With the dawn of 2018 upon us, it has been almost exactly three years since Marvel reacquired the license to publish Star Wars comics from Dark Horse. Marvel’s purchase also necessitated the need for an entirely new Star Wars canon, as the previous Dark Horse material and prose novels were all declared “Legends,” and the new line of Star Wars comics stepped in, eager to do the work to expand on all the freshly created canvas in the galaxy far, far away.
Over the course of three years, there have been a few series that ran for more than a year, several character-specific miniseries, a few minis and one-shots to specifically promote the release of The Force Awakens, and the flagship Star Wars series; each series has brought its fair share of new hotness to the Star Wars universe, but almost everyone has come with its groan-worthy moments, as well. All of our heroes have gotten moments to shine in new and exciting ways, but every hero gets their chance to play the fool. Here are some of our favorite new things that Marvel Comics has brought to Star Wars, alongside a handful that we really wish they could undo.
15. BEST: DARTH VADER BUILDS HIS RED LIGHTSABER
After two years on the title, writer Kieron Gillen departed the Darth Vader comic to write the flagship Star Wars comic, leaving the galaxy’s favorite Sith lord in the capable hands of Charles Soule. Where Gillen’s Vader was wrestling with his ultimate failure in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, Soule’s Vader is just barely out from being Anakin.
Taking place immediately following Revenge of the Sith, the first arc of Soule’s run followed Vader as he tinkered with his suit, using the knowledge that allowed him to construct C-3P0 out of scraps to improve his own mobility; it showed the clear limitations of the suit, with some of the fabric burning away during a duel to reveal the mechanical skeleton underneath; and it gave Vader the Sith’s ultimate weapon, his iconic red lightsaber.
14. WORST: TRIPLE ZERO
Introduced in Darth Vader #3 alongside Doctor Aphra, Triple Zero (or 0-0-0) is Aphra’s incredibly sadistic protocol droid, only fluent in the languages of pain. There are a few truly haunting sequences of Triple Zero demonstrating their flair for the torturous, including one session that basically created Vader’s nemesis for the series in Doctor Cylo.
Gillen intentionally set out to create a dark mirror for Luke Skywalker’s journey in A New Hope in the pages of Darth Vader, but it just seems extraneous to go so far as to include a protocol droid as an anti-C-3P0. Especially since Threepio was originally Vader’s droid, it could have gone a more poignant direction. Aesthetics aside, Darth Vader has been Marvel’s best Star Wars comic, so we can forgive one silly droid.
13. BEST: LIGHTSABERS ALL AROUND
In “Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon,” the second arc of Jason Aaron’s run on the flagship Star Wars title, Luke is imprisoned while trying to find a way to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and his lightsaber is taken from him in advance of his entry into the Arena of Death. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang ends up on the planet to come help him, and they loot the private collection of Grakkus the Hutt.
Luckily, Grakkus’s collection includes a handful of lightsabers, which the light-fingered R2-D2 snags, just in case. The moment comes when the gang is stripped of their weapons and they need something to go rescue Luke — so R2 starts passing out lightsabers! Han gets a green one, Leia gets a blue one, Chewie gets two — it’s immensely satisfying, even if it is just a quick beat.
12. WORST: BUCKTOOTH LUKE SKYWALKER
Throughout the first two years of Star Wars comics, Jason Aaron inserted little entr’acte single issues that were nominally taken from the journals of Obi-Wan Kenobi, kept while he was living a hermit’s life on Tatooine and keeping a watchful eye on the young son of Anakin Skywalker. The issues themselves are solid; Aaron’s writing captures the best parts about Guinness and McGregor’s Kenobi, and he answers questions the reader didn’t necessarily think to have, like what Owen Lars really thought about that crazy old space wizard.
And while Mike Mayhew’s art has amazing linework and depth to it, his design for young Luke Skywalker is… kind of horrifying. The kid has enormous teeth in a head that’s much too small for his body, and he ends up looking like a cortical homunculus.
