In Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens #1

Character motivation is missing and panels out of order are signs of a rushed or indifferent execution. Disappointing.

The covers: It wouldn’t be a Star Wars premiere without several variant covers, so Marvel brings nine different covers for the fanatical to find. The Regular cover is by interior artist Esad Ribic. It has Rey standing strong with her staff atop a dune on Jakku. Behind her is Finn sporting a rifle and BB-8 is popping up just behind him. Behind her, eclipsing the sun, is the Millennium Falcon pursued by two TIE-fighters. The elements of this image are great and the coloring perfectly captures the heat of the desert world. A well done job. There’s a Blank Sketch Variant cover that features only the book’s title and credits from the upper left corner. Anyone could take this to a convention and get their favorite artist to create a one-of-a-kind illustration. The Movie Variant cover uses the official poster for the film for its frontpiece. It’s nice, however there is another…The Incentive Variant cover is by the immensely talented Phil Noto. He puts his own spin on the movie poster of the film, moving a few of the characters and elements around. I like that Finn gets a more prominent position, being dead center and holding the blue lightsaber; Ren’s mask is on the top left; a bust of Rey is on the right; Artoo, Leia, Han, Chewie, and BB-8 are in the bottom left; Poe, Threepio, Phasma, and two troopers on the lower right. This should have been the film poster. The John Cassaday Color Variant is an extremely moody piece. This features Luke’s robed body enclosing Rey holding her lightsaber, Finn in three quarters view, Han holding his blaster out, Chewie roaring, Kylo Ren in three quarters, three stormtrooper helmets, and BB-8. What really makes this ominous is the coloring: it’s all in red. There’s a smattering of white for highlights and helmets, but the crimsons make this creepy. The Esad Ribic Sketch Variant is exactly the same as the Regular cover, just minus the coloring. This is actually a better cover because of the work that Ribic put into shading every element stands out. This is really impressive! There’s a Joe Quesada Variant Color cover that has Rey sitting on a dune while wearing her classic Rebellion pilot helmet, gazing up in the sky, waiting for “them” to return. BB-8 sits just before her, mimicking her behavior. A good image, but the coloring makes this really stand out, with the night sky going from black, to blue, to hot pink. Very Moebius. The John Cassaday Black Sketch Variant is the same as his color cover, sans colors. This looks good. The final cover is the Joe Quesada Sketch Variant which, like the other sketch covers, is a colorless version of his work. Again, nice. Overall grades: Regular cover A, Blank Sketch Variant C+, Movie Variant B, Incentive Variant A+, Cassaday Color Variant A-, Ribic Sketch Variant A+, Quesada Color Variant A, Cassaday Sketch Variant B-, and Quesada Sketch Variant B

The story: Working from the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt, Chuck Wendig has this opening adaptation cover all the way up to the two new young heroes running to the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy”, the Millennium Falcon. What’s interesting is where Wendig begins this story: just as Poe goes to his knees before Kylo Ren. Omitted are all scenes with Lor San Tekka alive and the piece of the map that Poe Dameron was searching for. Instead, it’s summarized in one dialogue balloon by Ren, but the reader is unaware BB-8 has it. Also missing is Finn’s shock at watching a peer die. This is a key scene, as it’s his motivation for over half the story. Once Finn and Poe going back to the star destroyer and Rey is introduced the comic faithfully follows the film. A decent reworking, though the omissions of necessary information do stand out. Overall grade: B-

The art: This looks rushed. Every page contains suggestions of characters, but are so rough as to come off as sketches: Page 1, panel two — everything in this panel —the second panel of the book — is a sketch; Page 2, panel five; 3, panel two — those troopers are poor; 4, panel four –what is the reader looking at? A broken imperial shuttle? Why is the reader looking at this? But wait, the panels on Page 4 are out of order: instead of going across, left to right, they go down and then up to the next row, down, and then back up to the final row, and then down again. In my ten years of reviewing comics I’ve never come across an error like this before, and it’s from the number one publisher of comics in one of their top selling franchises. I don’t know if it was submitted incorrectly by artist Esad Ribic or editor Heather Antos was asleep at the wheel, but this is inexcusable. Not all of this book is a loss; when characters are drawn in large panels they look good, such as Rey and Finn in the final pages. However, this doesn’t happen often enough and sketchy art rules. Unbelievably disappointing. Overall grade: D

The colors: Frank Martin does the best he can, given what he was. He creates some excellent lighting effects in the Tuanul village, with the flames radiating some outstanding heat and Ren’s lightsaber being vibrant. The glow off of the First Order’s interior lights and the engines of their ships are powerful in blue. Martin does a good job creating an arid atmosphere for Jakku on every page, with Rey and Finn’s meeting being particularly strong. However, it’s hard to work when given panels like the fourth and sixth on Page 4. Overall grade: B+

The letters: Narration, settings, dialogue, Ren speech, sounds, and yells are created by VC’s Clayton Cowles. I’m absolutely ecstatic to see that Kylo Ren has been given a font that shows the reader he sounds different from other characters and I’ve been waiting to have this happen to Darth Vader’s speech in other Star Wars books. So, I tip my hat to you, sir. I like the sounds given to BB-8, which are a thin font, but are readable and shows that he sounds different from other astromech droids, such as Artoo units. It was nice to see the sounds in this book, because that’s half of this film franchise’s fun, but why are blaster shots silent? Their repercussions, explosions, are evident, so why not their sounds when firing? C’mon, Marvel, the “pews” are iconic. Why keep your letterers from employing them? Overall grade: B

The final line: I grew up during the explosion of comic book movie adaptations during the eighties. Books came out the week the film opened or shortly thereafter. This adaptation is six months after the film, so there was more than enough time to create a quality adaptation. This is not. Character motivation is missing and panels out of order are signs of a rushed or indifferent execution. This is not worth $2.99, let alone the $4.99 cover price. This is why fans cry corporation money grab. Unbelievably disappointing. For the hardcore or rich only. Overall grade: C+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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