Star Wars. The mere utterance of those two words brings with a level of excitement and expectations enjoyed by a select few in pop culture. Few franchises have enjoyed the level of success, fandom, and influence over society than the brainchild of George Lucas. 2015 is perhaps the biggest year for the franchise since 1977 – the year the first movie in the series was released. Not only will Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit screens in the next several months, but the comic book license has finally returned to Marvel after two decades at Dark Horse. Furthermore, Disney’s acquisition of both Marvel and Lucasfilm within the past few years marks the first time that Star Wars movies and comics will be under the same house. The result of this newfound corporate synergy makes its first mark on 2015 with the release of Star Wars #1 by the all-star creative team of Jason Aaron and John Cassaday. Suffice to say, it’s a winner.
A book with as much hype surrounding it as Star Wars #1 needs to be as much of an event as its big screen counterpart. With that in mind, John Cassaday is the perfect choice to bring that galaxy far far away to life. Due to his background in the film industry, his art gives the book the cinematic feel that it demands. In addition to capturing the likenesses of the core cast, Cassaday’s layouts and use of wide panels – in most cases using only four panels per page – captures both the scope and feel of the movies.
Cassaday has proven time and again his storytelling skill. Both of the seminal works Planetary (with writer Warren Ellis) and Astonishing X-Men (with writer Joss Whedon) owe their success to Cassaday’s artwork. Star Wars #1 is no different. Cassaday strings the reader along, obscuring certain characters from view just enough until they are finally unveiled. Similarly, Cassaday makes effective use of the “page turn reveal,” pulling off a mid-issue cliffhanger that is seldom properly executed in modern comics.
Colorist Laura Martin is this issue’s unsung hero. Many science fiction comics – particularly those based on licensed properties (including the former Star Wars Expanded Universe comics) – falter due to the colors causing the artwork as a whole to feel artificial. While it may appear to be an unusual criticism for artwork which adapts a fictional work, it nonetheless remains, especially when comparing Martin’s colors to that of a Star Wars comic from five years ago. The warm hues of the Rebellion characters contrast nicely with the cool, soft silver and grays of the Empire structures. Likewise, the vibrant colors of lightsabers pop off the page as they announce their presence. The combined efforts of Cassaday and Martin leave little to be desired in terms of art.
Anyone questioning Jason Aaron’s ability to handle a story with the massive scope of the Star Wars saga need look at his work on Marvel’s Thor: God of Thunder or Wolverine and the X-Men. In those titles, Aaron was able to tell personal stories utilizing a large cast of characters in a fantastic setting. It appears that he has managed to capture that same magic here. That he is able to tell an engaging story within a widely known tale such as Star Wars – including surprise twists – is feat unto itself.
Because of this issue’s positioning between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, there is a level of built-in expectation for how certain characters should interact. For longtime fans, seeing the almost antagonistic relationship between Han and Leia or Luke’s lack of knowledge regarding his lineage may make the character portrayals seem hokey. However, for those that are able to take a step back and see it as a sequel to only A New Hope, or for those that have never experienced any incarnation of the franchise, the interactions are not only fitting but entertaining. Han’s banter with C-3PO (referred to as “Threepio” throughout) is one of the issue’s overall highlights. Though there are some instances where characters act slightly out of place, such as Luke’s heroic tendencies, they do not detract much from the overall quality of the issue.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward and, like the film franchise, plays on the conventions of classic sci-fi movie serials. The protagonists have a healthy dose of swagger, even as their situation deteriorates. Imperial Stormtroopers resume their role as canon fodder thanks to their uniformity and continued incompetence. Lastly, the heroes are trapped at issue’s end, resulting in a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next issue. Yes, that last point is commonplace in the comic industry, it was popularized by the movie serials of the 1940s and 1950s. Even though the existence of The Empire Strikes Back means that the stakes aren’t too high for the issue’s core cast, how the circumstances of their escape unfold is more important than the end result.
Star Wars #1 is a fantastic entry into the mythos. The combined efforts of Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin make the franchise’s return to the pages of Marvel an unqualified success. Readers shouldn’t (and likely won’t) be scared off by the hefty price tag – this issue is worth every penny.
Note: This review was originally published at InfiniteComix.com