Sunday, August 26, 2012

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

Title: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

ISBN: 1569713596
Price: $12.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1999
Artist: Rodolfo Damaggio
Writer: Henry Gilroy
Collects: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace #1-4

Rating: 2/5

This is the comic book adaptation of the hit movie that serves as the beginning of the prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. Set decades before Star Wars, it chronicles a galactic dispute resulting in a sinister force occupying the planet Naboo, and a couple of Jedi Knights encountering a young boy with a powerful connection to the Force...Anakin Skywalker.

It's a decent enough representation of the movie. Sometimes I used to be frustrated reading novels or comics adapting movies, because of the way they would sometimes diverge from the source material. This was either because the writer was embellishing with his/her own creativity or, as was often the case, working from an earlier draft script (in order for the release of a comic or novel to coincide with the movie, the writers would have to start work before the movie itself was completed). Yet here what's almost disappointing is how faithful the adaptation is! At 100 pages, they can basically fit in the whole movie (maybe trimming a scene here or there) but there are no extra scenes, no novel interpretations that might make things fresh or exciting. At the same time, because of its length, it doesn't fall into the trap of some other, shorter adaptations I've read where the story can be rendered incoherent at times because crucial scenes and lines are left out will-nilly. At least, for the most part. There are still spots in The Phantom Menace that, I'll wager, will be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the movie -- even someone familiar with it -- particularly in the climax. And occasional subtleties might be lost, like during the pod race. In the movie, the point was that no human had ever won a pod race before, adding significance to the line reproduced in the comic "You have brought hope to those who have none."

But for those familiar with it, it does a nice, evocative job, even imbuing the scenes with a little more atmosphere than the movie had thanks to the colors and inking. At the same time, there is a kind of "Classics Illustrated" approach (to use the cliched, and perhaps unfair, put-down of adaptations). Artist Damaggio does capable work, and evokes the actors well enough (maybe not so that you'd recognize them if you didn't know who starred in the movie, but well enough if you do). Al Williamson, who illustrated comic book adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi so lushly, is on hand as an inker, but can't bring much to the proceedings in that capacity. Likewise, scripter Gilroy sticks to reproducing the dialogue from the film -- no extra thought balloons, and the few text captions are treated as just bridging text, with no attempt to use them to create mood or to embellish a scene.

Still, with all that being said, better to have a faithful, if safe adaptation, than a bad one. I had mixed feelings about the movie itself, and those remain here (thin characterization, and a plot that contains at least a few holes). But this was an enjoyable enough comic that, in its own way, I enjoyed as much as the movie itself.

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