Until 2015, there were probably three types of comic book readers when it came to Star Wars on the illustrated printed page. Those who first dove into the new adventures produced by Marvel from the release of A New Hope through to the late 1980s, those who first experienced it with the titles released by Dark Horse from the early 1990s until 2014, which also falls into the re-emergence of a new generation of Star Wars fans who built and rode the wave of the 1990s Expanded Universe; and then finally, the fans who enjoyed publications by both Marvel and Dark Horse. Not to be completely ignored, there were also manga adaptations released in the late 90s.
In a way, the different publications coincide with the different generations who came to love the franchise. The original Marvel release found itself in the hands of fervent fans, fresh from the theaters from having seen the movies premiere, eager to follow more adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia. While those adventures took place between the movies, it’s not surprising that most of the Dark Horse titles, which came into prominence at the beginning of the old Expanded Universe boom, also sought to explore the unknowns that preceded and followed the Original Trilogy. Through limited series, Dark Horse brought Dark Empire, a veritable sequel to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, Tales of the Jedi, undoubtedly inspiration for the highly successful Knights of the Old Republic video games, and helped stir the passion around Boba Fett.
Dark Horse’s rein as the publishing house of the Star Wars universe, past, present and future, came to an end when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and immediately moved the licensing to its own corporate family member, Marvel Comics. For the first time in nearly three decades, Marvel was back in the business of producing Star Wars comics. In 2015, Marvel launched a mixture of ongoing titles and limited series, which in their own way reflected both its history and Dark Horse’s history with the franchise. The first ongoing series was the self-titled Star Wars, soon followed by Darth Vader. Other limited series followed, such as Princess Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca.
In a nod to Dark Horse comics’ favorite playground, the Expanded Universe, Marvel released the limited series Shattered Empire, about the days immediately after the Battle of Endor, and Kanan: The Last Padawan, a series about the origin of Kanan Jarrus from Star Wars television show, Rebels. More recently, Marvel has unfurled the limited series Obi-Wan and Anakin, an adventure with the aforementioned set before Attack of the Clones, and a soon to be published ongoing series about Poe Dameron from The Force Awakens (possibly the first Force Awakens related title to be published due in part to a perpetually delayed one shot about C-3PO). Overall, the majority of the titles have been well received, beginning with Star Wars, written by Jason Aaron, art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin. Now up to its 15th issue, the series began with a three issue arc set not long after the Battle of Yavin and with our heroes on a mission to take down an important arms factory of the Empire.
It begins with the rebels arriving at the base and posing as agents of Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo presenting himself as the chief negotiator. The reason for this unusual cover arises from the problems inherent to building a space station the size of a small moon, it exhausts resources and the Empire needs additional help finding more. The opening pages also represent a mental step back from the familiar Original Trilogy to appreciate that the Empire would likely have no idea a smuggler named Han Solo was actively aiding and fighting for the Rebellion, at this place and time. Additionally, we have Leia and Luke dressed up as guards from Jabba’s palace, i.e., the same outfit Lando would sport in Return of the Jedi. This leads us to now wonder retroactively, did a conversation happen after The Empire Strikes Back in which Leia mentioned to Lando a guise she used when discussing rescue plans for Han?
The deception works well enough and soon the rebels are inside the factory and in the process of setting it to blow up. However, there is nothing entertaining about a mission running smoothly, and so things change and things go awry. The first change is the discovery by Luke of slaves in the bowels of the factory, individuals he will not leave behind. His confrontation with a slaver reveals one of the first times Luke wields his father’s lightsaber, echoing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s disarming in a Tatooine cantina. Newly freed slaves in hand, Luke leads them to Han and Leia, where the larger party, while surprising, should still work with the plan. Elsewhere, however, another problem is unfolding, C-3PO guarding the Millennium Falcon from local scrap metal scavengers. Sufficient to say, he’s terrible at it, and they begin to attack the Falcon. This might seem like the worst thing that can happen, but that honor is reserved for the Imperial negotiator who arrives to talk terms with Jabba’s alleged representative. His name? Darth Vader.
Vader’s introduction is up to character, with Chewbacca attempting to snipe him from a tower, and the Lord of the Sith picking up nearby storm troopers with the Force and using them as living shields. Vader also cuts off the rebels access to their ship, requiring them to find a new way to reach the Falcon. The only real option is to run and improvise, which Han and Leia do, discovering a warehouse full of AT-ATs. While they are busy commandeering one, Luke decides he will confront Vader. This goes poorly.
Luke is easily outmatched and disarmed with Vader recognizing his previous lightsaber and using it, along with his own, to kill fleeing slaves. Luke is only saved himself by Han and Leia intervening with the armored transport. The interaction between Luke and Vader sets up the story arc for not just the next several issues of Star Wars, but also for Marvel’s Darth Vader series. For Vader, Luke represents simply the pilot who destroyed the Death Star and a Force sensitive that Obi-Wan was training. He becomes obsessed with finding out Luke’s identity. Luke, meanwhile, is dealt a strong dose of reality. He may be strong with the Force, but he is not a Jedi, and for the moment, has no idea how to become one. These story arcs ultimately conclude in The Empire Strikes Back, which begins with its own time jump. Now, it seems, Marvel intends to fill in the gaps.
While Luke regains his composure, Vader turns his attention to the AT-AT, shortly becoming the second Force user to single handedly take down the giant metal walking behemoths in the history of the current Expanded Universe. Just under a year later, Kanan Jarrus would join this elite club in the “A Princess on Lothal” episode of Rebels. This provides time for Luke to hop on a speeder (echoing Return of the Jedi) and finish the rebel job of taking out the Imperial arms factory. On the way, he snatches back his lightsaber, knocked to the ground during Vader’s fight with the AT-AT. Next, in another cue borrowed from Jedi, he zips out of the facility (after being pursued by Vader) just ahead of the explosion in the same manner Lando piloted the Millennium Falcon ahead of the second Death Star’s destruction. Concerning the Falcon, Chewbacca had made it back and safely run off the scavengers, saving the ship and C-3PO from utter ruin.
The rebels escape in the Falcon, Vader emerges from the ruins vowing to learn who Luke is, and our nascent would be Jedi is faced with the fear that he will never become a Jedi for lack of a teacher.
As the introduction to a new ongoing series, Star Wars, issues 1 – 3, are entertaining and do a good job of establishing future story arcs to be followed concerning Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. For our other heroes, while in the middle of the action, there’s very little that develops with their characters. Han’s role in the deception does put the Imperials on notice that he’s connected to the Rebellion, but it’s questionable what depths of problems this might cause for him in the space between this adventure and The Empire Strikes Back. The art is surprisingly disappointing for what should be considered the flagship title, particularly as other titles that followed often displayed superior work. Perhaps a little distracting was an inability to truly capture Darth Vader’s appearance on a consistent basis, which granted is not the easiest task, but one done with aplomb on the very demanding Darth Vader title that soon followed. The art is good enough, but for this project, it should have been excellent. The writing was better than the art, competent and generally conducting the spirit of the characters we know so well from the screen. Star Wars is a good, if unsteady start to reestablishing the franchise back under Marvel Comics’ watch.