In 2015 Marvel returned to Star Wars comics, wrestling control from Dark Horse after its nearly 25 year run. Unlike its first go-around, every tale Marvel planned on telling would be canon, supervised much more carefully by the Lucasfilm Story Group, as well as scrutinized by fans of Dark Horse’s work and Star Wars fans in general. As Marvel’s first year back comes to a close, 58 issues later (all pictured above!), how has their return to Star Wars comics fared? In my Star Wars Comics 2015 Year-In-Review, I look back at what did (there’s a lot) and didn’t work (there’s not too much), name my top 5 favorite moments, and share a few of my thoughts (i.e. hopes, fears, and possible fixes) for 2016’s comics.
— Mild spoilers for all the comics released in 2015 —
Here are the things I liked the most/thought worked the best from the comics so far:
A) Expanded Female Universe
Doctor Aphra, Aiolin, Tulon Voidgazer (Darth Vader series); Shara Bey, Queen Soruna (Shattered Empire series); Evaan Verlaine, Tula, Tace, Jora, Uwa Pareece, Snes (Princess Leia series); Sava Korin Pers, Moff Ssaria, Chanath Cha (Lando series); Sana “Solo” Starros (Star Wars series); Tai Uzuma (Kanan series); Zarro (Chewbacca series). Marvel and its chosen creators could’ve added as many female characters as they wanted to canon, but they wouldn’t have mattered as much had they not been given the level of creative treatment they’ve receive so far. These new ladies Marvel has introduced to canon since taking back over, while not every one of them has a leading role, all manage to beat expectations in one way or another and have a variety of careers/lifestyles/personalities like…you know…real people do. Star Wars has always needed more women in it and fans should consider themselves lucky for the stupendous work Marvel has done so far on that front (which The Force Awakens knocks out of the park with Rey).
Case in point: Dr. Aphra. She is quite easily my favorite character the comics have introduced thus far and is among my top favorite characters for the saga as a whole. It’s all thanks to how she blew onto the scene in the Darth Vader series (in issue #3) dropping references to Indiana Jones (whom she is a dark mirror of) and other moments in the Star Wars films throughout her first appearance, while surprising fans with her willingness and excitement to help Vader with increasingly sensitive missions as the series progressed. And even without Vader around, she’s more than capable of holding an entire series on her own (bonus points if the murderous droid duo Triple-Zero and BT-1 tag along!), as her nuanced but oddball personality, rough upbringing, archaeological pursuits which could explore new corners of the galaxy, and history of misdeeds which give her a reputation even Han Solo is scared of are all things I’m dying to see more of.
B) Surprises Where You Least Expected Them
Remember when Luke duels with Vader before Cloud City…twice? Han has/had a wife (maybe…)? Luke battled Boba Fett and won? Vader uses one of Padmé’s old ships? Obi-Wan left Luke his journal? How Lobot became more ‘bot’ and less ‘Lo?’ Tagge survived the Death Star and became a Grand Admiral? Palpatine revealed his replacements for Vader? Luke got sucker-punched by a Hutt?
Look, I could go on since there are plenty more where all the above came from, but all these surprises and new revelations happened within the 3 years separating A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Most of these moments brought out fierce discussion amongst fans, as these things seemed to/or could possibly contradict the original trilogy, but they got people talking nonetheless because they proved interesting things could happen in an era we thought nothing of real note ever could take place.
C) Quality Talent
I’ll be honest, I’ve read some comics here and there throughout the years, but 2015 was the first I’ve ever been a weekly visitor to my local comic shop. Since then, I’ve been scooping up other series than Star Wars comics, including Saga, Fables, and Hellblazer. I can’t say who are the top talent in the greater world of comics, but it’s hard to argue the Star Wars comics have gotten some incredible talent. There’s not a single series released so far by Marvel that I’d explicitly call “bad,” though there was mixed reviews of the art within Princess Leia and Chewbacca is fun but feels unnecessary, but even then they’ve all been a joy to read. Series like Darth Vader, Kanan, and Lando have resonated with fans for their tremendous stories, striking visuals, and the all important emotional hooks, which comes from creative teams who are both fans of the GFFA (galaxy far, far away i.e. Star Wars) and are constantly bringing their A-game to the table. We’ve gotten blessed so far and let’s hope it stays that way in the following years.
