A Star Wars Anthology Story: Retrospective on Jason Aaron’s Star Wars Comic Run (#1-37)

Since Marvel’s new beginnings with the Star Wars license, the Star Wars mainline series has been the backbone of the comics, providing adventurous tales about the Big Three: Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo. At the helm of the series since the start has been writer Jason Aaron, who has taken us on anthology-lite arcs of story between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, filling in what’s becoming quite the crowded era. His stories contained everything from big surprises were you least expected them to character moments big and small. And after 37 issues, stretching from January 2015 to October 2017, Jason Aaron’s run has come to an end. Having read the series since its inception, it’s time now to look back at Aaron’s legacy as this retrospective discusses what I feel has been the good, the bad, and the in-between of his nearly three year run.

Before I go any further, I’d like to note that while Jason Aaron was the writer, he was not alone over these 37 issues. He was joined by editors and artists (and the Story Group), all of which affected the stories being told in their own ways, so not all of the below can be hoisted solely on Aaron, good or bad. The editors who oversaw the Star Wars series (and continue to do so for all the comics) include Jordan D. White and Heather Antos, while the Story Group dips their continuity-laded minds throughout the process as well. On the art side, Aaron’s run switched artists from arc to arc, so there is plenty of credit to go around: John Cassady (pencils) and Laura Martin (colors) {#1-6}; Simone Bianchi (pencils) and Justin Ponsor (colors) {#7}; Mike Mayhew {#15, 20}; Stuart Immonen (pencils), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Wade Von Grawbadger (inks) {#8-12}; Mike Deodato (artist) and Frank Martin Jr. (colors) {Vader Down #1, #13, 14}; Leinil Yu (pencils), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), and Sunny Gho/Java Tartaglia (colors) {#16-19}; Jorge Molina (art) and Matt Milla (colors) {#21-25}; Salvador Larroca (art) and Edgar Delgado (colors) {#26-37}. Letterers include: Chris Eliopoulos, Joe Caramagna, and Clayton Cowles.

Now that you’ve seem how many more people are involved in these first 37 issues beyond Aaron, let’s dive into the good, bad, and in-between of the run.

The Good

Sana Starros: No one has had a more memorable introduction (Aphra’s comes very close) than Sana “Solo” Starros did in issue #6, walking onto the scene saying she was Han Solo’s wife, casually blowing people’s minds, expressed either with hot takes galore at the time or with a little reservation and patience. No matter your original feelings about the reveal and her character overall, Sana has come such a long way from events in the Monsua Nebula that being Han’s “wife” is the least interesting aspect to her, and in fact it’s rarely mentioned or only brought up as a simple joke. Instead, Sana has become one of the most important members of the main characters to the Star Wars series because she can actually have character development, unlike Luke, Leia, and Han, who are mostly stuck in development hell as the series skirts between the two films. It turns out Sana’s bigger relationship issues have nothing to do with a Solo, but rather Doctor Aphra and a relationship that ended rather sourly between them before we ever met either character. And when I say sourly, I’m understating quite a bit, as both times these two have come face-to-face, Sana has tried her damnedest to kill Aphra. Sana’s ability to hold such a powerful grudge is one facet to her character, as she also plays the voice of reason between the bickering Han and Leia, and provides world-weary advice to the naive Luke, spreading her impact to both new and old characters alike. As Jason Aaron’s sole original hero character (no joke), he’s largely had control over her story, as most of her relationship woes with Aphra played out by his writing (from the “Rebel Jail” arc to select issues of The Screaming Citadel crossover), while he gave Sana her due in the excellent mini-adventure in issue #34. As for her legacy, people have theorized she could factor into Solo: A Star Wars Story, her resentment of Aphra is legendary, her future is wide open, and many are excited to see her again regardless, so Sana has been a rousing success for Aaron, the editors, and Story Group involved in her creation. I hope Kieron Gillen can expand on and continue Aaron’s work on Sana when he takes over for the series.

