A Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War Review – Size Still Matters Not

TITLE: Star Wars, Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca, Emilio Laiso. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
COLLECTS: Star Wars #2630Star Wars Annual #2
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: July 5, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve referred to the “Journal of Old Ben Kenobi” issues of Star Wars the highlight of the series thus far. I stand by that statement in terms of the one-off tales we got in issues #7, #15, and #20. But they went a little too far here. A five-issue story from the journal? Which features Yoda instead of Obi-Wan? I can understand the temptation to try it. But no. This falls in the “too much of a good thing” category.

As Luke Skywalker ponders a current predicament involving C-3PO being captured by the Empire, he opens Ben Kenobi’s journal and begins reading. Ben weaves a tale of a Jedi being called to a remote planet not on any star maps. A world inhabited only by children, who speak of a mysterious “stonepower.” Little does Luke know that the Jedi unraveling the mystery of this planet is Yoda, the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order who will soon continue his training in the ways of the Force.

Our artist for the main story is Salvador Larroca, whose work I’ve talked about in great detail previously. Long story short: His art is largely based on stills from the Star Wars movies, and it’s incredibly distracting. You want to be into the story, but the art keeps reminding you of scenes from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, etc. It works for characters like Darth Vader or C-3PO, whose faces never change. But for just about everyone else it’s a problem. It’s a shame, because otherwise this is pretty good stuff. Edgar Delgado’s colors really capture the magic and wonder of the Star Wars Universe, especially once Yoda is sent on a question inside a mountain. And we get a big monster toward the end that’s are a lot of fun.

To his credit, Jason Aaron gets Yoda right. He’s not afraid to play with Yoda’s ironic size/power ratio. In issue #26, we see him walk into the lair of a bunch of space pirates to save a Force-sensitive child. As one might expect, they initially laugh him off. But he dispatches them, and gets a pretty good line in: “Something more precious than wealth have I brought you. … Wisdom.”

During our story, Yoda becomes the student of a boy named Garro, who teaches him about the stonepower. Seeing our little green friend as an apprentice instead of a master is always a fun role reversal. Star Wars fans obviously know that he instructs very young Jedi at the temple on Coruscant. So the fact that he’s on a planet full of child warriors is a great little twist. We get some cool visuals of Yoda and Garro with the glowing stones, and the blue light reflecting across the Jedi Master’s alien skin.

But despite what Yoda’s Secret War has going for it, it’s simply too long. They could have trimmed at least one issue off of this and been absolutely fine. In issue #29, we see Yoda face a rock monster that’s as tall as a building. That’s a great match-up, and a perfect illustration of the grand yet unassuming power this little guy possesses. In terms of a grand finale for a Yoda story, it’s tough to ask for more than that. But as we move through issue #29 and into #30, we jump back to present day and see Luke mix it up with an adult Garro. Thus, a story that was already starting to feel it’s length officially overstays its welcome. I understand the impulse to connect the story to Luke. But the reader already knows Yoda eventually trains him. It’s needless filler.

We also have to endure the narrative convenience that, in telling this story, Ben Kenobi never identifies Yoda by name. This is a continuity hoop Aaron has to jump through so Luke doesn’t recognize Yoda’s name in The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciate the attention to continuity, it’s just a little too convenient for my taste. Logically, why wouldn’t Obi-Wan use Yoda’s name?

We also get the obligatory scene at the end with Yoda on Dagobah, talking about how Luke will be ready soon. Again, needless filler.

Also contained in this book is Star Wars Annual #2, in which our creative team shifts to Kelly Thompson and Emilio Laiso. We meet a character named Pash Lavane on the planet of Skorii-Lei, which has been devastated by the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. While she’s an immensely talented former engineer, with the physique of an Amazon to boot, Pash opts to stay out of the conflict. But when she rescues Princess Leia from a stormtrooper attack, she’s irrevocably drawn in. She may have no choice but to pick a side.

I appreciate the story Thompson tells about how one can’t always stay neutral when it comes to what’s happening in their world at large. But what I came away thinking about was the Pash character herself. The juxtaposition of a big, muscled up character who’s also technically savvy is intriguing. Pash is almost the She-Hulk of the Star Wars universe. Laiso strikes a lovely balance, as he makes her both facially expressive and imposing in stature. Between Doctor Aphra and Sana Solo, Marvel hasn’t been shy about creating new strong female characters. Pash makes that list as well, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen her since this issue.

