January 2016 marked the one year anniversary of Marvel’s new Star Wars line, launched in the wake of Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm and the transfer of the comic book license to Disney’s in-house comic book company. In that year, Marvel has churned out comics on a level that is somehow both restrained and filled with gusto, in that, they released a ton of Star Wars comics in that first year, but at the same time, it would have surprised nobody if they’d released a whole lot more. The quality level of those comics, in three ongoing series (Star Wars, Darth Vader and Kanan: The Last Padawan) and five limited series (Princess Leia, Lando, Shattered Empire, Chewbacca, and one issue of Obi-Wan & Anakin ) has remained remarkably consistent, maintaining a level of above average quality alongside some top notch issues and a (surprisingly) few out-and-out stinkers. Looking back over that first year, here are the ten best moments from across the line, the moments that made reading Star Wars comics this last year worthwhile.
#10 – Star Wars #3 – “The Walker has fallen.”
Not surprisingly, the very first story of Marvel’s new, canonical Star Wars comics featured Darth Vader as the central villain, bringing him face-to-face with Luke in a rare (for licensed Star Wars fiction) pre-Empire Strikes Back encounter. But the first real jaw-dropping, fist-pumping moment of the series comes in issue #3, as Darth Vader single-handedly brings down an Imperial AT-AT walker commandeered by Han Solo and Princess Leia. It’s a great bit of spectacle beautifully rendered by John Cassaday, and it not only establishes Darth Vader as a force to be reckoned with, but shows that the Star Wars comics are as capable of delivering high octane action as the movies.
#9 – Lando #1 – Lando steals the Emperor’s ship
The five issue limited series starring smooth-talking con man, thief and gambler Lando Calrissian is centered around the theft of an Imperial pleasure craft and the ensuing fallout of that theft for Lando and his crew of thieves (including future Cloud City majordomo Lobot). The series, which on the whole can be described as “Indiana Jones in space”, Lando has lots of fun moments, but none better than the first issue-ending cliffhanger, when it’s revealed that, unknown to Lando and company, they’ve just stolen the Emperor’s personal ship.
#8 – Darth Vader #10 – Dr. Aphra Visits a Mortician
One of the strengths of Darth Vader as a series is its development of a supporting cast for Darth Vader. In issue #10, Vader, having learned that Luke is the pilot who blew up the Death Star and that they share a last name, sends Dr. Aphra, Triple-Zero and BeeTee (basically, Vader’s Han Solo, Threepio and Artoo) to Naboo in order to interrogate the mortician who handled Padme’s body after her death in Revenge of the Sith, to confirm whether or not she was pregnant when she died. Shrewdly drawing on the history of the Star Wars universe, the scene also illustrates that for all of Vader’s raw emotion, he’s still capable of being cunning and analytical, determined to confirm apparent facts for himself and unwilling to trust anyone’s word on face value.
#7 – Shattered Empire #3 – “I feel…cold.”
In its first year of existence, most of Marvel’s various Star Wars series take place within the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back; Kanan: The Last Padawan, routinely flashes back to the Clone Wars, while the new Obi-Wan and Anakin series takes place between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Shattered Empire is the one series to take place after the events of the Original Trilogy, set immediately and in the months following the Battle of Endor that concludes Return of the Jedi, and isdesigned to fill in some gaps and tease The Force Awakens. Issue #3 finds Leia on a diplomatic mission to Naboo, the Emperor’s homeworld (and, unknown to Leia, the homeworld of her mother) at the same time that an Imperial ship is attacking the planet, in accordance with the Emperor’s posthumous plans. Racing to the hanger bay of the palace in order to help defend the planet, Leia suddenly feels cold (shades of Luke at the cave in The Empire Strikes Back) at the spot where Darth Maul emerged to battle Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. Not only is this an appreciated nod at the Prequels, it also illustrates just how strong in the Force Leia is, capable of sensing echoes over 35 years old.
