Marvel Comics executives have made some really, really boneheaded decisions lately. The company has also made some not-great choices as regards cancelling books focusing on female and POC characters in favor of things like Nazi Cap and a truly awful run of Iron Fist. It is infuriating because the potential is there and I know, know, they can do so. Much. Better.
There are, however, a few things Marvel has managed to do well on a consistent basis, one of those being their most recent Star Wars comic line.
Full disclosure: there are a few Marvel/Star Wars books I haven’t read (the C-3pO one shot, issues 2-6 of The Force Awakens) so when I make the above generalization, consider those excluded.
In honor of May 4th, I figured I’d give you a rundown of the books I have read, with a dash of summary and a sprinkle of opinion. Maybe you’ll see something you want to pick up from your local on Free Comic Book Day to balance out all the loot they’ll be giving you. Or maybe you’ve burned through all of the movies and books and tv shows and you need something to scratch you Star Wars itch until December (I know it’s how I cope with this thing which is supposed to be reality).
First, a little history.
How did Marvel end up with the Star Wars books? Disney bought Marvel.
Then, in 2012, they bought Lucasfilm.
The mouse overlord brought the two together to make beautiful, colorful, generally well-written, stellarly-arted babies. In point of fact, however, Marvel was also the first company to hold a license on the Star Wars comics (1977-1987). In 1978, Pendulum Press brought out a 31 page adaptation of Star Wars as part of their Contemporary Motivators line; the books were intended for classroom use and were sent out with an audio tape and a film strip (yes, fine. I’m old). Blackthorne Publishing acquired the rights in in 1987 and over the course of a year, published a three-issue Star Wars 3-D series. After a gap of three years, the Lucasfilm properties moved over to Dark Horse, where they lived very happily until 2014, when Disney reassigned them, once again, to Marvel.
Pretty much everything published before 2014, with the exception of stuff dealing with the original trilogy and the other three movies which shall not be named, and which do not actually exist, is now part of the Star Wars Legacy universe. Everything released since the licensing reverted to Marvel is part of the “new” canon. If you want to take a look at the Dark Horse stuff, you can get it through Marvel.
The good news: as noted above, Marvel has not squandered the opportunity.
Star Wars: 1-30 + 2 annuals/2015-present/Writer: Jason Aaron/Artists: Various
This main title picks up after A New Hope and cues us in on what our favorite rebels were up to between that film and The Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, Luke, Leia, and Han go about the business of strengthening and consolidating the Rebellion and, well… striking back against the Empire. Luke spends some time wandering around, picking up Jedi artifacts, including Ben Kenobi’s journal, and starting down the path which will eventually lead him to Yoda, taking an unintended swing by some Hutt-owned gladiator pits. Leia and Han bicker a lot over a vast array of things, including the fact that Han has, apparently, failed to mentioned he’s married; watching Leia and Sana become friends and bust up an Imperial prison together is an absolute joy. We get to see Kenobi’s internal struggle as he adapts from the life of a heroic general to a hermit. One of my absolute favorite issues is the one in which we discover the origins of one of Leia’s most pointed insults; yes, friends, we find out how Han ended up with the sobriquet, “scruffy looking nerf herder.” Spoiler: it’s actually Luke’s fault. Sort of…(Middle grade; warnings: typical Star Wars violence)
Darth Vader: 1-25 + 1 annual/February 2015-August 2016/Writer: Kieron Gillen/Artists: Various
Kieron Gillen, of The Wicked and The Divine fame, outdid himself as a writer for the duration of his Darth Vader run. His take on Vader is nuanced and layered, allowing us occasional glimpses of the soul who still lives beneath the mask. Palpatine may have had plans for Anakin, but being the second member of the Sith duality isn’t all sunshine and rathtars for the man in black; it is a cruel, grueling competition in which the Emperor would be just as happy to see Vader fail as succeed. And Vader knows it. There is a lot of violence, a lot of anger, and a few surprisingly beautiful moments, such as the one wherein Anakin allows himself to reminisce about the moment Padme told him he was going to be a father. It is during this run Vader finds out his child (remember, he only knew about one because in Star Wars universe you can replace a hand with a fully functional prosthetic but no one gets prenatal care) didn’t die at birth and that, very, very ironically, the pilot who destroyed the first Death Star happens to bear the surname of Skywalker himself (because, apparently, no one thought to change it?) Herein also lay the seeds of the arrangement between Vader and a certain bounty hunter we all love to hate. Darth Vader is tied with Kanan: The Last Padawan as my favorite in this new generation of Star Wars comics. (Teen; warnings: violence, hella angst, trauma)
Princess Leia: 1-5/March 2015-June 2015/Writer: Mark Waid/Artist: Various
I like this book more in retrospect than I did when I first read it, though I stand by my conviction that Leia deserved a little more excitement. Yes, the look behind the curtain of Alderaanian society is fascinating and the fundamental question of “where do I belong now that my home is gone” has taken on new urgency given the state of this galaxy right here and right now. I still wish Waid had let us see more of Leia the person rather than Leia the symbol, at least in her private moments or those she shares with her inner circle. As I said previously, “I want more of the Leia we see in Return of the Jedi, the one who’s an impulsive trouble maker and a diplomat, a lover, and a sister. The hero, the rebel, the princess. The imperfect, human person.” Well written and definitely worth a read, but if you’re limited on time or budget, I’d hit Vader and a couple others first. (Teen; warnings: discussions of genocide)
