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Star Wars: A Long Time Ago..., vol. 1: Doomworld2002 (SC TPB) 364 pages

Written by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, others. Illustrated by Howard Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, others. Inks various.
Colours/Letters: various.

Reprinting: Star Wars #1-20 (originally published by Marvel Comics in the 1970s)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed April 2017

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Back in the 1970s, when Star Wars was the surprise block buster (although no one could have anticipated the monster franchise it would beget!) Marvel Comics latched onto the rights to produce a monthly comic of new adventures. Not that this was exactly cunning editorial foresight -- comic book spin-offs of movie/TV properties (even toys!) were not uncommon (Marvel also produced comics based on Logan's Run and The Man from Atlantis).

But the Marvel Comics Star Wars proved unusually successful, running over a hundred issues -- and though not considered canon in the way later novel, comics and video games based in Star Wars were, the series expanded upon and embellished the Star Wars universe, developing intriguing themes and subtexts, and adding its own worlds and recurring characters to support the main characters of Luke, Leia, Han, etc. (after all, for the first three years or so, all they had to go by was one 2 hour movie!) To be honest, having read a few of these comics when younger, some of Marvel's contributions to the Star Wars mythos made as much impact upon me as did the movies themselves!

Years later, Dark Horse -- at that point the current holder of the rights to produce Star Wars comics -- released the entire Marvel run in mammoth, full colour omnibus editions.

Admittedly, it took a bit for the Marvel series to find its legs.

The first six issues are devoted to Marvel's adaptation of the movie itself -- a surprisingly strong interpretation of the material by writer Roy Thomas (despite some uneven art by Howard Chaykin and inkers of varying effectiveness). The comics version played up mood and atmosphere, emphasizing its suspense perhaps over its action. But if you've read it before (in one or another reprinted form) or simply want to get right to the new material, it does mean almost a third of this collection is devoted to re-telling the movie.

Thomas continues with the first all-original tale -- and here shows that maybe he hasn't quite decided the tone they want. He takes the swashbuckling fun of the movie -- but occasionally drags it straight into tongue-in-cheek silliness. The first story, stretched over four issues, focuses largely on Han Solo and Chewbacca in a straight up homage to/rip-off of The Magnificent Seven with the characters recruiting a rag tag bunch to help them defend farmers on a desert world from marauders -- a rag tag bunch that includes a humanoid green rabbit and a senile old man who may-or-may-not be a one-time Jedi Knight called -- wait for it -- Don-Wan Kihotay! (Get it?) As I say, Thomas (or perhaps artist Chaykin who is given co-plot credit and is prone to tongue-in-cheek in his solo work) at times seem to be treating it as a lark. It isn't that it isn't an enjoyable enough romp, but this story might explain why Dark Horse decided to market the TPB series as "crazy" and "kitsch" on the back covers!

Perhaps Thomas himself realized he wasn't striking the proper balance, so the writing chores are handed over the Archie Goodwin -- a writer who would also show a knack for the franchise writing for the Star Wars newspaper strip. Goodwin has a better sense of how to mix the fun and the serious in a way that compliments each other, rather than clashes. But even he takes a bit to settle in.

His first story arc involves Luke crashing on a water world (eventually joined by Han and Leia) and getting caught between other marooned groups. Like Thomas' Magnificent Seven riff, Goodwin too seems to be simply grafting on existing genres/milieus to the space setting -- with space pirates and the plot itself not unfamiliar from fanciful stories about mongrel communities arising out of ships becalmed in the Sargasso Sea, or crashing on deserted islands. And there are aspects that I think Goodwin borrowed from (or reused in) his newspaper Star Wars scripts. And both the Magnificent Seven homage and the water planet plot feel too long for what they are -- lacking enough twists and turns to justify the multi-issue telling.

By this point Carmine Infantino has come aboard as the regular penciller -- Infantino's squat, angular style distinctive, if somewhat an acquired taste. But he definitely establishes a visual consistency to the Star Wars universe, and is aided by solid inkers like Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, and Gene Day (Infantino's pencils, I think, could be a bit rough, so benefit from strong finishers). The art is cleaner, surer than the Chakyin issues which, as noted, could veer wildly from really good to crude and sloppy. (Walt Simonson and Herb Trimpe each pinch hit an issue in this collection, as well).

