Saturday, July 13, 2024

Ten Reasons You Should Read the Star Wars Comics

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I’m on a bit of a Star Wars kick, if you can’t tell. I can’t help it, the hype train leading up to The Last Jedi is real. I didn’t think I was on it; I was sitting nervously at the train station uncertain if I would be pleased with the next movie. But then I read Legends of Luke Skywalker and, well. I’m a goner. So I’m going to bring you all with me, starting with the Star Wars comics!

My first love of Star Wars New Canon is the comics. It all started with the Leia comic, actually. I asked one of my besties where to start if I wanted to read some of the extended canon, and, well, the rest is history. So, in honor of the new film coming out, I’m here to convince you why you should be reading the Star Wars comics. If you’re not a ‘comic book person’, I’m here to convince you too, because I wasn’t really one either—and then I met Star Wars.

1. Diversity

This is what diversity looks like, and it’s glorious. (Han Solo)

Are you a fan of multi-ethnic casts of characters? How about powerful women inhabiting all kinds of roles in equal (if not greater) numbers than the male characters? Do you like aliens of all genders also being given prominent roles in narratives alongside the human characters? What about diverse sexual orientations? A wide array of ages and body types? Guess what, you’ll like the Star Wars comics, because they have all these things! I (and Ian) went into the diversity and awesomeness of the female characters previously, but it isn’t limited to female characters. One thing New Canon Star Wars in general and the comics in particular seek to do is create space for a wide variety of characters to feature prominently in their story lines. The same could be said of the personalizing of droid characters in canon. We see this in the C-3PO one-shot, The Phantom Limb, which is surprisingly moving.

When I was a young lass first watching the films, this was the kind of diverse representation of ethnicities, species, gender, age, and sexuality I could only dream of. Whether you like Jedi, pilots, smugglers, officers, or politicians, there’s an arc for you. Could there be more LGBT+ rep? Of course. I’d also love to see more neuroatypical and differently abled characters. But for a franchise that for decades was most heavily populated by white men, the diversity of the comics is pretty damn fantastic.

2. There’s Something From Every Era

If you’ve read any of the Star Wars rewatch I’m doing with Zach and Ian, you know I’m an Original Trilogy (OT) fangirl first and foremost. Several miniseries focused on secondary characters, the main Star Wars comic, and both Vader and Doctor Aphra all exist within OT-era, so OT fans are more than well-stocked with comics to choose from. I recommend starting with one of the miniseries if you’re not sure. The art in Leia is kind of wonky, but the story is excellent. Han Solo is both gorgeous and deep, so I’d actually recommend starting there. Then move on to the Star Wars and Vader comics; then Aphra. Because she’s the best.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the comics set in the Prequel Trilogy (PT) era, and they’ve given me a greater appreciation for that era as a whole. I’d start with Mace Windu, then Darth Maul and Obi-Wan and Anakin. DarrhVader: Dark Lord of the Sith is really, really good, too.

With the Sequel Trilogy (ST) still in production, there’s less available. But you’re not completely bereft if that’s your preferred timeline. There’s Poe Dameron and Captain Phasma. I highly recommend Poe’s comics as a place to start there. He was the least fleshed-out of the film trio, so it’s great to get more for him.

This nerd, I swear to god. (Poe Dameron Annual #1, as with the featured image)

3. Nuanced Alignments

Similarly, the comics offer a wide variety of alignments. Whether you prefer Imperial, Rebellion, Resistance, First Order, neutral, or chaotic characters, there’s at least one, if not multiple arcs to fit your taste. As with diversity of age, race, sexual orientation, etc, New Canon Star Wars sets out to purposefully offer more than just one perspective. Vader got a whole run, and not just because he’s a fan favorite. There’s a whole lot in his arc about what it’s like being under the Emperor’s thumb, and how cutthroat it can be. We see and hear first-hand accounts of the travesties the Empire committed. We also hear why people joined up with them in the first place. Even the narratives from the ‘good guy’ perspective offer insight into the fact that running a Rebellion isn’t as glorious, or as straightforwardly unproblematic, as some might think.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an attempt to undermine the villainy of the Empire or the heroism of the Rebellion. It’s not moral ambivalence. Humanizing characters for their choices doesn’t undermine the moral fallout of those choices. The Empire is still 100% evil and oppressive. Only, some people may not see that part of the story, or may perceive the Rebellion as being harmful because of how it affected them personally. By understanding even these perspectives, we can strengthen our empathy and, ultimately, become better people.

Some of my favorite stories center on people from the chaotic or neutral alignments who run face-first into the choice to either do nothing, run away, or embrace their better angels. I love seeing smugglers, rogue archaeologists, or pacifist working-class folks interact with the heroes and have honest conversations about why they believe in (or don’t believe in) fighting against the Empire. Neutrality, or even indifference, meeting a passionate sense of doing the right thing never fails to move me. Basically, Star Wars offers glimpses of the human heart at war with itself, and that’s my favorite thing.

