The Age of Rebellion Begins, As It Always Has, With Princess Leia
by Noah Sharma
Princess Leia occupies a special place in popular culture. For many she is an absolute inspiration, the most important character they came into contact with in childhood and a model for heroes, male and female. Even in a franchise fractured by addition, renewal, and outright misogyny, Leia remains generally beloved: the gold standard of a strong female character to feminists and MRAs alike (you know, before they got ‘uppity’). She’s honest, sharp tongued, strategically brilliant, diplomatically impeccable, and quite possibly the best shot in the entire franchise. She’s been a senator, a general, a figurehead, a spy, the mother of an entire resistance, and a reluctant Force user of incalculable power without ever hiding or losing sight of who exactly she is. But she does have one flaw. She’s rarely gotten her own stories.
Where A New Hope followed Luke and Han’s transformations from farmboy to war hero and smuggler to freedom fighter and the rest of the original trilogy saw them evolve further, Luke learning how to wage peace as well as war and Han dealing with the consequences of abandoning his old lifestyle, Leia appeared on the scene fully formed. From the first moments of Star Wars, she was a hero and, as such, her character remained a strong but comparatively static one. Her arc through the trilogy was not Luke’s heroes’ journey but a traditional romance, learning to accept herself and Han. It’s a problem with the films that, while ahead of their time, has not aged well. However, it leaves Leia the member of the original trio most primed for exploration.
In this brief one-shot, Greg Pak acknowledges this but also hews close to the original films, with some of the limitations therein bleeding through. Pak wisely sets his story in one of the original trilogy’s favorite periods, the year between Empire and Return of the Jedi, which takes Han off of the stage and allows Leia her own space to act while also providing an immediate motivation for her.
Leia was trained from a young age to be a compassionate but murderously effective agent against galactic fascism. As I said, Leia was already a tactician/princess/diplomat/spymaster/assassin/etc. from the start of A New Hope. Let’s face it, she’s basically the James Bond of the Core Worlds! As a result, there is a kernel of falsehood in the premise of this story, directly titled “Princess Scoundrel”, that Leia cannot adapt to Han’s world of double crosses and dusty saloons. The moment she dropped the Coruscanti accent and picked up a rifle to mow down a platoon of stormtroopers, viewers knew that this was not a princess who was slave to decorum. However you also know that, though Leia’s skills are highly transferable, she’s operated primarily in the worlds of the Core, avoiding detection, playing politics, and using the systems of the Empire to her advantage before the destruction of Alderaan. This idea, that she’s no stranger to getting her hands dirty but has never truly gotten down in the muck of the galaxy, utterly separate from Imperial domination or grand ideals of rebellion, is what holds things together. The issue bounces back and forth between the restrictions of this careful balance, but, in the end, it does give those who want to believe it plenty of opportunity to do so.
Pak has a good handle on Leia’s voice. She conducts herself with grace and poise, but you can feel Carrie Fisher’s brassy frustration sneak out at crucial moments. I also think the book does a fine job of communicating Leia’s desperation to rescue Han without making her seem weak, dependent, or irrational. Pak also makes sure to give Leia some real doubt and risk to stare down, making her incredible competence feel earned.
The plot is fairly simple and doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table that’s new, but, if we’re being honest, you can say the same about most of the Star Wars movies. This script sets its goal to show how Leia tested herself before venturing into Jabba’s palace and what headaches she had to go through to set everything up for the beginning of RotJ. [At those realistically low stakes, it succeeds.] You could say that there’s not a huge amount of tension or that the script solves too many problems with easy one-step solutions, but you already know how the pieces are going to be positioned and there’s also only twenty pages of story to get them there (two of which are splashes) so it’s not a tremendous problem for the story either. You just have to be aware of the scope that the issue has set for itself.
To help draw readers in, Pak has picked a fan favorite to be the villain of the piece. Playing up the interconnected nature of the world that Leia is trying to infiltrate, the princess finds herself staring down another bounty hunter, in this instance Bossk. The Trandoshan hunter was one of only two aliens who found their way onto the bridge of the Executor when Darth Vader wanted the Millenium Falcon found and, though he has a history as a jobber stretching all the way back into Legends, the reptilian mercenary remains more than enough of a big name to help Leia’s struggles feel real and dangerous. Pak probably could have done a little more with the character, playing up his species’ enmity with the Wookies when he captures Chewbacca or giving him a little more menace when he takes the field himself, but whatever your opinion, Pak’s instincts seem to bear out, as the sheer presence of Bossk’s rep gives the piece its stakes.
