In “Star Wars Annual” #1, Kieron Gillen and Angel Unzueta shine the spotlight on new character Eneb Ray and put him in a position not often seen in this era of the franchise’s continuity. Eneb is a member of the Rebel Alliance, but — rather than openly fight against the Empire — he has actually infiltrated it as an Imperial Officer. The more covert aspect of Gillen’s story is a nice departure from that of the main series, which largely and intentionally carries the same flavor as the original trilogy, and takes readers inside of the Empire rather than the Rebellion.
Everything within Gillen’s story is seen through the eyes of Eneb, who Gillen portrays as a conflicted hero who outwardly plays his role as a spy confidently and convincingly, yet can’t fully embrace his nature as one of the good guys for fear of sacrificing the eventual greater good. Throughout the story, Gillen pairs up Eneb’s spoken words alongside the ones he thinks to himself, and more often than not the two tracks are not harmonious. This opposing mindset gives readers an in-depth look into Eneb’s nature: his strengths and weaknesses, his similarities and differences with the enemy and even his own opinion of himself, which drastically changes by story’s end.
Eneb does get to interact with some familiar characters, though; Princess Leia is a key part of Gillen’s story, if only as a holographic image. Eneb’s mission gets ratcheted up a few notches when a seemingly lucky break gives him what he believes is an opportunity to take down none other than the Emperor himself. John Cassaday’s symbolic cover indicates that a confrontation between the two is set to take place, and his interpretation of Palpatine is as threatening as Unzueta’s even more realistic take inside. Unzueta’s clean and true-to-life style plays well with that of Cassaday and Salvador Larroca, artists whose similarly realistic styles have touched the franchise, and his rendering of Leia captures the likeness of Carrie Fisher, even through a holographic fuzz as carefully enhanced by colorist Paul Mounts.
Unzueta and Mounts also show a side of Coruscant not often seen, with its downtown bathed in neon Imperial propaganda, in a twisted version of the city seen in the prequel films. Letterer Joe Caramagna provides a hybrid font combining the Star Wars’ universe own unique symbols with plain old English, ensuring that Palpatine’s version of events are known up front and hinting about Eneb’s exact mission early on.
“Star Wars Annual” #1 evokes a kind of old-school feel, in that the story is slightly different but no less enjoyable than the main series, and — in many ways — more so by way of its approach. Gillen, Unzueta, Mounts and Caramagna all ensure this annual is special indeed, and they introduce a new character that begs for further exploration.