Here are a few things I didn’t think worked and how to fix them:
A) Playing It Safe
The biggest demerit I can throw at the comics so far is their near over-attention to the era between IV and V, which minus every great new twist or surprise I enjoyed in an era I didn’t think would have so many, made the comics feel like they were playing it safe to an extent. Kanan and Shattered Empire were the only two to not focus on the aforementioned era, but both were devised as tie-in media to Star Wars Rebels and The Force Awakens, respectively. Kanan was a known quantity with a built-in fanbase from the show while Shara Bey, awesome on her own, tagged along with Han, Leia, and Luke, so in a way each series played it safe by linking them with other more recognizable parts of the franchise. And while Princess Leia and Lando might be considered bold for leads, their series’ are basically playing it safe because name recognition sells comics, even if we know they won’t perish in the end.
What I’d really like to see in 2016 is a series based on a brand new character where the chances of them ever running into an established character from the films (notice I didn’t say comics or books) is slim to none. It’d be a bold move, throwing money at such a risk, but I found Dark Horse was a little more willing to take risks and got great rewards from it (the Knights of the Old Republic and Legacy series). I believe Marvel’s seeming reluctance to try something bolder is due to several factors, but the most likely parts are a mandate from Lucasfilm/the Story Group, as they are highly structuring how the new canon unfolds and business decisions. In the end, it doesn’t matter what’s holding back some bolder or riskier ideas, it just should be known branching out from established characters should always be worth a try.
B) Miniseries Miscalculations
Most miniseries worked (Lando, SE, Leia) and even when they didn’t really (Chewbacca) they were still really well done. But while Lando told an exceptionally twist-filled and heartbreaking story in its five issues, the other miniseries all seemed to be miscalculated in some sense. Shattered Empire intrigued with its glimpses past Return of the Jedi and Shara Bey, but almost left you wanting too much more as its four issues, the shortest of any miniseries so far, felt rushed and begged to be expanded. Chewbacca never really felt like a necessary series to read (at least until it’s a trade paperback), despite exceptional art from Phil Noto and Duggan’s funny and well-paced writing, and giving it five issues seemed shocking when you compare its story content to SE‘s; Four issues would’ve sufficed for the Wookiee’s series. The Princess Leia series was the middle ground: it felt rushed because it was trying to tell a story grander than its reach (Leia trying to round up the remaining Alderaan survivors), while its story didn’t quite match the one it promised readers; though its handling of Leia and the new character Evaan were at least its best parts.
For 2016’s miniseries yet to come, the creative teams behind them have some simple goals: be more Lando than Chewbacca or at least work on finding better stories to tell/better ways to go about telling the story they want to in a limited run. As of this writing, there’s only been the Obi-Wan & Anakin miniseries announced for 2016, so it’ll be interesting to see who or what else gets the miniseries treatment. For the time being though I’m not worried about Obi-Wan & Anakin since Charles Soule, the mastermind behind Lando, is writing it, but I fear he might make us want more when we aren’t going to get it. Then again, Kanan was originally supposed to be a mini-series but it got expanded (slightly) so who knows what could happen. I understand no series can be/is/will be perfect, but hopefully they’ll manage all these “limited” series a little better in the future.
- Anything The Force Awakens/sequel trilogy related (and I’m not going to count the C-3PO one-shot issue set to come out in February, seeing as it was announced earlier in 2015 and was delayed), which by that I mean covering background stories on Lor San Tekka, Maz Kanata, filling in some of the blanks during the 30 year gap between RotJ and the new film, or even giving us a glimpse at what is in store for us in Episode VIII. It’s a broad hope, but there’s a high chance we’ll get something…even if it’s just a miniseries here or there.
- Again I’ll mention wanting a series based off either a completely brand new character or a new character introduced in the comics during 2015, like say Doctor Aphra!
- Not letting up on the great work done for female and POC characters and taking it even further.
- Untold The Clone Wars stories adapted, like what Dark Horses did with Son of Dathomir (their one and only ‘canon’ comic).
- Rogue One tie-in. I know that goes against my ‘playing it safe’ thoughts above, but you have to remember the characters in the film will most likely be brand new ones. And to go along with my other hope about Marvel continuing the trail they’ve been blazing for female characters, the tie-in could be all about Felicity Jones’ character.
