Monday, February 16, 2015


Jan 14: New comic launched
This comic is called, very pointedly Star Wars #1. It is the first Star Wars comic. You may remember other Star Wars comics, but they didn't happen. For the next few weeks, you have in your hands all the Star Wars comics there have ever been. 

It is set after Star Wars but before Empire Strikes Back. There used to be hundreds of Marvel Comics set after Star Wars but before Empire Strikes Back. (Splinter of the Minds Eye is what would have happened after Star Wars if Empires Strikes Back had not happened.) Neither Roy Thomas nor Alan Dean Foster nor George Lucas knew, at that point, what was going to happen. Han Solo meeting bugs bunny and incestuous snogging was as good a guess as any. But none of that happened any more, and this new comic is written with the Benefit of Hindsight. We know big stuff that the character's don't, like who is who's sister and who is who's dad.

Are stories transparent, or opaque? Are we looking at this comic, or looking through it? Is it an attempt to imagine an artifact that never existed, but might conceivably have done: "Star Wars 2" as it might have looked in 1978? Or is it just a window into THER STAR WARS UNIVERSE, informing us of events which must, logically, have happened between the Death Star blowing up and everyone arriving on Hoth. There is quite a bit of time in between: time enough for Han Solo to have gone to a place called Ord Mantell and run into some bounty hunters there.

The thing which made me smile, the one thing that really made me smile, was the opening pages:

p 2 "A Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." (blue on black)

p3 "Star Wars" (yellow on black)

p4 "Book 1 - Skywalker Strikes" (yellow on black, crawl shaped.) 

p 5 A bottom-up view of a big space ship flying over the "camera".

That gets me on side straight away. The first 5 pages of the comics looking as much like the first 5 minutes of a hypothetical movie as it is possible for a comic to look.  

The olden days comics didn't try to be film-like; not in that way. They weren't icons back then; they were only movies. Neither the original comic nor the original novel included the phrase "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...". The book said "another galaxy, another time...": the comic's small print said "long ago, in a galaxy far away..." George considered having the "crawl" -- the slanty story-so-far introduction -- for Empire Strikes Back roll over the icy landscape of Hoth. This would have made it even more like Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe. If he had done that, then "scrolly text against a starry backdrop would not be one of the irreducible things which makes Star Wars Star Wars.

Then the ship flies across a big industrial landscape, and the shuttle lands, and Han Solo gets his Big Entrance. This follows, which is to say prefigures, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in which the characters are introduced in reverse order of importance. 

The Big Industrial Landscape is not really like anything in Star Wars, but the notion of a whole planet that consists of nothing but weapons factories (with, as it will turn out, a huge rubbish dump all around it) is the sort of thing  we feel that a Star Wars sequel ought to be offering us: desert planet, ice planet, forest planet, factory planet. John Cassaday is the artist and he has the young Harrison Ford's face roughly right. Writer Jason Aaron  has the dialogue spot-on. When Han confronts the Imperial Customs Officers, you can hear the voice he uses on Cloud City pretty much perfectly: 

"We wouldn't want negotiations to start on a sour note, would we?" 

"No...we wouldn't want that."

Later on, Leia asks Han directly why he is still working with the rebellion. It's done as a sort of homage to the Han / Leia love scenes from Empire Strikes Back (which haven't happened yet) right down to Han's facial expressions and there being an interruption just as they are coming to the point. But obviously, this kind of thing can't be developed or resolved without overwriting the movie its quoting from. It is nice to drift back to 1977 and not feel quite sure whether or not we can trust Han Solo.

"Han Shot First" has become a rallying cry for those of us who think that Lucas should have left the Star Wars text intact. But it also, I think, encodes a problem with the whole Saga: that Han is cool when we meet him, because he is dangerous, and becomes progressively less cool as the series goes on, until by Return of the Jedi he's no-one, just a pilot in a snazzy uniform. 

