A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

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A Review of Darth Vader #24 – The End is Near

TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #24Darth Vader #24, 2016, cover, Salvador Larroca
AUTHOR: 
Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The penultimate issue of Star Wars: Darth Vader invites Salvador Larroca to do something he does too much of for my taste: Draw stills from the movies. But in his defense, if there was ever an issue to do that, it’s this one.

The cybernetics in Darth Vader’s suit have been shut down by Cylo-V. His respirator having (presumably) been deactivated, Vader’s life flashes before him. His mind takes him back to Mustafar, and questions arise. What if Obi-Wan had killed him? What would Anakin Skywalker think of Darth Vader? What if he were to simply surrender and die…?

I’m a sucker for issues where Vader reminisces and agonizes about the events of the prequels. So I couldn’t help but be sucked in when Vader imagined an alternate Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan throws the amputee Anakin into the lava, and the man in the black suit emerges. From there, we go into pure fan service as we get an Anakin vs. Vader lightsaber fight. Larrocca gives us a striking near-full page shot of Anakin, and while brief, the fight is a thrill. Particularly poignant is the moment where Skywalker yells “I hate you!” at his future self. Less poignant, however, is the moment where Vader says he’s well-versed in killing children.

Darth Vader #24, 2016, PadmeWe then go into many a Star Wars fan’s worst nightmare: A Padme scene. Kieron Gillen keeps this one pretty simple, though. Anakin’s dead wife represents the temptation of surrender. A temptation I’d have thought would be greater. That relationship longed for depth and substance. But boy did Anakin love Padme. If the implication here is that they can be together in death, you’d think he’d just give in.

But Vader’s choice here is powerful, and telling as to just how far into the darkness he’s gone. Instead of going with his wife, Vader summons his anger and hatred to will himself into a comeback. To their credit, Gillen, Larroca, and the Darth Vader team made me believe Anakin Skywalker was dead.

HIs rendering of movie stills notwithstanding, Larroca does deliver some great imagery with Vader. Early the issue, as the dark lord is motionless and vulnerable, we get a shot of Cylo with his hand on Vader’s helmet. Someone being able to lay a hand on him like that is…unsettling. It’s certainly not something we’re used to seeing. Also, In the Mustafar sequence we see Darth Vader emerge from the lava like a black phoenix. Lightsaber in hand, of course.

This story also sets the stage for a confrontation in our final issue between Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra, which is what the ending should be. I maintain this series doesn’t have to end. For obvious reasons, a Darth Vader book will always have an audience. But 25 issues is a good run, and it’ll be good to see Gillen and Larroca finish what they started.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 Review – The Lost Years

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1TITLE: Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Marco Checchetto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not necessarily surprised Marvel chose Obi-Wan & Anakin as their latest Star Wars miniseries. What’s rather curious though, is the time in which it’s set. This story comes to us just a few years after The Phantom Menace, so they’re not tapping in to any of that Clone Wars stuff. There’s a definite downside to that, but the upside might just be worth it.

When we open the issue, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (now presumably about 12) crash land on the planet Carnelian IV. Master and apprentice are responding to a distress signal requesting Jedi aid. But Carnelian IV is a world that was thought to be dead. What exactly have our heroes wandered into…?

While Obi-Wan & Anakin may not have a lot of the stuff that made The Clone Wars or portions of the prequels fun. But it does have the potential to provide. something the prequels sorely lacked: Character depth.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin, lightsaberOur opening crawl tells us that both characters have begun to “question their roles in the destiny of The Force.” We later learn that Anakin has apparently talked to Obi-Wan about leaving the Jedi Order. This subject has been touched on, both in Attack of the Clones and the Revenge of the Sith novelization. But this is the first time I’ve seen the subject brought up when Anakin is this young. It’s also the first time I’ve seen it used without any sort of connection to Anakin and Padme’s relationship. That enriches the concept, from where I’m sitting. It shows us Anakin actually has conviction, and his morality doesn’t completely revolve around Padme.

