A Bolder, New Hope: “Star Wars #1”

A long, long time ago, a little company called Marvel, then known as the company that didn’t publish Batman or Superman comics, rode the first tidal wave of popularity that was Star Wars. For a time, Marvel had the honor of slapping their logo on the comics that set the bar for big movie blockbusters that inspired record ticket sales, huge lines of toys, and legions of cos-players at a time when people weren’t used to seeing women in metal bikinis. It seemed so long ago, but Disney’s appetite for content has brought Marvel and Star Wars into the same galaxy once more. The powers that be understand they can’t just rely on Frozen and Pixar to make them their billions.

Since that time, big movie blockbusters that rake in a billion dollars has become so routine that the Joss Whedon’s of the world can cash their checks ahead of time. While the ever-unstable landscape of pop culture has changed, the appeal of Star Wars has not. It took the classic themes of the monomyth that are as old as Gilgamesh’s beard and gave it a cosmic twist. Now Marvel, the same company that turned a talking tree and a raccoon with a machine gun into a billion-dollar bonanza, can continue exploring those themes.

The approach in Star Wars #1 doesn’t radically differ from the concepts it began several decades ago. It just takes what the original movies did so well and runs with it. The path may be familiar to every generation of Star Wars fans, going back to the era of discos and drive-ins, but it’s that same familiarity that makes the story feel so strong. It doesn’t just appeal to those who fondly remember the days before anyone knew the name Jar Jar Binks. It continues that same classic story in a way that feels genuine, as if guided by the Force itself.

The setting and circumstances are simplified in many respects. There are no Trade Federations, senate hearings, or diplomatic convoys. It’s not really necessary to know the logistics of the situation. The only relevant information anyone needs to know is that this story takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The Death Star has been destroyed, courtesy of Luke Skywalker. Now he and his friends are leading the charge to kick the Emperor when he’s down. This kind of simplicity means there’s less time spent on the who, what, and why and more time spent fighting meaningful battles.

That’s not to say the story has adopted the same narrative as a Michael Bay movie. There is plenty of shooting. And there are plenty of Storm Troopers who get caught in the crossfire or are used as human shields. But the same dramatic elements that spawned generations of intrigue in A New Hope re-emerge in this story. We already know how they end, but the added depth only helps give greater weight to that ending.

There are moments between Han Solo and Princess Leia that highlight the earliest signs of a relationship that’s not going to blossom until one of them gets frozen in carbonite. There are other moments where Luke Skywalker reveals that he is still grieving the loss of Obi-Wan Kenobi. These emotions are still very raw for these characters. And they have to deal with them while carrying out a mission that goes wrong in ways that only light sabre and blasters can solve.

However, even with the added drama, it never becomes overly chaotic. Even after Storm Troopers start falling and C3PO starts whining, the flow of the story remains focused and concise. Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewy never lose sight of the mission at hand, even when new complications arise. It’s not until the arrival of Darth Vader that these complications escalate to a level where C3PO’s whining is warranted. All the prequels that went to such great lengths to make Anakin Skywalker a more sympathetic character are essentially thrown away, along with any Gungans. He’s back to being the big, menacing bad guy who treats negotiations the same way hungry wolves treat wounded deer.

It’s the concise yet rapid pace of the story that gives it its strength. It’s also the distinct voices of each character that give it depth. Han Solo says words fans would expect Han Solo to say. Luke Skywalker says words that fans would expect Luke Skywalker to say. And C3PO whines and laments like he always has. It’s a story that really hits the ground running, but it never sprints so fast that it leaves anyone behind. It basically hits on everything in ways that no Storm Trooper ever could.

The only complication to the story as a whole is that it’s dependent on knowing these characters ahead of time. Anyone who managed to not see A New Hope will be as confused as an eighth-grader walking in on a quantum physics lecture at Harvard and having to take an exam. But seeing as how this movie has been around since the Carter administration, there’s really no excuse for not having at least some knowledge of Star Wars. That said, this story is probably not the best jumping on point for someone just getting into Star Wars. It won’t inspire newcomers to dress up as a Storm Trooper at a comic con, but it will give established fans to ensure their helmets are polished.

While it has been decades since Marvel has published a Star Wars comic, Star Wars #1 doesn’t miss a beat. It’s the most seamless continuation of A New Hope anyone Star Wars fan could ask for without Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill acting it out in front of them. The Force is undeniably strong with Marvel at the moment, given its success with movies and comic book market share. And epic narrative of Star Wars that has become so iconic can only benefit from this success.

RATING 9 / 10