The first Goodwin/Infantino saga is an enjoyable enough page turner -- but still nothing exceptional. This is then followed by a couple of seeming filler tales: a flashback story of Luke on Tatooine and, more surprising, a story focusing on a mysterious, sinister bounty hunter where none of the regular characters appear (though it does cleverly tie back into Thomas' Magnificent Seven story). It's perhaps the comics first real effort to push at the boundaries of the franchise. Nowadays when there are zillions of Star Wars spin-offs without Luke, Leia etc. it's nothing odd, but at the time, it was both a creative risk -- and a sign the comic (and Goodwin) really were determined to do more than just produce filler between the movies. Vance -- the bounty hunter -- would crop up again in a couple of stories in the next collection.

After all that warm-up, Goodwin and Infantino hit their stride with a highly entertaining multi-issue saga beginning in #18 with the Star Warriors (as they were called) being chased onto a space station that is a giant gambling den. Goodwin delivers with a fast-paced tale with lots of twists and turns -- the characters splitting up in different story threads -- while developing upon the galaxy and its politics (the Wheel essentially neutral territory) with machinations and strategies among the villains, and some interesting character threads involving guest star characters.

Unfortunately, it's such a big story it spills into the next collection (though doesn't end on a cliff hanger exactly, at least). In other words, arguably the best story in this collection -- is incomplete.

The result is certainly an okay run of issues. Whatever my quibbles, they certainly deliver the requisite space opera-y adventure, and the movie adaptation issues are a nice addition to the film (interpreting scenes -- not just transposing them to comics).

It takes a few stories to find it's own identity. Yet already you can see hints of building and developing upon the movie. Not only in terms of fleshing out the galaxy (with The Wheel, Vance the bounty hunter, and references to the House of Tagge, expanding the factions beyond simply rebels/empire) but also deeper, more sophisticated themes. Thomas touches on Droids (and cyborgs) as a metaphorical discriminated against underclass (taking the opening scene from the Magnificent Seven of the heroes helping to bury a dead Indian despite racist opposition and making the corpse a cyborg) -- and Goodwin runs with it. These were ideas clearly hinted at in the movies (with Droids having restraining bolts, and refused entry into the Mois Eisley saloon) but otherwise ignored by Lucas and most other Star Wars spin-offs (which is kind of creepy, actually -- to create a universe with sentient robots with no autonomy, but use that mostly for simple gags).

The next volume in this series I'd argue is where the storytelling really starts to sizzle, but this collection is still a decent romp.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $29.95 USA.

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago..., vol. 2: Dark Encounters2002 (SC TPB) 368 pages

cover by Carmine InfantinoWritten by Archie Goodwin, with Chris Claremont, Mary Jo Duffy. Pencils by Carmine Infantino, with Mike Vosburg, Michael Golden. Inks by Gene Day, Bob Wiacek, with Steve Leialoha, Terry Austin.
Colours/Letters: various.

Reprinting: Star Wars #21-38, Star Wars Annual #1 (originally published by Marvel Comics in the 1970s)

Rating: * * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Additional notes: intro by Jason Hall; covers.

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel Comics had the license to publish Star Wars comics. Subsequently, Dark Horse aquired the rights and started publishing its own stories, but the editors at Dark Horse were also aware that the earlier eras of Star Wars comics had their own fandom. They reprinted the 1980s newspaper strips in various collections, and have re-released Marvel's series in a seven volume collection of massive TPB collections called Star Wars: A Long Time Ago.... (Dark Horse, current holder of the Conan comic rights, have also started reprinting Marvel's old Conan comics in TPBs).

To someone like me, who grew up in the period in which these original comics were published, Marvel's Star Wars made a big impression. Yet though I had a few issues in my collection, collecting back issues has always been hard because they've appreciated quite significantly over the years. So finding Dark Horse's TPBs seemed like quite a treasure.

