possibly live up to the expectations of every reader excited by the moniker, the main weakness of this issue is that Aaron and Larroca don’t go gonzo enough. The central set piece of the issue, Luke and Aphra’s breakfast with the Queen, showcases the issue’s lack of imagination: the Queen demands a show of Jedi powers from Luke and so she commands him to…lift the lid off of a serving plate. The Queen has set a trap for them…and it’s mind control creatures. And the mind control creatures? They just look like bugs. I mean, this entire set piece presents a prime opportunity for Aaron and Larroca’s imaginations to run wild, but they never let loose. Even the Queen’s Menagerie appears to be made up of zombies, basically.

Granted, the Menagerie does deliver the issue’s most inventive gag: a zombie Gungan.

It’s a throwaway moment in the issue, but it has the potential to be a really funny subversion of the franchise’s most reviled creations. Hopefully we see more of Zombie Gungan next issue.

The mind control bugs, such as they are, are another of the issue’s underutilized components. Whatever you think of the form the Abersyn Symbiotes take, their reveal doesn’t have the intended impact since there’s been no set up of the bugs earlier, and it’s not until two pages after they’re introduced that we even understand the threat they pose. By aiming for a gotcha moment, Aaron runs counter to Alfred Hitchcock’s famous rule for surprise versus suspense. It’s this perfunctory nature of scenes like the Queen’s breakfast that leave readers feeling like nothing happened, and that the issue only starts to get interesting right before it ends.

Consider, alternately, how much more exciting the issue would be if it used the space dedicated to the Queen’s guard for setting up the presence of the Abersyn Symbiotes lying in wait under the lid of the serving dish? Like the bomb under the table that Hitchcock discusses, the scene suddenly takes on a whole new urgency when readers are made aware of the stakes. (Granted, if the Queen is hoping to straight-up eat Luke and/or Aphra, why the mind-control bugs in the first place?)

The issue is also hurt by the fact that Aphra’s true motivation for bringing Luke to the citadel remains opaque. Sana is pretty explicit in the beginning of the issue that she knows more than she’s letting on…but why not just tell Han and Leia other than to keep that information hidden from the reader? Obfuscation for obfuscation’s sake, and another example of Star Wars 31 feeling like it’s stuck at the starting gate.

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?

2 comments on “Star Wars 31

  1. Taylor, I think you have seriously misinterpreted Crimson Peak. It isn’t Gothic Horror, it is Gothic Romance. There is a reason the first line is ‘This isn’t a Ghost Story, this is a story with ghosts in it’. In fact, most of the critical conversation around Crimson Peak when it was released was the problems caused by the fact that people were expecting a horror movie, when it was never supposed to be one.
    That isn’t to say it is a great movie. Like Pacific Rim, it is a competently directed but boilerplate version of its genre, whose biggest failing is that it really needs something in addition to del Toro’s amazing visuals to go from ‘competent but boilerplate’ to ‘really, really good’. But at least it is a great opportunity to watch a bunch of good actors provide good performances, but get out acted by a plank of wood (by plank of wood, I mean the House. Not Charlie Hunnam. I can understand that that is confusing)


    On both of your discussions about suspense and surprise, I’d like to challenge you guys on how you approach the topic, especially in the context of Gothic literature. Now, I love Hitchcock’s bomb under the table parable, and have discussed it a lot. But that isn’t the only approach. Nolan gave, during interviews about Inception, had a great quote on the alternative strategy:
    ‘Think of film noir and if you picture the story as a maze, you don’t want to be hanging above the maze watching the characters make the wrong choices because it’s frustrating. You actually want to be in the maze with them, making the turns at their side. That keeps it more exciting.’

    Both are legitimate strategies, and honestly, you could argue the difference between them is as simple as bomb v maze. Hitchcock tells you what is dangerous, and gets suspense from the expectation. Nolan tells you the situation is dangerous, and gets suspense from the audience not knowing how. We know the dream heist will go wrong, after all, even if we don’t expect the giant train. And considering we already know the queen is dangerous, is anything lost by not setting up the bugs? Isn’t the fact that the queen is involved enough to make clear their threat? Surely, in the context of that scene, there was suspense in how things would go wrong. You didn’t need to know about the bugs to find breakfast with the Queen suspenseful.

    Especially as Gothic tradition is rooted in mystery. In romanticisation of the idea of the unknown. We aren’t supposed to understand things, at first. We are supposed to be surprised and overwhelmed by the threat, at first. Whether it is a supernatural ghost or a mysterious gentlemen, Gothic tradition is about facing things we don’t understand and slowly learning the truth. To use Crimson Peak as an example (just because it is Gothic Romance, doesn’t mean it isn’t Gothic), we don’t understand why the Sharpes feel so wrong or why there are ghosts, but discover the answer in the course of the narrative. Again, isn’t the fact that we know the queen is a bad guy enough? If we know she’s a threat, doesn’t that create enough suspense, and we can build suspense from the mystery of what exactly she is doing? Do we need to know what the bugs are, or just that the queen wants to use them? If we know the queen is bad, isn’t there space for mysteries, especially in a Gothic Horror story?

    This isn’t me saying this is a good issue, as I am behind on Star Wars books. But I struggled a bit with the critiques you guys put across

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