Shameless plug for my girlfriend, Pash Davane, hanging out with her girlfriend, Leia. (Star Wars Annual #2).

4. Character Exploration

Speaking of the human heart at war with itself: characters! The films are only so long. Comics have room to explore more facets of a character’s personality. They can supplement, expand on, or even nuance existing characterization in unique ways, and the Star Wars comics do just that. Ever wondered how Anakin felt realizing that he’d only fallen into another kind of slavery by becoming the Emperor’s apprentice? Read the Vader comics. Ever thought about what went on behind Darth Maul’s impassive and wordless façade? Read the Darth Maul comic. Want to know what Chewie is like when he’s not around Han? Check out the Chewbacca miniseries.

This brings up the point that the comics allow secondary characters time in the spotlight. Lando, Chewbacca, Mace Windu, and Captain Phasma all have miniseries of their own. Even C-3PO and K2-SO have one-shots, the latter with Cassian Andor. And if you want entirely new characters to love, Doctor Aphra went from being a secondary character in the Vader comics to her own run (read Doctor Aphra!). Shara Bey, Poe Dameron’s mother, has a major arc in Shattered Empire, and Kanan from Star Wars: Rebels has 12 issues. For all you Legends fans out there, Thrawn is going to be getting his own miniseries next year, so there’s even New Canon material for fans of the Old Expanded Universe (EU). So if you like a wide array of interesting, fleshed out, human characters—both familiar and new—you’ll like the Star Wars comics.

5. Skywalker Clan Feelings

If you’re dead-set on sticking to characters from the original trilogy, even just the Skywalker clan, you’re in a lot of luck. The comics have all the Skywalker clan feelings. As many of you may know, I’m a huge fan of complicated family dynamics, and the Skywalkers have their fair share. I bet you didn’t realize you needed Vader having father-daughter type relationships with two different female characters to break your heart about his fucked-up interactions with Leia in canon and what their dynamic could have been if he hadn’t gone to the Dark Side (or if Leia had…). There’s plenty of Luke angst for Vader in there too. Part of the Vader comics cover Vader’s obsessive search for ‘the Skywalker boy’ and his realization that he’s his son. It hurts.

OW. (Darth Vader)

Luke and Leia get to interact a lot more, both before and after they realize they’re related. Luke asks Leia about Alderaan and lets her talk about her grief! (This one-shot is glorious.) Leia even goes to Naboo at one point and has a vision of her mother that breaks my heart. In fact, my only complaint is the lack of a Padmé. I’d love a Padmé Amidala and the handmaidens of Naboo comic. With the announcement of a Padmé YA novel coming April next year, I have hope that someday she’ll get her own comic. I’d take a Padmé and Anakin comic too. Just…kill me with Skywalker clan feelings, please.

6. Fixes and Gap-Filling

So, there are things about the films that aren’t that great. I don’t just mean that the characters in the prequels were wooden and flat. There’s the fact that Leia doesn’t get a chance to mourn the obliteration of her entire family, culture, and planet and instead must comfort Luke over the death of his ‘mentor’ that he’s known for maybe a couple of days. There are also huge gaping holes that need filling. Like that time between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and all the questions that go along with how and why the First Order exists. Why is Anakin such a whiny-pants padawan? What happened to all the Alderaanians who were off-world when it blew up?

Punch me in the face, it will hurt less. (Star Wars #33)

Not all of those issues are dealt with in full, but they each get at least some exploration. Leia actually gets a chance to mourn Alderaan with Luke (who apologizes for not asking her earlier). Her whole miniseries is devoted to gathering the Alderaanian diaspora from across the galaxy and refounding their culture. The Poe Dameron comics give us a bit of an inside look into the building tension between the First Order and the Resistance prior to The Force Awakens. It answers some of my questions, but there’s still room for more exploration. (I still haven’t read the Aftermath novel trilogy, so that may contribute as well.)

Obi-Wan and Anakin doesn’t quite resolve why Anakin is such a whiner. However, we do get more backstory for him that explains his constant struggle balancing his impulse to be involved and fix things versus the Jedi council’s more hands-off approach. In short, more context for characters!

7. The Art

Look at the hero with anxiety and his trippy art. (C-3PO)

With one exception—the Leia comics, wah wah :(—the art has been excellent. Han Solo is damn near breathtaking; it’s ‘I want to put that up on my wall’ levels of good. Every now and again there’s an odd panel or two in an issue, but that’s rare. Aside from that one exception, I think the art and story mesh well together. There are lots of different styles, too. The C-3PO one-shot is completely different from Star Wars, which is totally different from Chewbacca and Lando and Han Solo.

