This will begin to make things right.”
Such is the opening line of Sequel Trilogy, ostensibly spoken by Lor San Tekka regarding the movie’s MacGuffin, but as many commentators have noted functions as a meta-textual promise on the part of Abrams et al to distance the franchise from the popularly reviled Prequels and to deliver upon fan expectations going forward. Yet despite the initial high from that first hit of new Star Wars, the subsequent backlash by critics has been swift and strong. Chief among their criticisms are the nostalgia-laden retreads of the first film, as noted in my own review:
The Force Awakens is not novel. It is a new A New Hope… the very particular plot points of Episode IV, hit with the precision Kenobi strangely attributed to Imperial Stormtroopers.”
Eventually even Lucas himself broke away from his backhanded congeniality, noting the lack of originality in Awakens compared to his own films from the series, his pain and passion palpable in his comparison of Disney to “white slavers.”
In the wake of Awakens, is the fandom still so convinced that the Prequels were indeed the Dark Times, that the Sequels would still “begin to make things right”? Or perhaps they’d now view the Original Trilogy as Odysseus of old, caught between the Charybdis of the Prequels and the Scylla of the Sequels. Or just maybe they’d come to some newfound respect for Episodes I-III, flawed though they may be, novel nonetheless.
Such was the state of affairs in our own galaxy as Charles Soule and Marco Checchetto’s Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 dropped this morning, the first Marvel Comics offering set firmly in the Prequel era, some years leading up to Attack of the Clones. Unlike Awakens, which had an empty canvas with which to paint the future, Obi-Wan and Anakin is stuck playing connect the dots, establishing how Skywalker’s relationship to his two mentors, Obi-Wan and Palpatine, came to be by the start of Episode II. But as Star Wars and Darth Vader have proved, knowing the destination makes the journey no less interesting.
Whereas Awakens shied away from politics, Obi-Wan and Anakin embraces the Prequels’ predilection to wax politically on the functions and failing of the Republic. Dumping the master and apprentice on a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a world which the galactic government and Jedi alike were unwilling or unable to intervene in its self-annihilation is the perfect setting for the two to meditate on such issue (as well as for Soule to establish Anakin’s sympathies towards totalitarianism), alongside plenty of blaster fire to keep the plot and visuals interesting.
Likewise philosophy. The Jedi are explicitly referred to as a religion, the Order monastic in its nature, with the Sith a heretical offshoot. Here I must laud Awakens proliferation of non-Jedi for whom the Force forms the foundations of the metaphysics and morality. Lor San Tekka is a known member of the Church of the Force, Maz Kanata knows the Force without feeling it, and Han proselytizes to Rey and Finn that “It’s true. All of it.” But aside from expressing belief, no characters pontificate on the theology to which they adhere. Such was one of my biggest disappointments in the film. Lucas’ original vison for the Sequels was to
…deal with moral and philosophical problems. In Star Wars, there is a very clear line drawn between good and evil. Eventually you have to face the fact that good and evil aren’t that clear-cut and the real issue is trying to understand the difference. The sequel is about Jedi knighthood, justice, confrontation, and passing on what you have learned.”
Soule has positioned Obi-Wan and Anakin to tackled exactly such. Early on in the issue we discover that Anakin is considering leaving the Jedi Order, evidently after being (unsuspectingly) evangelized to by the Sith Lord Sidious. In the final panel of the issue, the question is posed directly to Anakin, “What in the green hells is a Jedi?” This is the question which not only Anakin will have to answer as the series progresses, but his mentors Obi-Wan and Palpatine as well, not to mention Soule himself. With any hope, Soule’s thesis for this series will be answering just that question better than Kenobi abord the Falcon or Yoda in the slimy swamps of Degobah.
Nor is he likely to lose any readers on intense tangents of political and philosophical musing, should he indulge in such. Adrenaline-filled action scenes or talking heads, no matter the subject Checchetto’s tasked to illustrate, he proves himself time and again one of the best artists in Marvel’s stable, particularly on Star Wars. When Shattered Empire debuted I compared him to the likes of McQuarrie, Struzan, and Duursema, praying to Waru that he’d be given his own series. Now that he’s been, Checchetto in no way disappoints.
Obi-Wan and Anakin has a lot going against it. It’s a book set in an all but discarded and dismissed era of the Saga, one which has never been more vogue to heap hate upon. It’s ending is known, the final fates of all its characters predetermined before the first panel. Nor are said characters as beloved or benefitted by nostalgia as the other Marvel titles. But it’s brimming with promise and potential, thanks to both a great creative team and an excellent introductory issue. As if prescient, Soule and Checchetto dare to take Star Wars places the overly cautious and calculated Awakens dares not. The long awaited Episode VII was a disappointment, to be sure. This will begin to make things right.