And after reading this volume...I'm happy to say it lives up to expectations.

I'll confess, I was never a big fan of Carmine Infantino's art who was the chief artist during this period of the comics' run. With his squat, angular figures, and sometimes hastily scrawled ships, I could imagine better artists (like the great Al Williamson, for one). Yet there's little doubt that he could tell a scene (aided, maybe a bit, by scripter Archie Goodwin who, I seem to recall, it was claimed helped storyboard the scenes). There's a clarity to the action, an immediacy to the events, that keeps you turning the pages. The pictures tell the story, rather than being something you're meant to ooh and ahh over for themselves alone. And you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I find I'm more appreciative of Infantino's work now than I was. In fact, this collection features a couple of other guest artists -- Mike Vosburg (Star Wars Annual) and the great Michael Golden (#38). And though you'd think I would appreciate them as a counterpoint to Infantino...I actually preferred Infantino's work. As I said, there's a narrative clarity mixed with some creative, but not indulgent, composition to his work, nicely complemented by inkers Gene Day and Bob Wiacek who bring a solid line work to Infantino's sometimes scratchy pencils.

But the real star of these proceedings is the late Archie Goodwin. Goodwin seemed to have an ideal grasp of both the flavour of the Star Wars franchise and the medium of comics itself, bringing the two together effortlessly. He captures the "gee whiz" spirit of George Lucas' space fantasy -- fast paced, fun, exciting -- but he actually smartens it up a little, adding in comic book style character nuances, and philosophical sub-texts. For instance, while George Lucas tossed in (and tossed off) the idea of 'droids as second class citizens, the comics run with it, exploring this whole subtext about racism and prejudice -- even suggesting that Darth Vader himself encounters discimination because of his cyborg parts. Heavy stuff.

Goodwin had also scripted the Star Wars newspaper strip, which was thoroughly enjoyable as well. But these Marvel Comics' stories are more involved, more sophisticated.

At the time there had only been the one Star Wars movie, and I'm not sure there were even any novels. Goodwin, and Marvel, was trying to flesh out a reality, and add dimension to characters, that were only hinted at in a single two hour flick. And filling in the blanks as best they could (Jabba the Hut, for instance, is depicted as a yellow-skinned humanoid because this was years before his slug-like appearance in the Return of the Jedi). Goodwin was trying to tell stories that really seemed like they could've been other Star Wars movies, or even a TV series, creating worlds and personalities to provide eclectic adventures for our heroes. Perhaps one of his most memorable additions was the recurring machinations of the villainous Tagge family, in league with the empire, but with its own agendas...and with more character nuances and subtle grey shadings than any characters in any of the movies. There's also the bitter bounty hunter, Vance, who only appears in a couple of issues here, but must've made such an impression that this TPB collection takes its title from his final appearance.

Not that this is to say Goodwin peopled his comic with original creations at the expense of Luke, Leia, Han and the others (like some other Star Wars spin-offs have done). Far from it. The so-called Star Warriors are front and center -- the comic is about them -- and Goodwin's take on them actually stays more vividly in my mind than even the movies do.

Of course, Goodwin also borrows the unfortunate ruthlessness of the movies, making for a curious brutality at times as the characters live in a kill or be killed world, where Han Solo thinks nothing of becoming a professional gladiator to make some money.

Of course Goodwin isn't the only writer here (though almost). Chris Claremont's Star Wars Annual is merely O.K., while Mary Jo Duffy's flashback tale to a story of a middle age Obi Wan Kenobi (#24) is very good, mixing suspense and character drama.

I had thought this series was heavily into long form stories and never ending cliff hangers. So it was quite a surprise to realize that actually there were quite a few stand alone issues too. And most -- multi-parters, or single issues -- work exceptionally well. There's fun and excitement, wisecracks and derrying do. But there's also some genuine heart and emotion. The "Dark Encounters" issue is astonishingly powerful -- and doesn't even feature any of the regular heroes. The appeal to a massive volume like this, compareable to Marvel's black and white Essential books (though this is colour) is the sheer scope of stories. The first three issues form the concluding half to a story begun in the previous volume, but it's easy enough to pick up on. And since the book ends just before the Empire Strikes Back adaptation, it doesn't end "to be continued" or anything.

