by Michael DeLaney and Mark Mitchell
This article containers SPOILERS. If you have not read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: Marvel’s Star Wars line of comics were launched on the idea that what happens between the movies behind the scenes are stories worth telling. Surprisingly, many of these stories have been deep, creative chapters in the lives of the characters we know and love, building upon their respective character philosophies. Not every aspect of these characters’ lives shares that amount of depth or insight, however. We spend a lot of our lives sitting around, not doing anything consequential. Unfortunately, the same is true for the heroes of Star Wars: Poe Dameron 26.Following The Battle of Crait, Poe, Finn, and Rey sit around the Millennium Falcon’s trusty “holo-chess” table and do some catching up. It’s kinda/sorta a clip-show episode of Golden Girls in comic book form.
After a brief recap of the opening scenes of The Force Awakens, Poe fills his friends (and us) in on what happened to him after he and Finn crashed their Tie-Fighter on Jakku. After a little desert wandering, Poe hooks up with Naka Iit — a semi-good guy scavenger pal of Rey’s — avoids some bad guy scavengers and manages to make it back to the Resistance base on D’Qar. The issue ends teasing another “what Poe was doing behind the scenes” plot for next issue. And if this issue is any indication, that tale will be equally non-essential.
To be fair, the blame does not entirely lie with Charles Soule. Just as it was when this series began, he can only move the story and its characters so far within the confines of these new Star Wars films — like dancing between raindrops. This series is at its best when it deviates from the Abrams/Johnson films and forges its own path. It’s disappointing to see this issue retread what happened in a movie — events that all of us already know — in lieu of sending Poe and Black Squadron on a new, separate adventure.
After all of that, I am probably going to contradict myself here: visually, the best page in Poe Dameron 26 is the double-page-spread of Poe recapping The Force Awakens. This is what Star Wars comics do so well: they take a montage of familiar/iconic images and events and lay them out on the page as a character’s memory.
Even if I may not like the beat-by-beat recap, the caption boxes are expertly-placed around the silhouette of the Millennium Falcon. My favorite part of the spread is Poe’s blaster bolt — frozen by Kylo Ren’s force grip — launching down the center of the Falcon, redirecting the reader’s eye chronologically back to the left side of the page. Grade A work from artist Angel Unzueta.
Maybe I’m being overly critical here, but this issue just wasn’t for me. I don’t ever find scenes where characters are catching one another up to speed that interesting; if the audience already knows, then those scenes can be — and typically are — cut. And I suppose you could tell me that not everyone knows the background for The Force Awakens, but I kinda doubt those people would be reading a book called Star Wars: Poe Dameron. And Poe’s Jakku B-story didn’t have enough to carry the issue, unfortunately.
Mark, can you make my Grinch heart grow three sizes on this book? Besides that spread, I couldn’t find a whole lot to love about this issue. Do you find any value in these “behind the scenes” plots? Or are Soule and Unzueta merely making the best of a mediocre situation?
Mark: I’m sorry, Michael, but I don’t think I’m going to be of any help in turning your frown upside down. This issue is a complete misfire.
Now, I don’t hate the idea of explaining what happened to Poe during his mysterious absence from the plot of The Force Awakens — after he and Finn crash land on Jakku, Poe goes missing for quite a bit of act two, and the film offers no explanation for how he survived the crash and returned to the Resistance base. It’s a significant chunk of time that Poe’s actions are unaccounted for, so it’s certainly ripe for continued exploration in the expanded Star Wars universe. The problem for me, then, is that what happened during his absence turns out to be completely un-noteworthy: he happens on a friendly Jakku resident who offers him a ride into town, some raiders try to run them down, they escape, end scene.
(The real world explanation for Poe’s absence is easy to explain: at one point the plan was for Poe to die in The Force Awakens, but JJ Abrams changed his mind. This might sound familiar to LOST fans; Abrams [who wrote and directed the pilot for LOST before moving into an executive producer role for the rest of the series] pulled the same move with the character of Jack.)
As far as the film goes, it makes a lot of sense for Poe’s return to the Resistance base to be mundane — if something really cool had happened they would have shown it in the movie, but since it’s dumb, then we’re not missing anything by having it be left out. And Soule and Unzueta are making the “best” out of a bad situation in a sense; they’re just repeating the official account of Poe’s flight off Jakku given by writer Alan Dean Foster in The Force Awakens’ official film novelization.
But if Poe Dameron 26 is not filling in the story gaps with any new information, the questions remains why this story is being told in this medium, in this specific title, right now? Maybe it’s as simple as Soule’s attention being needed more elsewhere, and so this trip down memory lane was assembled from spare parts to ease his workload. And that’d be understandable. But it’s galling that Poe’s rememberances of The Force Awakens are seemingly going to be stretched out across an entire arc of Poe Dameron. What is even the point?
