Review of The Force Unleashed Graphic Novel (Part 2 of 3)
The operative landed his vessel, an XM-1138 Blackbird, in the maw-like hangar. He sensed a giddy malevolence in the air, and knew it was related to the feeling that had drawn him here.
He leaped, light-footed, out of his cockpit, moving in the manner of a swash-buckler but dressed in the manner of a pious Cheddar Monk. He sprung across the hangar, utterly silent other than the tip taps of his feet on the floor. Nevertheless, he was spotted.
An elderly man with white hair and a strong beard stepped out of the corridor, a beam of scarlet light protruding from his grip as he blocked the operative’s path. The operative responded with his own beam of crimson, and the two expertly crossed blades in a manner that better befitted a gathering of aristocrats engaging in flights of fancy than the deadly serious sport that it truly was. Indeed, this fact was underlined when, after a particularly deft sweep of the operative’s blade, the aging yet nimble gentleman was replaced by two halves of a bisected droid, sparking as it crashed to the ground.
After dispatching PROXY, it didn’t take long to find a prisoner, a humanoid male dressed in black, in a cell surrounded by different incarnations of The Force Unleashed. He had been subjected to various forms of TFU-related torture for days, the same story forced into his brain in different formats until he was convinced that the new arrival was none other than Starkiller himself. Still, he showed some alertness, which prompted Kirr to greet him and comment.
I enjoyed reading Sean Williams’ novel adaptation of The Force Unleashed, but in some ways this whole event reminds me of Shadows of the Empire – except, whereas in that, certain story elements were completely missing depending upon which medium you followed (book, comic, game), in the case of The Force Unleashed, there are just some things that seem to work better depending upon the media.
The prisoner perked up at Kirr’s greeting, though the man in black did not identify himself. He did respond, though.
In other words, you remain in the dark no matter how many times you double dip on The Force Unleashed. However, while some aspects are terrible, sometimes you get a product that is okay, or even good.
To start with, I really enjoyed most of the artwork in this book. Juno Eclipse is drawn quite attractive, and I can understand why Starkiller has some interest in her (if we were going purely on personality, I’d say that there doesn’t seem to be much to Juno, so at least I can understand his attraction to her on a physical level). At the same time though, the albino Rancor didn’t come off effective in the comic at all. I’ve seen promo pictures of this scene from the videogame, and it should have been far more impressive than it was in this graphic novel.
I find it interesting that while the artwork is generally excellent- as Kirr says, Juno, who is particularly bland in the video game, is very flatteringly depicted here- Maris Brood has some of the worst-looking images here that I’ve ever seen of her, either depicted in slight detail at a distance or in rather unflattering detail close up. This is particularly disappointing because she’s a unique character, as well as a newly introduced “young” woman (the quotation marks are because the apparently teen Maris really should be over thirty if you believe her backstory)- and she really looks good outside of the comic! There are a few other examples of art mistakes- the rest of Maris’s Felucia sequence ranks among the worst art in the comic and all three artists have jarringly different styles- but otherwise it was very visually appealing.
Since Kirr mentioned the rancor, I have to bring up a gripe I have not only with this comic, but graphic novelizations of video games in general, and that is the boss battles. As in The Force Unleashed, comics based on video games tend to either completely skip over boss battles, or gloss them over in one or two panels, except for those bosses that have their own pre-fight cutscenes, which sometimes have three or four dedicated pages. This results in a comic that cuts between being very rushed, shortening a half hour battle or an hour long siege into a page, and being very talky. For example, the last two hours of the game translates into 14 comic pages, but 13 of those pages focus on the last 15 minutes and its accompanying scenes!
“Overly short battles, you say,” a voice hissed from elsewhere in the hallway. Kirr looked up, surprised. The Man in Black, who had been in the Lord’s company for days (if not weeks), was even more surprised- not once had he heard this creature’s voice! The mad Sith Lord then stepped out of the shadows, yellow eyes glowing from beneath his heavily obscuring hood. He moved not with the mechanical awkwardness that the Man in Black had thought he observed, but rather with the sort of semi-fluid movements that continued to obscure the true nature of the being behind the cloak- a fighting style very similar to that of the late Darth Vader’s.
The deep maroon of Starthriller’s blade seemed nearly black in contrast with Kirr’s crimson blade and Starthriller’s own ruby cloak as it slashed, mostly downward in overhead chops. His blows looked clumsy to the still trapped prisoner against Kirr’s artful parries, but the deception of appearance was underscored by several near misses and close burns scored in quick succession targeted at Kirr’s torso.
