The “less is more” approach brings out the emotional resonance in this adaptation.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has come and gone in theaters and has since been released on home video. The novelization was also released a few months ago and featured some interesting insights into the mind of Luke Skywalker, and now the comic comes to us (although surprisingly even later after the film). How does it stack up?
I will put a disclaimer before going further (and no, it’s not about spoilers): I did not like The Last Jedi. In fact, I couldn’t stand it. My issues with it came down to pacing, characterization, plot armor, and ultimately the feeling that the entire purpose of the film was to mock hardcore fans who debated and enthusiastically shared theories and speculation about the significance of Supreme Leader Snoke, Rey, Luke Skywalker or others. With that said, I’m also flexible and open-minded enough to admit that with some tweaks, I could have been happy enough with the film (as I was with Star Wars: The Force Awakens). This brings us to the comic, which has a unique opportunity to do so given that the novel didn’t really make many waves beyond a much-talked about dream sequence.
In a recent interview with Star Wars‘ official website, Gary Whitta, the writer of this adaptation, reflected “There’s the sweet spot somewhere in the middle that is, existentially, and in all the ways that matter, completely faithful to Rian’s intent in the story that he wanted to tell, but hopefully still adds enough new stuff that people feel that they’re not just reading the storyboard, right?” This gives us a good indication that this won’t be exactly the same experience, and right out the gate, we see that to be the case as we get a scene with Luke to start things off (which feels incredibly appropriate to me, given that this was advertised as being a film that was answering the question “Who is Luke Skywalker?”).
Interestingly, Whitta added in the aforementioned interview that this scene was not in any of the scripts and was something that he made up entirely, and while the opening battle with the Resistance the First Order is probably one of the best parts of the movie, to instead start things off not just by showing Luke right before Rey arrives, but also hearing his inner point of view, is an excellent choice. The followup scene is also similarly brand new, where we see strategizing between General Leia, Admiral Ackbar, and Poe Dameron to set up the aforementioned battle, and more importantly it gives Ackbar some much-needed development that fans were robbed of in the film. Even more promising is that Whitta has specifically called out Ackbar as someone he is going to delve into a lot more, which indicates we’ll probably get some more stuff in this vein.
On a minor note, Whitta has deviated from the script in some cases, adding his own qualifiers to increase the impact. For example, when Snoke is humiliating Kylo Ren he calls Rey a “slip of a girl, a junkyard rat” and then throws in a line saying that his grandfather “would have been ashamed of you.” It manages to twist the proverbial knife even further than we thought was possible. Conversely, although it’s also minor, I felt like while Whitta’s take on Luke shined, it seemed to be at Rey’s expense as he added a tad bit too much dialogue for her and seemed to almost completely eliminate her inner struggle and reflection.
There are also several scenes in the film that were roundly mocked by many, that in this writer’s opinion (and in that of many others) simply did not feel like Star Wars at all and felt more like something out of a Marvel film. For me, they took away from the dignity and gravitas of the film. I won’t spoil them, but they involve Poe, Finn, and Luke. The great news is that in the first issue alone, Whitta has made the decision to eliminate almost all of them. For a movie that was touted as being “dark” and with the stakes so high, these scenes just felt out of place and their removal is a breath of fresh air. Some humor is good, and Whitta doesn’t remove it entirely, but one of my biggest issues with the film was that some of these scenes didn’t add anything to the story and also felt like Johnson was simply trying too hard. What remains, at least as far as the scenes comprising issue #1 go, is perfect.
Most importantly (and what is getting the most news coverage) is how Whitta also decided to show the impact of Han’s death on Luke, and took it a step further with the addition of a significant show of empathy. The message is incredibly powerful — no matter how much Luke has tried to isolate himself, when this revelation hits, even he needs a shoulder to lean on. Again, the amount of focus on and monologuing from Luke is a treat and in this adaptation it just feels right, that Luke is the central focus of the entire story and that we are actually hearing things from the point of view of the character who was the hero, rather than anyone else’s. It’s a small tweak, but it makes a huge difference.
One of the main things everyone agreed upon no matter how much you liked or didn’t like the film was how gorgeous and mind-blowing everything looked. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the comic’s art, although it has its moments. There are some scenes where you can tell that faces and bodies are just being whipped together with the bare minimum amount of detail being given to the anatomy. But on the other hand, you can also see the sheer enjoyment Michael Walsh gets out of drawing Luke Skywalker. There’s a distinct difference in how Luke is shown, with lines and shadows dominating his face, and how everyone else is portrayed. Michael Spicer, the colorist, also does a great job of carrying over the color tones from the movie seamlessly; the overall mood I get when reading each scene is quite similar to when I watched it.
The story of The Last Jedi will not change as a result of this adaptation. Those people who virulently despise it will probably still despise it after reading this series. Whitta has already said he’s not going to change what Rian Johnson already came up with. However, there were many other fans out there that could have at least tolerated it if things had been done just a bit differently — an added scene here, a removed scene there, a few words of dialogue said differently, and the reception would have been different. For some of those people, maybe that can be done by fan edits that manage to cobble together deleted scenes and remove other parts. For the rest of us, this adaptation picks up on the emotional resonance that seemed to be missing in the film and doubles down on it by removing some pointless scenes with corny humor and adding other scenes that give much needed character development. While there will be aspects of the movie that no adaptation will ever make enjoyable for me, if this issue is any indication then I’m hopeful to see the rest of Whitta’s reimagining of the film.