Lucas was, of course, quite free to incorporate the older work, Star Wars, into the newer work Star Wars Episodes I - VI. "The fix up", the novel made of short stories, is a venerable science fictional form. Doc Smith pasted unrelated science fiction stories onto his "Lensemen" canvass; Dune was several novellas before it became one huge novel. Tolkien, mighty Tolkien had to go back and change parts of the Hobbit once he realized that it was part of the huge epic known as the Silmarillion. We don't object to Star Wars being part of the new, bigger work. What we object to is his saying that we shouldn't still be able to watch Star Wars as well. 

They are doing a plan, which involves infiltrating an Imperial weapons factory. We see Han and the others (we don't know who the others are yet, but they are wearing bounty hunter masks like the one Leia and Lando wore/will wear in Return of the Jedi, so we do really) walk past rows of TIE fighters that robots are working on. This is proper fan boy stuff. It made me smile again.  

There have been any number of ships in Star Wars but they are mostly all just hardware, cool, or not so cool. Even the Millenium Falcon is mostly just cool hardware, but then I suppose the point about the Millenium Falcon is her relatively, ordinary-ness. Not looking like much but having it where it counts is the point of her. I wish there had been more Millenium Falcon. We spend, what, six minutes with her ? It's all in that funny little scene with 3PO and Chewbaca playing chess and Luke learning to use the Force, the point at which our heroes pause for breath and we see them as a family. I wish they had stayed like that forever. I wish there had been five 26 part TV series which started each week with our heroes at home on the Millennium Falcon before they were sent off on some thrilling adventure. But more than lightsabers and Alec Guiness and the Millennium Falcon and golden robots is TIE fighters, ball shaped cockpits with funny hexagonal sails, and X Wings, WWII spitfires with wings that snap into an X shape. I have never been able to explain why the moment when the wings clip from wing shape to X shapes is cool but its the coolest thing in twelve hours of cool things.

They have a plan. "I have a very good feeling about this", say 3PO, and by this point, so do I.

Luke doesn't get as good an entrance as Han. He unmasks with Leia on page 14 when Han reveals his hand; he's squeezed off to the left of the frame, squashed by the next panel. But seeing the three of them together is cool: the first moment when the audience bursts into spontaneous applause. We mentally clap again a few page later; Han and Luke and Leia hiding from the Stormtroopers, guns drawn. (Star Wars was all about Han and Luke and Leia: the sequels seemed deliberately to seperate them.) Note that when Leia punches the Imperial officer, spit and teeth come out of his mouth. That's not a movie moment; not U rated movie moment. That's comic book violence. Alec Guiness told Parky that Star Wars violence was play violence, someone said "bang" and someone else fell over. (He also told he that warned told James Dean to leave his car at home on Sep 30 1955.)

We see Luke repeating Ben Kenobi lines under his breath, and "telepathically" hearing a cry for help from a group of alien slaves. He still looks like Star Wars Luke: if anything, more boyish. Chubby, even. From comics to cereal packets, Mark Hamill's face was always the hardest to capture. He decides to free the slaves, which is the sort of thing you probably do if you are the Last of the Jedi. The partial close up of the lightsaber (page 18) is the sort of thing I would have killed for when I was a nipper.

But notice: on page 18 we see five frames of Luke confronting the slave driver; long thin frames across the page. Frame 4, the close up of Luke, has no background: it's his face on a white space saying "I won't reach for my blaster". (He is going to reach for his lightsaber, of course.) And then on the next page we have six frames, tall thin frames, of the lightsaber blade and the slave drivers whip, and the slave drivers cut-off hand: no figures at all. This is intended to evoke the Obi-Wan chopping the pirates arm off in the Cantina scene — over so quickly that we don't realize what has happened until we see the arm. And then we turn the page and there's a full frame art shot of Luke holding the lightsaber: which is why he didn't get a big build up like Han did — this is his Moment. The opening pages — title crawls and space ships and what not — were pure slight of hand. The drama comes from some (pretty basic, but very competent) panel work.

It's a comic book moment, not a movie. Well. Duh. 

