A long time ago, in a galaxy….well, you get the picture.
Luke Skywalker — the man, the myth, the farm boy-turned-Jedi revered among starry-eyed nerds the world over. Star Wars may be the American poster child of sci-fi epics, but true to the galaxy-binding Force, its universal appeal transcends all cultural boundaries, and what better proof do you need than Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker–The Manga? For more casual Star Wars fans like myself, you may be surprised to learn this one-shot compilation’s adapted from a 2017 novel of the same name by award-winning author Ken Liu — originally written as campfire tales surrounding the fabled Jedi, this comic adaption calls on the talents of numerous manga artists (most notably Akira Himekawa — the duo behind numerous The Legend of Zelda adaptions) to re-purpose Luke’s legendary exploits as individual tales rather than loosely-connected narratives whispered among gossiping orphans.
Pedantic Star Wars fans may take issue with excising Lieu’s original context, but we’ll let that slide on the grounds that drafting The Legends of Luke Skywalker‘s numerous artists (aside from Himekawa, we also have Akira Fukaya/Takashi Kisaki, Haruichi, and the Subaru duo) across Japan would render any attempts at consistency ill-advised; if anything, aside from how the original work already renders itself malleable for isolated incidentals (whittling the original Legends‘s six stories down to four), this adaption’s standalone one-shots means we bear witness to four unique takes on not just Lieu’s interpretation of the Star Wars universe, but their own — as we learn in the About pages, each artist maintains an impassioned connection with the famed movie franchise, be it childhood fascination to professional works (Haruichi, as it turns out, was behind the Japanese webcomic Leia Organa: Ordeal of the Princess).
As I imagine was the purpose of the original novel, we gradually recognize The Legends of Luke Skywalker isn’t really about the legendary Jedi himself, but those who encounter him and the ways his dauntless bravery shapes their lives. While I’m no expert on Star Wars‘s expanded universe — I’ve only ever read Marvel’s acclaimed Darth Vader comics at my library — I know part of the fun in more tangential works like these is how they meticulously sift through Star Wars‘s ever-expanding microcosms, what with the brainwashed Stormtroopers, enslaved droids, aspiring archaeologists, and bemused mole fleas we witness here. Not that the stories within don’t take liberties with the original canon — Subaru’s The Tale of Lugubrious Mote is a revised take on Luke’s confrontation with Jabba in Return of the Jedi — but in a franchise already plagued with stuffy politics, offensive Jedi Rocks close-ups, or directorial tug-and-pulls, it’s sensible to be wary of spin-offs potentially mucking up our sci-fi escapism.
The key, then, is to ensure that a) we’re following compelling characters that successfully expand the Star Wars universe, and b) how well Luke and other familiar faces transition into these comics. This isn’t always perfect: our lone stinker in Lugubrious Mote’s a potentially fun idea, but the cartoonish logistics involved render Luke a starry-eyed doofus — an unpleasant affront to the character’s development (although in fairness to the Subaru duo, the whole “I’m speaking to you through your head” shtick was the source material’s invention). And yet for any narrative missteps, the characters themselves successfully explore the inner facets and motivations of various subsets across the galaxy far, far away; for instance, to a disillusioned tool of the Empire, Luke’s mercy shatters the symmetric fascism he so coveted and melds the broken pieces into a beacon of redemptive hope. Heck, if I must defend Lugubrious Mote, the aspiring Jedi’s an escape from the life of seedy mediocrity into humble entertainment for others (A poor defense, sure, but consider this: that his tale ends on an bitterly ironic note for Luke renders Mote’s story the only one dispelling the notion of an infallible legend).
While I suspect Akira Himekawa’s Big Inside will be the fan-favorite — her artstyle’s a boon for the ecosystem and mythology brimming within the insides of a certain Empire Strikes Back creature — Haruichi’s I, Robot is my personal favorite in casting a spotlight on those ever-ubiquitous droids. Following a reprogrammed construction droid named Zeta, we’re left just as helpless in watching its violent override chip cruelly command fellow droid slaves in mining and sifting ore. Through a friendly cameo and the surprise appearance of you-know-who, it’s here the latter conducts the book’s strongest application of The Force: not through destruction or telepathy, but an inspirational benevolence that surpasses any boundaries between beating hearts and greasy gears. (And by the way, I promise I’m not ruining anything by saying this, but this is probably the closest you’re ever witness C-3PO wield a lightsaber in any official capacity — an offensive idea to even suggest, I’m sure, but I admire Haruichi’s boldness in not passing up such a prospect.)
Ken Liu describes Star Wars as a modern mythology; a pliable metaphor that’s seeped into all corners of life. As mentioned earlier, Star Wars‘ inescapable presence goes without saying, and while there’s certainly no shortage of junk littered across the expanded universe, that the legend of Luke Skywalker persists as an immortal cultural icon proves even missteps in Lugubrious Mote shall never topple Star Wars‘ legacy. Indeed, these tales’ focus towards younger Star Wars fans remain evident, but what better vindication thanthese artists echoing the reverence they, too, discovered as Force-sensitive youth?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.