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The Force Is Strong in This Comic: Marvel’s Spectacular Return to ‘Star Wars’

Eleven months before The Force Awakens, Marvel shows us what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars #1 is a BFD.

01.14.15 11:10 PM ET

It’s still 11 months until The Force Awakens brings us up to speed on how Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo have been spending their golden years, but Marvel’s new Star Wars comic series brings back the rebel trio in their prime. Han returns with all his cheesy, roguish charm; Leia’s back too, crash-course-learning how to lead a rebellion; and Luke, still learning how to use the Force, is dead-set on revenge against Darth Vader. Chewie, R2-D2, and C-3PO round out the cast of heroes, while Vader himself is still their main foe. This truly feels like Star Wars, in its original trilogy form: A fun, high-stakes space spectacle, with a whole lot of heart.

Star Wars #1, on sale Wednesday, fills in the blanks between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back—after Luke has blown up the Death Star, but before the rebels hole themselves up on icy Hoth—so anyone who’s seen Episode IV can follow along. (Comics have covered this territory before, but here Marvel is overwriting its original 1977-1986 Star Wars run; the franchise’s massive Dark Horse Comics catalogue was similarly declared “Legend,” not canon, after Disney acquired Lucasfilm.) The wide-appeal approach paid off in the form of over a million sold copies—a mind-boggling number, especially for comics nowadays. (The last time a single issue sold this many copies, according to Forbes, was in 1993, when Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back in Batman #500 and college kid Jean-Paul Valley stepped in as a new, darker Dark Knight.)

via Marvel.com

This is all to say that Star Wars #1 is a BFD, both for diehards and casual Star Wars fans, so it’s happy news that writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassaday live up to the task. Aaron nails the characters’ voices and captures their idiosyncrasies, like Han’s habit of nicknaming everyone around him. (Three dialogue bubbles in and he’s reduced an Empire flack named Aggadeen to “Aggie.”) C-3PO’s uppity voice is channeled so effectively that he doesn’t even to be in the frame for readers to immediately hear actor Anthony Daniels saying, “Oh thank the Maker. I was half expecting they would kill you all on sight.” And dynamics like the tension between Han and Leia—this is when they reluctantly start feeling sort of squishy about each other, leading up to that big kiss in Empire Strikes Back!are as fun to watch here as they are in the films.

Of course, Marvel’s Star Wars can only go so far: We already know where these characters end up, so it’s not like the writers can suddenly kill Luke, eliminate Vader, or pull some other stunt. But the stakes are high in the first issue’s plot, with the rebellion working to dismantle the Empire’s main weapons factory—the largest such factory in the galaxy. Han volunteers to pose as Jabba the Hutt’s emissary, in charge of negotiating a supplies deal. Luke and Leia bust out of their disguises as Han’s “bodyguards,” R2-D2 cleverly wipes out a Stormtrooper unit by leaking his own fuel all over the floor then taser-shocking it, and together they all take out the factory’s main power unit. But their escape plan—which involves Chewbacca sniping ships away from the factory roof while our heroes board the Millennium Falcon—goes awry when the Empire’s “negotiator” shows up.

There are fan-rewarding money shots of our heroes in badass poses, and winking callbacks to the old films. (SPOILER ALERT: When Luke accidentally finds a cage full of slaves and gets caught by a guard, he feeds him the only line befitting the moment: “These aren’t the slaves you’re looking for.” The mind trick doesn’t work but Luke does cut off the guard’s hand. GET IT?) The comic is obviously made to appeal to as many fans as possible, but the Force is strong with this series. C3PO sums it up best when, in a rare moment of optimism, he confesses: “I have a very good feeling about this.”