Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Star Wars: Infinities

A New Hope / The Empire Strikes Back

2002, 2003 - available in soft cover

Written by Chris Warner / Dave Land. Pencils by Drew Johnson, Al Rio / Davide Fabbri. Inks by various.
Colours/letters: various.

Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope -- reprinting the four issues mini-series

Star Wars: Infinities - The Empire Strikes Back - reprinting the 4 issue mini-series.

96 pages each

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Cover price: $12.95 USA / $19.95 CDN. (each)

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, current holders of the Star Wars property rights in comics, is applying the formula with its new Star Wars Infinities stories. Unconnected to each other, the first two mini-series have each been collected in separate trade paperback collections. Both are considered here:

Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope

Star Wars: Infinities - A New Hope kicks things off. It begins with a simple question: what if...at 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 movies...it 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.

Star Wars: Infinities -- The Empire Strikes Back

After the genuine delight of 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 seem to exist simply to provide a slightly different take on familiar scenes, rather than because they aid this story.

Even the basic cause-and-effect 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 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, as noted, Infinities - A New Hope also covered the Yoda-Dagobah scenes.

Davide Fabbri's art is certainly not bad, with some nicely rendered backgrounds. But it's slightly cartoony -- not really evoking scenes from the movie because of that like Rio did -- yet without the effective mood Johnson brought to his scenes. 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 story that acts more as a novelty than anything. Not badly done, but hardly that memorable. On the other hand, Infinities - A New Hope was a truly enjoyable romp, capturing much of the spirit of the films. But 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.

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.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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