Tony Harris presents a portrait of everyone’s favorite protocol droid and his new red arm in his richly painted cover to “Star Wars Special: C-3PO” #1, immediately informing readers that James Robinson’s story takes place somewhere around the time of “The Force Awakens.” That image alone should pique the interest of fans who welcome more stories from this era, but the story’s title should also intrigue readers, as Robinson tells the story of how Threepio came to have his new appendage. Threepio becomes all-too-human under Robinson’s skillful scripting, which gives the droid the means to carry the lead in the story, a relative rarity for a character who has largely served in supporting roles throughout his four decades of existence.
The story behind Threepio’s new arm goes deeper and carries more emotion than fans might have expected, and that surprise elevates Robinson’s story to a new level. While Threepio is indeed the lead, he’s not the only droid to appear in the issue, and Robinson excels at establishing not only a personality for each cast member, but also a personal connection to each one. Robinson gives himself thirty pages to tell a story about survival, friendship and sacrifice, and he paces it to near perfection. He spends exactly one page efficiently setting up the premise and one page effectively dealing with its aftermath. Everything in between is a journey that builds a bond between the characters, and Robinson uses every page to build a relationship as warmly and convincingly as he can.
Harris brings a softer touch to the art, which gives Threepio and the other droids a lifelike feel. They’re all immediately and faithfully rendered, but Harris’ thicker lines, darker shading and textured colors bring more warmth to even the most mechanical-looking members of the cast. Even as he establishes the look of the players, he also convincingly lays out the hostile nature of their immediate environment, succeeding in making it look definitively alien, even by far-reaching “Star Wars” standards. His layouts provide plenty of room for the script and allow the velocity of the issue to flow organically; likewise, the character development unfolds at a welcoming speed and gives readers the time needed for the emotional growth to sink in.
The meaning of life is a running topic throughout Robinson’s story, and it’s an especially interesting discussion coming from manufactured droids. Robinson makes it a wonderful exploration that’s poignant and fresh despite decades of discussion in science fiction stories exploring the same topic. The answer to the question is a powerful payoff that makes the origin of Threepio’s red arm look almost like an afterthought; that question is answered, sure, but the larger one that’s asked and the way it’s answered is what truly makes the issue excel.
Readers who miss the emotional magic and wonderful characterization of Robinson and Harris’ “Starman” run will find that same magic here. “Star Wars” fans will find a similar kind of wonder as well as they discover that the answer to a comparatively trivial question is far grander than they ever could have imagined. “Star Wars Special: C-3PO” #1 is something special, indeed.