The Disney/Marvel/Star Wars love connection has mainly focused on a narrow set of years in the grand Star Wars universe. That would be the years 13 BBY to 2 ABY, a time period that could be loosely called the Rise of the Empire Era. But Star Wars is bigger than that and the new “Age of Republic” miniseries has let comic creators explore that most controversial of Star Wars eras. We’re going into the Prequel Era. That’s right my friends, today we’re gonna talk about Jar Jar Binks.
Written by Ethan Sacks, Jody Houser, and Mark Guggenheim
Illustrated by Paolo Villanelli, Carlos Gomez, and Caspar Wijngaard
Colored by Erick Arciniega, Dono Sanchez-Almara, and Cris Peter
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
THE GREATEST HEROES OF THE REPUBLIC, THE DEADLIEST VILLAINS – AND EVERYONE IN BETWEEN!
Three creative teams! Three stories featuring your favorite Star Wars characters!
• The baddest Jedi in the galaxy has a score to settle — MACE WINDU returns in an action-packed adventure from OLD MAN HAWKEYE’S Ethan Sacks!
• You can run, but can you hide from the twin lightsabers of Sith assassin ASAJJ VENTRESS? Feel her fury in a tale expertly woven by veteran STAR WARS comic scribe Jody Houser (THRAWN, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RENEW YOUR VOWS).
• You can take the clone out of the war but you can never take the war out of the clone — CAPTAIN REX dusts off his blaster and enters the fray in a story by X-MEN: GOLD author Marc Guggenheim.
The “Age of Republic Special” is a one-shot, divided into three chapters by three different creative teams, each focusing on a different character from the prequel era. First is a story about a young master Mace Windu written by Ethan Sacks and illustrated by Paolo Villanelli. Then a chapter about renegade Sith Asajj Ventress written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Carlos Gomez. Finally we have a team-up between Captain Rex and Jar Jar freaking Binks written by Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard. All of them come and go so quickly they only have time to be snapshots. Despite that, each story has at least one big moment worth the price of admission.
What makes these sort of anthologies tricky is taking them as a whole. Of the six creators I just mentioned, two of them have been putting out legendary work of late, and this special is no exception. Jody Houser killed it in her Thrawn adaptation, proving that she has the technical ability to turn a simple adaptation into an excellent comic. Her work here is no exception. Ventress is one of the underrated badasses of the Star Wars universe, and Houser turns a simple, cliched story into a pretty engaging read (seriously, how many times have we seen Coruscant renegades feel bad for some orphan kids, dismember some criminal bully, and show that deep down they do have a heart? I can think of more than three times). As a fan of Ventress from the Clone Wars cartoon and Dark Disciple novel, I was delighted to spend ten pages with her. I imagine this would be a killer introduction to Ventress, and you’d be keen to check her out elsewhere. That’s a big ‘ol success to me.
The Rex and Jar Jar story is probably the most thankless of the bunch. So I got to hand it to Guggenheim he’s not scared of Jar Jar at all. The creator of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow knows a thing or two about silly, and so he embraces every cringe-worthy “mesa” and “bombad” with a smile. Did I like Jar Jar by the end of this story? No, he’s a horrid menace. But Guggenheim’s broad writing style worked just fine for the heroic Rex and the awful Jar Jar. There’s no meta-message about what Star Wars means, it’s a little adventure about a soldier and a clown forced to team up. Guggenheim’s comic work has been hit or miss for me, but putting him in a short story like this assures that he doesn’t overstay his welcome and overplay his hand.
Guggenheim’s story is elevated by the great Caspar Wijngaard. Mr. Wijngaard hasn’t had a big breakout superhero ongoing yet, but it’s past time. If you are familiar with his work, you know he usually deals in grime and rust and jagged edges. Here he translates his regular style and fuses it with the clean CGI design of the Clone Wars cartoon and creates something entirely new. It rules. You can even feel a bit of Genndy Tartakovsky in the DNA, the first animator to work with Captain Rex. On top of the astonishing style, Wijngaard manages to draw slapstick comedy into a comic. Is it funny? I don’t want to go too far, Jar Jar is still Jar Jar, but every stumble, flail, and pratfall is clearly delivered and what doesn’t work on a comedy level makes sense as an action beat. Of this special, Wijngaard is the clear MVP.Continued below
That leaves the Mace Windu story by Sacks and Villanelli. Sacks is a relative newcomer to the mainstream comics scene and while his work on “Old Man Hawkeye” didn’t do much for me, he also wrote the surprisingly emotional “What If? Thor.” Here Sacks has some neat ideas (Mace Windu building a lightsaber with his mind!) but some of his dialogue evokes George Lucas- and not in a good way. When Windu tries to save a young girl caught up with a bad crew, Master Yoda offers these words of wisdom: “No. Face imprisonment for her role in terrorist attacks, she will. Interfere in local laws, we cannot.” (The terrorism in question seems to be kidnapping and theft. Crimes definitely. But wise master Yoda is really making a political statement ain’t he?). Villanelli draws good action, and I really liked his take on a young Padawan Windu, but his creature designs were Star Trek bad. 60s Star Trek. Uninspiring.
So is “Age of Republic” essential reading? Absolutely not. Nothing essential is learned. It’s an entry in the Star Wars tradition of over-explaining every second of every character’s life. But I’m a Star Wars fan, I’m here for that. Moreover, it’s a great showcase for a bunch of talented creators. If Marvel comics are going to have a future, they need to nurture new talent, and this book demonstrates that Sacks, Villanelli, Houser, Gomez, Guggenheim, and Wijngaard all have a lot to offer, especially Houser and Wijngaard. As a talent showcase, “Age of Republic” brings a new hope to the Marvel bullpen.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – Come for Ventress and Jar Jar, stay for Houser and Wijngaard.