I think I am correct in saying that this is the first time Luke has used the lightsaber that was his father's as a weapon, as opposed to as a toy to practice with. (Of course I am right. There are no other comics.) Should he say: "Gee, I am finally acting like a Jedi: Ben would be proud?" Or is it a mistake to even be thinking like this. Luke is using his lightsaber because Luke is meant to use his lightsaber but the a lightsaber is what the Luke Skywalker action figure comes with? 

A fairly graphic bit of hand slicing, incidentally. Jedi like to chop bits off people, which is presumably why the villains in the prequels had to be robots. Obi-Wan chopped the pirates arm off in the Cantina; Darth Vader is due to chop Luke's hand off in the next movie. 

Speaking of whom...

I like the big build up given to "the negotiator". I honestly wish there had been a caption which said "Dah dah dah - dum da-dah - dum da-dah" when we first see the Imperial Shuttle. This is the Darth Vader of Empire Strikes Back, the Vader who is followed by Stormtroopers and Imperial Marches wherever he goes, not the Vader of Star Wars who is simply Tarkin's henchman. 

Chewbacca obeys Leia when she orders him to kill Darth Vader: as if he is more loyal to the rebellion than to Solo. I like the fact that wookie growls are too big for the speech balloons

In the canonical texts, the Wookie is Han's friend and co-pilot, and that is all we know. In the midrashic commentaries, Han saved Chewie's life, and that means that he has incurred a life-debt: he regards Han as a member of his family and a member of his tribe, forever. But in the prequels, Chewie is very actively a rebel, friends with Yoda, no less. This is an example of more being less: Han and Chewie were cooler when they were a pirate who just happened to have a big furry crewman than when they are quite important cogs in the big story of the rebellion. 

There is dialogue:

Leia: We're in trouble
Han: No, not yet, we can still...
FX: Alam goes off
Han: Now we're in trouble.

Star Wars is cheeky and swashbuckling. No-one is superpowered or superconfident; there is a sense of everyone hanging on by the skin of their bottoms. (Alan Foster gives the made up line "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time; naturally they became heroes" more prominence than the one about it all happening a long time ago.) But there is very little of this in the comic. We're mostly taking it all far too seriously. 

Han plans to escape by borrowing an AT-AT from the factory. When the AT-ATs come over the horizon in Empire Strikes Back they are big and terrible and almost indestructible. You can trip them up with harpoons, which is a bit like shooting a photon torpedo through the weak spot in the dragon's breast-place, but you can't shoot them. So it sort of spoils it if they are also the sort of thing you can just hitch a ride on, which Han knows how to fly. Lightsabers started out being a more elegant weapon from a more elegant age and end up being a really useful boy Scout knife. 

On the other hand, I REALLY want to find out if Han pulls it off.

Luke walks down a corridor and confronts Vader. Ben tells Luke to run. That's the main thing that Ben tells Luke to do. This is, by my counting, at least the fourth time that Luke and Vader have met face to face for the very first time. (But none of those happened. Well, only one of them did.)

I bet it turns out to be a dream. It's a really big deal in Empire Strikes Back that we're seeing Luke meet Vader for the first time, and it's pretty courageous of George to wait two movies before the hero meets the villain. I don't think a comic would be allowed to spoil that. (Anakin is not allowed to meet General Grievous in the Clone Wars cartoon because they meet for the first time Revenge of the Sith, although this is allowed to become a bit too much of a running gag.) 

FAITHFULNESS TO MOVIES, SUPERFICIAL: Nine out of ten.  I didn't spot any howlers. There were no moments when I wanted to say "That's JUST. NOT. STAR. WARS."

FAITHFULNESS TO MOVIES, ON A DEEPER LEVEL: Six out of ten. There is a lot of talk. Some of the violence is violent. There is little banter. Everyone is taking this seriously. No-one is having any fun. The thing it needed, and probably no-one has ever said this before, was Jar Jar Binks. 

If you enjoy this kind of thing, the best way of encouraging me to write more is to buy my book.

(The second best way is to buy the Kindle version)

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