You know, for being one of the most maligned movies in the entire Saga, The Phantom Menace really did a lot of things right and has given the canon quite a bit of great material to work with. It introduced us to angsty Anakin Skywalker, and a youthful Obi-Wan Kenobi, and gave us a look into the formation of a friendship that would end on the Death Star before the Battle of Yavin. Not only that, but The Phantom Menace kicked off the story of Darth Maul, starting from his astounding reveal on Theed, followed up by his audacious plan for revenge during the Clone Wars, and we see him again as a primary villain during the Dark Times again. The Gungans have shown up again in some wonderful arcs like the war between the Aqualish and the Mon Cal warriors, they’ve shut down General Grievous, and we were all excited to see a worthwhile Gungan bounty hunter in the Star Wars flagship comic title. In the same vein of picking up The Phantom Menace‘s many cool story ideas, Obi-Wan & Anakin develops the blossoming relationship between Anakin, a newly minted Jedi, and Obi-Wan, as stoic and duty-bound and trustworthy as ever, as they travel to Carnelion IV, a world torn in half by war. This series, set four years after the Battle of Naboo, is able to explore the riches of the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan in a fresh way by dialing the clock back to the first crisis in their relationship as Master and Padawan. Click through to find out why Obi-Wan & Anakin has set itself up as required reading.
Charles Soule, author of Lando and Poe Dameron, takes the helm for his second Star Wars mini-series in the new Marvel Star Wars canon. The comic is set three years into the ten year gap between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, when Anakin was yet a young Jedi and Obi-Wan was still struggling with what it meant to be a mentor to a troubled young man like Anakin. While I’m sure Legends covered this area pretty well, I struggle to remember many stories in this area. I’ve been reminded of the Jedi Quest series and Rogue Planet, but even after being reminded of those books, I can’t place them as uniquely memorable. For me at least, my inability to remember other stories in this era made this an exciting and fresh read for me. This article won’t be a complete rehashing of the plot, nor do I want to cover everything: if I had more time and space, I’d sing this book’s praises for almost every aspect about it.
Receiving a distress call using an old Jedi beacon, Obi-Wan brings Anakin to Carnelion IV, an unknown and obscure world, populated by dangerous creatures, both beastly and human, covered in mountain ranges and icy plains. On the surface of the planet,
by two women corner the Jedi. These women, named Pran and Kolara, confront Obi-Wan and Anakin with an interesting question: are you Open or Closed? Not understanding, Obi-Wan tells the two that they are Jedi. Pran, confused, asks: “What in the green hells is a Jedi?” This statement reveals one of the strengths of the book: it shows us the Republic at a really unique time. The Republic, probably not facing many threats from the Separatist movement, maybe before even the earliest solar systems have started to secede, is still at its strongest. Because the Clone Wars have not started yet, the galaxy at large doesn’t know what a Jedi is yet! Though it would be obvious that everybody in the galaxy can’t possibly know one of the relatively few Knights, whether they’ve been locked in a deadly war for decades outside of the Republic’s concern. Seeing the galaxy at a greatly unfamiliar time was enough to get me hooked, but the rest of the series was great enough to make me stay.
In meeting Kolara and Pran, Obi-Wan and Anakin are drawn into the war between the Open and the Closed. Because the series never really spells out the origin of the war between the two sides, nor do they really reveal what the sides are fighting over, you’re never really sure if you should choose a side. I felt like this was intentional: it might have been a commentary on war, that sometimes most people don’t know what they are fighting for anyway. The reader also meets Grecker, a member of the Closed. Because of some catastrophes, the Open, Closed, and Jedi are forced to work together in order to survive the harsh planet. I loved having these two sides open: I thought this was a great way to make sure that you would be able to experience Obi-Wan and Anakin’s confusion. The two sides wear war paint and have some future-retro costumes, almost a cool Star Wars-like spin on Mad Max: Fury Road.
