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'Star Wars' #1 advance review: New era, new story, same hope

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There are few things in entertainment that come with the same amount of baggage as the words Star Wars. While it’s entirely possible–and maybe even preferable–to read this week’s Star Wars #1 without thinking about the narrative surrounding that title, it’s almost impossible not to. This is a comic book burdened with glorious purpose, arriving with pomp and circumstance appropriate for a comic expected to sell one million copies.

And talking about the context of Star Wars #1 is necessary, because that context is what makes Star Wars #1 the event that it’s billed to be. Because in and of itself, Star Wars #1 isn’t all that special–it’s not the first new canonical story to come out since Disney wiped the slate clean. (That would be one of the short stories published in the leadup to the in-progress, equally canonical Star Wars: Rebels.) It hasn’t even been all that long since we last saw Star Wars comics, or even Star Wars comics set in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back: Last summer, Dark Horse Comics wrapped up a twenty-issue stretch of comics doing just that. (Of course, those no longer “count,” but they still happened. That series was even called Star Wars, too!)

No, Star Wars #1 is special not because of its novelty, but because of its intent. Regardless of how you feel about the new “everything counts” approach to the Star Wars franchise, it’s hard not to admire its ambition. The beauty of the former Expanded Universe was in its mutability—creators and fans were able to pick and choose what they wanted to be invested in, allowing them to build their own ideal Star Wars universe. Outside of the movies, the canon was what you made it. Now, everything is canon, part of one grand story about a galaxy far, far, away.

This is terribly exciting and terribly frightening. While I loved the old Expanded Universe and will miss it lots, I also love wildly ambitious and outrageously big storytelling. The trouble with liking those kind of grand stories is that they tend to run the risk of falling apart at any moment. Lucky for us, Star Wars #1 has all the swagger of a certain smuggler that looks an awful lot like Harrison Ford.

The first issue, “Skywalker Strikes!”—created by the all-star team of Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin—is a pitch-perfect start to Marvel’s slate of Star Wars comics. Taking place shortly after the Rebel’s destruction of the Death Star, the plot centers on Han, Luke, and Leia off on a mission to strike another blow to the Empire, which is still reeling from the destruction of its superweapon.

It’s a wonderfully fun read. Writer Jason Aaron nails the spirit of the original trilogy, with zippy dialogue you can easily imagine being delivered over a John Williams score. (You can also tell that Aaron was really looking forward to writing Han Solo.) While one or two jokes might fall a bit flat, based on how much you appreciate meta humor, the story is off to a fantastic start.

And John Cassaday’s art, to borrow a phrase from another one of his works, is astonishing. Cassaday has an immediately recognizable style, one that’s responsible for some of the most lifelike linework in superhero comics. It’s a perfect match for depicting the likenesses of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher, and when taken in conjunction with Laura Martin’s spot-on color palette and Aaron’s script, it really does feel like you’re reading storyboards from Episodes 4.5.

There’s only one weird thing about the art, and it’s how Cassaday depicts lightsabers in action. Instead of a motion blur, he’s chosen to portray a series of after-images of sorts, to mimic the filmic way they sort of burn into your retinas. It’s strange to see at first, but it’s quite possible that it’ll grow more palatable with time.

Telling a Star Wars story is not an enviable gig. The characters are so beloved, the world so well-known, and the fans so spirited that it must feel wildly intimidating. When we posted preview pages last week, a spirited debate over the bounty on Han Solo’s head immediately cropped up in the comments. It’s that sense of fan ownership and understanding that makes taking on a Star Wars story such a damn scary prospect. Marvel knows this, and it assembled some of its very best talent to take on this project. Based on this first issue, that was a very good decision.

Maybe this grand, crazy plan for Star Wars just might work out.

Star Wars #1 is on sale this Wednesday, January 14.