The criminal underbelly and the massive cast of characters who populate it might be the least explored aspect of the Star Wars Universe, especially in Marvel's comics. Sure, we’ve checked in on bounty hunters, smugglers and various space ne'er-do -wells from time to time, but we haven't really gotten a gritty crime story on the level of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal pained with science fantasy brush. Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – Jabba the Hutt #1 gets pretty close to giving us something of this nature.
As solid as the one-shot is, it's by no means on the same level as seminal crime fiction works like the aforementioned Criminal or Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, but reaching the gritty and brutal levels of pulp storytelling these comics offer isn’t exactly on brand for Star Wars. However, there are myriad antiheroes and villains in the franchise who are just as dastardly and maniacal as any crime boss in comics. In this issue, writer Grek Pak (along with artists Emilio Laiso, Roland Boschi and Marco Turin) embrace the darker nature of the titular gangster, presenting him as a cross between a less benevolent Vito Corleone and a monstrous dictator pretending to be Santa Claus.
The story, appropriately titled "Good to be Jabba," focuses less on the Hutt himself and more on the inner-workings of his criminal network. In fact, Jabba only appears in about half the page count, and, naturally, he's confined to his weird block throne in his palace. The main plot follows a pair of low level criminals looking to make a quick buck for hijacking a highly sought after (alcoholic?) beverage, but might cause a full on tribal warfare on Tatooine in the process. The duo of crooks don't heed Jabba's warning, and we're off to the races as multiple factions get involved in the scheme.
The issue is pretty straightforward in terms of plotting and pacing. You can see where this whole ordeal is going about half way through, but it's still an enjoyable read. Pak's script is solid and the lowlife crime lingo is strong, and Laiso, Boschi and Turin's art is fine, but unremarkable. Most of the familiar characters from the films are either aliens or masked bounty hunters, so there are no awkward, "boy, that looks way too much like Harrison Ford" moments. And while there are no great visual sequences that jump off the page, there's nothing to chastise, either. The only real drawback would be the color palette. For a story set on Tatooine, the colors are fine; there are lots of browns and tans with splashes of color to make it feel like Star Wars, but for a crime story about gangsters and smugglers, it feels a bit too bright. But then again, everything which occurs on that desert planet is so saturated, it almost distracts us from the horrific backdrop that is everyday life for our characters.
The Age of Rebellion one-shots have all been rather strong and a nice showcase for Greg Pak's versatile writing. Star Wars: Age of Rebellion - Jabba the Hutt #1, feels a bit special because it is a glimpse of what could be an amazing Star Wars comic. There are so many fascinating lowlifes and villains in the galaxy, it's baffling that Marvel hasn't capitalized on working them into an on-going crime story narrative. Not to mention all the worlds and criminals we have met (this is an entire galaxy, after all) who could bring something new to the table and widen the already massive scope of the galaxy far, far away.