Not only are the costume designs extremely well done, but the vehicles are also magnificent. Based on the covers alone, we see the Star Wars equivalent of a blimp. These keep the Open and Closed off the ground, a dangerous place full of creatures and wars and inclement weather. These blimps are given a Star Wars twist: a little steam punk, but not overdone. While too familiar designs might bring the reader out of a story, these fit right into the Star Wars galaxy because of their cool designs and their use for survival. One of the most shocking reveals came toward the end when we see the Open’s army: an incredible selection of mechs, somewhat reminiscent of Warhammer miniatures vehicles. Pran and Kolara kidnap Anakin to rebuild the mechs, and in a display of his technical prowess, Anakin is successful in rearming the Open’s army. Though I drew the comparisons to Mad Max and Warhammer, the designs still retain a Star Wars feel and don’t seem like they come from a different franchise. The art, by Marco Checcheto (who worked on Shattered Empire) is gloriously done. Close up shots of Obi-Wan and Anakin are filled with emotion and tension. The image below shows the brilliance of the framing in the comic: Anakin sees Obi-Wan as a giant, and the art reflects that.
In the final two issues, we meet “The Scavenger”, a woman who sends “sky-gifts” to the people of Carnelion IV. These sky-gifts are simply the gift of art, sent to the world to remind the Open and Closed of times past and potentially put an end to the war. It turns out that the children of the Open collect these gifts, and want to know what’s going on with them. The Scavenger, finding out that sending art doesn’t seem to be working in ending the war, calls the Jedi, hoping that any who arrive would help bring an end to the war. Sera, the Scavanger, found a video of a man with a lightsaber bringing an end to a violent war by killing the participants. Because the war has cut the planet off from the Jedi, she doesn’t know that the so-called Jedi is a Sith Lord (based on the red lightsaber he carries). She is surprised, then, when Obi-Wan shows her a different way of dealing with violence: instead of massacring one side of the war, he brings the Republic in as arbitrator. Whereas the Mandalorian arcs in The Clone Wars showed the dangers of pacifism in wartime, this arc showed the benefits of pacifism in peacetime. By lying to the Republic about a supply of Tibanna gas on the planet, summoning the Republic to the planet and effecting a ceasefire (for the time being), Obi-Wan shows the Open, Closed, and Anakin what it means to be a Jedi. After seeing the failure of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, Dark Disciple (wherein the Jedi Council assigns Quinlan Vos to team up with bounty hunter/former Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress to assassinate Count Dooku, a venture in which he is seduced to the Dark Side), and for Kanan (wherein Kanan has to give up his Jedi identity in order to survive in the universe), it was a refreshing change of pace to see the Jedi in a good light again.
It turns out that Anakin needs this reminder. During the series, he’s struggling with whether or not he wants to remain a Jedi, and he’s extremely close to leaving the Order. Not having a choice to come with the Jedi on Tatooine is weighing down on him, and he wants a way out. We see how he is still failing to completely grasp being a Jedi: Anakin is unable to connect through the Force with wild beasts trying to kill him and Obi-Wan in an effort to save them. Based on Rebels, where in Kanan coaches young Jedi Ezra on connecting to animals as a means by which one refines himself and his connection to the Force, we see that connection with animals shows a strong sense of empathy, compassion, and knowledge in the Force. It is striking to see Anakin fail to grasp this. Not only are these anxieties about leaving and his purpose in bringing out galactic justice compounded by his own self-doubt, but we see glimpses into the way that Palpatine “watched” Anakin’s “career with great interest” a few years after the Invasion of Naboo. Knowing that Anakin is impatient to do good in the world, and not able to wait for the Jedi to train him, Anakin is at an immensely vulnerable spot for Palpatine to sink his claws into. Palpatine takes Anakin to the sub-levels of Coruscant to see the seediest parts of the galaxy, and he reveals a lot of the corruption in the Senate by watching some Senators gamble away their fortunes – and their good conscience (I’ll take a tangent here to say that it was awesome to see Chancellor Villecham’s species recognized in the comic. I am so ready for more synergy between Sequel Trilogy aliens and those from the first six films.) Seeing these injustices upset Anakin, and he influences a die roll that has large galactic consequences in his first effort to speed up the process of saving the galaxy one way or another. Though it is only a small taste of the evil in the galaxy, Palpatine’s first steps in seducing Anakin place firm doubts in his mind. Though the movies were only able to show a small part of Anakin’s psyche, projects like this one and The Clone Wars add an incredible layer of tragedy in Anakin’s fall. This subplot was the most gripping sub-plot of any book so far: I’d love an entire series devoted to this, and I was disappointed that the final issue did not feature this plot more heavily.
