In hindsight the purchase of Star Wars makes perfect sense. The Disney canon resonates with audiences on a deeply personal level, while their commercial clout transmits that intimacy on a global scale. This paradoxical unity between the individual and the collective can perhaps be best seen in the nostalgic trailers of the Battlefront video game, and the online reactions to it. We all have our own Star Wars stories. About how we first saw it, played with the toys, played the video games, lightsaber duels in the garden. Star Wars has been with me for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was watching the 1997 Special Edition videos with my Mum when I was four years old. She took me to see each of the prequels at the Odeon in Leicester Square throughout my childhood. But as with many fans, the Star Wars experience continued outside of the cinema. For me, it was through reading the comics as a kid. With Disney now rewriting the entire canon, here are some personal highlights from these comics.
Firstly, I think that in some ways the comics helped to heal the sins of the films. For example, certain aliens can be seen as, well, racist. The Phantom Menace has deservedly borne most of the brunt for this with Watto, the Trade Federation, and Jar-Jar. However, these problems have been around since the beginning of the series, as the Tusken Raiders are troublingly similar to Bedouin tribes and are depicted as savages, with no other context. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin likens them to animals after slaughtering an encampment. Although we know that what Anakin did was evil, the Sand People are still seen as a the savage Other.
Years before Attack of the Clones was released, the Outlander arc of the comics went some way to contextualise the Sand People. In the story, Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi is sent to investigate whether a lightsaber-wielding Tusken leader is in fact the self-imposed Jedi exile Sharad Hett. Early on the theme of prejudice is established; as Mundi walks through Mos Espa, he is mocked by a child for his large head. Funnily enough, many Star Wars fans also make the same jokes about the character. After being betrayed by Jabba, Mundi finds himself being rescued by Hett from a Krayt Dragon. At this point, Hett teaches Mundi about the culture of the Sand People, and how they see themselves as one with the desert world of Tatooine. As such, their brutality is a means to survive in an equally harsh environment.
While he cannot fully agree with this way of life, Mundi comes to respect it. However, before things get too cosy, the Tuskens are attacked by an army of thugs led by Gardulla the Hutt. It turns out that the Hutt gangsters have been manufacturing a conflict between the Sand People and off-world settlers in order to sell poor-quality weapons to the colonist for a profit. In the ensuing battle, Tuskens are massacred – making a poignant statement about how indigenous cultures are often harmed by private, commercial interests. Shard Hett himself is killed in the battle by bounty hunter/Jedi assassin Aurra Sing (it’s a long story), but Mundi, much like Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan did with Anakin and Luke, takes Hett’s son A’Sharad off Tatooine for Jedi training.
Revisiting Outlander today, it is astonishing how it incorporates themes of colonialism and cultural difference with nuance. Ki-Adi-Mundi begins his journey with a dismissive attitude towards Tatooine, and is somewhat prejudiced towards its inhabitants, but eventually grows to appreciate the differences between his own background and Hett’s.
A’Sharad Hett grows to become a Jedi Master by the time of the Clone Wars, and stars in another story that explores prejudice. In it, Hett and Anakin are stranded on a Tatooine-like planet. Currently, Anakin is between masters as Obi-Wan is believed to have been killed at the battle of Jabiim. Isolated, and still angry over the death of his mother, Anakin attacks Hett, who discovers the reason why the young Jedi hates Tuskens. Hett tries to emphasise the similarities between himself and Anakin to cool tensions. Using teamwork, they eventually reunite with Republic forces. Before parting, Hett tells Anakin that he won’t tell the Council what happened between them, as it is Anakin’s burden to bear. But he warns the younger Jedi to sort himself out soon, as “a true Jedi has no use for prejudice”. In this 20-page story, Hett reveals himself to be physically human – yet as he was raised in a Tusken culture, identifies himself as such. Although the story is mainly about Anakin, Hett’s speech about his dual identity is thematically refreshing.
Even though the story ends with Anakin unable to let go of his bigotry, the story goes a long way to making him more sympathetic. Keep in mind that during the Clone Wars period, Anakin is only in his early twenties. Furthermore, one of the overlooked consequences of the conflict is that it turns the Jedi into generals, perverting what they originally stood for. Many of the comics set before Attack of the Clones place great emphasis on Jedi being peacekeepers first and warriors second. In contrast, stories set after the battle of Geonosis feature a lot more combat scenes. With all of this in mind, Anakin’s time stranded with Hett shows him going through a mental breakdown. This can be interpreted as a culmination of his mother’s death and the brutality of war taking its toll on his mental health, making his slide into darkness a result of him being in a toxic environment. Isn’t that more interesting and relatable than just “I CAN’T LET PADME DIE”?
The comics can not only enhance areas where the films are lacking, but strengthen established characters. A good example is a story set during The Empire Strikes Back. Remember how C-3PO was destroyed upon arriving on Cloud City? Well he was delivered to Darth Vader, who, upon seeing him, remembers how he discovered the broken protocol droid in Watto’s junkyard. Vader orders the destruction of the droid, but then Chewbacca rescues the remains, and Vader decides to let the wookie keep the droid after an uncharacteristic change of heart. It is a minor footnote of a story, but it does a lot to humanise Vader, showing that shred of goodness which Luke senses in him. Plus, it explains why Chewbacca still has C-3PO after being captured.
On the subject of Chewbacca, he was controversially killed in the novel Vector Prime, saving Han Solo’s son Anakin. In a tribute comic, C-3PO and R2-D2 visit various characters and ask for their favourite memories of Chewie for the archives. While the dramatic images of the wookie’s death and Han Solo sobbing in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon are heartbreaking, there is a quieter moment of poignancy in Leia’s scene. She confesses to the droids that she sometimes secretly wished for Chewie to go away, because she wanted Han to herself. Like with Vader, it’s a small moment but it goes a long way to enrich a character.
While they made beloved characters even better, the comics also fleshed out background characters. Without a childhood of reading the comics, I wouldn’t have appreciated the most emotional moment in the entire saga: the Order 66 scene. That montage of all the Jedi being killed after spending six years reading stories about their exploits was a gut punch . There was the close relationship between Aalya Secura and Kit Fisto, and they were struck down worlds away from each other. While watching Plo Koon get shot down by a clone pilot, I remembered laughing at the banter between him and Micah Giiett (a character who was killed before The Phantom Menace). The hardest one to watch was Ki-Adi-Mundi though. The comics had chronicled his entire life, from being taken from his family at the age of four to become a Jedi, through his adventures as a young man, and eventually to his duties on the Jedi Council. It was clear how much the character valued the natural beauty of his home planet Cerea, which made his death on the industrial wasteland of Mygeeto especially tragic.
There are far too many stories in the Star Wars universe; some bad, some good. The ones mentioned in this piece are a tiny fraction. There are so many others – some highlights include the Thrawn trilogy, the early history of the Old Republic, and the story of Prince Xizor. There’s also a silly little story about how this droid was actually force-sensitive, which is worth checking out if you want something sweet and melancholy. I think that Star Wars fandom is dominated by Simon Pegg and Red Letter Media types who control too much of the conversation. I’m 22 years old and grew up surrounded by the prequels, and wanted to share my Star Wars experiences with you, and hope you had just as great, and unique, a time with it as I did.