I was surprised when Marvel announced Kanan: The Last Padawan. Amid the focus on well-known Original Trilogy characters, here was a comic about the origin of a relatively unknown character from a kids show that had just launched. I thought it was a gamble on Marvel’s part and not one I was particularly interested in at its announcement. However, my lack of interest didn’t last long.
The first issue picks up right at the close of the Clone Wars. Padawan Caleb Dume (who we know better as Kanan Jarrus) and his master Depa Billaba have just won a battle over Separatist forces on the planet Kaller, when their clone troopers receive Order 66 from Palpatine. This first arc doesn’t spend much time on Billaba and Dume’s relationship, instead opting to jump right into the chaos of Order 66. It was sudden, but I didn’t think it was a point that needed to be lingered on. The camaraderie between the Jedi and the clones under their command has been well established in Episode III, The Clone Wars television show, as well as numerous Legends books and comics. So when Commander Grey and Captain Styles turned their weapons on Billaba and Dume, the lack of familiarity with the characters didn’t make it any less gut wrenching.
Writer Greg Weisman throws young Caleb Dume into the harsh realities of the New Order where he quickly learns that being a Jedi is no longer an option. He eventually falls in with a Kalleran smuggler named Janus Kasmir, who teaches him the ins-and-outs of his new criminal life. I liked the addition of Kasmir because it gave insight into how this idealistic Padawan became the carefree and reluctant hero we meet in A New Dawn and Rebels. As we know from the aforementioned book and show, Kanan’s Jedi tendencies never really go away, but they are hidden by an exterior of selfishness. The necessity of this selfish lifestyle is further driven home by the relentless pursuit of Dume by his former clone troopers, Grey and Styles. I won’t spoil it, but the resolution of this pursuit was one of the most touching moments in the new canon.
Being the outstanding writer that he is, I was upset when it was announced that Weisman was leaving Rebels. After reading this first arc of Kanan, however, I’m glad that he did. Weisman is a veteran comic writer and I don’t think there was anybody better suited to writing Kanan’s backstory than somebody who wrote his character for the show. It was announced a while back that Weisman is staying on to write the second arc of Kanan and the story will be better for it.
The art in Kanan was nothing short of a master class in just how good comic art can be. The penciling by Pepe Larraz is some of the best I’ve ever seen and not just in Star Wars comics. The characters really shine in Larraz’s style, popping out of the backgrounds like they should. The robes of the Jedi flow, the armor of the clone troopers is rigid and worn, and all the aliens look distinct. The faces are especially good–the expressions are exaggerated, but not overly exaggerated to the point of silliness. I like this exaggeration in a comic, because it helps convey emotion when there is a lack of motion. The characters also managed to be realistic without falling into that uncanny valley of hyper-realism. Trying to make characters look exactly like they do in other media is a fool’s errand, and Larraz handles this brilliantly, taking the characters and making them his own.
One person that is essential to art style of a comic, but never gets enough credit, is the colorist. David Curiel’s work on Kanan, like Larraz’s, is some of the best I’ve seen. The colors are deep and luscious. Many times colors can appear slightly faded on the printed page. This isn’t the case for Kanan. The color palette reminds me of The Clone Wars television show, especially the later seasons when the art and animation teams really hit their stride. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it helps connect this Rebellion-era character with his Republic-era past.
Kanan is not a comic that I actively wanted, but it is one I’m glad Marvel decided to produce. Out of all the new canon Star Wars comics that have completed first arcs, this one has been the best. The arc starts off with a bang and, despite a bit of a lull in the middle, never fails to deliver. It has the best writing, the best art, and the most emotional impact. It also shows that Lucasfilm and Disney are not done with the Clone Wars era. Kanan does a fantastic job of linking the Prequel and Original trilogies. The upcoming arc First Blood even takes place during the Clone Wars. It’s an important piece in this new connected storytelling and I, for one, love it.