Where you see the most diversity are the character-focused miniseries, which makes sense, as those tend to have different artists than the big, main arcs. What impresses me is that each artist somehow captures the vibe of that character in the miniseries they draw for. One might think that Han Solo, for example, would get gritty art with rougher lines and a smudgier look to the colors (to use my totally scientific, non-artist vocabulary). But you pick up his issues, and you realize that the clear lines, swirling colors, and tone are absolutely spot on. The ‘grittier’ art style works perfectly for Lando. As do Chewie’s pastel palatte and C-3PO’s more psychedelic one. They just make sense when you see it all put together. If you ever wanted to get a sense for a character’s visual palette, the miniseries are a great way to go.

8. Worldbuilding

All the diversity goes a long way toward giving us a wider sense of the galaxy at large. Star Wars is quite literally an entire universe, and we can only get so much on film screens. The prequels tried to pack in as many new planets as possible (complete with obligatory planetary entry shot!), but there’s always more to see. That’s part of what I love about the visual medium of comics. I grew up on text and think more visually than verbally, so just text doesn’t prevent me from ‘picturing’ what things look like. But it still doesn’t compare to actually seeing it. Especially when the art is as good as it is in these comics.

There are whole new planets, new species, new characters to explore! Want a floating space prison orbiting a really hot sun, so it’s basically hell? How about a planet filled with giant insects called corpse-leeches? Or a hive-mind queen who sucks the life-force out of people? Ever wondered if a Jedi droid could exist? The comics have all of those things. That last one is connected to an arc exploring one of the early sects of the Jedi, which is fascinating. Sprinkled in here and there are these intriguing bits of Jedi and Sith lore that I absolutely live for. I love me some Force mythology. Lando’s miniseries is especially great for creepy Sith vibes. That shit’s fucked up, man.

9. Themes

Right up alongside characters in “reasons why I like a particular piece of media” is themes. I’m all for an exploration of isolation, grief, and yearning for home (Han Solo). Or the desperate need to rebuild in the face of resistance, bigotry, and suspicion (Leia). The Vader comics highlight that being Sith is another kind of slavery for Anakin, only one he’s gone too far down the path of to free himself from. With it, we see even more the threads of Greek tragedy that shape the PT and how powerful Luke reaching out to Vader was in Return of the Jedi.

Running through all of them is the overarching theme of heroism being a matter of compassion, empathy, and helping others be their best selves. If it sounds like I’m a broken record about the themes of New Canon Star Wars, it’s because I am. One of the things I’ve been a bit frustrated with is that the new films aren’t capturing that element as well as the expanded materials like books and comics are. It’s there, but subdued and often hidden by mystery boxes, shocking twists, and the fandom’s layers of theorizing and justifications for various character’s actions.

In the comics, I see more clearly just what New Canon wants to embody: we as people are our best selves when we listen and learn from others, help each other, and resist oppressive structures. Whether it’s a little girl beating the Empire and stopping the enslavement of her people with the help of a big furry friend (Chewbacca) or a tiny green Jedi trying to help feuding people stop and listen to each other or they will destroy themselves (Star Wars #26-30 Yoda’s Secret War), the themes are clear. I guarantee you’ll find at least one theme that tugs on your heartstrings. I found many.

Themes like settling down with someone you love, even for a little while. See also Black Sails. (Shattered Empire)

10. Good Writing

I honestly can’t think of a single arc that I didn’t enjoy. No lie. Some of the stories are awe-inspiring for how raw and real they are. Again, I go back to the Han Solo comic. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but damn if Marjorie Liu didn’t punch a hole in my chest with it. The Vader comics will kick you in the feels over and over again, and some of Aphra’s dialogue will break your heart. The writing is just…it’s so damn good. Complicated, nuanced, real, honest, funny, joyous, deep.

Which isn’t to say it’s all philosophical, emotional heartbreak (though that is there in spades). The comics wrap up these moments of significance and insight into fun, space adventures. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re not breathing until you put it down.

There are arcs that are more adventure-oriented, so don’t worry if that’s more your pace and style. There are plenty of explosions, battles, running from stormtroopers, and otherwise blood-pumping action sequences. A crossover arc arc like Screaming Citadel (both Star Wars and Doctor Aphra) has the vibe of a Legends novel, for example.

Yet even arcs with more adventure have their emotional and humorous beats. Doctor Aphra is one of the most gut-wrenching, funny, exciting series of comics I’ve ever read. Kieron Gillen balances it all wonderfully. If nothing else, read Darth Vader, Star Wars: Rebel Jail, and Doctor Aphra. Chelli Lona Aphra and her murder droids are literally the best thing to ever come out of the Star Wars comics.

Best. Droids. Ever. (Doctor Aphra)

Basically, there’s something for everyone and all of it is really, really good. If you’re looking for something to hype you up for The Last Jedi or fill the void after you’ve watched it, I highly recommend the comics. All of them. There’s not a single one I would not recommend—and I’m pretty picky about my comics.

Do you have a favorite Star Wars comic that I didn’t give enough pride of place to? Let me know!

Images Courtesy of Marvel Comics, Disney, and Lucasfilm

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