In the final issue, as Obi-Wan wraps up his and Anakin’s involvement in the war, we see Obi-Wan’s mindset while he’s on the planet. Obi-Wan trying to save the original sender of the distress code is not only about keeping Anakin in the Order or ending the war between the Open and the Closed, Obi-Wan has an intensely personal stake in the matter: if this mission doesn’t go well, he would be forced to leave the Order in order to remain faithful to his pledge to Qui-Gon to train Anakin. In a flashback, we see Yoda and Obi-Wan discussing Anakin’s future. Yoda concedes that, if Anakin wants to go, he should be allowed to leave the Order. He asks Obi-Wan if he understands what Anakin’s departure would mean: to keep his promise to Qui-Gon, he would have to leave the Order as well. Yoda says that the pair’s next mission could be Anakin’s last, and this final mission ended up being this battle on Carnelion. This was a deep look at Obi-Wan in a place where we might not have initially expected it. This brought a new level of depth to the character, akin to the revelation of him that we got in The Clone Wars that he would leave the Order to be with Dutchess Satine Kryze if she had asked. The revelation that Obi-Wan would leave the Order if Anakin did brought an opportunity to reframe the entire story with this new point of view for Obi-Wan, where we see the series was not only about Anakin’s future in the Order, but Obi-Wan’s relation to the Order.
I’ll admit: I wasn’t a huge fan of reveals in the final issue that reframe the entire series. If I’m reading a comic book, I’d prefer to have all of the relevant background information in the first issue than receive it in flashbacks. For example, I love it when issue one sets up the plot of the rest of the book rather than just jumping into the story somewhere in the middle of a mission. For me, I would have loved the background/flashback scenes from issue 5 get moved up to issue 1, and the rest of the issues focusing on Anakin’s backstory. I know I’m not the same as everybody, so I can’t objectively vote the series down based on my preference. I’m more prone to wanting all of this type of information at the beginning of the series so I have all of that knowledge available to me for the first read-through without retracing hints dropped during the series’ run. I know that these final issue revelations reframe the way that we read the series next time (for example, the hints that were dropped about Obi-Wan’s impeding decision on whether or not to leave the Order will become much more obvious), but I always feel disappointed the first time I read the series. I don’t have the foresight to think about the way that these reveals will affect the next time I read the series, so I’m disappointed on the first read through. I expected more scenes between Palpatine and Anakin, but was surprised to see scenes between Yoda and Obi-Wan instead. Though they were great, I felt disappointed because I had begun to expect a different story, and I ended up disappointed (even though the series made no promises to me, and I was let down because of my own expectations).
Though it seems like way too much happened in this series (and I didn’t even list everything that happened!), the book never felt rushed. Even though it feels larger in terms of plot points and storylines than Princess Leia, and bigger in scope than Chewbacca, the series moves at a great, even pace. Nothing feels skirted over and we don’t dwell on anything for too long that would make it overstay its welcome.
All in all, Obi-Wan & Anakin was a great mini-series, offering great art, a cool plot, and some exciting new elements to an unfamiliar time in Star Wars history. More than that, though, it might have been one of the more important comic series: It was intensely personal, bringing us deep into the mind of Palpatine and the heart of Anakin, and the courage and iron will of Obi-Wan. Though I doubt any of us expected this book to be so deep and hard-hitting, I was extremely happy to see the way that the book changed and developed. This is a must-read series.
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