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Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope  2002 (SC TPB) 96 pages

cover by Tony HarrisWritten by Chris Warner. Pencils by Drew Johnson, Al Rio. Inks by Ray Snyder, Neil Nelson.
Colours: Dave McCaig, Helen Bach. Letters: Steve Dutro. Editor: Dave Land.

Reprinting: The four issue mini-series

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Alternate reality stories have long been a staple of science fiction, postulating that if familiar historical events had not occurred the way we know they did, our current reality would be different. Only comics, though, have applied that narrative formula to their own, fictional realities.

In the 1960s, DC Comics occasionally spiced up its regular titles with so-called "imaginary" stories in which Superman died, or got married, or became disfigured. In the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel Comics presented a regular title called What if...?, re-imagining key adventures with alternate resolutions. In the 1990s and continuing to today, DC returned to the concept with its "Elseworlds" banner, taking things farther afield by reimagining its stories in different times and places: what if Batman was really 1930s gangbuster Eliott Ness? What if Superman was raised in medieval Europe?

Science fiction television has explored the alternate reality concept (Star Trek's classic "Mirror, Mirror" episode) and even more realist series have occasionally played with it (a Magnum, P.I. episode where the hero imagines himself in the 1930s). But in such cases it still ties into the established reality: the familiar Star Trek heroes cross over into a parallel universe; Thomas Magnum is dreaming, etc. The novelty of just willy-nilly doing a one-shot special unconnected to the regular continuity is still an alien idea to most -- What if the West Wing was set during the Civil War? What if the E.R. staff operated a M.A.S.H. unit during a war?

Now Dark Horse Comics is applying the formula with its new Star Wars Infinities stories. The first mini-series, Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope, kicks things off. It begins with a simple question: what the end of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker failed to blow up the evil Death Star?

Admittedly, calling this "A New Hope" is misleading. This isn't a reimagining of the story of the first Star Wars movie since the crucial change is something that occurred at the end of that movie. Rather, it's a reimagining of the subsequent movies. With the Death Star left intact, the rebellion is shattered. Luke and Han barely escape and Leia is captured by the empire. What follows is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar scenes. Luke still goes to Dagobah to meet Yoda -- but this time, with Han and Chewie in tow. And there's a familiar climactic confrontation with Darth Vader and the Emperor.

The result, for this initial foray, is a whole lot of fun.

Part of the appeal is simply reliving the excitement of the original movies. Lucasfilm Licensing have nixed the idea of setting stories in and around the original movie trilogy, so that most of the novels and comics published in recent years feature a Luke, Han and Leia that are markedly different from their movie versions: older and no longer fighting an evil government. Many of the stories don't even feature those characters at all! Happily, Dark Horse has re-released comics that were first published by others from before Lucasfilm insisted on these new rules: the various Classic Star Wars collections reprint a popular 1980s newspaper strip, and the Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... series reprints Marvel Comics 1980s series. And now "Infinities" adds to that. Here is Luke and Han and Leia as fans remember them, fighting the fight that made them cinematic icons.

Writer Chris Warner has a tough job. Write a story that is both different, and yet similar and can touch on familiar scenes. And create a tale that seems like a good story in its own right, as if this really could have been a sequel to Star Wars, instead of just a story whose only appeal is its novelty.

Playing the what if...? card can lead a writer to take his material too seriously, exploring the doom and gloom of a bleak alternate future for the heroes. But Warner keeps the personality of the characters and the flavour of the movies in mind. Although dark and brooding at times, it's also fun, with plenty of Han Solo quips to keep things bouncing along. Warner pays enough attention to character that, as Leia is wooed by the darkside, he can justify her waffling (she is assured that the Empire, now that the rebellion is quashed, wishes to devote itself to peaceful reconstruction). Warner also avoids swinging too much the other way, avoiding indulging in too many knowingly self-reflective gags -- though there are a few (a scene with Han Solo and a snake seems like a joke on the ophiciophobia of actor Harrison Ford's other popular movie role, Indiana Jones).

Admittedly, the story doesn't push its premise to any extremes. The story could have diverged far more radically from the established history than it does. But it's still enormously enjoyable.

The art chores are handled by two teams, which may have been intended to emphasize a time jump in the middle. Drew Johnson has a slightly cartoony style, common today, but there's lots of atmosphere created by brooding shadows. And he has a nice eye for composition, selecting the right angles to portray a moment. And you can certainly tell who's supposed to be who. Al Rio has a more realist style -- not, perhaps, as strong as Johnson in creating mood, nonetheless I liked it for its restraint and the stronger evocation of the actors. After all, if this is meant to be an alternate version of the should look like scenes from a movie. Both men do a nice job with the portrayal of spaceships. Rio, in particular, does a nice job of showing a cluttered sky over Coruscant. The sombre colours by Dave McCaig and Helen Bach, though a little too brooding at times, also add to the atmosphere.

