‘Star Wars’ #1 Advance Review: Jason Aaron & John Cassaday Offer A New Hope For Lapsed Fans
Star Wars and Marvel Comics have a long history. A Marvel adaptation of the original sci-fi-fantasy film appeared in April 1977, a month before A New Hope dominated multiplexes in May of the same year. The success of the film as well as the comics led to a volume of over 100 issues over a nine-year span, featuring stories about what happened to the heroes of the Rebellion between their big screen adventures.
Following Marvel parent Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, this week sees the return of the Star Wars Universe to the Marvel banner, with a new ongoing series from Jason Aaron and John Cassaday launching on Wednesday. It's a strong debut from an A-list creative team who manages to capture the feel of George Lucas's film A New Hope while still taking advantage of the entirety of the Saga.
Aaron and Cassaday (and whoever replaces Cassaday after 4-6 issues, because I mean, really) have an advantage that the earlier Marvel series never had, in that the Original Trilogy has been completed and any storyline can connect those movies together organically, as opposed to the feeling in the original series of the writers having to "put the toys back in the box" before a new movie was released and George Lucas decided that Jabba the Hutt was a huge slug-like creature and not some portly dude in a faux fur vest. It's an advantage Aaron and Cassaday press well, using cues like an obviously Hutt-designed ship and outfits.
Star Wars #1 starts off in familiar territory, with the blue "A long time ago…" intro that segues into a (kind of awkwardly-stretched) opening crawl that sets this story firmly after the events of A New Hope, with the Empire reeling from the destruction of the Death Star and the Rebellion feeling a surge in momentum after their victory at Yavin. The feeling of this being "real" Star Wars continues with the first comics page, with four widescreen panels mimicking a star field as a spaceship -- the Hutt vessel I mentioned earlier -- enters from overhead. If it didn't work, I'd say that it was maybe trying a little too hard, but … it works, visually matching the pace and structure of the films in a way that a lot other Star Wars comics haven't been able to.
Aaron's script is a lot of fun, with the voices and motivations of the characters expressed faithfully, and a story with some really great turns and a reveal that I don't want to spoil, but one that he just nails. However, there's a few things that fall flat for me, with Threepio doing a "As you already know…"-style infodump that's there for the slower readers more than to benefit the story, and badass but also kind of callous bit with Luke that doesn't 100% fit in with his character. Aaron gets a (deserved) rep for being a gritty crime writer because of stuff like Scalped and Southern Bastards, but he also wrote a Ghost Rider run that had Master Pandemonium getting beat up by his demon hands, as well as a Wolverine and the X-Men run that was as insane as it was heartfelt. The mix of Aaron's abilities works to the advantage of Star Wars, giving us a story that's fun while still feeling like there's actual stakes and danger for our characters.
Cassaday's storytelling is on point, and in terms of pure drawing, everybody looks like they just stepped off the screen and "acts" like you'd expect them to. But his ability to capture likenesses comes off a little too stiff and "on model" at times when it could be more dynamic . There's some distracting photoref every now and then, with a Han Solo panel that's a dead ringer for a vintage A New Hope promotional photo. Cassaday also has to design a new species for the book and, while it works, isn't the most interesting-looking alien race you'll ever come across in a comic like this. Overall though, everybody looks like they should and he gets the job done with the requisite amount of polish for a book of this caliber.
Cassaday's colored by longtime collaborator Laura Martin, who does a fine job making the world feel at once lived-in and visually dazzling. As usual for Martin, it's very naturalistic in its approach, but as Star Wars is the story of a hillbilly farm boy who meets up with a space-wizard to rescue a princess from an evil wizard with a breathing problem and a laser-sword, a realistic approach actually works in its favor.
There's two things that even the best Star Wars comics can't do that even the bad Star Wars movies manage to do right: motion and sound. Seriously, try watching any of them with the sound turned off and you'll see just how much sound designer Ben Burtt and composer John Williams brought to the table. And yes, the Prequels are not very good, but they do have some pretty great action set-pieces sandwiched between static shots of people talking. In comics, the artists are responsible for the "motion", so the "sound" falls on the letterer -- in this case, Chris Eliopoulos. He does a really great job for a difficult cast of characters. He has to convincingly and successfully differentiate a robot who is also having a conversation over a communicator, an only-speaks-in-growls Space Sasquatch (aka Spacesquatch), another droid who just beep-boops and another voice-type I won't spoil, but who also needs to be distinct. It's not the easiest gig, but Eliopoulos pulls it off with only a few moments that weren't completely clear. I mentioned this in my review of Dark Horse's attempt at (pretty much) this same series, but I still can't help but feel like there's a missed opportunity when it comes to Star Wars comics whose lettering feels more like the movies sound.
Marvel's new Star Wars #1 is an impressive first issue, showcasing Aaron's mixture of adventure and gravitas and Cassaday's ability to capture likenesses. It has me excited for this kind of comic in a way that I haven't been in a long time. As a Star Wars fan who's been really apprehensive about the Marvel takeover, this issue assuaged some fears. It's almost as if the first issue of Aaron and Cassaday's Star Wars has filled me with... a new hope?