Reading these, I'm duly impressed with the combo of fun and thoughtfulness. Yet it seems to have whizzed over the heads of Dark Horse's editorial staff. Sure, the introduction by comic creator Jason Hall sings the praises of these issues. But on the back cover, there is an almost contemptuous condescencion apparent. The mocking blurb describes each issue as "crazier than the next" and sell it as "kitsch". I suppose, if that's how Dark Horse's staff sees it, that's their business.

For me, this is the Star Wars George Lucas should've written, but never quite did.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $29.95 USA.

Star Wars (A New Hope) 1994 (SC TPB) 104 pages

Written by Roy Thomas. Pencils by Howard Chaykin. Inks by Steve Leialoha, Howard Chaykin, Rick Hoberg, Bill Wray. Colours: unknown. Letters: Tom Orzechowski and others.

Adapted from the motion picture written by George Lucas.

Reprinting: Marvel Comic's adaptation, which was published in various formats, including Star Wars #1-6 (1977)

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dark Horse Comics

This collects the original comic book adaptation of the first Star Wars movie that was first published back in 1977 by Marvel Comics (probably before even Marvel realized what a mega hit the movie would turn out to be). Marvel published their adaptation both as the first six issues of their on-going Star Wars comic, as well as collected it more than once in treasury-sized editions and, again in the early 1980s, as a two issue mini-series. When Dark Horse acquired the rights to publish original Star Wars comics years later, they also re-published Marvel's adaptations of the movies in TPB form.

Written by Roy Thomas, this adapts the movie pretty faithfully in scenes and dialogue, but with some notable alterations. For one thing, Thomas was presumably working from the original script, meaning there are a few extra scenes not in the movie -- including a meeting with Jabba the Hut (here drawn as a yellow-skinned humanoid) and a more significant role for Luke's boyhood friend, Biggs. Of course, those extra scenes were more novel prior to George Lucas re-releasing Star Wars with some of those scenes included -- some, but still not all. As such, though, it meant the comic was kind of Star Wars-plus. Also of significance is the Old School way of writing. Whereas modern comics often rely solely on a cinematic style of story telling, relying solely on dialogue and pictures (as in Dark Horse's adaptation of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), in Thomas's day, comics were seen as a medium bridging film and novels, with a greater use of text captions and thought balloons.

It works extremely well.

Instead of just getting a play by play of the movie, Thomas embellishes in spots, fleshing scenes out with some atmosphere that couldn't be conveyed simply with pictures (sounds, smells), occasionally adding flesh to the characters, or philosophical musings. Like a caption describing Stormtroopers as "white robots -- the men within submerged to the cause of galactic power".

A comic can't quite match a movie's kinetic energy, or duplicate its same breathless action, so Thomas uses the comic sometimes to re-imagine sequences. The scene where the Millennium Falcon escapes from the Death Star and fights off Tie Fighters is, in the movie, a fast-paced and exciting action scene. But in the comic, the same sequence is made more brooding, a chance for a bit of introspection, and though slower, it's actually almost more suspenseful as a result. Likewise, the climactic dog fight sequence is, in a sense, darker than in the movie, emphasizing the suspense and even the tragedy perhaps more than did the movie, expanding moments in a way a movie can't -- like the scene where Luke flies through the fireball (and Luke knows the "terror of the damned!"), or by adding some extra text commentary when the first rebel leader attempts (and fails) to blow up the Death Star.

In a way, it's the best kind of adaptation. Faithful enough to the movie, and long enough, that all the same scenes are there, all the dialogue and quips (though Thomas changes a few lines here or there -- but only occasionally), so that it's basically just the movie transposed to paper, which most of us probably want when buying an adaptation. But it's also given extra texture in spots so that it provides some freshness, an altered perspective, to scenes that, perhaps, have become overly familiar (after all, if you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably scene the movie a zillion times already).