Kirr howled in pain as his collarbone was finely scorched, taking the offensive into his own hands and striking once, twice, three times in an attempt to disintegrate his opponent’s saber. Finally he succeeded, Starthriller barely pulling his hand out of the way in time for his weapon to be bisected. With a follow-up swing and a wave of his hand, the Cheddar Monk sent the shocked Sith Lord out of sight with a crash.
In terms of actual story, in some ways it actually works better as a graphic novel than as a book. This way it has a quicker pace, there’s no time to think about the inconsistencies or the at times outrageous twists the story takes (which seems to come from the videogame mentality), and by adding in the visual impact (which the novel lacks) it brings it to more of a videogame (or movie) level, where you’re as much watching as you are reading.
I also liked the use of Proxy as the narrator telling Starkiller’s story to Bail Organa, as kind of a bookend to the graphic novel. It brought something a little different to the tale than we had gotten in the novel, and I thought tied things nicely together with the (otherwise fairly flawed) origin of the Rebel Alliance idea. And some of my favorite scenes from the book came off even better in the comic; like the Shadow Guards reveal and when Vader throws the Starkiller out of the window on a Star Destroyer.
Despite the benefits brought by the comic, some things were not delivered as well. The comic seems in some aspects to follow the non-canon story elements of the lower quality game versions, such as PROXY being aware of Vader’s past as Anakin Skywalker- a fact that raises a multitude of questions but doesn’t answer any of them. While the Shadow Guard is indeed more dramatic, you’re even more in the dark as to these shadowy assassins than you are in the text version.
And then there’s the problem with the finale of this story – I barely remember it from the book, and it was impossible to figure out where the finale was taking place (by that I mean the battle between Vader, the Emperor, and Starkiller). I thought it was supposed to be on the Death Star, but there was a complete lack of setting the stage in the graphic novel.
It wasn’t long before the corridor filled with the scent of rotting meat. Both the Man in Black and Kirr felt their hearts begin to race, but neither could detect any hint of gas being pumped into the cell or the corridor. As it began to dawn on them that this was an act of the Force, Starthriller appeared once again.
Obviously, Kirr’s strike against him earlier was not very debilitating. Using the full power of the Force, Starthriller had dimmed the light in the close quarters, in addition to enacting the earlier illusions. Dozens of zippers covering his ruby cloak were open, and all of them seemed to be chattering and emitting Dark Side energies.
Feeling suddenly jittery, Kirr was dismayed to find that Starthriller’s Dark Side energies easily batted his lightsaber out of his hand. Kirr steeled himself for one last charge.
There are some things that just didn’t work at all, no matter what the medium. There was supposed to be a ‘make you reconsider the whole saga’ moment in The Force Unleashed, but finding out that it was Vader (at the Emperor’s command) who created the Rebel Alliance so as to draw out the opposition to the Empire… just didn’t really work as a huge revelation. On a deeper level, there was a huge missed opportunity here between The Force Unleashed and Dark Forces – Kyle Katarn is somewhat trained by a Jedi ghost with a very similar name to the Jedi whom Starkiller tries to kill (and later becomes the apprentice of). That link could have made this story even more interesting (especially since we’re talking about two videogame properties here), but alas, it was not meant to be.
Missed opportunities seems to be the name of the game for The Force Unleashed, which may very well be one reason why I’m hopeful for The Force Unleashed 2. It has the possibility of succeeding in the places where it’s predecessor failed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Force Unleashed – I think it’s good for what it is, actually closer in line to Lucas’ original inspiration for Star Wars as it’s very pulp-like in it’s execution – but those looking for deeper Star Wars works need look somewhere else.
Starthriller lowered himself and slid to the side in a theatrical maneuver as he avoided his attacker. He somehow managed to restrain Kirr in the same maneuver, and by the time he was once again standing upright, the mysterious villain was gazing downward upon Kirr.
Kirr rushed straight at the demon-inspired being known as Starthriller. He knew he had only one chance at this. Yet almost as soon as his charge began, it was over. He had bypassed Starthriller completely, and was somehow sinking into the floor. Even as he became conscious of this, his consciousness was fading, sinking, going… where?
To be continued…
Reviews written by William Silvia Jr, James Haley and Stephen Rice 2010. Story written by William Silvia Jr 2010. The Force Unleashed, the Death Star and all other Star Wars references and quotes property LucasFilms Ltd, George Lucas and related companies. The Man in Black and Lord Starthriller copyright William Silvia Jr. Avada Kedavra emoticon property of JK Rowling. “Don’t you know anything about science” internet meme started by Lewis Lovhaug of TGWTG.com with art property of DC Comics. Pulp Fiction clip property of Miramax Films. Snoopy property of the estate of Charles Shulz. Trailer by MizzeeOH.