Ultimately, if you're the sort of person who has worn your VHS copy of Star Wars raw watching it repeatedly over the years and can recite half the lines in sync with the actors, Star Wars: Infinities might be just what the doctor ordered. A chance to relive the excitement of the trilogy again...but this time, where you don't know what's going to happen next.

The Force is with us...once again.

Cover price: $19.95 CDN./ $12.95 USA.

Star Wars: Infinities -- The Empire Strikes Back 2003 (SC TPB) 96 pages

Chris Bachalo / Tim TownsendWritten by Dave Land. Pencils Davide Fabbri. Inks by Christian Dalla Vecchia. Colours: Dan Jackson. Lretters: Steve Dutro. Editor: Randy Stradley, Phil Amara.

Reprinting: The four issue mini-series

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

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dark Horse Comics

This is the second of Dark Horse Comics stabs at alternate reality Star Wars tales. And after the genuine delight of Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back version is less successful -- ironic, given that scripter Dave Land served as the editor on the first series. Beginning with the premise that Luke dies on Hoth, the story tends to meander a little, throwing in some key sequences -- like going to the Cloud City -- that seeem to exist simply to provide a slightly different take on familiar scenes, rather than because they aid this story. And the dialogue itself is a bit, well, comic booky.

Even the basic cause-and-effect which is, after all, at the root of alternate reality stories is vague. Technically, Luke's death isn't really where the realities diverge; Han Solo's tauntaun dying is the key event that makes him arrive too late to save Luke -- but we don't even see the tauntaun's death. And how all that means the Empire can strafe Hoth with tie-fighters, or why it causes Han not to seek sanctuary in an asteroid's tunnel, is vague.

Admittedly, this can be nitpicking. Presumably writer Dave Land saw his story as a chance to just imagine various differences, rather than necessarily restricting himself to making them all evolve from one incident. But, if so, like with the re-imagined "New Hope", he doesn't really stretch things much. The story doesn't go off into radical alternatives. Han, for instance, thinks he is meant to become a Jedi, but then subsequently, learns it is Leia who is called...kind of as the reader could guess. Maybe it would've been more interesting to really have roguish Han become a Jedi-in-training.

Land's story isn't that interesting -- although admittedly it clips along well enough. Nor does he quite evoke the characters as well as Warner did with his version. Han thinking he has been tagged to become a Jedi isn't convincingly portrayed for that character (after all, Han didn't even believe in the Force!) Perhaps that all stems from the fact that Land almost can't seem to decide who his main characters are, with sequences devoted to Lando Calrissian, Yoda, or Darth Vader, with Leia and Han nowhere around. Granted, Land is stuck going over well-tilled ground since Infinities - A New Hope also covered the Yoda-Dagobah scenes.

One could argue if you're going to market this as an alternate "Empire Strikes Back", it should seem like it could've been an unused script for that movie. But Land wants to play with the entirety of the Star Wars mythos, so there are scenes and ideas referencing information that wasn't introduced until the prequel trilogy decades later. It makes it more consistent with the overall mythos...but breaks the mood of this being a throwback to "The Empire Strikes Back".

Davide Fabbri's art is certainly not bad, with some nicely rendered backgrounds. But it's slightly cartoony, with thick ink lines -- not really evoking scenes from the movie because of that -- yet without creating that much in the way of notable mood or atmosphere. Though, to be fair, you can certainly tell who is who.

Infinities - The Empire Strikes Back is more what you might expect from the project -- a comic that's more a novelty than a great story. The "Infinities" concept doesn't seem to have been the start of a whole sub-genre the way DC Comics "Elseworlds" label produced scores of projects. After doing a single "Infinities" version of each of the first three movies, Dark Horse seems to have stopped the project -- when I'm sure they would've had scores of creators begging to provide their own alternate spin. Perhaps they didn't want to trivialize the gimmick, the way some argued DC's "Elseworlds" did. But, heck, if Dark Horse really wants to do an alternate version of the first Star Wars film, I can think of some ideas that would live up to the name better.

Cover price: $19.95 CDN./ $12.95 USA.

Star Wars: Infinities -- The Return of the Jedi 2004 (SC TPB) 96 pages

coverWritten by Adam Gallardo. Pencils by Ryan Benjamin, Dan Norton, Juvaun Kirby. Inks by Saleem Crawford, Ryan Benjamin.
Colours: Joel Benjamin. Letters: Michael David Thomas. Editor: Randy Stradley.