11. BEST: DARTH VADER FINDS OUT HE’S A DAD
The first arc of Gillen and Larroca’s Darth Vader ends not with a bang, but with a smolder. Vader spent the arc trying to atone in his own way for his failure over Yavin IV at the end of A New Hope while also using Boba Fett to track down the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. In Darth Vader #6, Fett delivers all the information he has been able to gather to Vader; merely one word: “Skywalker.”
As he exits, Vader goes down memory lane hard, casting his thoughts back to his last happy moments with Padmé, the moment of his reawakening when the Emperor tells him his wife has died — but conveniently omits anything about Anakin’s children. His rage building, Vader’s sheer anger splinters and cracks the glass of the viewport of his ship; he knows that he will end this story with nothing, or everything.
10. WORST: DARTH VADER & THE JEDI MIND TRICK
A Jedi’s relationship with the Force is different than the relationship between the Force and a Sith; each Force user will nominally be stronger in certain skills depending on which side of the Force they call on, the Dark or the Light. Jedi use the Light, but still allow themselves to overpower people’s free will with the Jedi Mind Trick — one would think a Sith would have no problem demonstrating mastery over men’s minds.
In the first issue of Darth Vader, during an audience with Jabba, Vader is accused of using the Jedi Mind Trick, but takes umbrage at being confused for being a Jedi. However, in the series finale, while aboard his nemesis’s starship, piloted by a giant, living brain, Vader uses the Mind Trick to set the ship on a suicide course. It could be read as the conflict in Vader growing, but it’s not textually there.
9. BEST: LANDO STEALS FROM THE EMPEROR
For a few months after the initial wave of Star Wars comics launched, fans were left with one burning question: where the hell is Lando? We got a little glimpse in the beginning of Shattered Empire, but we needed more. Charles Soule and Alex Maleev stepped in to hand out everyone’s fix of the galaxy’s most roguish businessman with their Lando miniseries. The mini starts in a perfectly audacious way, with Lando stealing a luxury space yacht, filled with rare treasures; sounds like classic Lando.
Little did Lando and his crew know the yacht belonged to none other than Emperor Palpatine. The book eventually becomes half-heist movie/half-buddy cop movie starring Lando and his trusty servant (friend?) Lobot, which is basically the perfect pitch for the inevitable Lando: A Star Wars Story.
8. WORST: THE STORY OF CHEWIE’S MEDAL
Fans have spent decades decrying the great injustice of A New Hope — Chewbacca helped fly the Millennium Falcon during the Battle of Yavin, but he never received a Medal of Bravery like Luke and Han did. In one of the first standalone miniseries from the new Marvel Star Wars universe, Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto presented the adventures of Chewie right after the gang went their separate ways at the end of A New Hope; he travels to the planet Anselm IV alongside a spunky young girl named Zarro.
After she is able to use her wits to turn the gangster who’s been oppressing her people against the Imperial detachment in their system, Chewie presents his medal to her, for her bravery. He never needed the medal at all — the bravery was inside him all along.
7. BEST: DARTH VADER VS. AN AT-AT
The first issue of Jason Aaron and John Cassady’s Star Wars relaunch was an issue that came with as much expectation attached to it as a comic can; it could have been the Phantom Menace of comics, and stunk on ice while simultaneously making impossible sales numbers, but luckily, the creative team delivered on spectacle and story. With a mandate to make Darth Vader as awe-inspiring as possible, the first issue features Vader facing down an AT-AT walker, piloted by none other than Han and Leia.
While he’s certainly not the only person who’s ever taken one down single-handedly — Luke manages to pull it off at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back with a thermal detonator and a lightsaber, but Vader’s pulling it all down with nothing but the Force and his rage is pretty awesome.
6. WORST: LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
Princess Leia was one of the first miniseries Marvel launched with their reacquisition of the Star Wars license; written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Terry and Rachel Dodson, the mini gave readers a window into how Leia made the transition from a still-acting head of state in A New Hope to a Rebel military leader in Empire Strikes Back.