So what would prompt Anakin to abandon his Jedi training at such a young age? If what we see in this issue is any indication, it’s because he’s dissatisfied with the way the Republic and the Jedi Order function. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it also has something to do with his mother. He was obviously still thinking about her in Attack of the Clones.

Of course, it’s not an accident that they made a point to focus in on Anakin’s lightsaber (shown above). We even get a flashback to “before,” and see a scene with him practicing with other students. How and if the lightsaber will play into the story, outside of Anakin simply using it, isn’t clear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets more special attention, given the role it played in The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1, Marco ChecchettoMarco Checchetto is no stranger to Star Wars, having drawn Shattered Empire. He and colorist Andres Mossa have a knack for creating gorgeous environments, vehicles, settings you very much believe could exist in this universe. The airships in this issue would have been cool even without the big crash (shown right). We don’t often see those kind of craft in Star Wars, and will hopefully see more before the story is over.

But Checchetto can run into trouble when it comes to people. It’s not that his figure work is bad. His characters just seem a bit lifeless on the page at times. They lack a certain energy, which in turn can rob the story of energy.

The success of Obi-Wan & Anakin relies heavily on what it can tell us about the relationship between these two characters that we didn’t know before. You know what else it relies heavily on? Us not seeing Jar Jar. We’re between Episodes I and II here, people. This is Jar Jar territory. We must be cautious…

Images from author’s collection. 

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A Darth Vader #14 Review – Familiar Faces

Darth Vader #14 (2015)TITLE: Darth Vader #14
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca. Cover by Mark Brooks.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 23, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first issue of Darth Vader where Salvador Larroca’s art has disappointed me. That’s really saying something, as his art has been tremendous up to this point, and a huge factor in getting me to come back month after month.

Continuing the big Vader Down crossover, this issue finds the Dark Lord face-to-face with Princess Leia, as Rebel forces continue to hunt the stranded Sith. But they aren’t the only ones hunting. Vader’s obsession with finding Luke Skywalker has driven him to face the Rebels head on. And he’s winning.

When an artist is working on a Star Wars book, it’s stands to reason that they’ll study the movies, and perhaps even work off of stills or screen caps to depict the characters. That’s likely how Larroca has been able to get the Darth Vader mask down so well. As we see in this issue, he also draws a hell of a C-3PO. But when it comes to drawing Luke, Han, and Leia, it’s evident Larroca is working off of specific moments from the movies, and it takes you out of the book. He changes certain things to he’s not blatantly pulling things from them, but they’re similar enough that you notice. I don’t so much oppose this practice. I just wish Larroca had made it a little less obvious. I pulled some images to illustrate. This first one took me out of the issue entirely.

star-wars5-movie-screencaps.com-9439

Han Solo, Salvador Larroca, Darth Vader #14

 

 

 

 

 

star-wars5-movie-screencaps.com-1254Leia, Salvador Larroca, Darth Vader #14

 

 

 

 

I have an issue with the way Luke’s hands are positioned on Mark Brooks’ cover. Typically, when someone is holding a lightsaber, their hands are together so they can have a strong hold, but also so their wrists can have an optimal range of motion. As much of a nit pick as this may be, I don’t like how Luke’s hands are spread apart. We’re so used to seeing them together that it makes the image look awkward.

Vader Down is having its share of fun being a crossover. We’ve already seen Han Solo match wits with Doctor Aphra, which was really entertaining. This issue sees Triple-Zero cross paths with C-3PO, in a meeting that pretty much goes how you’d imagine. Our old friend Krrsantan even pops in. That gives us an amusing moment where Han thinks the bounty hunter is looking to collect Jabba the Hutt’s bounty on him. But as we know from earlier issues, he’s actually after Luke. Based on the cover for Star Wars #14 (the next installment in Vader Down), this Krrsantan’s involvement could lead to a pretty cool fight.

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Darth Vader #14, Salvador LarroaNot surprisingly, the star of the issue is Leia. When confronted by Darth Vader, a helpless and undoubtedly terrified Leia stands her moral ground. In the highlight of the issue (shown left), she tells Vader that he’ll pay for what he’s done, and that he can kill her, but not what she stands for. It’s a terrific character moment, as we’ve come to expect from Kieron Gillen. Later, we learn just how far Leia is willing to go to eliminate Darth Vader. It’s such an extreme that Luke and Han actually try to stop her, even if that means Vader survives.

