411 Comics Showcase – Princess Leia
I hope you all had (or are continuing to have) a great holiday. Sadly, this December hit me a bit hard. It’s really hard for me to sit here and write about comics when all I can think about is the late Carrie Fisher. It’s probably no surprise that Star Wars is a big part of my childhood, but Carrie is more than just the woman behind the character of Princess Leia. Carrie was extremely funny and outspoken about things that were not easy to talk about. She was open about her cocaine habit and her bipolar disorder. To many who suffer from bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, Carrie was a far greater hero than the character she played on screen. I hope that is the legacy she leaves behind.
My heart aches for the family and friends of Carrie Fisher, especially now that her mother Debbie Reynolds has passed. I can’t imagine that kind of hurt, and I wish them all the best. I don’t have the same connection to Debbie as I do to her daughter (Singin’ in the Rain is a movie I still need to see), but I know she was a huge star in her own right. We lost a Queen and a Princess in just two days. May their memories be a blessing. I, for my part, am writing this column as my own sort of tribute.
The Star Wars universe has been an institution in comics for a long time. This is hardly surprising; with heroes and villains capable of incredible feats and a galaxy full of adventures to explore, it’s perfectly suited to the medium most famous for superheroes. The original movies had comics published by Marvel, which are fascinating relics as they often show a glimpse into the original ideas, such as a very human Jabba the Hutt. For most of their existence though, Star Wars comics have been published by Dark Horse Comics, probably the third biggest company in the medium (with Image close on their heels). Having such a huge pop culture brand is a major reason for that success. Much like other branches of the extended universe of Star Wars, the comics vary in quality, but many of them are well worth reading.
But when the Walt Disney Corporation purchased the Star Wars brand from George Lucas, it was only a matter of time before the comics moved over to Marvel. After all, the House of Ideas was already under the House of Mouse, and it just made sense for everyone involved to capitalize on it. The result was a massive commercial success that has helped Marvel cement its lead in the sales race with DC, but it has thankfully been a creative success as well. Jason Aaron’s Star Wars is fun, and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader series has consistently been one of the best comics of the last two years. But today, the focus is on my favorite miniseries; Princess Leia.
My interest in this series was two fold. First, and the simplest to explain, is that writer Mark Waid is one of the best in the business. His Eisner-winning run on Daredevil is an absolute masterpiece, and his current work on Black Widow with frequent collaborator Chris Samnee (one of my favorite artists) is also excellent. Waid is fantastic at writing interesting plots while focusing on character interaction, so there was no reason to suspect this would be anything but good. Along with the pencils and inking team of Terry and Rachel Dawson, the series was in good hands.
More importantly, Princess Leia Organa is one of my favorite characters in fiction. I won’t say she’s my definitive favorite even in her own universe (Han and Luke contend for that honor as well), but the idea of getting more of young Leia as an action hero and leader had me salivating. Star Wars is a rare example of the “Captive Princess” trope done right; Leia is only weak in comparison to her opposition. She shows herself to be smart, brave, and capable as a leader and a fighter as soon as she’s free. The sequels would flesh her character out even more, with Return of the Jedi giving her two huge moments of heroism when she rescues Han and kills Jabba. But right from the start, Leia was great.
It is here, seconds after Star Wars ended, that Waid sets his story. With the Death Star destroyed and its pressing danger averted, Leia now has to deal with the after effects of Alderaan’s destruction. Imagine being the incumbent ruler of a country that was obliterated by nuclear missiles, and you have some frame of reference for where Leia’s mind is at. Her goal is to rescue and preserve as much of Alderaan as possible, from its culture to its few survivors scattered throughout the galaxy.
One of the things I appreciate most is that Waid understands that Leia is abrasive, headstrong and a little bratty in the original movie. That can make her offputting in general, but to terrified survivors in mourning? It creates very natural tension and allows for Leia to grow naturally into the responsibility she’s had thrust upon her. In many ways, it’s a pitch perfect Leia story, set at one of the most crucial parts of her life. If you haven’t had an opportunity to check this story out, all five issues are collected in a single trade that is worth going out of your way to see.
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Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, we got into the holiday spirit with A Christmas Story . This week, Michael ends the year with some mindless fun by introducing me to Snakes on a Plane.
What are your favorite Star Wars comics, from Marvel or Dark Horse?