Written and drawn by Jeffrey Brown
Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown made a name for himself in the 2000s with a series of self-published black-and-white, highly confessional autobiographical graphic novels, like Clumsy, Unlikely and AEIOU. More recently, Brown has made many more fans with his Darth Vader & Son and Vader’s Little Princess cartoon books, which presented one-panel gags riffing on the idea of Darth Vader raising his kids Luke and Leia, a sort of Star Wars version of The Family Circus (only funnier than either of those), drawn in Brown’s own inimitable deceptively simple, sketchbook style.
Looking back, then, his latest work seems almost inevitable. His new Star Wars: Jedi Academy blends those two types of his work into one, a Star-Wars-and-Jeffrey-Brown version of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style book. Think Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, and the like, only set in the Star Wars universe.
Our hero is young Roan Novachez, a young boy from the desert planet of Tatooine (where all the most popular Star Wars protagonists seem to come from), who has just finished primary school and is ready to fulfill his life-long dream to follow his father and older brother into Pilot School, only to find he’s been rejected. He is accepted into Jedi Academy, though, and the book follows him as he reluctantly attends this new and strange school and runs a gamut of school kid conflicts: Making new friends, dealing with bullies, trying to understand the new adults in his life, girls, finding a place he fits in and, of course, trying to use The Force, although he seems to be the only kid in his class who can’t seem to get the hang of it.
The story is told in the hybrid comics/diary format, with passages of hand-lettered prose alternating with pages of black-and-white comics and lists, letters, photographs, school newspapers, fliers, and other artifacts breaking up the narrative into different forms, while continuing the same story.
It will likely seem derivative, given how many other creators have followed Jeff Kinney into this successful territory, but the Star Wars factor really shouldn’t be discounted: While most of Roan’s dilemmas will seem familiar to readers of any kind of juvenile fiction, the gloss of the franchise’s space fantasy (and the attendant nostalgia for readers of Brown’s age) makes for a distinct variation on the familiar.
Yoda serves as one of the Academy’s teachers and seems to be the only character from the films to appear. Brown makes great use of him as a comic character, more in keeping with the little, old eccentric gnome version from Empire Strikes Back than the more grim version of the prequel trilogy. The same size as his students, this Yoda spends a lot of time giggling to himself, staring off into space, and talking about soup, in addition to occasionally dispensing Jedi wisdom in his own particular backwards way.
While he’s the only character taken straight from the movies, the various races and types of will be familiar. There’s Kitmum, the Wookie gym teacher whose dialogue consists of variations of “Rwoarr” and who writes scribbles and smiley or frowny faces on report cards; T-P30, a CP30-like protocol droid who talks too much, and RW-22, and R2D2-like droid who communicates only through beeps and bleeps.
As for his classmates, these are all pint-sized versions of Star Wars aliens; for example, one of the bullies is whatever Darth Maul was, the girl he has a crush on is of the tentacle-headed variety that hung around Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi, and so on.
Like Brown’s recent Star Wars work, Jedi Academy should reach dual audiences equally effectively. Kids will be able to appreciate it for its storytelling aimed directly at them as well as its funny drawings and Star Wars gags (similar to the way Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books work), while adult fans of Star Wars and/or Brown can appreciate the artist’s craft and his jokes at the franchise’s expense. So while the format is so different from his two Darth Vader cartoon books, this Jeffrey Brown Star Wars book should prove pleasing to the same family audiences that gobbled up his earlier books.