Ironically, the biggest weakness here is the art -- despite Howard Chaykin having gone on to become a very hot talent. The first issue is O.K., with Chaykin inking himself, but kind of rough and crude in spots. The second issue improves noticeably with Steve Leialoha's inks embellishing the pencils, and the art takes on a moodiness, with some nice, stylish panel composition from Chaykin. But as things progress, the work looks more and more rushed, culminating in a fifth issue that's particularly poor, hurt, no doubt, by an inker who seems to be going for a Klaus Janson-style coarseness, but not pulling it off as well. I'm not sure who the inker is (the version I read -- the 1982 Marvel re-issue -- is a bit unclear in the credits). Fortunately, things pick up considerably for the final chapter -- though that's mainly a lot of whizzing space ships and heads in cockpits. Despite the shortcomings, there are still spots where the art, like Thomas' script, adds to some scenes, investing them with an atmosphere, or a moodiness, not necessarily there in the movie, while still being faithful enough to the film (though Chaykin has the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon open into the main part of the ship).

Despite some uneven art, Marvel's original adaptation holds up very well indeed all these years later. Dark Horse's presentation of it, apparently, was re-coloured using modern colouring techniques. Curiously, Dark Horse released a second adaptation of the first movie (this time by Mike Baron and Eduardo Barreto, I believe). The gimmick was to do an adaptation of the "Special Edition" Lucas released in 1997 with the extra scenes -- but, as noted, Thomas' version already has those scenes. Still, hard core fans might want to compare the two -- I'm guessing Baron's version is probably told with a minimum of text captions and embellishments.

For my money, Thomas's version hits the spot very nicely indeed as a great adaptation and positioning Star Wars as, arguably, the best of the six movies!

Cover price: 

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 1995 (SC TPB) 92 pages

Written by Archie Goodwin. Illustrated by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Colours: Glynis Wein. Letters: Rick Veitch.

Adapted from the motion picture.

Reprinting: Marvel Comic's adaptation, which was published in various formats, including Star Wars #39-44 (1980)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: a few times over the years

Published by Dark Horse Comics

I have strangely mixed reactions to Marvel Comics adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back -- particularly since I loved it as a youth and have always remembered it well. On the plus side, it's gorgeously illustrated by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon (apparently they collaborated, as opposed to being straight penciler-inker) with a lush, elegant style full of moody shadows and that is obviously heavily photoreferenced. And the script stays faithful to the movie script.

On the minus side? Its obviously heavily photoreferenced and stays true to the movie script.

Okay, I know that doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, I'm the first to say that when I pick up an adaptation I want something that evokes the source material. But there's a danger you can end up with too much of a "classics illustrated" feel, of a comic that is only an adaptation and doesn't fully stand on its own. Whereas Roy Thomas, when adapting the first movie, stuck close to the script, but still managed to embellish upon it a bit, adding in text captions that enhanced the scenes, Archie Goodwin stays pretty tight to the script, usually using the text captions simply to bridge scenes...or to bridge panels within a scene. Which is another problem. There can be a bit of a "cut n' paste" approach, as the creators try to shoe horn movie scenes into a few panels, with Williamson and Garzon recreating a sequence with a few select "posed" panels that then Goodwin has to try and turn into a flowing scene. The action scenes at times suffer, like the climactic duel between Luke and Darth Vader which, in the movie, was a suspenseful scene of the characters playing cat and mouse as they hunted each other through the deserted corridors. Here: it's just a few panels. The scene with the big tree is, likewise, robbed of mood by its very terseness.

I'm not disputing the talents involved. Goodwin wrote some great Star Wars comics, both for Marvel, and for a daily newspaper strip, and I'm a big fan of Williamson's art. But the Star Wars adaptation by Thomas and Howard Chaykin (though the art was sometimes crude and sloppy) seemed more energetic, more as something you could read in addition to the movie -- or even if you'd never seen the movie at all! Whereas this adaptation of the Empire Strikes Back seems just that: an adaptation. Somewhat condensed, the suspense scenes not as suspenseful, the funny lines not as funny.

