In January 2015, Marvel released a new Star Wars line of comics, beginning with “Star Wars, Issue 1”. Fans were divided in their reception, as the hyper-realistic art proved a distraction for some. For instance, the 2015 Marvel comics portray not just Han Solo, but Harrison Ford as Han Solo, rendered in comic form by John Cassaday, of Astonishing X-Men fame. It was a lot to get around for some, but those who stuck with the premise had something to learn about some of Star Wars’ most important characters.
The Marvel Star Wars series began as straight-up fan service, in anticipation of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens release, and the project suffered. Rather than navigate how comic books as a medium could complement the Star Wars universe organically, the series seemed to begin simply as a way of creating more memorabilia for collectors. Got all the LEGOs? Alright, here, we’ll throw some comics at you too!
Things changed when Marvel split two of its most interesting characters, Vader and his daughter Leia, off into their own releases. Darth Vader’s first solo series was released in February, Princess Leia’s first issue was released in March, and Vader Down, Marvel’s first Star Wars crossover series, appeared in November. Giving unique voices, and new interactions and objectives, to two of its characters, rather than focusing on the entire crew, gave Marvel a better foothold in the Star Wars universe. Princess Leia became a strong, albeit short, arc with its own complexities, and it bolstered the central comics’ plot.
Princess Leia follows Leia’s attempts to adjust to a life without a home-world, after the destruction of Alderaan. The comics take place between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, addressing the issue many fans had with Leia’s emotional development in the films: namely, not mourning the loss of her home planet at all.
Since Leia’s role in the films is often as a foil, and romantic interest, for Han Solo, removing him from the equation for Leia’s solo mission is an interesting choice. In the first issue, Marvel introduces Evaan, a female bodyguard who spars verbally with the Princess. The series closed without giving Evaan enough room to develop, but the five issue run enacted a female-driven storyline that passed the Bechdel test, a rare event in the Star Wars universe, in which most women are mothers or romantic interests.
Marvel’s other solo run, Darth Vader, gives fans insight into the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance, notably from the point of view of the Empire. Even more fascinating, Vader’s solo run opens on him feeling low, having lost in A New Hope and now serving under Grand General Tagge. Where George Lucas failed in giving us a young, whiny proto-Vader in Hayden Christensen, Marvel has succeeded in making its Vader deceitful and cunning rather than immediately violent. This is the Vader-behind-closed-doors that fans actually wanted. The comic also introduces the type of shadowy characters Vader would most likely need to collaborate with, including an outer-space version of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Thanoth.
Ultimately, Marvel’s comics have been quietly delivering some of the most interesting psychological looks at Star Wars icons, all while most of us have been waiting for any new developments on The Force Awakens. For anyone interested in the psychological patterns of Darth Vader, or in seeing Leia team up with someone who doesn’t want to forcibly kiss her, the comics are a great place to start.