Star Wars has always nurtured a diverse pantheon of comics. Since Disney acquired the franchise in late 2012, Star Wars comics became the focus of one of the many (inevitable) shakeups. Fans were forced to say goodbye to Dark Horse Comics — which had held the license to publish Star Wars comics for over two decades — in favor of the Disney-owned Marvel Comics. (Seriously, what does Disney not own nowadays?)
Marvel was actually the first company to release Star Wars comics, publishing the franchise’s flagship monthly series from 1977 to 1986. When it regained the license in 2015, Marvel revamped the franchise’s comics programming, releasing a regular slate of four series, all set within the post-EU canon. It’s been over a year into the new era of Star Wars comics, so let’s take a look back at how Marvel has done so far.
The Big Names
Longtime fans know that within the now-defunct Expanded Universe, the time period between Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was saturated with stories. From 1977 to 1986, Marvel’s original Star Wars series populated that era, while Dark Horse later added two of its own series to the mix: Empire and Rebellion. A third Dark Horse series — written by Brian Wood and, once again, simply called Star Wars — attempted to overwrite much of that earlier material.
The new era of Star Wars comics has become just as saturated, with Marvel focusing on two monthly series: Star Wars and Darth Vader. Perhaps taking inspiration from Dark Horse’s two-series approach with Empire and Rebellion, the new Star Wars series centers on the Rebel Alliance, whereas Darth Vader focuses on the titular Sith Lord and his role in the Galactic Empire. In the wake of the Battle of Yavin, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo are looking to expand the rebels’ power base, while Vader must account for his failure to prevent the destruction of the Death Star.
Both Star Wars and Darth Vader have benefitted from the fact that the prequel trilogy has already been told. The first story arcs of both series hinged on Vader’s discovery that he has a son, weaving in the tragic story of Padmé Amidala through the character of Commodex Tahn, the mortician who prepared her body for burial. The fourth issue of Darth Vader focused on the fate of Geonosis, while the second arc of Star Wars, entitled Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon, incorporated artifacts from the Jedi Order.
Nonetheless, both series are rather fond of name-dropping. The first story arc of Star Wars already has an appearance by Boba Fett, as well as a fleeting encounter between Vader and Luke. In my last article here on Fandom, I wrote about how Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous went head-to-head too many times on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, since neither of them could die during that time period. Will Luke and Vader become the next Obi-Wan and Grievous?
Still, Star Wars and Darth Vader have told stories that I never thought I’d see. One of the more outlandish moments in the former series has Chewbacca, Han, and Leia wielding lightsabers after their weapons were shorted out. There’s also a woman who claims to be Han Solo’s wife; the homicidal protocol droid 0-0-0 and astromech droid BZ-1, modeled after another famous droid duo; and a cabal of warriors led by Cylo-V who threaten to replace Vader as Darth Sidious‘s apprentice. Even though they concentrate on the big names like Luke, Leia, Han, and Vader, it’s evident that the creative teams of both series aren’t afraid to take risks.
The Third Slot
In addition to Star Wars and Darth Vader, Marvel publishes a third monthly series. The first to fill this slot was Kanan, featuring the ex-Jedi Kanan Jarrus from the Star Wars Rebels TV series as its protagonist. Kanan and the rest of the Ghost crew embark on a mission to the planet Kaller, where Kanan lost his Jedi Master, Depa Billaba, during Order 66. (You might not know that “Kanan” isn’t his real name — it’s Caleb Dume!)
Through extended flashbacks, the series reveals Kanan’s regrettably short stint as a Jedi Padawan, and also shows how he survived into the time of the Empire. Greg Weisman, one of the executive producers for the first season of Rebels, wrote the entire series, which lasted for 12 issues before ending.
It seems that Marvel is using this third slot to tell more compressed stories, at least ones with a definitive conclusion in mind. Poe Dameron, which began earlier this month, is the next series to fill this slot. The series focuses on the dashing pilot from Episode VII: The Force Awakens and shows the formation of Black Squadron, Poe’s starfighter unit within the Resistance. The story also hinges on Poe’s search for Lor San Tekka, the explorer from the opening sequence of The Force Awakens.
Since Poe obviously finds Lor San Tekka right before the events of The Force Awakens, it’s not clear how long this series will last, since its story leads into a specific moment in time. Still, it’s possible we might get hints about what Poe will be up to between The Force Awakens and Episode VIII, which is only a year and a half away.
Through its fourth and final series slot, Marvel has published five-issue miniseries that are as diverse as they are many. Princess Leia gives Leia an opportunity to respond to the Empire’s obliteration of her homeworld, Alderaan, by saving its survivors. Lando is a heist tale, focusing on Lando Calrissian prior to his leadership of Cloud City and sending him off to steal a remarkably important starship from Emperor Palpatine himself. Chewbacca has everyone’s favorite Wookiee teaming up with a young girl named Zarro to liberate her homeworld from the Empire.
All three of these miniseries are set during the time frame of the original trilogy, specifically within the three-year gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Marvel’s fourth miniseries, Obi-Wan & Anakin, was the first to break that trend, focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentorship of Anakin Skywalker three years after they meet in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Part of the series’ innovative tone stems from the fact that Anakin considers leaving the Jedi Order, a difficult decision that his future Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, will one day make during the Clone Wars.
Once Obi-Wan & Anakin concludes next month, next up will be Han Solo. Don’t worry, there are still stories to tell about the galaxy’s cockiest smuggler even though he… you know. The story will pick up after A New Hope, as Han and Chewie accept a mission from Leia to expose spies within the Rebel Alliance at a race called the Dragon Void Run. With so much variety in these miniseries, one can only guess what comes next.
Even beyond their regular programming for comics, Marvel and Lucasfilm have found opportunities to tell other stories. Marvel has released a miniseries and a one-shot comic as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens publishing program. Both are set between the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a time period that is mostly bereft of material, at least for now.
The four-issue miniseries, entitled Shattered Empire, features Poe Dameron’s parents, Shara Bey and Kes Dameron, as they contribute to the Rebel Alliance’s continuing war against the fractured Empire following the pivotal Battle of Endor. Kes is a member of Han Solo’s special forces unit known as the Pathfinders. Shara, meanwhile, is a fighter pilot in Green Squadron who accompanies both Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker on important missions. (Clearly, Poe takes after his mother.) The story is a poignant tale of how ordinary people take up arms to survive in a galaxy divided by war.
The one-shot, C-3PO: The Phantom Limb, reveals how C-3PO wound up with that red left arm in time for The Force Awakens. The comic itself was delayed an extraordinary amount of times, but it was finally released earlier this month. I won’t spoil too much, but if you want to know the full story, it’s definitely worth checking out.
With Rogue One, the first installment in the Star Wars Anthology Series, due out this December, Marvel will release a prequel miniseries, which will be comprised of three issues and a one-shot. In addition, prequel trilogy fans (I know you’re out there… somewhere!) will be happy to know that Marvel is planning to adapt all three films into comic book form, starting with The Phantom Menace next month. And of course, there’s the five-part adaptation of The Force Awakens, which will begin its release this June. Suffice it to say that fans of Star Wars comics have a lot to look forward to.