ORBITAL READING LISTS: STAR WARS (THE NEW CANON)

Star Wars New header

With The Last Jedi only a few short months away, we thought we’d drop our guide to the new Marvel Canon. To their credit, Marvel and Disney have done a great job of streamlining the canon, placing the comics within pattern of the movies. And to make it easier for you, we’ve included the movies as part of our guide. Let’s go back…

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STAR WARS – EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

George Lucas (d, w)

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Yeah, OK, no-one really wants to watch it again… Sure you’ll get it off the shelf every few years to ‘reappraise’ it, but ultimately it’s only going to be a disappointment. It’s a shame, because it’s a story that probably did need telling, just not in this manner. Certainly there are good things about the film, most notably Darth Maul and er, well… that’s it really. It’s full of machinations and plot-lines that are too advanced for the 8 year-olds it was aimed at and too simple for the adults that grew up with the original trilogy. But it does set us up nicely for some of the things on the reading list and with the ‘Darth Maul’ prequel mini-series coming next year from Marvel, maybe it is time to reappraise it after all!

OBI-WAN & ANAKIN

Charles Soule (w), Marco Checchetto (a)

anakin-obi-wan

This 5-issue mini-series features a pre-AOT Anakin, struggling with the ways of the Jedi as his master Obi-Wan struggles with the responsibilities of a Padawan learner he never wanted. When they find themselves mediating between two opposing sides on a primitive planet as war breaks out, their teacher-student relationship is pushed to the limits. Really, it does just re-enforce what we already know: the relationship between this particular master and student was never a bed of roses. But it does it well. Tightly written by Charles Soule with luminous art by Marco Checchetto, It’s a perfect lead-in to…

STAR WARS – EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES

George Lucas (d), Lucas & Johnathan Hales (w)

star-wars-attack-clones

A decade after TPM, Anakin’s slow shift to the dark side begins and the the Clone Wars are brewing… With so many plot-lines kicking off in this film, it really should have been Episode I. It also should have been a riskier, more in-depth movie. However the relationship between Padme and Anakin is mishandled again by Lucas, with an almost 50’s style melodrama being the order of the day. Decent action sequences and visual effects add to the films few qualities, but it could have been so much more.

It’s mostly Lucas’ decision to opt for that ‘film-making from another era’ style that punctures any hope this film has of staying afloat. It’s a shame because there is meat there if you look. There are ideas, which often will save a bad movie (and indeed, a bad comic) from being really mediocre. But if you have to work this hard for it… Again it’s a story that needed to be told, but it needed to be told better than this!

KANAN – THE LAST PADAWAN VOLS. 1 & 2

Greg Weisman (w), Peppe Larraz (a)

kanan

Chronicling the story of Kanan, the only Jedi apart from Obi-Wan to survive ‘Order 66’, (the Emperor’s action to murder the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith), this functions as both a bridge between Episode III and the Rebels TV show. like the other SW titles, it doesn’t skimp on action and gives you more depth and character development than either the show or the movies can. Such is the advantage of comics over movies and to a certain extent, Television.

The book is an interesting parallel to Anakin’s journey: Kanan too is a Padawan, destined for great things. Volume one of this terrific series tells the tale of Kanan (here living under his real name of Caleb Dume) and his master, Depa Billaba as they battle General Grievous, who of course pops up in…

STAR WARS – EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH

George Lucas (d, w)

revenge-of-the-sith

Probably the most re-watchable of the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith completes Anakin’s transition from great ‘Chosen’ hope of the Jedi to the ruthless Darth Vader. Admittedly, this picks up the pace a lot after the first two prequels. The action begins immediately after the front-crawl and is pretty successful in illustrating Anakin’s slide into evil. Some may find it a little too dark, but at least it gave the prequel trilogy some teeth, something it really needed after AOTC.

Visually, the film triumphs. Dramatically… not so much. Its sad that this of all things could maybe be an entire generations defining idea of the SW universe. If you don’t think that’s a bad thing, just think what it would be like if the world’s idea of comic-books was based entirely on a viewing of The Watchmen movie…

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Gareth Edwards (d), Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy (w)

jyn-erso

The first in the new anthology series from Disney, this is a thrilling war movie, akin to a great WWII spy thriller, mixed with Black Hawk Down and A New Hope. This is a different type of SW movie, shot in a raw style, bringing home the fact the even the ‘heroes’ have to be as ruthless as their enemy.

Rogue One (if you haven’t seen it yet) follows Jyn Erso, a young woman abandoned by her father in order to protect her from his associations with The Galactic Empire. Jyn, now living as a criminal on the outskirts of The Empire’s reach, gets kidnapped by The Rebellion. Why do they want her? Well it just so happens that her father is the man behind a dangerous new weapon that could spell disaster for The Rebellion…

Obviously there are interesting parallels between Luke, Leia and Jyn, especially since by the end of the movie, you come to realise that they all would have been the same age, all separated from their true parents, all connected to the machinations of The Empire.  This is a brutal, exciting SW movie that will become richer with multiple viewings.