Reprinting: Star Wars: Infinities - Return of the Jedi #1-4 (2004)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: March 27, 2010

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Alternate reality/what if...? stories have been around for decades, including those re-imagining already fictional properties. Heck, Marvel and DC Comics have released whole series around the idea. The concept was then applied to the Star Wars universe with Dark Horse's "Infinities" stories (though, given the way this TPB's introduction explains the idea, you'd half think the Dark Horse editors thought they were the first people to come up with it!) The idea was to go back to the original movies and imagine one particular change from the established story...then extrapolate a whole new story from that idea. Although these days the Star Wars spin offs in comics, novels, video games, etc., have been strictly shaped into a self-referencing cohesive "reality", that wasn't always the case, so in a way you could argue there are already apocryphal/what if...? Star Wars stories -- the old Marvel Comics series, the newspaper strips, the early novels by Brian Daley and Alan Dean Foster.

Anyway, despite what if...? stories being such an irresistible concept, and I'm sure every Star Wars fan boy could run off a dozen premises without taking a breath, Dark Horse approached the concept with surprising restraint, only releasing one such project for each of the three original Star Wars movies.

Cynically speaking, one wonders if the limited use of the concept was because Dark Horse just wasn't making it work. I mean, the first Infinities -- "A New Hope" -- was a fun, enjoyable, "alternative" Star Wars movie. But even by the second one, the concept seemed to be running on fumes. And by the this one? It seems as ill-fated as the Death Star.

What's even more bizarre is that given, as I said, any Star Wars fan could probably come up with a dozen ideas, once Dark Horse began the project, they must've had a zillion story proposals flooding their editorial desks. And it makes you wonder what those unused ideas were that this is the one they decided was the best of the offerings!

As I said, the idea isn't simply to imagine an alternative scenario, but to pick a specific incident where we see how the story diverges from the established movie. And here, the gimmick is that it's a surprisingly minor, inconsequential moment -- it seems kind of silly, even anti-climactic. But maybe that's the point. Anyway, the change essentially means that Luke and Leia fail to rescue Han from Jabba the Hut, so end up instead of immediately setting off back to where they had to go, they spend a few extra scenes chasing Boba Fett to retrieve Han's carbon frozen body.

And part of the problem seems to be that even though the idea is to diverge from the established movie...they still want to cover the familiar scenes, so it doesn't really diverge that much, leading to all the same events, just with minor alterations. So in basic ideas, it's not very imaginative or unusual. And the scenes themselves aren't really that interesting or exciting -- I mean, Luke and Leia scouring bars for word of Boba, getting into bar fights? That's the best they can come up with for the "greatest space fantasy of all"? Even worse, there seem to be plot holes you could drive a planet through. I mean, Boba arranging to sell Han to the Empire? But, um, Darth Vader gave Han to Boba in the first place. Or later Boba's ship arrives at an imperial vessel and is greeted by someone saying "you're late." But, um, why was anyone even expecting him? And why would the rebels send a team to knock out the shield around the new Death Star...before the rebel fleet even seems to be on its way to attack (though that may just have been a problem with how time was conveyed). Nor is it really clear why the events here mean Luke gets captured by the Emperor.

Okay, I'm sort of nitpicking. But isn't that the point of the "infinities" premise, to explore a clearly articulated alternate chain of events?

And, as I said, all that really results is a story that pretty much follows the same narrative as the actual movie -- just not as interestingly (and in a way that if you don't remember the movie -- won't make a lot of sense). Except there is an end twist which was kind of cute -- though it was something you could've built a "what if...?" story about, instead of just throwing it in at the end for a couple of panels.

Meanwhile scripter Adam Gallardo's handling of the characters and dialogue is okay...without being much more. There are a few cute quips, but nothing in the telling really stands out.

Art wise, the visuals start out quite impressive, with nice, realist detail, and a solid evocation of the actors. But it gets simpler, stiffer, and cartoonier as it goes, as different artists take over I guess, and the ships and battle stations look cut and pasted. And the colours are awfully dark throughout, often making it hard to quite see the images clearly. The result is a story that started out one of the best drawn of the Infinities projects...but very quickly becomes my least favourite, visually.

Ultimately, for a project labelled "infinities", they seemed awfully limited in the scope of their ideas and imagination. And with only the first one really scoring as solid's no wonder Dark Horse was able to resist the urge to create a whole on going series of "what if...?" Star Wars projects.

Cover price: $19.95 CDN./ $12.95 USA.

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