For a lot of people, The Force Awakens was a shot of fun and energy into the arm of Star Wars fandom, reinvigorating a love for the franchise with fresh new faces we’ve come to adore, the promise of new adventures, and the chance to revisit some familiar faces. Even the non-Star Wars world was charmed by the film, taking in about 2 billion in the box office. Interestingly enough, when Marvel announced a The Force Awakens comic adaptation, most of the response was lukewarm. Does the series deserve the lukewarm response?
Spoilers: yeah, it does. Written by Chuck Wendig, the author of both Aftermath and Aftermath: Life Debt, the series captures very little of the fun of either The Force Awakens or Chuck’s novels. The two novels already released in the Aftermath series introduce us to new characters and show us old characters in fresh situations, making our interactions with every character feel worthwhile and new. Maybe one of Chuck’s strengths in Life Debt was his ability to write a good Han and Leia: sure, they were saying new things and in a new context, but we could still hear the voices of Harrison and Carrie as we read.
Had we not seen The Force Awakens dozens of times already, we would despair of hearing the new cast’s voices as at all. The comic book moves so quickly that we don’t see any character progression; instead, a series of panels representing character speech tells us rather than shows us what’s going on with the characters. The quickly moving series can’t capture the tension of the skirmish between the Falcon and the Elite Series TIE Fighter on Jakku, and Finn and Rey’s emotional reactions to the skirmish are lost with the skirmish coming to a close far too quickly.
Not only are character beats missed when the series moves too quickly, but massively important scenes are cut. Rather than seeing the interaction of Poe and Lor San Tekka in Tanuul Village, we immediately open with Kylo Ren descending on the battle in issue 1. Cutting fifteen minutes worth of the film in a six issue (even if it was originally billed as a five issue mini) seems to raise an immediate red flags. The surprise “twist” at the end of issue 1, the appearance of the Millenium Falcon, where “the garbage’ll do!” is picked up where Rey is slamming the side of the ship into Jakku’s surface. It’s hard to follow the narrative progression of the series when it feels like we’re seeing hand drawn screenshots of the film rather than one continuous story.
Though the comic is designed to be read without having seen the movie, having seen the movie is a prerequisite to reading the comic. It’s easy to reconstruct the scenes from the film as you see them on the page: I’ve watched and re-watched the “Chewie, we’re home” scene more than I would care to admit. Because of this, I knew how the scene went when I saw it in the comic. The real question would be: had I not seen the film, would I know what was going on? Based on my inability to follow Kieron Gillen’s excellent Darth Vader series and the construction of its panels, I doubt I would be able to follow such a choppy narrative here.
We wouldn’t want anything, even an adaptation, to be a mere copy of something that we have seen before. That being said, it should have been cool that the adaptation isn’t content to merely parrot the movie. Unfortunately, the changes made weren’t the kind that we would like. It would have been great to get outside shots of different scenes, more in-depth character development in narrative form, and maybe even extended conversations. There are a few extended scenes, sure. There’s even some added narrative help: As Rey and Finn race through the Graveyard of Giants, Wending provides some background to the Battle of Jakku and what caused the ships to fall; we see the conflict between Han and the gangs aboard the Eravana from above the grill where Rey and Finn hide; Constable Zuvio is given an even better chance to shine in the first issue! But we don’t actually get more into the heads of the characters, except for one small scene. When Han declares, “I used to be” in response to Rey’s, “You’re Han Solo!”, we get a montage of images from Han’s past, reminding us of who he was in the films. More scenes like this are desperately needed.
Where Alan Dean Foster’s novelization had many extra scenes and dialogue, reflecting an earlier script, Wendig’s script goes in the entire other direction: removing dialogue! Where humor fell flat in Foster’s adaptation, Wendig’s skips humorous scenes altogether. Han and Chewie’s interactions during the conflict with Kanjiklub and the Guavian Death Gang are cut just like Poe’s scenes with Lor San Tekka. Again, it seems strange to cut so many scenes with such a long run.
The art is the best part about the comic, but even it is disappointing: nothing special, but nothing to complain about. Whereas the main Star Wars title might rely too heavily on screen captures of the actors, making a lot of scenes accidental recreation of movie scenes, Ross doesn’t seem to use them at all. This helps create a distinct version of our cast, which is somewhat refreshing. The heavy lines and different style of art might not be for everybody. I don’t dislike the art, but I wouldn’t complain if Ross was never brought back into a Star Wars comic.
Maybe the difficulty is that The Force Awakens is hard to capture in anything but the film. The novel was stilted and, had it been our only introduction to the characters, would have left us with a bad impression of Rey and a forgettable Finn. The comic leaves us with whiplash, moving us from scene to scene (at an even faster pace than the movie, which admittedly did the same thing), failing to capture the tension, humor, joy, or love in the scene. If anything, the series serves more to refresh your memory of the core of the movie without having to watch the movie (as if that would have been a chore for any of us).
As much as I would love to see Wending write a different Star Wars comic, unfortunately, The Force Awakens, two issues in, has not been a strong opening for him. The comic hasn’t provided any justification for its existence: it deletes too much of the films and doesn’t offer anything new to replace the lost “footage”. The pace is hard to follow and the characters appear to be reading from a script rather than living the movie out. All in all, The Force Awakens is easily passable, at least in the first two issues.
Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War
LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06