Comics Review: Star Wars #1 (2020)

Of all the questions The Rise of Skywalker left unanswered, the question of how Maz Kanata came to possess Luke Skywalker’s blue-bladed lightsaber (which was Anakin’s before him and Rey’s after him) might bug me the most.

So Marvel Comics’ new Star Wars run had me from its first panel: a full-page flashback to the climactic moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader severs Luke’s hand and said saber moments before he reveals he is Luke’s father. (Oops—four-decade spoiler alert.)

The extreme close-up on Luke’s freshly severed hand not only confirms lightsabers do indeed cauterize wounds even while causing them but also appears to promise answers—sooner or later—about the journey Luke’s lightsaber took from Bespin to Takodona.

Commander Zahra: An Immediately Intriguing Antagonist

Mostly set minutes after the Millennium Falcon makes its getaway from Cloud City, Star Wars #1 (2020) does an outstanding job putting readers back in the thick of fast-paced adventure in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. 

Writer Charles Soule has scripted no rest for our heroes after Episode V’s tumultuous final act. When they rendezvous with the Rebel fleet, the find it under the ferocious attack of Imperial Commander Zahra.

We don’t learn too much about Zahra in this issue, but we sense she’s not an adversary to take lightly. At one point she assumes manual control of a single turbolaser on her Star Destroyer (christened Tarkin’s Will, an ominous nod to the late Grand Moff) so she can shoot an escaping X-wing out of the sky. Zahra takes obvious pleasure in taunting the Rebel pilot before pressing the trigger, even though the pilot won’t hear her. The act reveals a sadistic streak we didn’t see in the Imperial commanders who fell like dominoes during Episode V. 

In another intriguing turn, quite unlike his usual treatment of those who disappoint him, Vader grudgingly accepts Zahra’s “partial success” against the rebels. He reminds her both he and the Emperor have placed “great faith” in her, especially given her “prior failures.” Soule is setting the stage for future reveals. No doubt we’ll soon learn why Zahra hates Princess Leia—a fact to which Vader alludes before, in a sharp moment of dramatic irony, declaring Leia “irrelevant” to him. 

Zahra is an an immediately intriguing antagonist. She will no doubt prove, as one of her underlings says of her targeting abilities, “remarkable.” 

“The Only Time I Get to Relax”

This issue is also noteworthy for showing us a space battle from a new perspective: that of the Pathfinders, the Rebel Alliance’s elite ground troops, who can only stay aboard ship and wait until called upon. As the long-necked Quermian named Needle says, “We’re useless unless the ship gets boarded.”

It’s amusing to hear the Pathfinders describe Star Wars’ signature space-based conflagrations as “the only time I get to relax,” and to see them playing cards instead of watching the action out the viewport.

One of them is watching, though: Kes Dameron, father of Poe, who’s intently tracking what happens to Shara Bey, his wife and Poe’s mother. It’s a short story beat, but elegantly reminds readers that the great Galactic Civil War affects different people on different levels.

Committed to Core Characters

For all the action this issue contains, it doesn’t skimp on characterization.

The emotional focus remains on Luke struggling with the fallout from his shocking (and, it would turn out, saga-defining) encounter with Vader. Increasingly frustrated by the difficulty of operating the Falcon’s belly quad cannon with only one hand, Luke uses the Force to incapacitate an entire squad of TIE pilots at once, clearing the way for Leia (on the other cannon) and the Rebels to pick off the enemy. 

It’s a shocking moment, and Luke knows it. As he wrestles with the implications of his anger, artist Jesús Saiz deftly evokes the moment, in Gillen and Larroca’s Darth Vader #6, when Vader first learned of Luke’s identity. Like his father before him (ha!), Luke now stands before a wide spacecraft window, his Force-amplified emotional turbulence causing it to crack. (Vader’s window cracked more, but the connection is still clear.)

We also see Leia’s grief at losing the frozen-in-carbonite Han to Boba Fett, and her anger at a still trying-to-catch-up Lando Calrissian is palpable. It makes sense she and the Rebels wouldn’t wholeheartedly embrace Lando as quickly as Episode V’s final few minutes makes it seem they do, so Soule’s story should allow time for Lando’s welcome into the fold to seem more believable.

And on the issue’s most amusing page, we find C-3PO coping with a little post-traumatic stress of his own: “I lost my arms and legs! I was blown apart!” When his shipmates fix him with a withering glare, he adds, “Well, for a bit, anyway.”

The Final Verdict

Marvel’s decision to celebrate The Empire Strikes Back’s 40th anniversary with comic stories set in its immediate wake is a welcome one, and Star Wars #1 kicks things off in high gear, making that moment in the Star Wars universe seem as fresh and compelling as it did when first-generation fans were still arguing whether Darth Vader was lying. 

The Force is strong with this one! 

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