Kanan: The Last Padawan: 1-12/April 2015-March 2016/Author: Greg Weisman/Artist: Various
I’m not going to lie to you: part of the reason I loved this book so much is because I have a huge soft spot for Kanan Jarrus, the Ghost’s resident Jedi. Kanan is also a really interesting look at Jedi training inside the Temple (we mostly see Ahsoka on field missions with Anakin during the Clone Wars) and readers are given some clues about that which is rotten in the state of the Order. Kanan’s (then Caleb Dume) mysterious master, Deepa Bilaba is a fascinating figure, a woman who lost 90% of her squadron in a single battle but chooses to fight again and to train another student. We see the fallout from Order 66 as it affected all the Jedi, not just those who’s stories we had been following for years. We get a much fuller understanding of Kanan himself; why he is so careful to hide his abilities, why he’s so reluctant to take Ezra on as a student, why he holds his new family so close, and why, while he wants to do right by the Rebellion, he takes such a firm stand against actually going to war. Also making appearances in Kanan are Fenn Rau, commander of the Mandalorian Skull Squadron, who has become an important secondary character on Rebels as well as Hera, Zeb, Sabine, Ezra, and Chopper. (Middle grade; warnings: discussion of trauma and abandonment, discussion of massacre, depiction of Order 66, serious injury to fan favorite hero)
Lando: 1-5/July – October 2015/Writer: Charles Soule/Artists: Alex Maeev and Paul Mounts
I’m a huge Soule fangirl but I just didn’t feel this one. Didn’t hate it but it certainly didn’t it blow my skirt up the way Calrissian would have liked. Maybe Lando isn’t as charming as he thinks he is on his own without Han to play off of. Lando is worth reading, though, because we do get Lobot’s backstory: where his implants came from, why he’s so loyal to Lando, and how he came by his poker face. Like Leia, get around to it eventually but no need to rush. (Teen; warnings: sexual content, serious injury to character)
Shattered Empire: 1-4/September-October 2015/Writer: Greg Rucka/Artist: Marco Checchetto
I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about this one when I initially read it but, having seen TFA since, I’m comfortable saying it’s a good, solid, transitional story centering around Shara Bey, ace A-Wing pilot and, incidentally, Poe Dameron’s mother. Guess who grew up near a cutting of a sacred Jedi tree? Yep. Our beloved, hotshot pilot and leader of Black Squadron. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out. (Teen; warnings: sexual content, typical Star Wars stuff)
Chewbacca: 1-5/October-December 2015/Writer: Gerry Dugan/Artist: Phil Noto
Much to my disappointment, Chewbacca was… dull, one of the very few complete misfires in this line. Big, hairy beast meets young girl in need, makes good, blah blah blah. There were much more interesting Chewie stories before and we’ve gotten some great stuff since. You can give this one a pass. (Middle grade; warnings: none)
Obi-Wan and Anakin: 1-5/January-May 2016/Writer: Charles Soule/Artist: Marco Checchetto
There were airships. And some sort of monster… a civil war… maybe? I feel like this one just sort of ended and I don’t remember how, though in researching for this article, it appears a couple of Star Wars books dropped off my pull list without me realizing or okaying the deletion and thus, it’s possible I never actually found out what happened. Obi-Wan and Anakin is absolutely gorgeous, with incredibly intricately painted machinery and fantastic, dynamic lines. Soule shows us Anakin’s reluctance to become a Jedi and his request to leave the Order, a request which, while not directly denied by Obi-Wan, is definitely discouraged. I was left wondering: if Obi-Wan had listened to Anakin, had let him leave or, at the very least, refused to do what the Council order him to do in throwing the younger man into a situation in which he was certain to fail, would things have been different? (Teen; warnings: depiction of battle, monsters)
Poe Dameron: 1-ongoing/April 2016-present/Writer: Charles Soule/Artist: Phil Noto
Poe’s first arc was a little shaky. There was some sort of magical creature in a giant web and an Imperial Agent who maybe wasn’t so much… The second arc, however, has ramped up the intrigue and the drama and the storytelling itself has tightened up; I am very much enjoying it. Poe is just so very good at getting himself, and BB-8, into trouble though, luckily, he always has Black Squadron to back him up. In the most recent issues, we’ve started to see the consequences of the Rebellion, how the loss of friends and the persistence of the cruel dregs of the Empire, wears away at even the Rebellion’s most staunch supporters. The cost of war is high, even when the result is freedom, especially for the ever-loyal Poe. (Teen; warning: graphic depiction of battle, trauma, character death)
Han Solo: 10-5/June 2016-November 2016/Writer: Marjorie Liu/Artists: Mark Brooks, Dexter Vines, Sonia Black with Matt Milla
This book is absolutely and positively delightful, #2 on my list after the Vader/Kanan tie. It is everything I could possibly have wanted in a series starring our favorite scoundrel: adventure, risk, bravado, and heart. The scenes between Han and Leia are spot on, from their insults to their barely touching fingers in the last frame. I could gush more but I don’t want to spoil this one for you. (Teen; warnings: innuendo, murder, character death)
I know I got the first issue of each of these but they also appear to be “books which were somehow taken off my pull list without my permission.” I liked the respective #1s enough to ask my local to pull the rest of each series thus far so I can catch up. I should be able to tell you more in a couple of weeks.
There are a couple of one-shots scheduled to publish this year (Screaming Citadel, Droids Unplugged) and a new Vader series, Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith (June 2017) which begins “seconds after the end of Revenge of the Sith,” with Palpatine supervising the construction/resurrection of Anakin Skywalker/Vader. Kelly Thompson will be heading up a Captain Phasma (December 2017) book which bridges the character’s gap between TFA and TLJ.
So. Go forth. I hope you all enjoy as much as I have.