2011 saw the resurrection or rebirth of a Star Wars comic series called Jedi. Initially envisioned as chronicles of specific individual Jedi Knights during the events of The Clone Wars, the new incarnation of the series instead delves a little deeper and further back into the history of the order, and concentrates on Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in the days he was a young trainer of apprentices and well before the time of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Subtitled The Dark Side, the new series shadows the final mission of Jinn’s padawan Xanatos and his subsequent fall to the Dark Side of the Force. Xanatos, as a character, had previously been explored as an antagonist in the Jedi Apprentice young adult book series; but this trade paperback delves into an era when he was still a boy.
Intractable and brooding, Xanatos as a 13-year-old padawan evokes the same feel as the Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones. It is almost as if the Jedi surrounding him cannot sense the menace and darkness beginning to envelop him; but in the words of Jedi Grand Master Yoda, “hard to see, the dark side is.”
Jedi – The Dark Side monitors Qui-Gon Jinn and Xanatos on a mission to his Padawan’s home planet of Telos IV, famously known from the Knights Of The Old Republic series. His father, Crion, is reunited with the boy; making an already moody Padawan bitter with antipathies and confusion. The planet is under attack by terrorist-style insurgents, seemingly influenced (perhaps) by the complicated and enigmatic character of Dairoki – but the Jedi discover that there may be more to the insurgence than meets the eye, and the revelation could be the tipping point for the beginning of Xanatos’ journey into the dark side.
Where the first Jedi series served as a bridge between two movies, the new reincarnated version serves as a prequel to a prequel (Jedi Apprentice) to a prequel (Episode I). It steps back into a previously unexplored history of Qui-Gon that had only been insinuated at and/or provided as a backstory for Xanatos. Eventually he develops an uncertainty in training Padawans (that is, until Kenobi becomes his apprentice), and this graphic novel tells of how he develops this hesitancy.
The overarching plot of The Dark Side is fairly straight-forward, and provides a “how-it-happened” interpretation of Xanatos’ turn to the dark side. This works fairly well, until you look deeper into the progression of the story. Despite the previous work of writer Scott Allie, several characters are introduced that have little to no bearing on the direction of the story, except perhaps for the sake of just putting them there for an appearance. There are some moments that are left curiously ambiguous or without explanation as to how they happen, such as Qui-Gon opposing some insurgents while disguised as an old man. The sequences provide some impressive artwork, but there’s little explanation as to how Jinn got to this point, why he’s working on this alone. There are several instants like this in the story that it becomes disorienting when they arise, and tracks off-kilter and makes the plot lost integral focus.
On the other hand, the key points of the fall of Xanatos are highlighted well, and develop into a satisfying yet intriguing conclusion. The artwork is satisfactory, with some impressive attention to detail provided during battle progressions. Mahmud Asrar and Paul Mounts do a reasonable job in presenting the story, and include some fabulous character profiles. Crion is regal and cautious in his design, highly representative of his character; while Dairoki nearly looks like a zombie Jedi: scarred and in the shadows. Color and tone play an important role, particular with regard to Qui-Gon as the story progresses.
Still, the art is not without issues either: Qui-Gon appears precisely as he does in The Phantom Menace, despite this story being set about 20 years before those events. This unrealistic depiction is disheartening. Whereas the premise of the comic is to highlight not only Xanatos’ fall to the dark side, it is also to zone in on Jinn’s evolution as a Jedi, and how he becomes focused in on the Living Force. The interpersonal relationships he has, in addition to his approach to being a Jedi (philosophically speaking) changes because of this development, and it is hard to believe that his physical representation in this work doesn’t reflect this. The readers want to learn about his advancement, but they also want to see it visually. I feel the artists lost a big opportunity on this one.
There is additional confusion with a couple of characters as well. The most notable is the appearance of a Jedi Master in the Council Chambers at the beginning and at the end of the graphic novel. Artistically, he resembles the EU character of Micah Giiett, but the colors and tones allude it is Mace Windu with hair. The writing never establishes who this character is, nor does it explicitly mention him by name. Is it Micah, Mace, or somebody new? This shouldn’t be a mystery as it has no real impression on the plot – instead it’s a poor and confusing representation of the character.
Regardless of my moaning, there are elements of the graphic novel that have merits. The above-mentioned sequence of Qui-Gon in disguise is actually artistically impressive, with it being incredibly creepy as he duels with his lightsaber while his mask is half torn off his face, giving a horror-felt impression on the imagery. The mystery shrouding Dairoki is appropriate and impressive, and makes me want to learn and comprehend more about his character – little is established of him during the course of the story, and it will be interesting to see how things will pan out with him in future publications.
Star Wars: Jedi – The Dark Side is a curious read. For those of us who are obsessive Expanded Universe fans, it’s nice to finally get a touch of the early Xanatos days. On the other hand, I fear that even casual Star Wars fans might find this story to be lost on them, particularly with some of the confusing flows in the plotline. This one’s for hardcore fans only I think, though they will enjoy it.