STAR WARS – EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE

George Lucas (d, w) 

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What do you mean you’ve never seen it?! Easily one of the greatest fantasy movies of all time (it isn’t about how we live in the future so I have trouble calling it sci-fi) this had everything you always didn’t know you wanted in a movie: Robots, creatures, knights, cowboys… using just about every myth in every culture and gelling them into a cohesive whole was no mean feat, but this marked the beginning of something really special at time when America really needed an uplifting story. Arguably the most important pop-culture moment of the 70’s. If you don’t know the plot… well just go put the DVD in now!

PRINCESS LEIA

Mark Waid (w), Terry Dodson (a)

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This is great. After being one of the driving forces of the Battle of Yavin, Leia finds herself being relegated to being a figurehead and a propaganda princess, rather than a leader and fighter. When Leia  the Empire is rounding up survivors of Alderaan, she does what comes naturally… She steals a ship and heads out to get the survivors before the Empire can! This maintains a sense of comedic timing, as well as chronicling Leia’s growing sense of responsibility. You can see this is a significant step in charting Leia’s rise from ‘Princess’ to ‘General’.

Obviously, it’s great that we have female-led SW book. Leia was never a winsome damsel in distress. Given time, I doubt she would have needed the farm-boy or the cowboy to rescue her from The Death Star in ANH. This books shows you why.

CHEWBACCA

Gerry Duggan (w), Phil Noto (a) 

chewbacca-comic

What a Wookie! This 5 issue mini-series is a delight. Pitching that the Death Star was in fact destroyed by Chewbacca (with a little help from Luke, Han and Leia!), this finds Chewie out on his own when he crash-lands his ship on an imperial-controlled planet. There he finds himself embroiled in a much smaller, but no less important rebellion… One that has him playing bodyguard to a teenager who desperately needs his help. As with the Princess Leia mini, this has a great sense of joy whilst maintaining the action and excitement the Star Wars series is known for. Arguably one of the best books on this list!

LANDO

Charles Soule (w), Alex Maleev (a)

lando

A terrific showcase for  everyone’s favourite ex-owner of the Millenium Falcon. Set before TESB, this mini-series has Lando tasked with stealing a ship and it’s contents, only to run into serious problems when he discovers who really owns the ship he’s just stolen. This has a much darker undertone, befitting the criminal underworld that Lando is part of. What’s important about all these mini-series is that they give the characters they spotlight a greater depth, making you see them in new colours, or just reinforcing what you already knew and liked about them. Even Lobot gets a look-in here!

STAR WARS – HAN SOLO

Marjorie Liu (w), Max Brooks (a)

Han Solo

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Set before TESB and therefore pre-dating a lot of the new SW canon, this finds Han Solo going back to what he does best: Shooting his mouth off and smuggling contraband across the galaxy! But of course one of the heroes of The Battle Of Yavin can’t stay incognito for long and he’s soon being drafted back into the rebellion. But this time, he’ll be taking part in a famed race across the universe, tougher even than the famed Kessel Run!

Keeping in line with the fun adventure set out in the other titles, this manages to find Solo’s voice and attitude. As with all the SW books, it feels like it could be a lost movie, something Lucas pitched but just never got around to. Written by Monstress creator Majorie Liu, this was a hit with fans and deservedly so!

STAR WARS – VOL.1: SKYWALKER STRIKES

Jason Aaron (w), John Cassady (a)

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Following hot on the heels of their greatest victory thus far (spoiler: they destroy the Death Star) this finds our rag-tag heroes looking to score more wins against the Empire. Naturally, Han’s in charge so everything goes wrong, splitting the group and leading Luke on an odyssey to discover more about his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. This features great writing by Jason Aaron and exacting art by John Cassaday. This came out just ahead of The Force Awakens and gave us an idea that Disney and Marvel were willing to inject an element that had been missing from the dour prequels: Fun. The new SW books are so full of joy and that’s what helped carry the movies through, so it’s great that all the creators across the whole line are able to imbue the comics with that joy.

DARTH VADER – VOL.1: VADER

Kieron Gillen (w), Salvador Larroca (a)

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This can be read immediately after ‘Skywalker Strikes’. What’s great about this is the way it begins to sow Vader’s betrayal of the Emperor in Return Of The Jedi, giving more texture to biggest bad-ass in the galaxy. This has all the action and excitement you’d expect from the amazing team of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca. It’s nice to get a sense that these characters have a life beyond the movies… That they too might have unrealised ambitions and hopes, even if their ambitions are horrible. The inner life of the characters makes the outer action work.

STAR WARS – VOL. 2: SHOWDOWN ON SMUGGLER’S MOON

Jason Aaron (w), Stuart Immonen (a)

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The continuing adventures of the core SW team make for great reading, with Luke broken off from the group (as he seems to often be) on a quest to discover more about the Jedi and his own history. Meanwhile Han and Leia’s love-hate relationship threatens to tip too far one way… the wrong way! Aaron continues to write the characters the way they’re meant to be written and Stuart Immonen takes over art chores, proving more than up to the task of following Cassaday. Reading this does serve to remind you what great movies these would have made if only there hadn’t been such a long break in the creation of the movies.

