Swank and GONK team up to review the first issue of the new Star Wars comic by Brian Wood. And yes, there's spoilers.

Today is the release of the first issue in the new Star Wars series (profile on DarkHose.com), written by Eisner-nominated Brian Wood and drawn and inked by Carlos D'Anda and to celebrate, Big Shiny Robot! is doing a tag team review: GONK and Swank-mo-tron bringing their mojo. Issue #1 kicks off a three-part story arc, titled 'In the Shadow of Yavin'.

Summary of the issue:
It's been two months since the Battle of Yavin, and the repercussions are still being felt. The Rebels are looking for a new planet for their base, and Wedge, Leia and Luke have flown their X-Wings out to the Outer Rim world of Dominus to scout it out. As they close in, Luke reflects to Leia on his own recent losses (Beru & Owen, Ben, Biggs) and ponders the depths of her grief over Alderaan, and how despite their victory at Yavin, the Empire still has the upper hand. Leia reassures him, musing how she picked this mission to give herself time to think, when Wedge picks up some incoming hostiles: a Star Destroyer popping out of hyperspace with a full load of TIEs. As they turn to escape, Leia gets hit by a TIE interceptor and is forced to crash land on the grassy planet. On the ground, the senator of Alderaan hunts down the wreckage of the TIE who shot her down, and upon discovering the pilot is still alive, Leia guns him down.

Back at the Rebel fleet, Han is still adjusting to being a Rebel hero, with his reward money to pay off Jabba, but recognizing that his smuggler job is going to be much tougher with an Imperial price on his head, keeping him off of Imperial-held black market worlds. Heading off with Chewbacca in the Falcon, Solo chafes at having to report in to Mon Mothma.

On Dominus, Leia's fighter has been repaired enough for a flight home, and the trio of scouts take off as a search wave of TIE bombers scours the plains. With a nudge from Ben Kenobi in the Force, Luke leads the flight home undetected. Back in the fleet, Leia takes a little flack from one of the deck officers, but Luke steps to mention her recent battle kills. The princess reports in to the leader of the Rebel Alliance, Mon Mothma, who determines that since Dominus was trap, there may be a spy in their midst. Returning Threepio to Leia with new encryption, Mon Mothmas gives Leia new orders without wanting to know the details: take a small team to potentially find a new home and/or discover the spy. First up for Leia: recruit Luke.

Meanwhile, Darth Vader, moping around at Kuat, gets sent by the Emperor on a new mission and Vader's not too happy about having to relinquish control of his Star Destroyer off to a lower ranking officer, as you enlarge in the image to the right.


GONK: Star Wars #1 is exactly what we were promised when Dark Horse announced this title back at Comic Con in San Diego last July - a new series that requires no knowledge of EU (or even anything beyond A New Hope). And even if it has been a long time since one has seen ANH, there's plenty of expository narrative to guide the reader exactly into who all the players are, and where exactly in their lives they are - senator and princess of a recently destroyed world, farmboy and aspiring Jedi turned orphaned hero, solo operator now working in a group, and a top minion dealing with a colossal failure. The issue is primarily set up for both the story arc and the whole series: showing all the characters where they are at, not only explaining their roles, but also giving their moods.

The action in this issue whets our appetite for more, with a little starfighter combat, and Leia, very coldly, blasting the pilot a few times as he got out of the wreckage of his TIE. These scenes, along with Luke's admonishment to the deck officer, remind us that Leia may be a princess and a senator, she's also dangerous when you're on the wrong end of her guns.

As a set up to the series, this is a fine start. Still a few things bugged me - we get introduced to Leia's astromech droid (R2-T4), and Threepio makes his shiny appearance with Mon Mothma, but R2-D2 is nowhere to be seen or be mentioned - while we see him possibly in Luke's X-wing, since most of the Dominus story is from Leia's point of view, we don't see any Luke/Artoo interaction, so it could be that our favorite droid hero has yet to make his debut. Also, Luke's thoughts about their situation seem remarkably not self-centered for someone his age: not only is he aware of his own personal losses and Leia's world-class loss, he even brings up Wedge having lost pretty much every pilot he knew. That's pretty deep but perhaps the giant batch of funerals he's attended have made Luke realize that he's not the only one who's lost a good chunk despite their victory against the Death Star.

The initial space battle has great cockpit moments, but the visuals aren't necessarily clear on what has happened: we hear that Leia has got a missile lock on her, and she gets ready to fire her torpedoes, and in the next frame, there's an explosion and Leia's fighter in flames - it's not clear if the explosion is her being hit, or her hitting the interceptor that Luke credits later as her kill, or both. But I'm guessing that the main focus here will be on the characters, as fitting Wood's style.

The art by Carlos D'Anda (with colors by Gabe Eltaeb) is solid and enjoyable, with good likenesses of the movie characters. D'Anda gives Vader some great moods - you can feel the Dark Lord of the Sith's anger as the Emperor reminds him of Yavin. Leia is given curves to her motion. Only Threepio really stands out as being a little off - he looks a little more "Droids" Threepio than movie Threepio.

The cover by Alex Ross captures the classic Star Wars movie poster feel, with a neat reversal, of Vader in the overhead lightsaber pose, with large versions of Luke's and Leia's heads above him in the light. It really sets the tone for what this story is about: Leia and Luke, with Vader causing division. Awesome! And check out the variant cover on the left, available at Hastings, with Leia in her pilot suit, with Vader and Luke in the background:

Photo by Jen Heddle

Overall, I'm excited for this series, and it's off to a good start.

SWANK: The thing I loved about this book most might have been the predicament Vader is in. Here you have Darth Vader being scolded by the Emperor and being called out for his colossal failure. Vader's angry and thirsty to prove his worth. He's also tired of the military bureaucracy that he's forced to navigate. Reading this book, I think, will put The Empire Strikes Back into a new light and context in the same way the Prequels did that for the Classic Trilogy. And if you know me, you know that's high praise.

I also wonder if it's worth mentioning the minor foofaraw about people being upset that Princess Leia is in an X-wing flying capably. Which is an absurd thing to complain about. You have the daughter of the most powerful Jedi and best pilot ever and the thought of her in a cockpit is revolting to you? She has the Force and she has genetics and she is brilliant and strong. I think once people read the book, they'll rightly fall in love with Wood's portrayal of Leia.

Overall, I found this book quite thrilling. I really did enjoy it. I understand Gonk's concern over Luke's sudden worldliness, but I agree: he's been to a LOT of funerals, and that makes one grow up fast. He's doesn't have all the answers, though. He's still searching.

The most exciting part of this book is that Wood seems to have become a Star Wars scholar and is doing (at least based on this first issue) in guiding the characters from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back in a way that I don't believe has yet been explored.

And look at the bright side: writing in this era won't necessarily make it instantly out of date and out of continuity when Episode VII comes out.

Over all, I'm very happy with this book, more happy than I've been with a Star Wars comic in a while, and I've added it to my hold at my local comic book store. You should, too.

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