#6 – Star Wars #10 – The Wookiee and the Protocol Droid
The second arc of Star Wars finds the cast scattered: Han & Leia are dodging Imperials and Han’s possible wife, while Luke, in the hopes of learning more about the Jedi, has been captured on the smuggler’s moon of Nar Shaddaa by a Hutt with a penchant for collecting Jedi ephemera. Thus, it falls to the unlikely pairing of Chewbacca and C-3PO to rescue Luke. Journeying to Nar Shaddaa, the pair begin searching for Luke in a hilarious sequence featuring Threepio, all refined etiquette and politeness, playing the good cop to the raging id monster of Chewbacca’s bad cop, in a sequence which highlights the ability of the comics to find new and interesting character combinations to explore.
#5 – Star Wars #6 – “I’m his wife.”
The moment when Sana stepped out from her ship and declared to a stunned Leia and a sheepish Han that she was Han’s wife was one of the new series’ first big, attention-getting moments. It drew coverage from the mainstream media and led to some fans gnashing their teeth online over what they perceived to be a shameless and damaging retcon to Han’s character. While Sana’s storyline ultimately failed to live up to the level of attention it initially garnered (and was resolved in the most obvious way possible), it did make it clear that the new comic book series wasn’t afraid to shake things up, to risk drawing the ire of fans, to do things no other Star Wars stories had done.
#4 – Chewbacca #5 – Zarro receives a medal
Almost since the credits rolled on the first showing of the first Star Wars movie, fans have pointed out the unfairness of Chewbacca apparently not receiving a medal alongside Luke and Han for his help in destroying the Death Star. Marvel’s original adaptation of the film in 1977 made a point of noting that Chewie did indeed get a medal (and many years later, Chewbacca would receive his medal during the MTV movie awards). The final issue of the Chewbacca limited series (in which Chewie crash lands on a planet under the thrall of a ruthless gangster with ties to the Empire and helps a local young woman named Zarro defeat the gangster and free her people from enslavement) confirms that, canonically, Chewbacca did receive a medal, and then proceeds to tug at the heartstrings when Chewbacca gives it to Zarro in recognition for her efforts to free her people, all despite the fact that Zarro, as was the case throughout the entire story, doesn’t understand a word Chewbacca says.
#3 – Star Wars #13 – Chewie gives Triple Zero a hand
A New Hope loaded a Chekhov’s Gun when Han mentions in passing that Wookiees are known to rip the arms off individuals who displease them; Star Wars #13 (part of the uneven “Vader Down” crossover) fires that gun, when the homicidal protocol droid Triple Zero attacks Han, and Chewbacca responds by first ripping out one of Triple-Zero’s arms, then proceeding to beat him with it. Not nearly as deep or meaningful as some of the other moments on this list, it’s nevertheless a bit of insanely fun spectacle, the kind of thing “Vader Down” did best.
#2 – Star Wars #12 – Lightsabers for all
Similarly, Star Wars #12 contain a moment that is all-spectacle, but which speaks to the swashbuckling fun which lies at the heart of Star Wars, and the ability of comic books to tap into that so effortlessly. In the conclusion to “Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon”, the cast has been reunited just as Imperial forces arrive to attack the arena of Luke’s Hutt captor. In the ensuing melee, an EMP blast leaves all blasters useless, but Artoo has, thankfully, scooped up the Hutt’s collection of lightsaber, leading to a fantastic shot of lightsaber-wielding Han, Leia and Chewbacca (Chewie gets two sabers) charging in to Luke’s rescue.
#1 – Darth Vader #6 – “I have a son.”
In both the most emotionally-affecting moment and the biggest addition by the comics to the canon to date, Marvel closes out the first half year of their new Star Wars comics by depicting the moment when Darth Vader learned that Luke is the pilot who blew up the Death Star, and also his son. It’s a moment so significant it is depicted in both Star Wars and Darth Vader. In Star Wars, his reaction is more subdued; as the villain of that book, readers aren’t allowed into his head as he hears the news. But in Darth Vader, where he’s the protagonist, his burst of anger is accompanied by a peak at his thoughts, as Vader flashes back to earlier times: Padme telling him she’s pregnant, the Emperor assuring the newly-armored Vader that she and her child died as a result of his anger. Not only does it emphasize that, for as much as some fans denigrate them, the Prequels are still an important part of the story of Star Wars, but also their importance in deepening and informing the character of Darth Vader. For as monstrously evil, and coolly effective as the character is, he’s still a man in pain, one who’s lost everything he cared about by trying to save it, betrayed by the person he trusted to keep his family safe but to whom he is now inextricably bound.