Anthology-LiteEvery arc of the series, though loosely connected to the one before it, could stand on its own and allow readers to jump in (and out) at any time they’d like. Heck, the final arc, “Out Among the Stars” was several one-shot stories taking the anthology-lite approach to its maximum, allowing Aaron to go out on a high note with a bunch of strong, simple stories. Plus, going the anthology route meant one could hop on board the Star Wars series train at any time as the barrier to entry was low, so new readers weren’t at a loss if they came in 6 or 12 issues into the run. All you really needed to know were that Luke, Leia, and Han, along with some familiar side characters and maybe a new one, were getting up to shenanigans in a galaxy far, far away and you’d be set to enjoy the latest arc. This didn’t end up always being true, but more on that in a bit.

Characterizations: If Jason Aaron faltered at writing dialogue for the Big Three in which readers couldn’t easily hear the voices of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, or Harrison Ford when reading it, it happened so rarely I can’t remembering noticing it. Aaron’s knack for not only writing pitch-perfect dialogue, but staying pretty faithful to the characters was one of the ultimate strengths to his run, as even if the story wasn’t always exciting or had some odd elements, most of the 37 issues felt like a continuation of the Big Three’s story. Better yet, he managed to give new or visiting characters the same consistency, as his take on Doctor Aphra and the murderbots was rather spot-on, making it never feel like they broke character. He wanted this series to feel like a continuation of their story and making the dialogue sound like them was a very important part he almost always succeeded at.

Journals of Old Ben: The concept of Obi-Wan’s journal was novel, giving us peeks into the oft-requested hermit life of Obi-Wan, a young Luke, and filling in some blanks about Owen Lars’ feud with the crazy wizard. I don’t think it ever reached its true potential, but it was a great break in the main action and was essentially a blank slate Aaron and the editors gave themselves to try expanding the limited scope of their story/era (which unfortunately led to the Yoda arc, but discussion on that is ahead). The idea Obi-Wan had a journal has potential in other mediums as well, be it a novel (which John Jackson Miller sort of did already with his Kenobi novel) or for the character’s potential standalone film.

The Bad

Kreel v LukeSCAR Squad: Introduced in issue #21, SCAR Squad was meant as an enemy the Big Three could face on a more regular basis than Darth Vader, otherwise having them beat/survive Vader every arc would weaken the iconic villain (like what The Clone Wars did early on to General Grievous). Their reputation was set up rather well, but the execution floundered in “The Last Flight of the Harbinger,” as they were immediately defeated in their first appearance, didn’t stop the Rebellion’s mission, and only captured Threepio, who had nothing of importance in regards to intel anyway. Sergeant Kreel, their leader, has been the only interesting and intimidating facet of SCAR Squad, and would’ve probably been better off alone as originally introduced. The squad stayed out of the spotlight, and readers’ memories, until the final issue of Aaron’s run, where he at least allowed them to hand out some ass kickings, but they’ve yet to prove themselves as a direct, legitimate threat to the Big Three and I could honestly live without ever seeing them/learning anything more about them at this point. The problem with SCAR Squad is indicative of a larger problem for the Star Wars series as a whole: antagonists. If it wasn’t Vader, there was at least Grakkus the Hutt, who was a decent stop-gap, but the Big Three hardly dealt with anything or anyone consistently, besides themselves, which in turn affected the lack of stakes in series; I’ll dive into that a little deeper coming up.

Yoda’s Arc: It’s no secret I felt like “Yoda’s Secret War” should’ve stayed a secret, as the arc was slow, bizarre, and overall felt forced to fit within the Old Ben’s Journals concept. In fact, by setting up and teasing Luke’s time with Yoda, it pointed out how Luke’s current Force training was never going to be as important as his time spent on Dagobah, but until then the series was hinging on you caring about the incremental knowledge Luke was obtaining. Until I watched this well-made video by Wayward Jedi, which explains the arc was essentially a mini-version of the entire Star Wars saga and had potential connections to the sequel trilogy (including why Luke would say the Jedi need to end), that I found myself appreciating the arc a little bit. Sure, the video’s theories are just that, but the context it puts this odd story of giant stone beings into does help make the confusing events a little clearer. However, it shouldn’t necessarily come down to watching a fan video to get a better sense of a story, and the arc was such a slough to get through, as potentially shortening it or be a little less vague about the intentions of it could’ve made for a more entertaining, engaging, and thoughtful story.