- That there might be less Aphra. I’m not kidding about this one either, as she’s such a standout character and has a lot of potential story-wise. I get she might not survive her time with Darth Vader, but I’m more interested to see her history and her backstory, where we could get a rare look into how archaeologists function when they have a whole galaxy to deal with. Ignoring her might not impact sales for the coming comics, but I think both Lucasfilm and Marvel listen to fans enough where they know she’s a highly regarded character already. And if she survives her working relationship with Vader, you can imagine more fans will want to know more about her.
- Avoiding the prequel era. I know, for some reason I’ll never understand, it’s still ‘cool’ to hate on the prequels, but no matter you’re feelings on them there is still a lot of interesting story left to be told. The Kanan comic has proven how well the era works for telling a multi-dimensional story and the ten years between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones is ripe for the picking (as Obi-Wan & Anakin is attempting). It’s all Star Wars folks, whether you like it or not, and no part of it should be ignored if there’s a story worth telling.
Top 5 Moments (in no particular order):
Lobot’s Sacrifice (Lando #5): I never thought I could ever care about Lobot or Lobot and Lando’s relationship, but as the Lando series drew to a close with its excellent final issue, that all changed. It was odd at first to have Lobot talking and having a personality, considering all we’ve ever really seen of him for the better part of three decades is a mute security man, but he quickly became an important sidekick and voice of reason in Lando’s life. After a series of very unfortunate and ever surprising mishaps on their latest job, Lobot finds both his life and mind in jeopardy, as the implants he’s wearing will take over his brain if he loses consciousness for too long after being wounded. As things come to a head at the end, Lobot makes the ultimate sacrifice of succumbing to the implants to ensure his goodhearted gambling friend and bounty hunter-ex make it off Palpatine’s booby-trapped yacht alive. His final words, played back as a recording, make a plea to Lando to give up his life of crime and invest in something other than himself, ultimately changing the way one views Lando’s backpedaling decision to help his friends after betraying them on Cloud City and making Lobot’s movie appearance a bittersweet one.
Caleb Dume Rescued by the Most Unlikeliest Group of Allies (Kanan #5): As much as I wanted to put Order 66 as the biggest moment from Kanan, it only served to propel him on the journey which takes young Caleb to middle-aged Kanan. And as emotional as Order 66 was in “The Last Padawan” arc, it’s when a group of completely unexpected friends come together to save Caleb that hits home the hardest. From the opening issue, Caleb’s ability to endure himself to others is overly evident, which makes the clones he’s obviously best buds with turning on him, and relentlessly hunting him, all the more gut-wrenching for the young Jedi and readers alike. On the run, Caleb becomes friends with/an ‘apprentice’ to a reluctant smuggler Janus Kasmir, who eventually gets captured by Caleb’s old clone friends. A former Separatist General, Kleeve, business partner of Kasmir’s, can’t help but befriend the young Caleb as well, assisting him with trading himself in to save Janus. Working together, Janus and Kleeve attempt to rescue the last padawan from the clone’s clutches, but their efforts aren’t enough…until clone Commander Grey overcomes his inhibitor chip to, “make things right.” Surprising, emotional, and expertly written and drawn, this moment not only solidified and validated the creative team’s work on Kanan but also its place on top of my overall list of series so far.
Doctor Aphra’s Introduction (Darth Vader #3): If you couldn’t already tell from other parts of this article, I really like Aphra; she is my favorite new comics character and I’m not saying killing her off would be like killing Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead TV show, where I would up and quit the comics if it happened, but it’s almost to that point. So needless to say, one of my top 5 favorite moments had to include her and while she’s had numerous memorable parts throughout the comics, I feel like her introduction is the most important one. I mean, who would’ve thought a snippy, brash, bold, but star-struck sidekick would work perfectly against Vader (writing that out reminds me of Ahsoka’s intro a little bit)? While Triple-Zero and BT-1, the murderously dark mirror of C-3PO and R2-D2, helped DV #3 sell out faster than expected, Aphra had just as much if not more to do with it. From the Indiana Jones parallels (the entire opening is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s opening) to the Star Wars movie callbacks (Aphra is offered a chance to join Vader, which she takes, in a situation eerily similar to Luke and Vader on Cloud City; much like Luke corrects Threepio in ANH, Vader corrects Aphra’s “…sir Vader,” to, “Lord Vader.”), her first time on page pays homage to many greats things before but adds a unique Aphra twist to it all. Add in her glib manner around Vader, desire to unlock two of the deadliest droids in history because she doesn’t want them hiding in a museum of sorts, plus her request to Vader on how to kill her when he has to and you get one of most memorable introductions of the new canon.
