Return of the Jedi to Marvel: 'Star Wars' #1

The first page of Marvel's Star Wars #1 is essentially a splash-page version of a screen cap, featuring the blue "A long time ago ..." opening text. And they're not kidding. The first Star Wars film opened 38 years ago, in 1977, which is when Marvel initially published licensed Star Wars comics. The company kept a monthly series going for a decade before canceling it. The racks were Star Wars-less for just four years before Dark Horse picked up the license, beginning a fruitful 23-year relationship that produced some pretty great comics -- in fact, almost all of the good Star Wars comics (that aren't the product of Jeffrey Brown, anyway).

And now, thanks to various corporate acquisitions, "The Greatest Space Fantasy of All!" is back in the hands of Marvel, which used to refer to it as such in the '70s (and its principal heroes as "The Star Warriors").

So how is the much-hyped, $4.99, 30-page comic with a variant cover for every star in the sky? Not bad. Not bad at all.

The work of writer Jason Aaron, artist John Cassaday and colorist Laura Martin, the issue takes great pains to mimic the filmic Star Wars, opening with the "A long time ago ..." bit, followed by a two-page spread of the Star Wars logo (which again resembles a comics recreation of a screen cap), a splash page given over to a crawl letting us know where we are in the story and what's been going on, and then a silent opening in which we see the underside of a large ship fly above our point of view.

It's shortly after the Battle of Yavin (i.e. the climax of the first film), meaning this is another story set in the same period as Marvel's original Star Wars series, as well as Dark Horse's Brian Wood-penned title, which it seems like I only just reviewed. The Empire has been knocked back on its heels by the loss of the Death Star, and the Rebel Alliance is seeking to press its advantage.

Which leads here: A Hutt ship lands on Cymoon I, a fully automated, Imperial weapons factory, and out swaggers Han Solo, accompanied by R2-D2 and two humans wearing Hutt bodygard disguises (the same one that Lando wears in Return of the Jedi). Han is posing as an emissary of Jabba, here to deal with the Empire's negotiator regarding an alliance.

It's really an excuse to sabotage the factory, of course, and Han and the rest of the "Star Warriors" from the first team come pretty damn close to fulfilling their mission and making a clean getaway, until complications arise. Like the Empire's negotiator (hint: It's the villain in the first film who wasn't played by Peter Cushing).

Aaron does a fine job of making this feel like a Star Wars movie -- not simply in the opening efforts to mimic the film experience, but in getting all our heroes in the same place at the same time, giving them all something to do, and giving them dialogue and motivations that feel familiar (that is, these aren't the Expanded Universe versions of the character;they're the characters you saw on the big screen ... or VHS ... or DVD, depending on your age).

Try as I might, I can't find any fault in the scripting or plotting, so high-five to Aaron, who manages to tamp down on his own writing tics — a difficult thing to do at this point in his career, I imagine — while mimicking aspects of the first trilogy and still finding interesting dilemmas involving the characters (C3-PO being asked to pick up a blaster and fight, for example).

Cassaday does his typically strong work, but may not have been the best choice for this project (particularly given his history of not being able to keep a monthly schedule). His characters all look like the actors, which can be pretty disconcerting, as it becomes clear the artist isn't filtering them through his own style so much as doing celebrity portraits within the context of the comic; it looks especially strange when Harrison Ford shares panel time with a drawing "cast" from Cassaday's imagination, for example. Because the book contains about a dozen pages worth of ads and previews for the next two Star Wars series, Darth Vader and Princes Leia, there's an example of a better way to handle character designs in this very issue, Terry Dodson's Princess Leia art, which looks like his drawings of Leia, Luke and Han, rather than of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford.

Cassaday does something interesting with the light saber effects, which are called into action twice: He essentially draws the blades --  just the blades -- repeatedly in each panel where they are being swung, going for a strobe effect. It appears to slow down rather than speed up the action, and I don't think it quite works (blocking lasers beams with a light saber should be something done quickly, not in slow motion), but it's something I haven't seen before in the scores and scores of other Star Wars comics.

Despite some occasional weaknesses in the art and the overall marketing and presentation of the book — at $5, a reader has already paid between one-third and one-quarter of the price of a trade collection for this thing — Marvel's Star Wars series is off to a strong start. Frankly, a far stronger start than the last Star Wars #1 featuring this same cast during this same time period (Dark Horse's Wood-written book).

That said, I refuse to end this review with a reference to the films, like, I don't know, "The Force is strong with this one." I'm just not going to do it. I refuse. (But, you know, it is.)

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