The one criticism I do have is that the issue’s climactic moments could easily have fallen apart if Bossk had just been a little more thorough. It’s nothing new for the character to grimace and growl instead of plan but it wouldn’t have taken much to foil Leia’s whole scheme and I wish that Pak had given some indication why the bounty hunter believes her bluff. That said, taken at face value, it’s a fantastic conclusion to the story and a great moment that sells Leia’s understanding of the hunters’ way to both the characters and the audience. We even get a nice little follow up joke from Lando that comes as close as this otherwise all-ages story would dare to staring you dead in the eyes and reminding you that Leia has killed and she’ll do it again with a smile on her face and a song in her fascist killing heart.
There are also some things that feel curious to me. Given the significant openings in Leia’s life story, it does feel a little bit limited to rehash parts of her arc that were so well explored in the films. I don’t know that fans needed to see this trial in Leia’s life, though the strong direction this moment in time provides ensures that Pak writes an enjoyable take on it. It also allows us to see more from Lando and some great scenes on the Falcon, giving the book some solid Star Wars flare. I also quickly mention that the familiarity among scoundrels that provides some of the best trials for Leia has a side effect of making the Galaxy feel rather small.
Somewhat concerning, the book features a number of artists, with inker Karl Story and colorist Tamra Bonvillain working alongside Chris Sprouse as primary penciler as well as Will Sliney and Marc Deering.
Sprouse makes an immediate impression with a detailed style that impressively captures the likenesses of the original cast. At times it slinks towards the uncanny valley, but there’s no denying that the art captures the characters’ image with specificity and the necessary adaptation the form requires and luckily it’s only ever a quick hint of excessive reality. Like Pak, Sprouse manages to capture the superficial elements of Leia that the license holders need to see (in his case her beauty, her wardrobe, and the look of Carrie Fisher) but stands out for his ability to capture the more human elements of the character that truly test the quality of her portrayal. Worried glances and rolled eyes coexist with respectful glamour shots and a few for costume nerds to geek out over.
Sprouse’s storytelling is not terribly flashy, he really just prioritizes reactions and beautiful compositions, but his fundamentals are more than strong enough to carry the story. Even cutaways and quick glances that could have been hard to read are crystal clear.
Sliney and Deering’s pages keep up the general look of the story but opt for a less detailed appearance. Despite the thicker inks and decreased lines, their sections still feel true to the actors. Though these pages lack the beauty of Sprouse’s highs, they also make crucial accommodations for the form that avoid some of the realistic but odd frozen moments that appeared in earlier pages. The action remains smooth and the characters read well. And even though the styles have different priorities they flow together well, likely enough to make some readers forget that a change even happens until they look.
However, Sliney and Deering do have an unfortunate weakness on this issue. Though they handle the majority of his presence in the issue, their rendition of Bossk is notably weaker than the one we see in the cantina. In these pages Bossk looks very much more the rubber mask that portrayed him than the breathing hunter we imagine when we watch and it’s unfortunate that an otherwise impressive art team is saddled with drawing most of the panels featuring their weakest character.
Tamra Bonvillain’s colors serve the story well. Leia, Lando, the ships and blasters all come to life thanks to her strong instincts and delicate gradations. Bonvillain’s additions to the characters are simple, almost obvious in the final product, but it is no exaggeration to say that she plays a significant role in giving the book its realism, its truth to the films. As colorist, she also serves as a bridge between the different artists, not only bringing a level of consistency to the book, but adjusting to each one. The colors change not only to match the environment but the artists, bringing the same feeling out of differing art styles.
Despite all of this, the colors of the book, overall, are frequently less than pleasant. Between Arkanis and the Falcon, Leia’s issue is cloaked in a dusty, off yellow broken up by varying degrees of blue. It’s a palette that seems intended to bring the Princess down from her classic white in A New Hope into the worn moral grey that Han operates in, but it’s not terribly appealing and overly simplistic. It’s hard to say whether it was how it was drawn or the planet choice or a demand from the license-holders, but Arkanis is not only bland but lacking in its visuals altogether. The presence of coral-like protrusions help give it some flavor, but, without them, the planet would be a blank morass of uneven ground and a barely distinguishable sky. Whether she played the hand she was dealt or failed to bring the world to life, Bonvillain’s coloring appears at its simplest and least attractive in the backgrounds of Arkanis, even if the interplay of navy sky and crackling fire help a bit to obscure the flatness of the setting towards issue’s end.
Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – Princess Leia is a nice little story that provides a little bit of everything. The stakes are low but the characters familiar and well written. Clear, legible art dodges most of the problems with actors likenesses and even makes that into a strength, while also bringing together a slew of different artists naturally. Weak scenery drags the issue down visually, but it accomplishes just what it sets out to do. However, the biggest problem with the issue is that it doesn’t do enough to add to Leia as a character. Without a stronger focus for the Age of Rebellion project, Leia’s chapter provides time with the princess at an interesting moment, but it doesn’t give fans enough that’s new, save crystallizing the ideas we’ve all assumed went into the preparation for Jedi into an attractive narrative arc. It’s a good comic, and one that has some great moments, but its scale is appropriately small.
Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – Princess Leia is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.