Star Wars is growing up.
That may be the last thing you expect considering the pedigree of the company that now owns the franchise is rife with talking animals and precocious princesses. But it’s true no matter which way you turn.
J.J. Abrams has already hinted that the motivations of Kylo Ren and the First Order in The Force Awakens may not be purely evil. The Star Wars Rebels TV series is entering its Empire Strikes Back phase by re-introducing a more intimidating Darth Vader that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy. The show is also providing us with more mature heroes whose pasts are a bit murkier than what we’ve seen before.
One of those characters, the ex-Jedi Kanan Jarrus, received his own origin story in the form of the Marvel comic, Kanan: The Last Padawan, which wrapped its first arc this week with issue No. 5 (a second arc, kicks off in September with an issue focusing on the crew of the Ghost in the timeline of Rebels season one.) And although it hasn’t been my favorite of the new Marvel comic books, Greg Weisman’s Kanan may be the most adult Star Wars story we’ve seen to date.
That may seem odd considering the series is set during the era of the prequel trilogy, which tackled the same complex themes with the grace and subtlety of a hormonal teenager. But Kanan takes on the same issues (What happens to the losers of war? Is there any such thing as an evil side?) with a smarter, more focused edge.
This is best illustrated in the characters of Styles and Grey, two clone troopers who betrayed Kanan (or Caleb Dume as he was known then) and killed his master, Depa Billaba, and have managed to capture him at the end of last issue. The scene where Kanan begs and pleads with them to see that the Jedi are not the enemy, that they were just as much the victims of the war as the Republic was, is heartbreaking and intense, and artist Pepe Larraz gets a lot of mileage out of his expert facial depictions.
That internal conflict is reflected again in the character of Kleeve, a Separatist general who appeared in the very first issue. Although he was set up as a potential antagonist, especially with his devil-like features, it turns out that the alien is just as lost and confused by the war as Kanan is when he encounters him in the previous issue. Unfortunately, although Kleeve helps save Kanan by this installment’s end, he’s not given too much to do here, but his arc is still resonant.
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It’s a similar story for Kanan’s friend Kasmir, the Kalleran who seemed to be a hidden enemy but who turned out to be a reliable friend. The wisecracking smuggler has proved to be an entertaining presence, but his bond with Kanan is the heart of the story here, which makes it all the more affecting when Kanan decides to leave him and venture out on his own.
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Larraz’s artwork continues to shine here, popping off the page with a cartoonish colorful sheen that brings to mind the animated Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows. The space battles in particular leap off the page thanks to the vibrant explosions and laser blasts coursing across the panels.
The first arc of Kanan ends with Caleb Dume once and for all shedding his former identity and adopting the persona of Kanan Jarrus. Not only is it a perfect segway into the upcoming second storyline where we catch up with the crew of Rebels, but it’s also yet another marker that Star Wars is no longer just an innocent childhood fantasy but a look at how people cope with aftermath of devastating events like war and death. Star Wars is growing up, just like Kanan. Don’t call him “kid” anymore.