‘Skywalker Strikes’ sparks theory about ‘Force Awakens’

I am a big fan of “Star Wars,” and I also love comic books. But “Skywalker Strikes,” the graphic novel which collects issues 1 through 6, is the first Star Wars comic I’ve read. The last Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books I read were Timothy Zahn’s books, the Thrawn Trilogy, back in the early ’90s. The trilogy is set five years after the events in “Return of the Jedi.”

I am sure that the upcoming Star Wars sequel “The Force Awakens” will have little in common with Zahn’s books, as Disney now owns the Star Wars franchise and has more or less declared the Star Wars Expanded Universe not part of official canon, pissing off Star Wars fans everywhere.

I get why they did it, but it seems a little insulting to throw out all the books and comics that came before Disney, and also a bit tricky. Coruscant, for example, a planet prominently featured in the movie prequels, first appears in Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire.” Are they only keeping EU if it was picked up in the films?

Also angering some fans was Disney’s refusal to renew Dark Horse’s Star Wars publishing license in January. They instead gave the license back to Marvel, which they also now own.

Star Wars comics were published by Marvel from 1977 to 1986, when they canceled it. So Dark Horse had been publishing Star Wars comics since 1989. In short, this is the first Star Wars comic released by Marvel since the ’80s.

Because Disney has said the new comics are canon, it is possible that the characters introduced in them will be part of the new movies, so if you don’t like spoilers and theories, stop reading now.

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If you’re still with me, you’ve read my spoiler alert and have been warned.

The biggest surprise in the new comic is the appearance of a woman named Sana Solo, who claims to be Han’s wife. She confronts him on a planet where he and Leia are hiding from Imperial forces, and even asks Leia, “Now who in the hell might you be, lady?”

Earlier in the comic, she is shown (in a mask) trying to track Han down, and it seems she’s a bounty hunter when she says Han belongs to her, but in light of her claim, her words take on a new meaning.

The fact that Sana is black has fans speculating about a “Force Awakens” theory – that she and Han could be Finn’s parents or grandparents, especially considering director J.J. Abrams’ decision not to reveal some of the characters’ last names (as it would give something away).

Of course, this is all just a theory, and Sana might just be a lying stalker. But why put her in there if she’s not important?

One thing I like about this series is that it’s not boring. From the very first page, we are in the thick of the action, with the Rebels infiltrating an Imperial weapons factory, but their plan to destroy it is thwarted by the appearance of Vader. Luke, who still doesn’t know Vader is his father, wants to fight him, but the voice of Obi Wan tells him to run. At least old Ben knows Luke is no match for his old apprentice.

I like the art in this collection; Han and Leia look like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Luke is another story. Sometimes he looks like Mark Hamill and in other panels he’s almost unrecognizable. Maybe it’s just me.

Some of the action is recycled. A quick escape is hindered by a problem with the Millennium Falcon. Luke continues his existential Jedi angst. Han and Leia argue-flirt. Han flies through an electrical storm in an attempt to lose their tail – just like the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when he flew into an asteroid field. He even says, they “stopped following us, didn’t they?” In “The Empire Strikes Back,” he says, “They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?”

The introduction of Sana reminds me of the introduction of another character – Gwendolyn from the comic book “Saga.” Marko’s crazy ex trailed him across the galaxy before confronting him and his new woman.

That’s not to say the lack of originality has turned me off the new comic completely. I am looking forward to reading more, if only because I want to see what’s going on with Sana, and a few other new plot points that have been introduced. (OK, one.)

If I am not blown away, it’s only because I expected more from Marvel. In their defense, I think their biggest obstacle was that the element of suspense is missing, because we already know what’s going to happen. But then why choose this time period? It’s filler. Or an excuse to set up the lineage of the movie’s new characters, if the theory proves to be correct.

That being said, it’s nice to see everyone again, and while the plot may not be earth-shattering, it’s familiar and fun to read while waiting for the movie.

“Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes,” by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Marvel; October 2015

‘The Martian’ celebrates teamwork, optimism

You might think that if you were stranded on Mars, you would feel hopeless and depressed. Well, you wouldn’t if you were Mark Watney, the protagonist of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller “The Martian.”

And who else could pull off a smiling, cheery astronaut, even as he is dying on Mars, but Matt Damon? Watney rarely allows himself to let his situation get him down. He’s much too busy calculating mathematical equations to figure out how he’s going to survive until NASA figures out that he’s alive and sends someone to rescue him.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Damon recently played another astronaut stranded on a planet, in last year’s epic space adventure “Interstellar.” (Jessica Chastain was also in both movies.)

I keep hearing this movie described as “a love letter to NASA,” and it absolutely celebrates the camaraderie, teamwork, and sense of adventure for which the space agency is known. But more than that, it is a testimony to the ingenuity and determination of one man who refuses to give up.

Throughout the movie, I couldn’t help thinking, “I would never have thought of that” and “Well, that would be the last straw for me.” I clearly don’t have the knowledge base or mental stability required to be a space explorer. I kept waiting for him to crack, but I guess they weed out all the sissies from the space program with psychological testing.

I also kept waiting for some flashback scenes of Watney with his loved ones back on Earth. They never mention a girlfriend, only his parents, and even though there are brief scenes with the other astronauts’ families, we never see Watney’s parents, even though he mentions them a couple times.

Perhaps this was to show us that Watney wants to live for the sake of living, because he has a zest for life, not because he wants to see his children grow up or because he’s made a promise to a girlfriend that he would come back, which is how this is usually done.

Or maybe, this just isn’t a movie about family. Not the blood-related kind, anyway. It’s more about the faith and trust and the love of science that bond all these people together – the stranded astronaut who says “I love what I do,” the Ares 3’s other five astronauts who have become his friends, and the entire ground crew at NASA, who are faced with making tough decisions without much time to consider the odds.

And most of all, it’s about optimism in the face of adversity – a quality we should all aspire to.