I understand that Star Wars #1 has sold out from Dark Horse in less than a day. Expect a second printing announcement any day now.
If you’re wanting an inkling as to why, here’s a review…
Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool
My dad used to love aircraft magazines and, when he was done with them, I’d get them. A lot of the time it was pretty but bounced off me, but every now and then there’d be an interesting article, including a whole skutch of ‘Where did an Aurora accidentally crash this year?’ stuff. The highlight though was a year-long standing discussion across the letters page of Air Forces Monthly, that ran for about a year, about which would win in a dogfight between an F-18 Hornet or a Sopwith Camel biplane.
Now, at first glance this looks like putting a small mewling kitten in with a wolverine and expecting it to be a fair fight, but as the discussion went on, more and more people began coming down on the side of the camel. Oh certainly the Hornet was a beautiful, sleek, supersonic sports car of a fighter aircraft and the Sopwith Camel looked like it had been whittled from Sherwood Forest by an old man called Jed, but it had one massive advantage; the Hornet couldn’t slow down enough to get any kind of meaningful engagement with the Camel. It would either engage from rang with some form of heatseeker (Itself a bit dubious given the Camel’s tiny, not quite elastic band engine) or have to get a quick shot in with cannons as it hurtled past at Mach OhMyGod. Now, admittedly, if those cannon shells hit, the Camel would be blown into the thing firewood’s blown into when it explodes, BUT.
If they didn’t…and the Camel crew had a shoulder launched heatseeker of their own?
This idea, of your only defense being how different you are to your enemy became one of the tenets of asymmetrical warfare and is also very much the background for Dark Horse’s new Brian Wood-scripted Star Wars title. Set in one of the most interesting periods of the series for me, between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a series that, based on this first issue manages to combine the best elements of the franchise with some of Wood’s strongest talents as a writer.
The first, and most obvious one, is the newly grounded, pragmatic approach taken to the war. The Rebels’ reward for destroying the Death Star has been months of running, hiding and frantically looking for a new base planet only to be stopped by the Empire at every turn. People are tired, scared and increasingly frustrated and Wood uses that to crank the focus down onto his characters, even as he sets his stall out.
The opening scene is a conversation between Scouts One, Two and Three, an X-Wing recon flight piloted by Wedge Antilles, Luke and Leia. As the three park in orbit and begin scanning the planet below, they get talking. Or rather, Luke starts whining, but he does at least whine on other people’s behalf; pointing out that Wedge has lost very nearly everyone he knew, he has no idea of how to start harnessing his Force abilities and Leia has had to attend far too many funerals in the last few months. It’s a neat character moment that articulates the one thing the original movies struggled with at times; this is a war. People are dying. In the heat of battle, that’s easy to forget, but this is a quieter moment and it’s all the three characters can see.
This sort of character study is Wood’s bread and butter and he uses it here to focus in on the first arc’s lead character; Princess Leia. Wood’s version of the character is very hands-on, serving on the front lines in the pilot’s seat of an X-Wing. Leia’s newfound flight status has caused predictable fan consternation (fansternation? Is that a word now?) and Wood cleverly hangs a lantern on that, with a Deck Officer moaning about she’ll never be ‘one of us’ and Mon Mothma noting, and using, Leia’s new-found fondness for logging flight hours. In fact, Mon Mothma uses it as an asset, tasking Leia to form a small squadron of pilots acting outside the normal chain of command, and use them to find both a new base of operations and the person slipping their movements to the Empire. She may be a tourist in the cockpit to some characters, and readers, but Wood and Mon Mothma seem to be putting her there for the duration. So far, it’s made her more interesting than she’s been in years.
But Leia as a fighter pilot isn’t the thing which a lot of people may have a problem with. That comes after the opening dogfight, and, well…have a look.
It’s a harsh, brutal moment that, this being Wood, comes from a place of real human emotion. At first glance it seems out of tone with the series as we know it, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense; Leia’s grief stricken and angry and horrified at her world being literally blown out from under her and can’t let anyone else see it, even close friends like Luke and Wedge, because she’s an Officer and a figurehead. On her own though? All bets are off. It’s a very smart, perceptive character beat which reinforces rather than undermines the source material. Very nicely done.
As is Wood’s approach to the Dark Side. Firstly, look at that fantastic monolith of a splash page. Nothing but pointy spacefighter death, all the way down isn’t it? It’s a very smart way to introduce the Empire, as this wall of resources and power and threat, and it uses the visuals of the story to ramp up the threat level. However, it’s not all evil wine and evil roses on the other side of the force. Vader finds himself demoted for the loss of the Death Star and, crucially, the massive loss of credits, manpower and time as well as the Emperor not having his favourite toy any more. Just like the moment with Leia and the tie pilot it’s a smart, logical progression of the source material. Not even the Empire has unlimited resources and whilst that space station didn’t just look like a moon, it cost about as much as one. Maybe that’s why there’s that huge hole in the middle; budget ‘issues’.
Again, it’s a nice character beat and Wood uses the time period to shine a very different light on the Sith Lord himself, troubled by the name ‘Skywalker’ and completely unsure of why. He’s a loyal dog of war who’s dangerously off his game, and knows it. This, along with the introduction of a rival for the Sith Lord will lead, I suspect, to a great deal of throat crushing on his road back to the top of the food chain.
The other main cast aren’t featured much, aside from a fun new job for three and a short scene with Han and Chewie. The two smugglers get a nice, wry few pages as they reflect on how the Rebellion’s working out for them. It’s a welcome, light moment and it’ll be interesting to see if what I suspect is right, and they’re actually leaving the Fleet to travel to the next story arc. It’s also a neat example of the droll, unforced humour that Wood’s work, and the original trilogy, both feature.
Carlos D’anda is on art duties and his work here is exemplary. People are in proportion, recognisably the characters from the movies and there’s a burly sense to the world that simultaneously makes it seem real and slightly down at heel, as it should be. It’s tough working with licensed titles, simultaneously hitting the marks and maintaining your own style but D’anda absolutely nails it. Plus, he and Wood have a number of neat storytelling tricks to show motion on a static page, especially in the opening dogfight, that give the pages real fluidity and speed. The work is perfectly rounded out bu the impressive lettering of Mike Heisler and the fantastic colour work of Gabe Eltaeb, who manages to combine naturalistic, high detail shades with convincingly alien worlds.
Whilst I have all the time in the world for Dark Horse’s Expanded Universe Star Wars titles, this is the most accessible, and fresh, they’ve looked in some time. If you’re a fan of the original movies and you want comics in that universe, without wanting to be choked out by the endless swathes of novels and other tie ins then this is for you. Covering familiar ground in a new, logical way it’s one of the best licensed titles I’ve read in ages. We all know how this fight ends, but judging by this first issue, the fun is going to be watching the Rebels work for that victory. Or to put it another way, the Force is strong with this Sopwith Camel…