Harbinger Flirting: As I mentioned earlier, Aaron has an exceptional ability to bring the Big Three to life on page, making it easy to hear the dialogue as if said by the actors themselves. The Han and Leia bickering/flirting banter had provided plenty of laughs over the course of most of the series, but after awhile, even their memorable war of wits and dodging their feelings for one another can be overdone. Nothing exacerbated this problem worse than issue #23 of “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” arc, where our two lovebirds, in the middle of humanitarian mission that’s on its last legs, decide to race to see who gets to be captain of the Star Destroyer they stole, feeling out of place for Leia and Han. I went a little easier on it in my initial review, but with time it’s become more glaring and out of place. Either way, there’s a time and place for Aaron’s great handle on the Han and Leia dynamic in this time frame, but this simply was not it.

Anthology-Lite: You’re not mistaken, Anthology-Lite was a point I made for the good of the series, but it was also one of its biggest problems. Considering it was easy for readers to jump in at any time, it was just as easy for them to stop reading all together, something I was tempted to do from time to time. The biggest reason: the stakes were missing. Lacking any imposing villains, the heroes continued coming out on top nearly every issue, and knowing the Big Three would make it to at least the following movie didn’t help. It’s not impossible to raise the stakes for characters we know will survive them, a perfect example being the Lando series, but month in and month out, Star Wars let the heroes win. Sure, they might lose a large amount of nameless rebels or have a few setbacks, but they never failed. A loss between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back seemed assured, considering they are totally on the run again and holed up on a planet almost colder than the vacuum of space, but it has yet to come all series. There’s nothing wrong with the heroes winning all the time, it’s what heroes do after all, but doesn’t make for compelling comic stories after nearly 3 years of it happening. From everything Kieron Gillen has said about his plans, the Star Wars series seems to be heading in the opposite direction at least, but what holds Jason Aaron’s run back from greatness is how a lack of stakes translates easily to a lack of being memorable.

The In-Between

The Truth of Sana SoloAs mentioned earlier, Sana Starros was revealed as Han Solo’s “wife” in issue #6, but it wasn’t until issue #12 (5 months later) where the full truth of their past came to light. It got a little ridiculous how they sidestepped the truth issue after issue, especially when Han was cramped in a starship with Sana and Leia. From a reader’s standpoint, it was pretty obvious they never actually got married, but it was frustrating the series wasn’t doling that info out. I also understand from the publisher’s POV that dragging out the reveal would certainly sell comics and it did, as issues 11 and 12 were both in the top ten selling comics for the month of November in 2015. They’ve not done anything quite like that since and let’s hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon.

Lack of New Characters: While not adding a lot of new characters allowed the book to focus on the Big Three, which was the main point of this series, it’s still disappointing. Sana was the only new hero character, while some Imperials and Grakkus the Hutt were the few villain additions, leaving the era expanded but feeling limited in a sense. Surely our heroes would’ve bumped up against other members of the Rebellion/weren’t doing ALL these missions alone, right? I guess that was what the crossovers were kind of for, as they dealt with a wider variety of characters there, but it still started to feel a little weird only Luke, Leia, and Han (and later Sana) were the only ones fighting the good fight.

The CrossoversWhile both Vader Down and The Screaming Citadel were fun little excursions for characters from the two series involved to spend time with one another, they both felt lacking in some aspects. These were joint efforts between Aaron and Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra), so while they came up with entertaining story ideas, the format either wasn’t enough to properly tell the story (TSC) or too spread out that it maybe didn’t need as many issues (VD). They are fun, for what they are, but they don’t quite feel as epic or as important as one would imagine a big event crossover should be. As Manor contributor Chris put it in his piece over at Eleven Thirty-Eight: ” I would just love to see them take on more significant lives of their own, moving beyond just a simple arc.”

