By Charles Soule, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa
Well this is peculiar. One of the few defining aspects of 2010’s Star Wars has been a dogmatic effort to systematically ignoring and undoing the damage and continuity established by the prequel films. That’s an understandable goal, the prequels are broken movies that did a lot of harm to the franchise and more or less stranded Star Wars as a joke for the better part of a decade. What’s more, the prequels suffered from being trying to expand the Star Wars universe into a less fantasy oriented and more sci-fi direction, which left many fans and casual viewers chaffed. So, the fact that the entire oeuvre of the Marvel Star Wars line has been about returning to a retro effect that captures the mood and genre of the original Star Wars made total sense…till this comic. For some reason Marvel has seen fit to produce a comic that’s not only set in the prequel era, it’s intrinsically tied to a lot of the key elements audiences disliked about that era of Star Wars stories. Given such a risky maneuver it’s decidedly impressive that Obi-Wan & Anakin actually holds up pretty well; not amazing but good enough to overcome your reflexive disdain and fatigue with the prequel times.
The story is small scale, but appropriately scaled to a personal focus that always eluded the films. Set after Phantom Menace but prior to Attack of the Clones, in a clever mirroring of the main Marvel Star Wars book being set after A New Hope but pre-Empire Strikes Back, the book revolves around a now teenage Anakin and more mature Obi-Wan answering a mysterious distress signal on a dead planet. The two end up crashing onto the planet only to discover it’s nowhere near as dead as they might’ve thought. The locked in set-up is a good call, a quick and easy way to lock the two off from any help or release from the Republic. At the same time, the relative hopelessness of their situation is a useful tool for developing character between Anakin’s younger and more hot-headed reaction to things and Obi-Wan’s passive and measured response. Something that always tended to elude the prequel films is the idea that the Jedi are more of a religious order rather than a collection of people with weird blood, so it’s nice to see Obi-Wan falling back on something closer to Eastern philosophy and quasi-mysticism in the face of a problem. It’s strange, even though Ewan McGregor was one of the few great parts of those films we’ve never really seen Obi-Wan, the Jedi, in the prequel era. We’ve seen Obi-Wan the apprentice, Obi-Wan the general, and even Obi-Wan the betrayed friend, but we’ve never seen him as someone who truly communes with the force in a way beyond simple tactics.
In case you’re wondering, there’s thankfully no mention of mitichlorians in the comic though there is a decidedly strange scene featuring Mace Windu, Chancellor Palpatine, and the Jedi Temple. This gets into some of the weirdness of setting that has been included, ideas like the Jedi needing to start training as babies or the senate having control over the Jedi somehow. It’s not an un-enjoyable sequence mainly because, as Harry Potter and X-Men have taught us, school stories and geek genres go hand-in-hand really well, but it’s hard to shake the familiarity of the situation especially when Anakin’s classmates start teasing him. If you’ve ever seen any school drama where one kid is mocked for coming from a different background you’ve seen this scene a dozen times. There are some new wrinkles like Anakin’s anger feels more real and natural and the idea that his past as a slave is held against him is interesting if underdeveloped.
The artwork is a seriously mixed bag. Marco Checchetto does a strong job capturing facial likeness, especially during the Jedi Temple scenes when he has to render actors from the films, but when it comes to environments there’s a little too much clutter. Most of the comic takes place on a snowy world blanketed in an eternal blizzard and all the snow fall can make it very hard to make out certain scenes. There’s a battle scene near the end of the book that’s decidedly hard to decipher with all the snow whirling in front of everything and forcing a constant blur effect. I’m not sure how much colorist Andres Mossa contributed to this problem, but even so Mossa’s work is top-notch. When things finally calm down in the Jedi Academy scene and you can actually see things clearly, the two make a vibrant and engaging pair, with a scene of Anakin fighting a training droid he’s altered to resemble Darth Maul being a particular stand out.
Obi-Wan & Anakin #1 is more curious than anything else, a weird little oddity of a comic whose very existence is a lot more interesting than anything in the comic. That said, it’s by no means a bad comic and as far as prequel stories go you could do far worse. The characters are both decidedly engaging and the book manages to circumvent the curious soulless-ness and distance that always hindered Anakin in the films as well as Obi-Wan’s lack of definition. It’s not really a comic that NEEDED to exist per se, but it’s a good read with a lot of potential. Marvel’s already been making magic out of the Star Wars IP with the original trilogy focused comics, so if their next trick really is going to be to try to redeem the prequel era this is a good first step.