Review: Star Wars Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics)

Monday, August 26, 2013

I've reviewed Star Wars books from a couple of different eras lately, but to be sure the one I've really been looking forward to is Brian Wood's Star Wars Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin. This triumphant new series from Dark Horse sets itself right after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, arguably the only time a "classic" Star Wars story can be set and still give the writer access to most of the main characters (after Empire Strikes Back, you can't use Han Solo; after Return of the Jedi, Vader is vanquished, etc.).

And indeed Wood fills this book with old favorites -- Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Wedge Antilles, and others. This is Star Wars, with no offense intended to Dawn of the Jedi or Lost Tribe of the Sith, that I can really get behind.

Perhaps it's because of my high expectations that, though I enjoyed Shadow of Yavin (and some parts, quite a bit), in total I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. Wood does an admirable job taking characters who must inevitably reach their character marks in Empire and giving them believable conflicts within the story. At the same time, maybe because of those conflicts, I found the characters didn't seem quite as familiar to me as I expected.

[Review contains spoilers]

Certainly one of Wood's triumphs here is to make this, first and foremost, Princess Leia's story. Leia is a model for a strong female science-fiction character, though I think at times her leadership and military prowess are considered only second after the "slave Leia" incident. Wood has Leia flying X-wings and shooting Imperial soldiers at point-blank range from the beginning, and later she leads a Rebel black ops group answerable only to herself. If at times in the movies Leia seems a football punted between Luke and Han, here Wood succeeds in making her her own person.

At the same time, I could not necessarily "hear" Carrie Fisher speaking the dialogue Wood gives to Leia as well as I could hear some of the other characters. Chalk this up, if you like, to my own failure of imagination, but I think it's also because we don't hear Leia having all that many basic conversations in the movies. Arguing defiantly with Vader, yes, and growling at Han, sure, but never the copious amount of dialogue that Wood puts in Leia's mouth here. I can accept the character that Carlos D'anda draws on the page here as like Leia, and certainly I enjoyed what Wood did with the character, but she didn't ring true to my estimation of Leia herself (I'd also say that while D'anda does a superlative job with the book's art overall, I didn't think his depiction of Leia was as recognizable as some other characters, either).

I'd make the same argument about Wood's Luke Skywalker, who "acts up" at one point in this book, in a way I equally didn't recognize as being true to Luke. Wood's Han Solo, Darth Vader, Mon Mothma, and the interaction between C-3PO and R2-D2 all worked better for me.

I recognize some of these "out of character" moments, if that's what they are, as necessary for the story Wood appropriately needs to tell. There are a number of character beats that Star Wars glosses over for expediency, not the least is Leia dealing with the annihilation of her entire planet and Luke transitioning from farm boy to Rebel pilot. Wood takes up each of these threads here, and if they seem out of character, likely it's because Wood has to stretch the material to tell the stories that are logically there, but that the movies didn't offer the basis for.

The most fascinating of these "glosses" that Wood appears to tackle is that of how and when Darth Vader understood that Luke and Leia were his children and that his wife Padme hadn't died before giving birth as the Emperor had told him. Wood hasn't revealed his whole hand yet, but there's a couple of quiet scenes in which Vader mulls over the word "Skywalker," which are quite intriguing. It's possible Anakin's personality has been so subsumed by his Vader identity that he's forgotten that he himself is a Skywalker, and having heard Luke's name is now bringing it all back. I feel Vader's other storyline, in which he's shown up before the Emperor by a subordinate, has been written before, but I remain interested to see where Wood goes with Vader's realizations about his family and himself.

Trade readers are in for a particular treat with this one. Alex Ross's cover looks like a Star Wars movie poster (has Ross ever illustrated an entire Star Wars comic, anyone?), and the credits and scene-setting Star Wars-esque text page are both done in the "Star Wars yellow," such that you play the John Williams music in your head and convince yourself you're sitting in a theater. The book is not written for the trade, with numerous recaps of the current action and a few too many narration boxes for my tastes, but overall -- as is often the case with Dark Horse's Star Wars books -- this is a nicely packaged collection.

Also included is the Free Comic Book Day "Assassination of Lord Vader" story. I appreciate its inclusion (DC has been hit and miss with collecting Free Comic Book Day stories), and it's appropriate given that it was written by Wood, but the story takes place before Episode IV, and as such, the trade goes backward at the end of all the forward action. It's a fine (if minor) story, but a little disconcerting reading-wise.

Alongside Smallville Season Eleven and X-Files Season Ten, Brian Wood's new Star Wars comic is a book that feels nicely authentic for fans of the original materials. I didn't think Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin hit all its marks, but certainly it's a nice addition to the Star Wars canon, and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the next volume.
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

3 comments:

  1. If you took the Star Wars name off the comic, would it still be an interesting story? I bought the #1 issue and thought it was too fanservicey without a real story of its own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good question and a tough one to answer. On one hand I might say "yes," it is still interesting -- I liked the black ops, "we have no knowledge of your mission" space stuff. On the other hand, as much as I felt aspects like Vader's dilemma were fresh, other parts were more cliched -- what are the chances the woman Luke likes turns out to be the mole, etc. So I'm unsure.

      Tell me what you mean by "fanservicey" necessarily.

      Delete
    2. I love the original Star Wars trilogy, and I love Brian Wood's other current Dark Horse series The Massive (which I don't think you've reviewed yet; you should!). But the #1 of this series fell flat for me because it seemed to be simply "Here's all these characters you love, let's not do anything too risky with them because we're afraid we'll offend some hardcore fans and totally ruin canon." It seemed constrained by its source material, the only selling point being Leia in an X-Wing, which ruffled lots of fans' feathers.
      I guess it's not unique to this comic. I have the same problem with virtually all "expanded universe" Star Wars stuff.

      Delete