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Review: ‘Darth Vader and Friends’

Darth Vader and Friends
By Jeffrey Brown
Chronicle Books; $14.95

Yes, the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, California just wrapped up, the new Star Wars: Battlefront video game looks incredible, and there was a new trailer for this year’s Episode VII, featuring Old Han Solo and Chewbacca. And that’s all well and good, but the biggest, best Star Wars-related news of the month?

Jeffrey Brown has a new Darth Vader cartoon collection out. Following the format of Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess, the new Darth Vader and Friends reimagines The Dark Lord of The Sith as a proud but harried single father, trying to run an evil galactic empire while raising his two precocious rebel heroes. As in the previous installments–which include the Goodnight Moon-esque story book Goodnight Darth Vader–indie cartoonist-turned-book store darling Brown manages to viciously parody elements of the Star Wars films, while doing so in such a sweet, funny, innocent fashion that the results are as more of a celebration.

If you really try to untangle the various statements of these books, their relationship with the source material probably seems pretty complicated, but at this point–four books in, plus a Diary of A Wimpy Kid-like Jedi Academy series–it’s pretty apparent that Brown considers these characters family. He genuinely loves them, so that when he makes fun of them, it’s affectionate more than mean-spirited.

The loose premise of this book seems to be the expansion of little Luke and Leia’s circle of friends, which now includes big, gangly kid Chewbacca, adorably caped little Lando and that Han Solo kid, who Vader thinks is trouble. Additionally, there are plenty of other gags that don’t involve the “kids” and their relationship to Vader, but seem to be about friendship in the Star Wars universe–or at least Brown’s darling take on it–in general.

There are 58 new comics in here in all, most of them one-panel gags, but several with a couple that are broken into a couple of panels. Almost all of them turn on some reference to the films, and while the majority show the cutesier versions of the characters that Brown has derived and by this time refined to perfection, there are a few that are drawn quite straight in terms of style, like one in which Boss Nass hurts Jar Jar Binks’ feelings, or another in which Jabba The Hutt tells Salacious Crumb (the giggling Muppet that perches on his dais) that “no one understands me like you do”…in Huttese, of course.

Among my favorite gags are when the kids go trick or treating at Jabba’s Palace, all wearing the disguises they used to infiltrate it in Return of The Jedi as costumes (Check out the background for an appearance by Jaxxon, the giant green Star Wars rabbit…or is that merely a kid dressed like Jaxxon?), and a silent gag strip in which Lobot from Empire Strikes Back looks sadly over his shoulder at Lando laughing with his arm around the shoulder of Nien Nunb from Return of The Jedi (If the names mean nothing to you, you’ll recognize them when you see them; they’re the bald guy who hung around Lando in Cloud City and the alien who co-piloted the Millennium Falcon in the second battle against the Death Star, respectively. I had to Wookieepedia them to figure out there names myself).

Perhaps the best example of Brown’s work on these books comes in the very last cartoon. It’s a simple image of Chewie, Han, Luke and Leia watching the twin suns of Tatooine set together, while Leia puts her arms around Han and Luke and says the inverse of the old Star Wars line: “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

It’s the sweetest image in the book–maybe in any of them–and perfectly demonstrates Brown’s ability to mix allusion, nostalgia, sentimentality and his own peculiar take on probably the most adapted and exploited media property in existence. If Star Wars is a media empire, thn Jeffrey Brown’s comics are its Peanuts.

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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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