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Review: ‘Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes’

Star Wars v 1 Skywalker StrikesStar Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday
Marvel Comics; $19.99
Rated T for Teen

In 1977, not long after the movie Star Wars became a huge hit, Marvel Comics acquired the license to the film and started publishing comic books telling adventures set immediately after the events of the movie.

In 2015, not too long after George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, the also Disney-owned Marvel Comics re-acquired the license to the film franchise and started publishing comic books telling adventures set immediately after the events of the movie.

How’s that for symmetry? The first trade paperback collection of the new ongoing monthly, containing the first six issues of the series, just saw its well-timed release, arriving in comic shops, bookstores, and libraries just as anticipation (and marketing) for the new Star Wars film is reaching fever pitch.

This first story arc or so is the work of writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassady, a pair of creators long associated with Marvel but not so much with Star Wars. Regardless, they and their publishers have produced a book that comes as close to replicating the film-watching experience in comic book form as is probably possible. The first five pages imitate the first few moments of a film from the franchise–tag line, logo, crawl, ship crawling through outer space–so well that you can practically hear John Williams’s theme blaring in your head as you read.

There are a lot of differences between this and the first issue of the original Marvel Star Wars comics, many of them technical, but the most important is the fact that this is being produced decades after the rest of the original trilogy, rather than between its first two installments, so the narrative is slightly strait-jacketed.

Every reader will already know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, that Leia is his sister, that she ends up with Han Solo rather than Luke, and so on. That lack of space is a problem that’s faced so much of the “Expanded Universe” stuff in every format, but Aaron at least makes good use of his readers’ familiarity with the Star Wars universe, importing things that won’t be seen until the later movies, from vehicles (AT-AT/Imperial Walkers, speeder bikes, Jaba’s ships designs) to alien races, from particular applications of The Force to characters from later in the film series (Boba Fett, Jabba The Hutt).

More surprisingly, Aaron manages to throw some extremely unexpected curveballs, like showing the moment when Vader first learns Luke’s surname and thus his identity as his son, and a completely out-of-left-field revelation about Han’s past that comes in the form of a new character.

In other words, Aaron manages to use the audience’s own knowledge about the film franchise to the story’s advantage in several ways, including rewarding it by pulling in elements new to the characters but familiar to the readers, and by using it as a sort of lever to help catapult surprises, which land harder because they contradict the things the readers thought they already knew everything about.

The plot differs from that of the original Marvel Star Wars comics (and the most recent Dark Horse Star Wars series to use this very title, cast, and time period) and other Star Wars stories of various media set during this period by not having the rebels fleeing from their victory at the climax of the first film and looking for a new base, but rather by having them continue on the offensive.

Here our heroes Han, Leia, Luke, Chewbacca, and the droids are attempting to infiltrate and destroy an Imperial weapons factory, only to find their mission interrupted by Darth Vader himself. Later, the team splits apart, as Luke returns to his home planet to search for more clues about his now-dead would-be mentor Obi-Wan, and Han and Leia take on a mission of their own that goes…weird.

Cassaday’s photorealstic style is well-suited to this sort of media tie-in comic, as he is quite adept at drawing the various characters to resemble the actors playing them almost 40 years ago, and the various vehicles and gadgets look just as if they were made by the prop people from the films.

The downside of this style is, of course, it doesn’t have much in the way of personality to it, but then, it’s hard to imagine many people are reading this for John Cassaday’s art–as many fans as he may have, and as talented as he may be–rather than for the Star Wars, you know?

This surprisingly well written and reader-friendly work is a pretty perfect comic book companion to the first films (and the best-known era of the constantly expanding and exploited Star Wars fictional universe). It’s hard to imagine many fans, regardless of age, experience, or the intensity of their fandom, not being pleased with the results of the first Marvel-made Star Wars comics in a generation.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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