I’ve drifted in and out of Marvel’s main Star Wars series since its debut. As big a Star Wars geek as I’ve always been, this title has had trouble holding my attention. Sadly, Yoda’s Secret War is my latest exit cue. Hopefully I get a reason to return sooner rather than later.

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A Star Wars #20 Review – You’ve Upset the Wookie!

Star Wars #20, coverTITLE: Star Wars #20
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Mike Mayhew
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jason Aaron really came across something cool with these “Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” issues. It’s a great breather from the events of the ongoing series, and Obi-Wan’s time in exile hasn’t necessarily gotten the attention it deserves from storytellers. Having Mike Mayhew take a crack at it is, more often than not, a joy.

A short time after we last saw this younger Ben Kenobi and an even younger Luke Skywalker, the bounty hunter Black Krrsantan has returned to Tatooine to collect the price on Kenobi’s head. When Owen Lars gets caught in the crosshairs, Ben finds himself in a fight for both their lives.

I criticized Mayhew for getting a little too cartoony in Star Wars #15. I’m happy to say he’s scaled that back here. That’s not to say our characters aren’t expressive. But at no point during this issue did I roll my eyes. For obvious reasons, that’s important. And it makes this issue an improvement over its predecessor.

Star Wars #20, 2016, Mike Mayhew, LukeMayhew’s rendering of a young Luke has been the highlight of his two issues. That youthful exuberance radiates off the page. It instills you with the sense that this kid is important and we need to protect him at all costs. Because, of course, that’s really what Obi-Wan is fighting this wookie for. Yes, he wants to save Owen. But in the end, he can’t this monster find his way to Luke. That’s almost said outright during the fight. But it doesn’t need to be.

This version of Obi-Wan is interesting to look at. Not only have we never seen the character look quite this way before, but Mayhew’s photorealism makes it look like he’s being played by a new actor. An actor who not gives a fairly versatile performance, but (as I’ve said before) conveys both the charm of Ewan McGregor and the wisdom of Alec Guinness. That’s a lofty task for a comic book. But Mayhew pulls it off.

In reading these journal issues, I’ve found myself wondering just how old Obi-Wan is at this point. In this issue he talks about age wearing him down. But his age has always been somewhat ambiguous, hasn’t it? Wookiepedia indicates he was born 57 years before A New Hope. Luke looks to be 7 or 8 years old here….which would put this issue about 11 years before A New Hope…which would make Obi-Wan about…46? I’ll buy that.

Obi-Wan, Star Wars #20, Mike MayhewI’m not sure how many issues Jason Aaron has left in him. But if for some reason he were to leave Star Wars tomorrow, Marvel might consider keeping him around to do an Obi-Wan miniseries, ideally with Mayhew. These flashback issues have been the highlight of the series thus far.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars #15 Review – The Next Chapter

Star Wars #15, 2016TITLE: Star Wars #15
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Mike Mayhew
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 20, 2015

***For the last chapter in Obi-Wan’s Journal, check out Star Wars #7.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mike Mayhew drawing actual characters in the Star Wars universe? Yes please!

Star Wars #15 brings us a new chapter in the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. A year has passed since the events of Star Wars #7, and the former Jedi Master continues to look after young Luke Skywalker from afar. When Luke is in a minor flying accident, and his Uncle Owen grounds him (literally), Obi-Wan goes to great lengths to get Luke back in the air. Meanwhile, Jabba the Hutt continues to search for the one who foiled his plans during the drought. Obi-Wan may not stay hidden for long.

Star Wars fans may remember Mike Mayhew as the artist on The Star Wars, the comic book adaptation of one of George Lucas’ early drafts in the ’70s. Mayhew’s photorealistic style is beautiful. He made the characters, who were ultimately never meant to be seen, come to life as if we were somehow watching an alternate version of the original movie. The only major flaw I find in his work is that his characters can go over the top with their expressions, and venture into cartoony territory. We get some of that here. But it almost doesn’t matter, considering how gorgeous things are.

Star Wars #16 (2016), Mike Mayhew, Young Luke SkywalkerFor instance, there’s a panel on page 5 that shows us Luke in the cockpit of his family’s T-16 Skyhopper. The sheer joy on his face, along with the superficial similarities to Mark Hamill in A New Hope, are enough to make you buy this kid as a young Luke Skywalker. As such, you’re immediately draw into the issue. I can’t understate how important this one panel is to the integrity of the entire story. You’re invested in him instantly. And as a bonus, we get a shot of a young Biggs Darklighter.