VADER DOWN

Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron (w), Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato (a)

vader-down

It’s a shame this wasn’t made as one of the movies back in 1981 or ’82. The pitch is perfect. Darth Vader crashes near the site of one of the rebel bases. Everyone scrambles to capture or kill Vader, but he has other plans. This acts best as kind of a Volume 2.5 of the Star Wars / Darth Vader trades and is a great exploration of the power of ideas and actualisation… Vader’s fearsome reputation gives him the power to back that reputation up to the hilt. Action-packed comics from the joint teams of both series.

DARTH VADER VOL. 3 & STAR WARS VOL. 3

Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen (w), Salvador Larroca, Angel Unzueta,

Leinil Yu, Mike Mayhew (a)

star-wars-vol-3

The two series are now entwined nicely and you can alternate between them. Again, you can’t help but want them to time travel back to the 80’s and make these as movies, but you’ll just have to settle for the stories this way! Great reading that informs and expands the universe it’s set in as all good licensed titles should do. This includes the first SW Annual from the new canon and five issues from the main SW series, including a one-shot issue exploring some Ben Kenobi’s wilderness years in the Tatooine desert.

DARTH VADER VOL. 4

Keiron Gillen (w), Salvador Larroca (a)

vader-vol-4

Vader’s quest to uncover more about the son he never knew he had comes to an end. Basically, this entire arc has been a test for Vader’s loyalty to his master. Will the Emperor discover his quest and make him suffer for? Will Vader manage to stay loyal to his master while furthering his own agenda? Read this conclusion to Gillen and Larroca’s superior run and find out!

STAR WARS – EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Irvin Kershner (d), Lawrence Kadsan, Leigh Brackett (w)

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The Star Wars film by which all others are judged, this shouldn’t have worked but it did. Two beautiful hours of the rebels getting their butts kicked should be a major downer, but the performances and script make it arguably one of the most entertaining sequels of all time. Plus there’s that devastating twist…

it’s amazing how many other sequels followed this film’s template of hammering the heroes and making proceedings as dark as possible. And if you’re wondering how far it’s influences stretch, just look at The Force Awakens and see how separated the characters are throughout the film (just like here).  Amazing film-making that to this day has barely been equalled in genre movie-making, never mind bettered!

STAR WARS – EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI

Richard Marquand (d), Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas (w)

rotj-battle

After the bleakness of Empire, Jedi brought back a lot of the humour and lightness that was present in the first movie. It’s easy to dismiss it as Star Wars with muppets, but until Rogue One came along, this was the only SW movie to actually remind you that the Rebels were actually fighting a war and that war would have considerable casualties. It also features one o the best effect sequences of all time (personal opinion) with the Death Star battle that climaxes the film.

The movie manages to bring back a lot of the humour that was absent from TESB, but it doesn’t harm the film.  We can see the main characters finally grown into themselves and accepting of who they are.  A fitting end to the middle trilogy.

SHATTERED EMPIRE: JOURNEY TO THE FORCE AWAKENS

Greg Rucka (w), Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, Emilio Laiso (a)

shattered-empire

This four-part mini-series picks up he threads immediately after the rebellion’s decisive victory in ROTJ. Planting the seeds (literally!) for the Force Awakens, it introduces us to the Dameron family and shows how instrumental they were in days immediately after the ‘final’ battle . It’s a different take on the SW universe, showing that the enemy won’t just roll over and give up because you think you’ve won the war.  But neither, of course, does the winning side…

POE DAMERON VOL.1 – BLACK SQUADRON

Charles Soule,  Chris Elipoulos (w), Elipoulos & Phil Noto (a)

poe-dameron

Another pre-Force Awakens series, this concentrates on Poe Dameron as an adult, showing how ‘the best pilot in the resistance’ got that reputation. Starting out as Republic pilot, Dameron becomes a fighter, searching for sites of historical importance to the Force… This entertaining, action-orientated stuff using the ‘spy-during-wartime’ sub-genre as a backbone for some classic SW adventures!

STAR WARS – EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

J.J. Abrams (d), Abrams, Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kadsan (w)

star-wars-the-force-awakens

So we come to the end of our reading list with one of my personal favourite movies of recent years. We had very right to believe this wouldn’t work but luckily it did. Yes, there are criticisms… it is remix of Episode IV’s beats, but it needed to strike familiar notes to resonate with old fans whilst being exciting enough to attract new legions of followers.

It’s with this film that SW finally became a more diverse universe, peopled by characters who represented us, with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega proving to be likeable, realistic leads. Forget any complaints about a female led-movie and what a problem that is(!)… This is exactly what the saga needed. Personally I can’t wait to see more of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Episodes VIII & IX.

 

If you haven’t heard it already, have a listen to our podcast on Rogue One and check out Liz’s solo review. Finally you can hear Shade The Changing Girl author Cecil Castelluci’s own experiences with the SW universe here!

Paul.

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