Alongside Star Trek, Star Wars is arguably the textbook example of a successful expanded universe. A whole raft of canonical storyline extensions were rubber-stamped by the George Lucas throughout his numerous decades as the franchise regulator, with novels and comic books chief among the exports.
It was the former that first caught the eye, with the first official expanded universe tale published in 1978. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, inked by Lucas’ ghost writer and king of the blockbuster novelisation Allan Dean Foster, was the hirsute helmer’s failsafe fall-back; a low-cost sequel outline if the original failed to do the business at the box office. Nowadays it’s most famous for its scenes of sizzling sexual tension between Luke and Leia.
Marvel held the Star Wars comic book license throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and probably will again. However, most fans who have kept up with affairs of a galaxy far, far away have done so through the work of Dark Horse. The Oregon-based independent publisher took the decision to spin their tales of sith lords and lightsabers out of the increasingly-popular novels, particularly Timothy Zahn’s celebrated ballads of Admiral Thrawn, and have created an absorbing universe of their own.
A raft of best-selling ongoings and mini-series’ have followed Dark Empire, Dark Horse’s first four-colour expansion to the Star Wars mythos. Many of these tales took place before or after the events of the two film franchises; the Knights of the Old Republic series being arguably the most successful, and recognisable. The latest entry into the canon, written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Carlos D’Anda and coloured by Gabe Eltaeb, takes a different tack. Simply titled Star Wars and three issues in at the time of writing, is set in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star, bridging the gap in events between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
Wood, who made his name with the Vertigo monthly title DMZ, is seemingly the go-to guy for Dark Horse’s licensed properties at present; the New York-based sketching scribe is earning rave reviews for his work on Conan the Barbarian. D’Anda, meanwhile, plies most of his trade over at DC, where his most striking work has been some covers for flagship title Justice League.
Speaking of which, just look at those gorgeous Alex Ross covers for this series.
The first arc of Wood’s plot has centred on three core elements; Leia’s hunt for a spy within the ranks of the rebel alliance, Han and Chewie’s attempts to dodge the attentions of the imperial Starfleet and a galaxy filled with bounty hunters while completing a mission for Mon Mothma, and Darth Vader’s struggle to regain favour with Emperor Palpatine following the events of the Battle of Yavin.
Wood manages to capture the essence of these classic characters flawlessly. Luke is the cocky farmboy-turned-fighter pilot that we knew by the end of Episode IV, Leia retains a regal poise undercut by grief for her home adopted home of Alderaan, and Han is every inch the reluctant hero. We’re yet to see this ‘holy trinity’ reunited in the book, but sparks are sure to fly when they are – Wood is evidently having fun with the inappropriate sparks that fly between the unwitting siblings.
It’s the Dark Side of the Force that is really benefiting from this new series, however. Vader has appeared sparingly but strikingly, cutting a lonely figure in an establishment that is starting to doubt his abilities. Finding himself re-assigned and replaced by a new uber-creep named Colonel Bircher (“For one so young he is quite capable. He almost reminds me of you, Lord Vader – but with a record still unblemished by failure” spits The Emperor in the series’ first issue), this promises to be one heck of a fascinating power struggle.
D’Anda also draws a mean Sith Lord – Vader looks every inch the biggest badass in the galaxy under his stewardship. The cartoony visuals aren’t always quite as successful elsewhere, with Leia in particular looking more like Buffy Summers than Carrie Fisher, but most of the jutted chins and rounded manga-like eyes are aesthetically pleasing enough to keep the story moving. The space-battle splash pages are certainly beyond reproach.
This series may also whet your appetite for a fascinating follow-up – The Star Wars, scheduled for September 2013. The Star Wars was, of course, the working title of Lucas’ first draft of A New Hope, penned in 1974. This 8-issue series promises to bring that ‘lost concept’ to life, a concept which included a Jedi protagonist named Annikin Starkiller (trained in the ways of the force by a middle-aged Jedi general named Luke Skywalker), Han Solo as a reptilian alien, and a whole host of ambitious elements that would later appear in the prequel trilogy.
As long as there is an audience for Star Wars, there will be an audience for Star Wars comics. Regardless of what happens with Episode VII (for the record, we’re expecting great things here at DragonDark) we can’t see that audience dissipating any time soon. If you’re hankering for a reunion with Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia and can’t wait for 2015, Wood and D’Anza’s comic book is a fine way to get your fix.
Issue #4 of Star Wars hits the shelves on April 10, leaving time to catch up with the series from the ground level. The book holds a cover price of just US$2.99 (usually somewhere between GBP£2-2.20 in Blighty, depending on which exchange rate your local comic store adopts), a price that also includes a complimentary code to download the issue for digital reading.
Now, repeat after us – this is the comic you’re looking for.