But just two pages later, things get cartoony in a shot of Owen getting angry with his nephew, and Luke crossing his arms in defiance. It’s an interesting trade off, but the upside makes it worthwhile.

Mayhew’s Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn’t look like Ewan McGregor or Alec Guinness, but still manages to evoke the charm of the former, and the wisdom of the latter. As such, he’s believable. As was the case last time, we only get one lightsaber shot, and it’s used toward the end. This is appreciated, not just because of creators relying too heavily on the lightsaber, but because this issue presents an ample opportunity to utilize it. At about the halfway point, we get a gorgeous two-page spread depicting a fight between Obi-Wan and a bunch of Tusken Raiders. If ever there was a good excuse to whip out the lightsaber, this is it. Instead, our creators show restraint, and show us Obi-Wan doesn’t need the lightsaber to be a formidable opponent. I wish we saw this kind of thing more often. It beats the hell out of the lightsaber frenzy we saw in issue #12.

Star Wars #16, Mike Mayhew, Obi-Wan KenobiI’ve had my share of bones to pick with Jason Aaron’s choices in this series. But these Obi-Wan journal issues have been fantastic. There’s so much potential for great storytelling here. Aaron uses this issue to give us a firsthand look at the dynamic between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars. It’s a fine supplement to A New Hope, and is consistent with what we saw from both characters in the film.

As evidenced by how we close this issue, this won’t be the last time we open the journal. As for Mike Mayhew, here’s hoping he comes back to Star Wars again in the near future. He’s got an entire galaxy left to explore.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars #7 Review – How to Un-Train Your Jedi

Star Wars #7 cover, John CassadayTITLE: Star Wars #7
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Simone Bianchi. Cover by John Cassaday.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: July 29, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This issue covers some really interesting ground that Star Wars media rarely touches: Obi-Wan Kenobi’s exile on Tatooine, and the agony he faces when he’s forced to stop being a hero.

Set a few years after Revenge of the Sith, this issue sees Mos Eisley in the midst of the “Great Drought.” Thugs working for Jabba the Hutt are ravaging the city stealing precious water from moisture farmers. And Obi-Wan Kenobi, once a great Jedi Knight, is forced to stand by and do nothing, for fear of exposing his identity. In Kenobi’s own words: “As hard as it was to become a Jedi…it was even harder to stop being one.”

Star Wars #7, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Simone BianchiThe contrast between how Simone Bianchi and John Cassaday draw Obi-Wan at this stage in his life is worth noting. On the cover, Cassaday goes the Alec Guinness route. The character doesn’t look like Guiness did in his pre-Star Wars career, but the art is clearly an attempt by Cassaday to de-age Guinness’ portrayal of the Kenobi character. Odd as it may sound, it works. As a longtime Star Wars fan, it evokes memories of how i imagined Obi-Wan might look in the prequels.

Bianchi, on the other hand, has a more neutral take. It doesn’t necessarily evoke Guinness or Ewan McGregor. But what it does evoke is great emotion. Bianchi makes great use of both shadow and expression to show us the character’s agony and loneliness, particularly on pages like the one above. There’s also fantastic panel with Obi-Wan simply sitting in the darkness of his hut, all alone. There’s a single text box that reads: “Ben the relic.”

From a writing perspective, my biggest complaint deals with a piece of Obi-Wan’s inner monologue early in the issue. It goes: “By the time of the great drought it had been years since I touched a lightsaber.” I don’t like that line. The overemphasis on lightsabers, as established in the prequels, has always bothered me. The idea that Obi-Wan references the lightsaber so readily when refering to his days as a Jedi harkens back to that, in my opinion. Thankfully, Aaron actually cancels out this problem by having Obi-Wan not actually use a lightsaber until the end of the book. This may be his best issue yet.

STar Wars #7, Simone Bianchi, Ben KenobiWhile the notion of Obi-Wan having a diary does have a bit of a hole in it, it’s a cool concept for a one-off every now and again. The “Ben Kenobi” era lasted about 18 years, and it’s very fertile ground for storytelling. Hopefully Aaron has at least a few ideas for future journal stories. Though with the recent revelation of Sana Solo, I doubt we’ll see another one for at least six months.

Image 1 from fanboysinc.com.  Image 2 from comicvine.com.

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