Saturday, 15 June 2019

Is Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge worth the read and ride?



Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened, with much fanfare, at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, last May. Our resident US correspondent, Nick Smith, discovers whether or not Marvel's Galaxy's Edge tie-in comic book series is also worth the ride?

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s sitting there like a gleaming heap of wonderful space junk in a theme park not so far away. The Millennium Falcon is parked in Orlando, Florida, 5 hours from where I live, plopped in an outpost called Black Spire. Unfortunately, I can’t climb aboard the ship and go for a beer run, let alone a Kessel one. The 14-acre corner of Disney World doesn’t open until August 29th, 2019.

However, the Anaheim, California, Galaxy's Edge launched in May with a five-minute original soundtrack by John Williams, a visit from Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and a touching tribute to the late Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca).

The impression given by the press photos and behind-the-scenes footage is one of breathtaking scale. The Falcon towers over the actors and visitors. There’s a droid depot, a cantina and two major rides, Smuggler’s Run and (at a later date) Rise of the Resistance.

When I last visited Orlando’s Hollywood Studios a few years ago, Galaxy’s Edge was under construction – pardon our space dust – and I was concerned! Some speeder craft sat outside a shed; there were props and games in a dark studio space called Launch Bay; Kylo Ren fooled with a cheap toy lightsaber and First Order troops marched back and forth like they couldn’t find the exit. Was this going to be a half-assed blend of our world and the Outer Rim? When Galaxy's Edge opened, would I be making a five-hour drive to disappointment?

I needn’t have worried. In all their glory the Star Wars trappings are by all accounts seamless, providing escapism from our landlocked lives – a big attraction of the original movies, of course. Got bills to pay? Make the jump to hyperspace for a couple of hours. Relationship troubles? Go hug a wookiee!

To whet our appetites for this new land, with events set between Episode VIII and IX, there’s a five-issue comic book series from Marvel that gives some hints of what we can expect in Black Spire. The comics, by writer Ethan Sacks and artist Will Sliney, follow the shady adventures of Remex, Kendoh and Wooro, three outlaws trying to keep a low profile in the First Order-occupied outpost. Not so low, though, that they’re not prepared to pull a heist. Their target: the hammer-headed Ithorian Dok-Ondar who runs the Den of Antiquities, a collection of rare objects and beasties such as baby sarlaccs.

Han Solo and Chewbacca snag the babies in a first issue flashback. While it’s always nice to see the pair of smugglers doing what they do most (smuggling and getting out of tough scrapes), sarlaccs are best left underground and don’t come across as very threatening in their infancy. They’re actually kind of cute if you’re into teeth and tentacles.

The end of the first issue of Galaxy’s Edge hides the identity of a rare and precious object… until you turn the page and a house ad reveals that it’s a lightsaber! Might want to rethink those commercials, Marvel, and the plot too – since there’s a lightsaber shop just down the street from the Den. Not so rare after all, although this saber is a relic that once belonged to Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi from the prequels.

The second issue, “Shoot First, Questions Later,” is better written – the narrative is faster, more intense as Star Wars creator George Lucas would say – framing two flashbacks this time. The main one focuses on Rodian bounty hunter Greedo who comes across as a bit of a loser, sent by Jabba the Hutt on a past mission to kidnap a codebreaker. Poor Greedo’s plans never go quite right although at the end of this tale Jabba gives him another chance… “a simple bounty.”

The flashbacks are fun but the deficit of this format is that the main story doesn’t progress very far and we don’t get to know the outlaws very well. The glimpses we get of the planet of Batuu betray its real-world influences – Tunisia, Jordan, Istanbul, wrapped in a morass of Arabian marketplaces and sand-seared hardware. The LA Times describes it as, “the mouse-ears version of the Persian Gulf” and it comes complete with an invasive superpower.

Beyond setting the microcosmic mise-en-scene, the comics don’t give a lot away about the new park. The Den of Antiquities is a major setting in the story so far and it’s an attraction in Anaheim and Orlando. In the marketplace backgrounds, attractively and authentically drawn by Sliney, there’s an emphasis on variety. How cool will it be to have Rebels, Stormtroopers and aliens like Dok-Ondar wandering around in real life? Very.

With its connections to the movies we love, particularly the characters and post-The Last Jedi setting, Batuu looks like an exciting melting pot of a place to visit. As a hint at adventures to come and a souvenir of the park, Galaxy’s Edge is worth the read (and the ride).

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