"Star Wars: Chewbacca" Written by Gerry Duggan, Art by Phil Noto. Trade paperback collecting Star Wars: Chewbacca Issues 1-5. 2016, Marvel Comics. (8 out of 10)
I love Chewbacca. I mean, who doesn't? Of all the original trilogy characters, he and R2-D2 are the ones that bring more to the table than their dialogue suggests. Loyal, powerful, gentle, skilled, hairy. All of those traits are present in Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto's "Star Wars: Chewbacca" comic which came out in single issues last year, and in a collected trade paperback volume this spring.
I was wondering how this story would fit in with Chewie's history; we know he's 200 years old, after all. This book fits between "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." That's a gap of a few years, and now that all of the books and comics written before 2014 have been erased and relegated to "Legends" status, we've got a fresh slate for authors to work with. This does a great job of giving us a little story about the Wookiee we love to love.
"Star Wars: Chewbacca" opens with a scrolling introduction, just like the movies. It reads in part:
The evil galactic Empire's greatest weapon, the Death Star, has been destroyed by CHEWBACCA, warrior son of the planet KASHYYYK...with some help from his trusty sidekick Han and his friends Luke and Leia. But Chewie is not one to grandstand. There is still much to accomplish.
That paragraph sold me on the whole thing. Chewie's the hero. Period. We first seem him near his crash-landed A-Wing Fighter on an Imperial-controlled planet. He's actually lying in a flowerbed, arms behind his head, looking a few flower petals away from an "American Beauty" poster. But he works it. Chewbacca needs to get the flight stabilizer to repair his A-Wing, so he goes into town to win a few hands of sabacc and earn the credits needed to get back offworld. In the process, he runs into a fugitive. A young girl who escaped the Andelm Beetle Caverns needs his help. The caverns are like mines filled with glowing beetles that can be used as a power source or explosives. They're glowy, slimy, and an interesting twist on the traditional slave-powered mines that have become cliche in adventure stories. The girl gets Chewie on her side by telling him about her father and the other slaves, reminding him that his own people have also been slaves for the Empire.
What follows is an adventure story that isn't necessarily innovative, but is a lot of fun. Chewbacca's dialogue is all HRAA HRAA HRHR WHRARAAARH etc., but the context of the other dialogue and Noto's exceptional artwork tells the story as well as Peter Mayhew's performance and the sound editors do in the films. This world is as dangerous as Tatooine or Jakku (but hey, not a desert planet!), with smugglers, bounty hunters, and monsters, in addition to the usual Stormtroopers and Imperial officers.
I loved seeing Chewbacca paired up with a child--the girl reminds me both of Ahsoka from "Clone Wars" and Ezra from "Rebels." When I was a pup I always wanted Chewie to defend me, to fight alongside me, and every now and then to give me a piggyback ride. All of those things happen in this book. The story is good, with some deviations from what I expected. Many tie-in comic books and novels don't actually grow the characters very much, because they're not allowed to--Captain Kirk still needs to be the same Captain Kirk at the end of the novel that he is at the beginning, a reset button has to be in place. This one has fun with the character of Chewbacca, lets his world grow, and builds his story more than I expected it would.
The artwork from Phil Noto is stunning -- I've been a fan of his work for years, so seeing him collaborate on a project like this, about a favorite character, really sells the project. Too often the artists on a story could be interchangeable (and often artists do change, mid-series, even on limited runs like this one); Noto has a distinct style, and it's one that works well with Chewie. A softness to the characters coupled with great technical drawings of the machines, vehicles, and equipment of the Star Wars universe--it's pretty much perfect. There are several pages that are frameable artwork--I want him on more Star Wars projects in the near future. Please.
If you're a fan of Chewbacca the character, you'll love "Chewbacca" the book. I'll bet my life debt on it.