Star Wars is, without a doubt, one of the strangest anomalies of our time. A fantastic trilogy of an epic space opera that has spawned a literal media empire and helped defined “the blockbuster,” the name has taken a bit of a beating in recent years with polarizing prequels and tie-ins that, while interesting in their details, tend to rehash well-worn ground, or else be so outrageous they defy belief. Star Wars Expanded Universe media tends to either be very good or awful, but this series is the first time I can safely say that a piece of the Extended Universe has actually, in some ways, surpassed the trilogy that spawned it.
I absolutely adore New Hope, Empire and Jedi (and am a big fan of several of the novels and comics that spun out from them), but I’ll be the first to admit that something they don’t do well is characterization. It’s understandable, the movies are focused on telling an epic story and as such is populated with archetypes, but Brian Wood has the freedom to stretch his wings and show what those archetypes get up to when the camera isn’t on them. This story has been concerned primarily with fleshing out the characters we think we know so well, but it’s in times that we never get to see in the movies. When they’re not having to be the best they can be, when they doubt and fear and lust and laugh and mourn. We actually see, in this issue, Luke return to Tatooine, to the site of his aunt and uncle’s murder and tell Leia about how, while he’s sorry they’re dead, he no longer feels a connection to the planet or the place. This, in a very subtle way, explains why Owen and Beru are never spoken of again in the subsequent movies but it’s also an immensely powerful moment on its own.
Ryan Kelly and Dan Parsons take over on pencils and inks while and Gabe Eltaeb remains diligently on colors, and the former two are just as great as their predecessors on on this title, while Eltaeb helps maintain a consistent tone with his colors. The pencils and inks succeed because they’re willing to make characters look other than the way they do in the movies. Luke doesn’t necessarily look EXACTLY like Mark Hamill, Leia not like Carrie Fisher, Han’s no Harrison Ford, but they’re all still absolutely recognizable as the characters, and this helps the book feel more like it’s own story and less like on-set photos that never made it into the final product. They do far more than that, though, as their characters are expressive and emotive, even during the wild battles they take part in, and the sense of scale and place is always absolutely top-notch.
This storyline is taking a LONG time to pay off. It hasn’t quite started to drag yet, but it’s in danger of doing so. As great as the new artists are, there are a couple of panels where faces and proportions get a bit awkward and blocky.
All that needs to be said about the writing in this issue can be summed up in a very powerful moment when an enraged Emperor Palpatine chastises a newly minted Moff as a sycophantic corporate tool, ordering her to her quarters where she’ll be dealt with. The veteran officer is devastated and prepares to take her own life rather than face down the Emperor's wrath, but not before she opens the top part of her uniform to place the barrel of a her rifle against herself. It’s not explicitly said, but I interpreted this to be a very subtle way of acknowledging she respects the Imperial uniform and what it represents so much that she doesn’t want to tarnish or damage it, even in her suicide. I won’t tell you how the scene plays out, but it’s a tense, very subtle character moment that has been lacking in a great deal of sci-fi media and the writing and art of that moment alone perfectly encapsulate what is great about this book. This book remains one of the absolute best on the shelf and must be read by any fan of Star Wars, or even science-fantasy.