Leia’s adventures take her and her acting sidekick, Alderaanian X-Wing pilot Evaan, back to Leia’s homeworld of Naboo, where a stained glass portrait honoring Queen Amidala is displayed. Leia feels a connection to the woman, not knowing who she is — it’s a tenuous connection to the prequel, one that needed to either be scrapped or expanded upon greatly to make it feel like the connection Waid wants.
5. BEST: SILVER FOX OBI-WAN PROTECTING YOUNG LUKE
Throughout the interstitial single issues of Star Wars following Obi-Wan’s journals (as read by Luke), Luke manages to get into a lot of the kind of scrapes you would expect a young, Force-sensitive farmboy to get into — he scrapes a canyon wall in a T-16, that kind of thing. Lucky for him, Obi-Wan keeps a watchful eye, trying to protect one of the last best hopes the galaxy has.
At one point, Luke manages to run afoul of some of some of Jabba’s enforcers in the middle of the night, and seems like he’s toast for sure; until Obi-Wan swoops in, not only taking out all of Jabba’s enforcers, but doing so without even letting Luke know he’s there. The story not only solidifies Obi-Wan’s place amongst the raddest Jedi in history, but it also assures you that yes, Obi-Wan was incredibly handsome when he started to go gray.
4. WORST: HAN’S FIRST WIFE
One of the biggest end-of-issue reveal surprises in the first year of Marvel Star Wars comics redux was the appearance of a woman named Sana — Han Solo’s wife. In this interstitial period between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the romance between Han and Leia is still more of a mild irritation between the two of them, and the addition of a wife is an understandable bit of sand in the gears.
It all turns out to be… not a misunderstanding, but certainly not what it looks like — Han and Sana got married as part of an extremely complex heist scheme, and while he viewed it as part of the scheme, she thought it was something more akin to a real marriage. Sana eventually comes around to help out the Rebels when she can/when they need her, but introducing her as Han’s wife cheapens her characterization.
3. BEST: A PIECE OF ALDERAAN
The first Darth Vader annual by Kieron Gillen and Leinil Francis Yu had the weighty task of presenting Darth Vader, in all his complexity, to a comic reader who may only pick up the one issue of their book. They have to encapsulate the brutality of Vader the Sith, the lingering compassion of Anakin Skywalker, and the desperation of a man who hasn’t found his direction, even still.
Vader is dispatched on a diplomatic mission, and rather than the king of the planet, he is met by the princess; Vader knows this is a slight. She leads him into a tunnel where she tries to kill him (along with herself) with lava, and he saves her, begrudgingly. To remind her and her father not to trifle with him, he presents her with a gift at the end of the issue: a chunk of Alderaan, in a small gilded box.
2. WORST: C-3P0 ONE-SHOT
In the lead up to The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans had no limit of questions from the trailers. Who’s the black stormtrooper? Who’s the shiny stormtrooper? One of the questions that was pretty low on everyone’s list was “What’s the deal with C-3P0’s new red arm?” Luckily, Marvel swooped in to save the day with more answer than anyone needed. What could have been dealt with in a single page — nay, even perhaps only one panel — in a larger storyline instead gets a full one-shot issue.
Not that there’s no precedent for stories following droids in the Star Wars universe; and honestly, not to say that this issue was a bad story. The badness comes from the fact that this story was driven by a question no one really wanted the answer to — it’s couched as a largely story, but all the marketing focused on that stupid arm.
1. BEST: DARTH VADER MAKES LANDFALL
About a year into the new Marvel run of Star Wars comics, they launched the first Marvel Star Wars crossover: “Vader Down”. In the midst of his hunt for Luke Skywalker, Vader comes ship-to-ship with the Rebel heroes. Luke attempts to shoot down Vader’s TIE fighter, but they are too evenly matched, forcing Luke to literally crash his X-Wing into Vader’s ship and take them both to the ground. Vader exits his wrecked ship to see an entire battalion of Rebel forces, telling him he is surrounded.
He gets in one of the all-time great one-liners (“All I am surrounded by is fear. And dead men.”) before single-handedly murdering every last one of them. If the Star Wars comics have done one thing, they’ve made good sense of Vader’s transition from high-ranking gofer in A New Hope to pure terror in Empire Strikes Back.
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