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Having glanced at the various Star Wars comics to come out since Disney bought the property and Marvel began publishing them again, I’ve gotten the impression that they’ve been very hit or miss… with perhaps more misses than hits. A number of them felt like they were being plotted by committee, with more concern about the stories fitting into the overarching continuity than actually being entertaining reads. They just seem to lack some of the spontaneity of the original Marvel run, or even most of the Dark Horse series. Consequently I’ve bought very few of these new SW comics from Marvel.
I certainly don’t blame writers such as Soule for penning “deep, creative chapters in the lives of the characters we know and love, building upon their respective character philosophies” because when you are really not allowed to advance the plots or character arcs, instead being required to wait for the movies to feature *any* significant developments, those sort of small, intimate stories are really all that the comics can actually present.
There’s been a lot of great ones. Aaron’s work was fantastic adventure storytelling. The original Star Wars movies have always felt like the season finales of the greatest sci fi show ever, and Aaron wrote a fantastic run that felt like those missing episodes in between. It felt like the perfect encapsulation of everything you imagined happened between movies. Well worth reading. And many of the miniseries have a similar vibe, finding the pure heart of Star Wars that the movies also suggested happened just off screen. I would actually compare them to the original Marvel Star Wars comics. There are a lot of similarities in structure, just with a more modern type of spontaneity and style to the adventure. Many of the arcs I would compare to, say, the Wheel arc
Meanwhile, if you want actual development of plots and characters, Gillen’s work has done fantastic work with that. His Darth Vader is an honest to god masterpiece, and it does exactly that, taking us step by step through every change to Darth Vader between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. All sorts of significant developments there (noting, of course, that we all know what the ending is going to be, with Vader in charge of the Executor hunting the Alliance). His Star Wars run has had a bumpy start, but is doing similar work. Significantly developing the characters and moving them towards where they are in EMpire. You see Luke grow from farmboy to the soldier he begins Empire as. Meanwhile, you see Han make a similar change, seeing how a smuggler turned into a person legitimately being given high ranked titles in later movies. A key part of Gillen’s Star Wars is them learning to be soldiers, which is significant, even if we know where they end up.
ANd if you want something liek what Dark Horse used to do, read Doctor Aphra. I do wish Marvel did a bit more comics like Dark Horse did, letting creators tell their own stories with their own characters. But Doctor Aphra is amazing, and is exactly that type of story.
But Soule, who has done amazing miniseries, has struggles with Darth Vader and Poe Dameron, trying to find out what to do. With Poe Dameron, it has been especially a problem as Poe had very little character until Last Jedi. Just Oscar Isaac’s charm, which is hard to translate into comics. It is honestly hard to write stories about the Sequel cast, as we don’t yet have a space like between Hope and Empire. A Poe Dameron prequel could have worked, but only after Last Jedi gave us a developed Poe Dameron, and unfortunately, when Last Jedi finally arrived, Soule had caught up to the movies. The story of what Poe did during the Force Awakens was never going to be interesting, because everything important plot element was… not with Poe. And apparently, the next arc focuses on what Black Squadron did during Last Jedi, which is, again, nothing important. Because the whole point of Last Jedi was that the Resistance was so small and the situation was so hopeless that the fate of everything came down to what actually happened in the movie
I’d highly recommend Star Wars, the first Darth Vader series and Doctor Aphra. And any miniseries that takes your fantasy. Unfortunately, Poe Dameron has always been a weakness. I honestly don’t think we will be able to make good stories with the Sequel characters until we know what happens between Last Jedi and IX. The Sequel Trilogy hasn’t provided the sort of fertile space that the gap between A New Hope and Empire gave the Original trilogy yet. We need a couple year gap between movies, and currently we have a couple of seconds
I second most of what Matt’s said here, and I’ll add that the first Lando and Leia mini-series are pretty great as well. Chewie and Han both had fun, if less essential, minis as well.
Some of the more recent stuff has felt weaker, but that first in that first year or two the current era of Star Wars comics pretty much every series was a success, imo.
I did say that the minis were great! In the Aaron section. Lando was probably the best, but Han, Chewie and Obi-wan and Anakin were all great.
Leia was a disaster and unmitigated crap, though. I was in shock how bad it was. Even by Waid’s standards, it was awful. It barely had dramatic throughlines and the characters were flat and empty. Structurally a mess in what should have been the easiest story structurally. Just a disaster best forgotten
I have to agree with Matt on Gillen’s Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra. I’d also say the mini that I enjoyed the most was the Lando series. I thought that was a ton of fun.