Since adaptations were often written from earlier drafts of the script, it's interesting to note the one addition from the movie is a little more material involving the snow creatures of Hoth -- though even that is barely more than a few panels and references (perhaps why it was dropped from the movie -- it never really gelled into anything).

Just as a minor aside (and 'cause when else am I going to get a chance to vent) the comic also reminds me of certain -- errors? Inconsistencies? -- in the movie. For instance, isn't there a time paradox when the scenes with Han and Leia seem to take only a few days at most...whereas Luke's training scenes surely encompass weeks? (Though is that any weirder than Darth saying to Luke how "Obi Wan trained you well" when that "training" amounted to a five minute sabre lesson?) And isn't it awkward having the opening gag with Lando -- when Lando had already planned to sell out Han to the Imperials?

Ultimately, this is beautiful looking, and reasonably true to the movie...but, despite most people regarding The Empire Strikes Back as the better movie, the comic isn't as satisfying as Thomas and Chaykin's Star Wars.

But I loved it as a kid -- so who am I to judge?

This is a review of the story as it was presented in a Marvel Treasury Edition.

Cover price: ___

Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi 1995 (SC TPB) 88 pages

Written by Archie Goodwin. Illustrated by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Colours: Glynis Wein. Letters: Rick Veitch.

Adapted from the motion picture.

Reprinting: Marvel Comic's adaptation, which was published in various formats, including Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi #1-4 (1983-1984), and represented as Classic Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #1-2, Dark Horse Comics

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Dark Horse Comics

This is Dark Horse's re-presentation of the movie adaptation originally published by Marvel Comics back in the early 1980s, by the "classic" team of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon (the three having done The Empire Strikes Back adaptation, and Goodwin and Williamson having worked on a well-regarded Star Wars newspaper strip).

I commented in my review of The Empire Strikes Back adaptation that I loved it when younger, but re-reading it recently, I'm aware of flaws in the presentation. Well, I'd never read the Return of the Jedi adaptation until now...and I'm afraid the flaws seem even more pronounced. Firstly, it's the shortest of Marvel's Star Wars movie adaptations (which may be a reflection of the movie itself being a bit thin on plot). But as such, the "cut n' paste" approach I'd noticed in the Empire Strikes Back can seem a little more pronounced here, as Williamson and Garzon sometimes seems to illustrate a sequence with just a few photo-referenced stills that Goodwin then has to try and bridge together into a scene with a lot of captions. There's not always a flow to the scenes. Of course, maybe Dark Horse chose to edit the original comics (though I haven't read that they did). But as one of the more glaring examples, we literally skip over the scene where Leia kills Jabba the Hut -- so we just have a caption vaguely alluding to it.

Even the art isn't quite as impressive as Williamson and Garzon have been -- though, hey, it's still impressive. There are still stunning panels, as the two can capture the gleam of metal or plastic, or evoke an actor as well as anyone. But there are also a few rougher panels, as if they were being a bit hasty in the work. Curiously, there are a couple of splash pages that look like the work of another artist entirely, as well as some pages in the latter half that, though it could easily be Williamson and Garzon's pencils, look like another inker was involved to finish it up.

Ultimately, if you're just looking for an adaptation that evokes moments from the movie, triggering your own sub-conscious as you read through the story, this is fine. But as a stand on its own telling of the story, something where the scenes and characters can exist regardless of the movie (the way Marvel's adaptation of the original Star Wars did) falls rather short.

This is a review of the story as it was reprinted in Classic Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #1-2.

Cover price: __

Star Wars: Dark Force Rising 1998 (SC TPB) 160 pages.

Written by Mike Baron. Pencils by Terry Dodson. Inks by Kevin Nowlan.
Colours: Pamela Rambo. Letters: Ellie De Ville. Editor: Bob Cooper.

Reprinting the six issue mini-series (plus covers)

Based on the novel by Timothy Zahn.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Dark Force Rising is a comicbook adaptation of the second novel in the trilogy by Timothy Zahn that largely kicked off the current run of Star Wars spin-off novels. There had been a lull in original Star Wars novels in the years immediately following the movie "The Return of the Jedi". Zahn's trilogy proved there was still popular interest in what some thought might be a waning fandom.

