Star Wars: Kanan, Vols 1 – 5, Review

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After Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, it immediately launched a new television show under its banner, Rebels.  Rebels has since completed two full seasons with a third currently in production.  Much of the show’s emotional gravitas has focused on one of its heroes, Kanan Jarrus. A padawan who survived Order 66, the infamous kill order given by Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, Kanan went on to eventually meet Hera Syndulla and become a member of the fledgling rebel alliance.  In regards to Kanan’s background, Star Wars fans were blessed with John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, which revealed the where, how and why of Hera and Kanan’s first meeting.  The trials he survived prior to that novel, however, have not enjoyed nearly as much coverage, that is, until Marvel’s publication of Kanan: The Last Padawan.

Written by Greg Weisman with art by Pepe Larraz, Kanan tells the story of Caleb Dume, a padawan to the Jedi Master Depa Billaba in the twilight time of the Clone Wars. (Wait, who’s Caleb Dume, one might ask? It’s Kanan’s original name, a piece of trivia that is dropped in A New Dawn.)  The first five issues of the twelve book limited series are dedicated to the post-Order 66 aftermath that Caleb endures by avoiding his former clone trooper friends bent on killing him, hiding his Jedi identity, and learning a new way to survive in an unfriendly galaxy.  Through the course of these three things, Kanan: The Last Padawan provides fans with something we have never truly had a chance to explore, the identity crisis of a Jedi after the fall of the Order.

It begins media res with our introduction to Caleb occurring in the midst of battle, side by side with his Master Billaba and clone troopers.  In the peace following the Jedi’s victory against the Separatists, Dume is allowed only a brief moment to recognize how content he is as a Jedi fighting for the Republic.  Then, it’s Order 66, and the world irrevocably changes for the padawan.  In Revenge of the Sith, the deaths of the Jedi at the hands of their former loyal troopers is almost universally depicted as sudden and surprising.  Perhaps the one which lingers most involves the padawan/Jedi who falls at Bail Organa’s feet, and perhaps, that death inspired the writing and art of the frantic escape from death that Dume finds himself in.  Billaba, communing with the Force, feels the death of her fellow Jedi early enough to avoid the same instant death bequeathed upon the Force users, but ultimately, is forced to sacrifice herself to save Dume.

Alive, but now deemed a traitorous fugitive, Dume is hunted by his former commanders, Commander Grey and Captain Styles.  He’s forced into a primitive existence of flight with barely any time to rest or eat. It’s in this capacity that he falls into the company of Janus Kasmir, a Kalleran alien, and a rogue definitely on the level of Lando Calrissian.  While their friendship has a rocky start, it’s under Kasmir’s amoral tutelage that Caleb begins the process of shedding his Jedi identity, such as breaking down his lightsaber (as Kanan keeps it on Rebels), tying his hair back in a ponytail, and leaving behind his monastic robes.  Throughout this apprenticeship, Styles and Grey continually pursue the Jedi who got away.  Eventually, Caleb’s and Kasmir’s luck runs out and the former padawan is captured. On a ship transport en route to the same planet where Master Billaba was cut down, Kasmir and an ally stage a rescue attempt, albeit with quite overmatched ships.  Their presence does not win the day, but Caleb’s words and trust in the Force do.

After capture, Dume pleads with Styles and Grey to remember their former relationship with Dume and Master Billaba, which ranged from friendship to near worship of the Jedi Master’s generalship skills.  While Captain Styles remains under the sway of Order 66, which as revealed in The Clone Wars is the result of a chip implant, Grey remembers the past as it was. Dume escapes through an air lock into the vacuum of space, retrieved by Kasmir, and on Caleb’s intuition (read the Force) turns to take one more attack run against the transport.  This should have resulted in Kanan, the quite obliterated padawan, but instead, the Jedi’s attempt to reach his former friends succeeds with Commander Grey, who shoots out his own transport’s shields to leave them sitting ducks for the pending attack in order to save Caleb.  The result is one big explosion and our heroes escaping.

Following his rescue and their escape, Caleb chooses to take leave of his friend Kasmir and to strike out on his own.  On the first planet he lands on, he’s asked his name, and with the utterance of five words, “The name’s Kanan.  Kanan Jarrus,”  he leaves his past as a Jedi behind him.  The actual story of Caleb Dume becoming Kanan Jarrus is book ended by our Rebels’ heroes taking on a mission on the planet where his master was killed, and that angle of the storyline continues into the next seven books of the series, which explores how Caleb became the padawan of Master Billaba.  While definitely interesting, it’s the front half of the Kanan limited series that really imbues the reader with Kanan’s origin, and also, the sense of the galaxy after the Jedi were universally condemned by the freshly born Empire.

Kanan: The Last Padawan, by Greg Weisman and Pepe Larraz, is limited series definitely worth the time of any fan of Rebels, particularly Kanan, but also for anyone intrigued with the beginning of the Dark Times.  The execution of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith definitely ranks as one of the darkest and most emotional moments of the Star Wars cinematic universe. Kanan, however, is one of the first attempts in the new Expanded Universe to make it personal, instilling the reader with the sense of confusion, fear, and existential dread which undoubtedly filled many Jedi as they tried to survive in a galaxy turned upside down.

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