Revolving Artist DoorThere are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches, keeping an artist team or switching it up every arc, and the revolving door of artists for Star Wars hit on both ends. It’s hard to call out any artist team specifically for doing a better job than the other, as the early work of Cassaday/Martin, Immonen/Ponsor/Grawbadger had their own styles for the Big Three but kept them close enough to their movie looks there were no jarring panels, while later artists Larroca/Delgado relied a little too much on tracing, it did produce a ripped from the movie feel (but resulted in nearly as many odd, out of place looking panels because of it). And even the work of Molina/Milla, which I quote below as my least favorite team, isn’t inherently bad, they just didn’t quite fit the tone of the arc. New artists helped differentiate arcs and point out the series’ anthology leanings, but a lack of consistency also hindered the story from time to time.

QUICK HITS:

Favorite Arc: “Rebel Jail” (with “Out Among the Stars” in close second)
Least Favorite Arc: “Yoda’s Secret War”
Favorite Artist Team: Mike Mayhew. While he did make a Wookiee look like a monkey, the sweeping, cinematic panels for his two “Old Ben’s Journals” issues were spectacular.
Least Favorite Artist Team: Jorge Molina and Matt Milla for “The Last Flight of the Harbinger.” I didn’t find their style terrible or anything, rather it just didn’t seem to fit well with the overall story.

Top 5 Overall Moments (in no particular order):

  • Leia, Doctor Aphra, and Sana Starros (i.e. only the ladies) save the day in the “Rebel Jail” issue #19 (this might just go down as my top overall moment for Aaron’s run, to be honest).
  • Owen Lars telling Obi-Wan off, finally allowing readers to understand why Luke’s uncle feels so harshly towards Old Ben (issue #15).
  • While it was shared with Darth Vader‘s sixth issue, Star Wars #6 includes the pivotal moment when Vader learns he has a son. This was, and still is, the series’ farthest reaching moment.
  • Sana really got her due in issue #34, where he convoluted plan informs us of her expert smuggling skills…and her hidden heart of gold (despite her desire to end Aphra’s life at every turn over their broken relationship).
  • Not every moment had to be a big one to be picked for this list, as the brief time we get to see Han, Chewie (dual wielding, no less), and most importantly, Leia rushing into battle with lightsabers in issue #12 is the perfect case in point. Seriously, seeing Leia with a lightsaber, something rightfully part of her heritage, was exhilarating, despite its brevity.

As Jason Aaron puts it in his interview with Syfy Wire, “Issue #1 we were trying to make this book feel like an extension of that first film. Like if you had just walked out of the theater after seeing the original movie, and someone had handed you this comic and said, ‘this is the next part of that story.'” In the beginning, this is what made the Star Wars series so enjoyable, as Aaron and the creative teams with him managed to hit their goal, leaving fans happy. The benchmark became unsustainable however, as the rip-roaring adventures began to lack stakes and fatigue from reading the Big Three’s inevitable wins set in. I had called for the series to change direction in my 2016 Comics Year-in-Review, and it wasn’t until Aaron’s final arc that he, and the creative teams around him, brought the series back to its former glory, but it really ended up being a farewell tour for the writer. In the interview I linked to above, he says he’d love to come back and I hope he does, even if it has nothing to do with the Star Wars mainline series. I do believe Kieron Gillen’s serialized approach will bring the Star Wars series into a fun new era, but for now let’s bid a fond farewell to the first era and its writer, Jason Aaron:

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

All comic panel images credited to Marvel/Lucasfilm

Ryan previously reviewed every issue of the series here:
Star Wars
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals (#7, #15, #20) | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Vader Down crossover (#13-14) Rebel Jail (#16-19) | The Last Flight of the Harbinger (#21-25) | Yoda’s Secret War (#26-30) | The Screaming Citadel crossover (#31-32)| Out Among the Stars (#33-37)
Also talked about some of the series’ defining moments and low points in the 2015 and 2016 (and eventually 2017) comic years-in-review
None of the Annual issues were written by Jason Aaron.

Check out the rest of the site’s Canon Comic Reviews here!

SEE ALSO:
Comic Review: Star Wars #38 (Kieron Gillen’s first Star Wars issue)
Comic News: Kieron Gillen Takes Over Star Wars Series, Dr. Aphra Figure First Look, Thrawn Comic Adaptation Announced
“Nothing is impossible for the Force”: A Joint Retrospective on the first Darth Vader Comic Series