Vader Down has been a fairly worthwhile crossover, with fresh character interactions, and a central story that holds it all together. Darth Vader #14 is hardly the story’s best chapter. It has artistic flaws, and Vader himself doesn’t do much. But it gave Leia an awesome character moment, and offers a bridge to what will hopefully be a strong next chapter. So while this is unquestionably one of Gillen and Larroca’s less successful outings, in the context of the Vader Down story, it’s still a worthwhile read.

For more Star Wars, check out our review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Issues images from author’s collection. Screencaps from starwarsscreencaps.com.

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A Darth Vader Annual #1 Review – The Dark Lord Doesn’t Dance

Darth Vader Annual #1 (2015)TITLE: Darth Vader Annual #1
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Leinil Yu
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: December 16, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Leinil Yu drawing Star Wars? That’s definitely worth a look. This particular issue might not be worth paying five bucks for, but it’s at leas worth a look.

Darth Vader Annual #1 deviates from the ongoing Vader Down storyline to give us a peek into the Dark Lord’s work as a political enforcer of sorts. Vader is dispatched to the volcanic planet of Shu-torun to reinforce their governments cooperation in the production of valuable ores. Little does he know he’s walking into a trap. But is it even possible to get the jump on Darth Vader?

Having Leinil Yu work on Darth Vader was a legitimate drawing factor for this issue. But surprisingly, Yu’s renderings of the titular character tend to be either misproportioned or awkward. There’s a panel where Vader is talking about the Empire “always building” where the angle of the headpiece on his mask doesn’t work. There are also several shots where Vader’s head looks too small for his body (below). It’s not a consistent thing, but it does pull you out of the issue.

Darth Vader Annual #1, Leinil Yu, 2015Despite this flaw, Yu does pretty well otherwise. I’ve always liked the sketchy manner in which he draws faces. Vader spends the issue with a young woman named Trio, and he depicts her very well.

I also find his renderings of angry old men very amusing. There’s a scene where duke demands Vader dance with his daughter at a celebration. The piss and vinegar in his face as he’s looking at Darth damn Vader is awesome. Even more awesome? When Vader levitates him 20 feet in the air and drops him. He then accents the moment with a line tailor-made for a Schwarzenegger movie: “Do any others wish to be my partner?”

Gillen remains fantastic at incorporating a very appropriate dark humor into these stories. This is embodied in Triple-Zero and BT-1. They’re perfect evil versions of C-3PO and R2-D2, to the point where I can hear Threepio’s voice when I read Triple-Zero’s dialogue. The droids tag along with Vader on this little mission to serve as a surprise of sorts to the royal family on Shu-torun. They have a lot of great little one-liners in this book. I won’t spoil them for you. But I will say my favorite involves the term “mass heart attacks!”

One might say Gillen gives us a glimpse of Anakin Skywalker in this issue. As Vader gets to know Trio, he learns about her relationship with her father, and starts to see things in her that her father doesn’t. As such, Vader offers her a little praise, including telling her that her father should appreciate her. Mind you, it doesn’t exactly end well for one of them. But that moment is still notable, considering Vader’s mindset at this point in his life.

Darth Vader Annual #1, Leinil YuThis issue does a nice job of spotlighting the key element that makes this series work: Its inverted view of the Star Wars universe. It casts Darth Vader, arguably the main villain of the entire saga, as the protagonist. Not the hero, mind you. He’s the protagonist, meaning our main character working toward accomplishing something. As such, we find ourselves rooting for Darth Vader, even though he’s often trying to do something terrible. In this story, for instance, he’s trying to impose the Empire’s will on an entire planet. And he indeed does awful things in an attempt to accomplish that goal. But we find ourselves rooting for him, even if it’s just on a subconscious level.

