Friday saw the launch of the brand new line of Star Wars toys and merchandise based on the upcoming movie The Force Awakens. One of the licensees profiting off the resurgence of the Star Wars brand is Marvel Comics, who, like Lucasfilm, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. When Disney bought the rights to all things Star Wars, the task of printing new Wars comics returned to Marvel, the company that first published the graphic novel adventures Luke, Han and Leia after the movie’s release in 1977. At Fan Expo today, “Force Friday” meant talking about Star Wars comics.
Marvel hosted a panel about the relaunched Star Wars comic adventures which included artists John Cassaday and Stuart Immonen, Lando writer Charles Soule, and moderated by Marvel’s chief talent scout C.B. Cebulski. Cebulski praised Dark Horse Comics for keep the flame lit for the last 25 years of Star Wars comics before talking about what Marvel’s got going forward that’s Star Wars related.
In the next several weeks and months look for Journey to the Force Awakens: Shattered Empire, which picks up right after Return of the Jedi (Warning: it contains Ewoks); a Chewbacca solo series where the long-standing sidekick finally gets to take the lead; and a crossover called Vader Down that will see the tales in Star Wars and Darth Vader intertwine for the first time.
For the creators present, getting to work within the Star Wars universe has been a dream, even if it comes with a new layer of oversight into their process. “Star Wars is a complete different animal,” explained Immonen, “and there’s all these levels of approval now, and it’s a bit weird for me to not have a personal relationship with the people saying yes or no to my stuff.”
Immonen took over the art on the flagship Star Wars book from Cassady, and when he got the call, he responded yes before the editor was even able to get the question out. Amongst the artistic challenges for Immonen is capturing the likenesses of the actors and characters of the original trilogy. “You get as close to the likeness as you can,” he said. Immonen got his start drawing unauthorized bios for rock bands, so this challenge was not new to him. “I’ve learned a few things since than, but I still wasn’t prepared for the demands,” he added saying that he warmed up by sketching the various characters of Star Wars to see how close he could get. “Lucasfilm has been great and they just want the characters to look right.”
The creators did shut down any question that Lucasfilm was micromanaging their work though. “I’ve never felt that Lucasfilm was looking over my shoulder,” said Soule. “They all seem like awesome people and I’ve never felt oppressed or anything.”
“They’ve almost never said ‘no’ when I got that first issue from [writer] Jason [Aaron].” added Cassady. “I was pretty stunned and pretty surprised about what we got to do.”
“We’re creative partners on this, and we’re working with them to make sure there is a cohesive Star Wars universe,” said Cebulski. “Wherever the ideas come from, we discuss them to see whether or not we can fit them in and whether or not they can sell, which has not been a problem.”
Indeed, the new canon comic book Star Wars adventures have been a smash success for Marvel. Cassady credits this to Aaron, who had a very strong sense of where he wanted to take Star Wars both visually and narratively. “We wanted this to have a flavor of the films,” he said noting how the panels in the comic mimic the widescreen aspect ratio of the film to accentuate the big screen feeling. “[The comics] are like movies between the movies, and Jason has that visual style and it’s worked very well with Star Wars.”
Soule said that like with his superhero books, he likes to tailor his storytelling to the artist he’s working with, and he’s done just that on Lando with Alex Maleev. “I was previously aware of his work on Daredevil, which was the exact opposite of a space opera like Star Wars,” Soule explained. “I knew though that he’s very good at fight scenes, and that he’s very good at people acting, so I tried to write a Lando so that it had a lot of that sort of stuff in it. If you write to the artist, then everyone’s playing to their strengths and it’s a better book.”
Everyone on the panel has their own wish list of Star Wars characters to tell stories about; Soule would like to do “something neat” with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Immonen eagerly awaits the chance to draw Darth Vader and some Stormtroopers, while Cassady would like to tell a tale of Yoda. The trick is that in most of these cases, they might be waiting a while to draw who they want to draw because Marvel has a limited window of time to play in, the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back specifically.
“For the time being there’s a mandate,” said Cebulski. “Originally we were only going to do stories set between Star Wars and Empire, but that has expanded a bit. We will exploring other times and starting something in 2016, but I can’t go into that just yet.”
Marvel is also in talks to do comics featuring The Force Awakens characters, and will continue to explore the world of Star Wars: Rebels and the characters there-in, but despite the interest from the fans, the old Expanded Universe will remain “Star Wars Legends” and be a separate entity on its own for the foreseeable future. “We’re encouraging a lot of our creators to not look at what’s been done before but to create some new stuff and a new mythos,” Cebulski said.