Vader Learns he has a Son (Darth Vader #6 / Star Wars #6): How and why Vader decides to reveal what is considered the most iconic twist in film history happens in landmark issue #6 for both Darth Vader and the Star Wars on-goings, revealing the moment Vader first learns he even has a son. For over 20 years, Vader has been operating on the assumption his Sith Master Palpatine told him the truth regarding Padme and his kid(s). But when Boba Fett, tasked with identifying the X-wing pilot who blew up the Death Star, who surprisingly loses a battle against a blinded Luke and Artoo in Obi-Wan’s hut on Tatooine, returns to Vader with simply the name “Skywalker,” everything changes for the fallen Jedi. He not only learns his Master is not the all-knowing, all-seeing, and infallible Sith Palpatine claims to be…he also begins to seek out his son in the hopes of taking over the galaxy with Luke at his side. The moment perfectly captures Vader’s change from his appearance in A New Hope, a dominating menace who hunts down an old man, to a dominating menace who is hell-bent on finding Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
Past, Present, and Future Collide Above Naboo (Shattered Empire #3): Naboo starships battling TIEs and a Star Destroyer; Leia, in Naboo flight gear, fighting alongside the current Queen of Naboo, a position her mother held some decades before; Shara Bey, talented Alliance pilot who just so happens to be mother to Poe Dameron, a pilot Leia will come to rely on, fighting alongside them. All sorts of past, present, and future collide in an awesome display of piloting skill from various women taking on and defeating the Empire, who were attacking Naboo post-Endor defeat under the Operation: Cinder contingency plan put in place by the Emperor in case of his death. Everything about the battle above Naboo just works: the visual of the sleekly designed Naboo starfighters battling worn and torn TIEs juxtaposes the eras perfectly and is a sight to behold; Leia and Soruna, despite being royalty, heeding to Shara as their flight leader; Shara’s excellent skills and willingness to sacrifice herself for the highnesses despite having a family. Even with a portion of the Rebel fleet coming in for an assist, nothing can diminish the ladies’ initiative. (Bonus past, present, future points for Leia sensing Darth Maul’s dark side presence at the Theed hanger entrance)
Lastly, if I had to rank every series released in 2015, my rankings would be as follows. Deciding which of the top three was going to be #1 was extremely difficult, while by no means does Chewbacca coming down at the bottom mean I didn’t like it…I just didn’t like it as much as the rest.
2) Darth Vader
4) Shattered Empire
5) Star Wars
6) Vader Down (crossover event)
7) Princess Leia
It’s hard to find much fault with Marvel’s return to comics and the future seems awfully bright thanks to all the creative talent involved, a broadening of female characters in the GFFA, and tons of fun surprises which keep readers coming back week to week. There are things that can be fixed, but I think we’re in good hands when Marvel’s Star Wars editor Jordan D. White is such a big fan, he played “Yub Nub” on a Ukulele!
Don’t forget to check out my reviews of all 58 issues from 2015, and more to come, below!
CANON COMIC REVIEWS:
The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)
Vader (#1-6) | Shadows and Secrets (#7-12) | The Shu-Torun War (#16-19) | End of Games (#20-25) | Annual: #1
Vader Down (crossover of Star Wars and Darth Vader on-goings)
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Rebel Jail (#16-19) | The Last Flight of the Harbinger (#21-25)
Poe Dameron (on-going)
Han Solo (mini-series)
Obi-Wan & Anakin (mini-series)
Shattered Empire (mini-series)
Princess Leia (mini-series)
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (mini-series)
OTHER BUTLER CONFESSIONS:
The Force Awaken’s “(Just) Let It In,” – A Parody of Frozen’s “Let It Go”
Grand Admiral Canon: To Be or Not to Be “So Artistically Done” Again
The Great Reboot of 2100: Just How Evergreen is Star Wars?
Preserving the Mystery of In-Universe History
Star Wars Ring Theory: An Interview with the Author, Mike Klimo, and Why You Should Read It
Chutes, Shafts, and Sinkholes: Star Wars and the Descent into the Underworld Mytheme
With New Eyes: The EU Reboot Changed How I View Ep. VI
EU and Gaming: Thoughts on Their Relationship
Choice Isn’t an Option: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 1)
Always On The Move: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 2)
A Good Blaster At Your Side: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 3)
Star Wars Netflix Hopes: The Rule of Two