Comic Publishers

September 16, 2013

Dark Horse Reviews: Star Wars Volume I – In the Shadow of Yavin

Star Wars Volume I - in the Shadow of YavinStar Wars Volume I: In the Shadow of Yavin
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Story: Brian Wood
Pencils: Carlos D’Anda; Ryan Odagawa
Inks: Carlos D’Anda; Ryan Odagawa
Colors: Gabe Eltaeb
Letters: Michael Heisler

In the Shadow of Yavin collects the first six issues of Brian Wood’s and Carlos D’Anda’s simply titled Star Wars comic, and after having read this initial story arc, I can officially say that I’m once again interested in Star Wars comics.

This first trade paperback collection recreates some of the magic, and indeed the almost rough, unpolished nature of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” back before the corporate machine took over and turned it into a merchandise machine.

The events of In the Shadow of Yavin take place immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star, as we see the aftermath of that incident in the eyes of both the Rebellion as well as the Imperials. Wood makes some really interesting, and very welcome, choices with the story. Firstly, he wisely chooses to pretty much ignore more than two decades of “expanded universe” (EU) continuity for this comic. This collection is the perfect entry point for fans of the films who haven’t kept up with the myriad assortment of novels, comics, and video games that have built the EU, or who may not have even heard of it before. While nothing in this story necessarily contradicts any of the Star Wars tales that Dark Horse and other have told in the past, it doesn’t reference them at all. As someone who stopped reading Star Wars novels and comics in the late 1990s, I appreciated that.

Secondly, for this first story arc at least, Wood chooses Leia as his main character. It’s a bold choice for this franchise, as of course the primary expectation would be that the story would focus on Luke and his burgeoning force powers, and as a hero of the Rebellion for his role in destroying the Death Star. Instead, we are treated to a powerful female character, and Wood does excellent work to show Leia as more than just “the woman in the gold bikini” but rather as a strong leader, a clever tactician, a skillful politician, a guilt-ridden survivor, and a totally kick-ass fighter. Using Leia as the main character is inspired and Wood handles her characterization really well – we get to see her as the leader we know she is, which is never fully developed in the movies.

We also get some great insight into the inner workings of the Empire as well, particularly involving

Vader gets a pep-talk.

Vader gets a pep-talk.

Darth Vader and his demotion in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star. There are some really great scenes of Imperial politics, especially in regard to how the Emperor feels about Vader given what the Rebellion was able to pull off.

Story-wise, the pacing is spot on. Wood does excellent work navigating the complex web of the movies and still making the story suspenseful – of course we’ve seen the movies and know which characters survive, and what their… um, relationships end up being to one another. But reading through this first story arc, there’s still a heightened sense of uncertainty and anticipation. We’re treated to action scenes, both in space and on the ground, character development scenes, mystery, intrigue, politics… the only thing that’s really missing here from a Star Wars standpoint is more exploration of the Force, but that’s actually very understandable given when this story takes place. The subject isn’t ignored entirely, it just looks like it’s going to be a slower build. As a fan of the franchise, I actually prefer it that way. It’s nice to read a Star Wars story where Jedi aren’t popping out of the woodwork with multi-colored light sabers all over the place.

On art duties, D’Anda acquits himself superbly. The Star Wars universe is a vast one requiring a variety of settings from cities to jungles to ship interiors to outer space, and D’Anda handles it all. His space craft work is absolutely top-notch – X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, the Millennium Falcon, and more as all faithfully represented and look great during fight scenes. Other really great panels involve some scenes on Coruscant, the Imperial Capital, where Han and Chewbacca find themselves in a drinking establishment full of a variety of creatures, not unlike the Cantina scene in A New Hope. The diversity of creatures represented is pretty staggering and they’re all rendered in a fun, engaging way. My only very minor quibble is that the Stormtrooper helmets just look a little bit off. As I said, it’s a minor quibble and it doesn’t take away from the otherwise excellent work.

Also included in this collection is a short story entitled The Assassination of Lord Vader, from Free Comic Book Day 2013, also by Brian Wood, with Ryan Odagawa on art. This particular tale takes place shortly before the events of “A New Hope,” and also involves fan favorite character Boba Fett in a minor role. The story itself is fine; there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it comes at the end of the In the Shadow of Yavin story and just leaves you wanting more of that storyline rather than this little one-off.

I highly recommend Star Wars Volume I: In the Shadow of Yavin to Star Wars fans of all ages. This is the kind of writing, story, and characterization that Disney should be looking at when working on the new movies.

This trade paperback will be available on Wednesday, September 18th.

Review copy provided by Dark Horse Comics.

Martin Thomas
@comicattack.net

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