WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars: Kanan – The Last Padawan #1.
While Star Wars Rebels certainly incinerated fans’ doubts about whether Disney could handle the saga, there’s no denying that the show is still targeted toward younger viewers. There’s nothing wrong with its playful, lighthearted approach to the universe, but Star Wars is at its best when its story takes place in the shadow of the Dark Side.
That’s where Marvel comes in. Their line of Star Wars comics is allowing writers to scuff up the universe again and add some much-needed shades of gray. Toward this end, it helps that the first issue of Kanan: The Last Padawan is the first new canon comic to be set near the tail-end of the Clone Wars, a period when the story possibilities were brimming with moral ambiguity.
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The story begins with a single-page tie-in to Rebels depicting the Ghost‘s crew, before flashing back to Kanan Jarrus’ time as a padawan during a Clone Wars battle on the planet of Kaller. It’s unclear if the series will continue to use the animated series as a framing device to jump back into Kanan’s past, but right now it feels like an unnecessary beat shoehorned in for Rebels fans.
But immediately after, we’re thrust into the thick of war as we see a young Kanan, known as Caleb Dume, battle Separatist forces alongside his master, Depa Billaba, and a tight-knit band of clone troopers.
After liberating the planet from the Separatist Devaronian leader General Kleeve, whose brief appearance in this issue seems to promise a much larger role later on, Kanan and his master encounter some backlash from the planet’s native inhabitants, who decry the presence of Republic soldiers as much as Separatist droids. Even the Clone Wars animated series never fully explored the idea that the galaxy’s civilians saw no difference between the two sides, so hopefully the writers tap into this vein more often in the future.
Later on, the story takes a breather and spends some time developing the relationship between Kanan and Master Billaba. Their dynamic is an interesting one, as Kanan admits that he feels like he belongs on a battlefield, while Billaba shares her doubts about the Jedis taking such a large role in the Republic Army. Kanan is shocked by his master’s musings, but the two are still clearly respectful toward one another.
Both of them also have a strong bond with their clone trooper allies, which only adds to the tension and tragedy when one of them receives Order 66. It’s a diabolical cliffhanger that lights the fuse for what’s sure to be an explosive second issue.
The artwork throughout is gorgeous, particularly a scene where Kanan and Billaba practice with their lightsabers during a twin sunset. We get a solid sense of place with the rugged terrain of planet Kaller, and for once, it’s not confined to one topographical feature. And a new alien species debuts in the form of the Kallerans, whose body language is well-drawn enough to suggest their animosity toward the invading troops.
While its first issue mainly sets the tone and arranges the pieces for the inevitable tragic developments coming soon, The Last Padawan is already offering a tantalizing glimpse at a dark period in the Star Wars timeline. It only helps that the writer, Greg Weisman, was also an executive producer on Rebels‘ first season, which means he has a firm grasp on what he wants to explore with this character.