Cover to Star Wars #1 (2015)
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Credit: John Cassaday/Marvel

Behind the Panel: Are Star Wars comics still a Force to be reckoned with?

Contributed by
Sep 25, 2019

The recent news that Marvel was canceling its flagship Star Wars comic book series caught me off guard.

Star Wars: Empire Ascendant #1

Credit: Riccardo Federici/Marvel

With the release of Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker fast approaching, it seems the PTBs felt it was time to turn the page on one chapter of the Jedi saga. They are wrapping up its A New Hope storyline with a massive one-shot comic called Star Wars: Empire Ascendant, written by a quartet of killer writers – Charles Soule, Greg Pak, Simon Spurrier, and Ethan Sacks – and illustrated by a stellar art crew including Luke Ross and Roland Boschi. The book will detail the story of how the Rebels established their secret base on Hoth and set the table for a series of stories set in the Empire era. That enticing premise has me rethinking my decision to drop the Star Wars comics from my pull list.

There's no question the Star Wars revival at Marvel has been incredibly successful. Creators like Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Kieron Gillen, and Salvador Larocca fortified the canon with stories told in between the Original Trilogy that have been anything but filler. Gillen's time on the Darth Vader series should have an annual parade thrown in its honor not just for restoring Vader's fearsomeness but introducing us to Doctor Aphra and the wonderfully psychotic protocol droid, Triple Zero. But if I'm being honest, the Star Wars books — the main title plus the various spinoffs like Doctor Aphra — fell off my radar at least a year ago. It's partly the curse of telling stories within the confines of previously defined space. When you essentially know where the story's going to end, it's hard to fully buy in. It all started to feel … routine. And Star Wars should never, ever feel routine. Star Wars comics, to me, had become the comics equivalent of diner food. You don't really wake up craving that grilled cheese and fries, but if it's 3 a.m. and the plate’s in front of you, well ... you'll take that sucker down.

Doctor Aphra

Credit: Salvador Larroca/Marvel

When the first issue of the main Star Wars title went on sale in 2015, I was ecstatic. Marvel's original Star Wars series was the first licensed comic I ever picked up. Remember the banner at the top of those early SW issues, after they had finished adapting A New Hope? “At last! Beyond the movie! Beyond the Galaxy!” Not sure what "Beyond the Galaxy" meant, but I was there for it every month. During the dark times after Return of the Jedi and before the prequels, the excellent Dark Horse comics were all we had to get our Star Wars fix.

But as with most great and special things, once they become easily accessible and available, they cease being "special." There is a lot of Star Wars content out there at the moment, in various formats. At a certain point, I lost the excitement of reading another adventure with Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Han in that pre-Empire time period. I would argue that the steadily declining number of Star Wars comics sold indicates I’m not the only fan who feels that way.

It’s another sign how times have changed. In the pre-multiplatform era, comics were the only option available to fans who wanted more from a property they loved. From the awesome (Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's Alien: The Illustrated Story) to the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be (Rom, The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones), the weird but cool (Micronauts, Shogun Warriors), and the just plain terrible (remember The A-Team adaptation?), licensed comics have always had a prominent place at everyone's LCS. It was a mixed bag, for certain, but those comics were the first brand extensions for some of us, aside from the related toys.

Now, it seems we're approaching the twilight for these types of comics. It shouldn't be that surprising. The warning signs have been out there.

No one has had more success in the modern day with licensed comics than IDW. It created the Hasbro shared universe and brought iconic toy brands G.I. Joe, Micronauts, Transformers, and ROM together for the event comic series Revolution. The company's series based on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic proved incredibly successful after its 2012 launch. But today IDW is a publisher in deep financial straits as sales for many of the licensed comics in its library have dwindled.

IDW July 2019 25

IDW Publishing

Is there a specific reason for the decline in interest in licensed comics? Someone smarter than me can crack the numbers and try to decipher that, but reader apathy is a tough trend to turn around. Playing it safe is a big mistake for comics in general, but especially so with regard to licensed series. I'm excited to see the direction Marvel takes the Star Wars comic book universe with its new chapter. I just hope they give us something we haven't seen before with these familiar characters we know and love.

Are you a fan of the current Star Wars comics? Got a favorite storyline? Hit the comments and share your thoughts. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, too. I'm always interested in getting feedback from our readers.

UPDATE: After a week of voting, the results of my Comic Book Blind Spot poll are in! It looks like I'll be scratching Fables off my To-Read list first. Thanks to those who voted.

Here's your weekly reminder that Behind the Panel is a video and audio series, too. Our video series is chock-full of my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.

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