The plot here follows directly from the previous story, Heir to the Empire. Taking place a few years after "The Return of the Jedi", the former rebel Alliance is still locked in conflict with the remnants of the evil Empire, and both sides are anxious to find a lost fleet of derelict starships that could tip the balance of power in favour of whoever gets them first. But there's plenty of machinations and maneuvering going around, as Leia tries to woo an alien race to the Alliance that is loyal to the empire, and Han and Lando do some investigating connected to political rivalries that threaten the stability of the Alliance, and Luke meets up with a rogue Jedi Knight who's made a deal with the current leader of the Empire's forces, Admiral Thrawn.

Dark Horse comics has adapted the other two books in the trilogy, and how they would read all together is for another reviewer to say. I haven't read the other stories. But there's nothing on the cover, front or back, of this TPB to indicate you need to have read an earlier story. In fact, there's no mention (until you get inside and the introduction by another Star Wars novelist, Michael A. Stackpole) that this is even in the middle of a bigger story.

I think you can see where I'm headed with all this. Only it's worse than that.

The comicbook version of Dark Force Rising is, frankly, largely incoherent.

Many factors go into this.

Little effort has been made to get the reader who hasn't read the previous story up to speed, to familiarize us with new characters and concepts introduced in that previous story. People and objects and events are referred to, but rarely in a way that provides sufficient context. One minor example is that some characters refer to how they should start an investigation on "New Cov", but when next we see them, they're at a place identified as "Ilic". Maybe New Cov is a city on the planet Ilic, or vice versa, or maybe the story skipped over the vist to New Cov. Either way, it's confusing.

To make matters worse, writer Mike Baron seems to have employed the "cut and paste" approach to adapting and editing a longer work into a comic. At times it seems as though he just took snippits of dialogue randomly from the source novel, but didn't bother to see if the lines made sense on their own, or whether he had left out crucial, bridging sentences. His approach to scenes is similar, with it often being unclear how characters, or the story, move from point A to point C, because point B seems to have been discarded somewhere in the writing process. Nor does Baron bother with thought balloons that might provide needed insight into characters and their motivations.

The art by Terry Dodson and Kevin Nowlan is attractive (Nowlan being one of those inkers who can kind of impose his own style on an artist's pencils) and evokes the actors fairly consistently. But as comicbook story telling, as images that are meant to convey meaning, to get across actions, emotions, and plot, it's largely ineffective. Dodson likes to just draw whatever he thinks would look cool, sometimes resulting in panels bleeding into each other in such a way that you aren't even sure who's supposed to be in a shot, or whether a character is spilling over from another scene entirely.

There was scene after scene where I just wasn't sure what was going on or why. Nor are things helped by the fact that letterer Ellie De Ville sometimes puts dialogue in the wrong panels (presumably because Dodson and Nowlan didn't leave her enough space in the correct panel). There were more than a few pages I had to read a couple of times just to figure out how it should be read (nevermind what it meant).

Beyond all that technical stuff is the foundation of Zahn's original story. Although Zahn's books were hugely popular, to me he hasn't really captured the spirit of the movies which were, after all is said and done, swashbuckling adventures. Instead he chooses to emphasize political machinations and people sitting around discussing various alliances. Obviously this is sort of where Geroge Lucas wanted to go (as demonstrated in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace") but it's still a bit, well, dry and colourless. Nor do the characters entirely come alive. With all that being said, there is some action and adventure...but, as noted in my earlier complaints, those scenes are often as confusing and hard to follow as the talky scenes.

And since it's part of a trilogy, plenty of story threads don't really go anywhere in this story.

Ultimately, I just found this comicbook adaptation confusing and, frankly, I reached a point where I just didn't care anymore. My recommendation? If you're really interested, try reading the novel by Timothy Zahn (actually read the trilogy) and then you can read this TPB as just kind of the illustrated highlights. But as an entertaining read in and of itself? Not quite.

In the end, the late Archie Goodwin remains the undeposed king of writing Star Wars in comics.

Cover price: $25.95 CDN./ $17.95 USA

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