For major modern comics releases, “The Star Wars” is a pretty good place to start. Dark Horse has teased and previewed “The Star Wars” for a while, so it arrives with a significant amount of hype behind it. Now that the first issue is finally out, it has to be judged on two totally separate criteria: first, its interest and worth as a document of a “Star Wars” that could have been; and second, its quality as a comic unrelated to its legendary property.
I’ll get this out of the way up front: playing the game of “That’s X, but different!” is a blast. There’s a tow-headed boy prodigy being trained as a Jedi, but his fate is pretty different from Anakin Skywalker’s. A Star Destroyer, the colossal ship that introduced “A New Hope” by scrolling across the screen for what seemed like forever, is just an ugly little fighter jet here. And so on — like I said, it’s fun.
But nods and winks to the real “Star Wars” make a pretty thin meal. J.W. Rinzler was an interesting choice to write the comic. His regular gig is writing and editing non-fiction books about the “Star Wars” universe– books that focus on art, costumes, sound, blueprints and so on. It’s hard to imagine someone more steeped in the details of the world George Lucas created; nevertheless, it’s telling that Rinzler has never helmed a fiction project before.
The action moves quickly as Rinzler tries to introduce the necessary pieces. Frankly, “action” isn’t really the right word; the comic starts with a short fight, but after that there’s a lot of expository dialogue that fills us in on what’s up in the galaxy these days. We get bits with the Emperor, bits with the Rebellion, a page about two traders whose importance is unexplained, a couple pages with General Vader — the comic is generally all over the place. It’s easy to see why this was necessary, but it’s still a bit confusing, a bit disjointed. The main storyline, of Kane Starkiller and his son Annikin returning from self-imposed Jedi exile, does give some structure to the issue. They’re also the only characters who get enough screen time to show real emotions, to have any real conflict aside from the galaxy-spanning wars that give the book its name.
If the story is a bit shaky so far, it’s clear that artist Mike Mayhew wasn’t chosen only because he shares a surname with the guy who played Chewbacca. His designs are lovely and evocative of the necessary space-opera feel, though the original ’70s concept art of “The Star Wars” likely has a lot to do with that as well. Mayhew was likely chosen because of the realism of his work; together with colorist Rain Beredo, he gives the characters’ faces a watercolor quality that’s only a step or two away from the movie screen. Real emotion and humanity plays across their lovingly-detailed looks. However, the art is marred by some sloppy moments that should have been caught and fixed — awkward poses in action, limbs in otherwise fine panels that look hastily drawn in and inked, detailed faces on sketchy bodies, and so on. It’s baffling for a comic with otherwise high visual production values.
Overall, then, the first issue of “The Star Wars” is a mixed bag. Fans of the real “Star Wars” won’t dare miss it, and rightly so; it’s also worth checking out for anybody who likes a good space opera. The series should also improve as it moves out of the exposition and into the action, and some of Mayhew’s art is absolutely gorgeous, even if some isn’t. Time will tell how the comic plays out, but for now, take it with a grain of salt — after all, it’s based on a rough draft.