Star Wars. Just those two words, they evoke something solid in your head and heart, don’t they? Maybe it’s to do with the characters, the way that creatures and places look, the kinds of stories that can be told. Maybe it’s just a color palette, or a particular set of sounds. But search your feelings -- it’s in there somewhere. And so, with each thing that’s added to the Star Wars canon -- whether it’s a new film or a game or a comic -- the first test is how well it captures that feeling.
That’s a good question to ask of Star Wars #38, the beginning of Kieron Gillen’s tenure on the title. He joins Salvador Larroca, previously his partner-in-crime on Darth Vader, who has been drawing Star Wars for the past dozen issues. Both are accustomed to the Star Wars universe.
But Vader -- and its spin-off, Doctor Aphra -- showed us the dark side of this world, flipping the perspective we’re used to seeing it from, and with that came a little extra elasticity in terms of tone. This issue, as Gillen takes the lightsaber-shaped baton from Jason Aaron, is our first proper look at how he handles the main cast, the world, and all the other bits that contribute to that all-important Star Wars feeling.
Let’s start with the characters. The Original Trilogy’s trio share the spotlight in this first issue with the Imperials and Jedha Partisans, meaning they don’t more than a couple of moments each, but it’s immediately clear that Gillen has each of their voices nailed. Han is charmingly tetchy, Leia is noble and reserved, Luke is a big kid trying to grow into a hero -- these are the characters are they exist between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.
Larroca has their facial likenesses down as well, thanks to his photo-referencing-heavy style -- but that does means the characters can fall into the uncanny valley, like Luke down that big tunnel in Cloud City. This wasn’t as much of a problem on Vader, where the main recognizable character spends the vast majority of the time with his face covered, but when you’re looking at a recreation of Harrison Ford that itches some decades-old memory of the film cell it’s referenced from, it can be a little distracting.
What about the setting? The issue brings Luke, Leia and Han to Jedha, the desert moon introduced -- and pretty thoroughly destroyed -- in last year's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The destroyed landscape doesn’t give Larocca much to work with in terms of familiar landmarks, and while it gives colorist Guru e-FX plenty of chance to play with the films’ trademark dusty yellows, the palette lacks the crisp blue skies which normally offset them.
That tone is neatly in line with the plot, however, which like Rogue One leans hard on the "Wars" half of the Star Wars equation. The issue runs with that film’s presentation of the internal politics in the Rebel Alliance, and takes the destruction of Jedha seriously, considering its aftermath in a way that the films simply don’t have time for.
This approach gives the issue a couple of its best moments, but it also means the story has a much more contemplative pace than you might expect from a Star Wars comic. As an opening, it’s not exactly the Battle of Hoth -- but you can feel the pieces being dragged into place for more intricate long-form storytelling.
That said, there are still plenty of quips and moments of sheer spectacle threaded through the issue, keeping it just on the right side of that Star Wars feeling test I mentioned at the outset. It’s not the immediate proton-torpedo-to-the-exhaust-port hit that Gillen and Larroca’s collaboration on Darth Vader was, but it should whet your appetite for what comes next. Just don’t expect to find yourself humming bits of John Williams’ score while reading it.