Brian Wood isn’t the obvious choice for writer of an ongoing Star Wars comic. Wood’s a great writer, and his comics have successfully played in quite a few diverse worlds, but he’s also a very grounded creator who brings a tight, character driven focus to just about any project he gets his hands on. The Star Wars universe certainly isn’t populated with forgettable characters, but that’s largely because its characters are archetypes, the chosen one, the scoundrel with a good heart, the prim and proper princess who finds unknown reserves of strength, the fallen villain who may have just a hint of the hero left in him. The Star Wars movies were and are such a phenomenon because they tap into the kinds of stories that appeal to almost everyone and are filled with characters we already have a grasp on. They’re not the most complex people, but they’re perfect fits for the operatic stories that the Star Wars films tell.
All of which is to say that I wasn’t quite sure what Brian Wood would do when he got his hands on the characters for an ongoing comic series that was set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Would he take the Star Wars universe in a brand new direction, focusing on small, out of the way conflicts we hadn’t seen in the films, double down on the pulpy heroism that the films traded on, or tell a story that dug into the nuts and bolts of the Star Wars universe, laying out what makes it tick in ways reminiscent of Wood’s political series’ DMZ and The Massive. Ultimately, the answer is that Wood tries to do most all of those things, recognizing that the Star Wars universe and its massive fiction is capable of supporting a varied, and complex, approach to the material. Wood’s Star Wars takes some getting used to, it’s very much apparent that this is a Brian Wood comic, and that means while it takes place within the Star Wars mythos it feels distinct, and subtly unlike just about any Star Wars story that’s come before. There are blaster shootouts, dogfights, and deaths by lightsaber, certainly, but there are also bits of political intrigue, narration that describes the importance of burning downed TIE Interceptors to disable their transponders, and a Darth Vader who is relieved of his prestigious command position to administrate the construction of the second Death Star. It’s still Star Wars, but it’s a version of the story that’s set on digging further into the base materials to tease out character and ground the saga in slightly more down-to-Earth mechanics.
That’s not an easy thing to do, indeed part of what makes Star Wars so compelling is that while it’s recognizable in some ways, Lucas famously referenced footage of World War II aerial combat for some of the dogfight sequences in the films, it is still ultimately foreign. That notion is right there from the opening crawl of the very first film, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Those opening words immediately set the Star Wars universe in a foreign land, it’s not our time, and it’s certainly not our home and some of the worst moments of the saga have emerged from attempts to demythologize aspects of the Star Wars Universe. It’s rote to bash the revelation of midi-chlorians as the mechanism responsible for force users’ powers, but it’s worth noting here just how fully it goes against much of what makes Star Wars great. The mystical, religious nature of the Jedi was a large part of their appeal, and cracking open that mysticism only made them less appealing, rather than deepening the complexity and lore of the Star Wars universe. It took something that was once mythological and robbed it of anything mysterious, making it mundane and easily comprehensible, exactly what’s not needed in a series of films that captivates imaginations with its universe’s seemingly endless possibilities. Luckily, Brian Wood threads this needle quite nicely, figuring out a tricky balance of fact and legend to lend his series a unique, grounded identity in the Star Wars canon while still retaining the loose, swash-buckling feel of those early Star Wars films.
The first issue gets the series off to a slightly ruminative start, the comic picks up just after the events of A New Hope, as the first few pages delve into the necessary exposition that establishes one of the key storylines the series follows, that of the Rebellion searching for a new home base. These initial pages also establish the emotional and psychological scars that have resulted from the first film, delving into Leia’s loss of her home world and Luke’s loss of just about everything and everyone he’s ever known. Before long a Star Destroyer has ambushed Luke, Leia, and Wedge Antilles, and the comic accompanies the appearance of the Star Destroyer with some narration that details further backstory, laying out how The Galactic Empire rules with an iron fist while the Rebel Alliance has scrapped together a small force intent on stopping The Empire’s reign of terror. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s well executed setup all the same. Then Wood smartly twists the narration ever so slightly. After detailing how The Death Star destroyed Alderaan and noting that Leia is the symbolic leader of the Rebellion the narration switches from a primarily expository mode to a more personal, emotional focus, detailing just what emotions Leia is feeling as a missile lock alarm begins to sound in her cockpit. In that one subtle moment Wood shifts the comic from the low-key opening to a whiz-bang action sequence as the three X-Wing pilots desperately try to outmaneuver a superior force. The sequence culminates in Leia being forced to the ground on the planet below, and in a wordless two pages the comic shows her emergency landing and close-up fight with the pilot of a downed TIE Fighter, ending in a brutal panel where Leia fires into the downed body of her defeated opponent who had likely already been killed with an initial burst of fire from her blaster. It’s well-handled action, and it’s suitably intense when taken in conjunction with the approach Wood has taken up to this point. It’s an action sequence that hammers home Leia’s emotional trauma, landing on a retaliatory strike that wouldn’t fit with a simpler, purer hero. It’s an action that wouldn’t be out of place for the Han Solo of the initial films but when it’s Princess Leia taking a life in this fashion it feels surprising and darker than one might expect.
By the end of the first issue Wood has laid out the stories that will be central to the series and ends the issue on a note that feels of a piece with his subtly unique take on the Star Wars mythos. Leia has agreed to head up a secret task force of off the book X-Wing pilots in an effort both to find a new base for the rebels and to ferret out a security leak and her first recruit is to be Luke Skywalker. She appears at his door, stern, ready to go to work, and dressed in an almost entirely black flight suit. The Star Wars films tend to play up these sorts of stark black and white color schemes, favoring dark colors, blacks and grays, for the evil characters and lighter whites for the heroes. It’s not a coloring scheme that holds entirely, stormtroopers are obviously almost entirely white with just a few black accents, but Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are almost entirely cloaked in black while both Luke and Leia are introduced in almost entirely white outfits. This image, coupled with a defiant narration/teaser panel that states, “Good guys wear black!” is a strong finish to the issue, declaring that Wood intends to get a little murkier than a reader might be used to from a Star Wars story.
While Brian Wood may not have initially seemed tailor made to write a Star Wars book, he’s readily shown that he’s up to the task. Really, it shouldn’t have come as a shock, Wood has a distinctive style but has always managed to adapt it to suit whatever material he’s working on. Whether it’s the vast, fantasy landscapes of his current Conan The Barbarian run, the teenage life of NYU freshman in The New York Four, the power manifesting youth of Demo, or the slice of life tales of his indie series Local, Wood approaches each series with an intelligence and care that beautifully suits the material. Wood makes the Star Wars universe uniquely his own while still playing within the world established by the stories that have come before. It’s a unique approach to this galaxy, and it’s certainly not classically styled Star Wars material, but it manages to be both operatic and small at the same time, and that’s a mixture that Brian Wood is beautifully suited to delivering.