I’ve said something to this effect before, but it bears repeating: Darth Vader has consistently offered us the best Star Wars content Marvel has put out since they regained the license. I’m not interested in seeing anyone but Kieron Gillen write this book anytime soon. And for that matter, I missed Salvador Larroca on this issue too. They’ve got a really good thing going with this series, and I keep wanting more.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free For Your Protection

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, posterTITLE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
STARRING: Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Issaac
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 135 min
RELEASED: December 18, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, The Los Angeles Times ran article about John Williams composing the music for The Force Awakens. The famous film score composer said he felt “a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of [George] Lucas’ creation — but revivified it.”

That’s pretty much been the energy surrounding The Force Awakens as a whole. We’ve all felt it. This film represents a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. And the box office figures indicate, we’re ready to greet the day.

The plot for this movie has been delightfully shrouded in mystery from the get-go, and I see no reason to go into detail now. But here are the basics. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Near the top of their ranks is Kylo Ren, a mysterious warrior following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. But new heroes will rise, such as Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku. At her side is Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose conscious led him away from the violent First Order. This duo will fight alongside none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, heroes of the Galactic Civil War. All the while, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, searches for the one hero missing amidst the conflict: Luke Skywalker.

Rey, Finn, BB-8, Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs a life-long Star Wars fan, I can indeed confirm that The Force Awakens is good. But it’s a different kind of Star Wars movie. Not drastically so, but Star Wars die-hards may notice. Certain portions have dimmer lighting, which leads to a darker vibe. There’s also a little more blood than we’re used to seeing from Star Wars. It’s still a scarce amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable. I attribute this to the absence of George Lucas, who wasn’t there to micromanage things in his own…ehem…unique way.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m a George Lucas fan. But if The Force Awakens proves anything, it’s that Star Wars needed to get away from him. The man who wrote and directed the prequels could not have created a movie like this. This movie gives us new heroes we can invest in and care about. While it doesn’t shy away from nostalgiac winks here and there, it doesn’t need to be propped up by original trilogy elements the way the prequels did. It’s a thrill ride very much worthy of the Star Wars legacy.

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe original trilogy character we spend the most time with is Han Solo, who is as charming and witty as ever. Harrison Ford essentially gives us exactly what we wanted to see from that character. He’s not necessarily the same daring rogue. But he’s still Han Solo. We also see a good amount of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. It’s especially cathartic to see her in the role again. It’s such an iconic character, and she deserved that renewed spotlight. As for Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker…that would be a spoiler.

Most of the new characters we meet are intriguing. But for my money, none are more interesting than Kylo Ren. It’s encouraging that he’s not simply a Darth Vader clone. He’s very much his own man, with his own demons. Some may argue that makes him less threatening than Vader, or other Star Wars villains. But without saying too much, there’s a level of instability there that should make for an entertaining journey.

Captain Phasma, Star Wars: The Force AwakensA fair complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s simply the original Star Wars film done over again. The similarities are undeniable. We have our hero on a desert planet who gets a call-to-action from a droid, and is quickly swept into a galactic war against a Nazi-like organization with a base that has the power to destroy planets. Sound familiar? At one point, they even do a side-by-side comparison of Starkiller Base and the Death Star. The inside of the base is also clearly modeled after the Death Star!

Given what we’d seen from our most recent Star Wars movies, I’d argue a throwback isn’t the worst thing in the world. This movie gives people the Star Wars they want to see. Good and evil, the Rebellion and the Empire, Jedi and Sith. Some of the names have changed, but at their core, they’re the same. As a bonus, we even get to see some of the faces we fell in love with from the original trilogy.

131416_ori The Force Awakens is designed to jump-start the Star Wars franchise, getting us to remember what we loved about the originals while introducing new faces to carry the brand into the future. It accomplishes that goal, easily giving us the best installment in the series since Return of the Jedi. Lingering questions do remain, but I expect they’ll be resolved in future films. It’s fun to watch The Force Awakens, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from Star Wars in recent years, it’s that sense of fun and adventure. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and everybody else involved with this movie deserve credit for living up to the hype, and restoring something that was lost.

So rejoice Jedi, wookies, droids, and even you damn gungans! Star Wars is fun again!

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.

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