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Bellarius takes a look at the Star Wars Expanded Universe with Haden Blackman’s The Force Unleashed.
“The new go-to example of the problems with adapting tales from one medium to the next.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
When it comes to adaptations of other mediums into another form, things will always be hit and miss. It not only requires the right kind of plot to adapt but also the right author to handle events. One skilled enough to change written text to moving image, or moving image to comicbook panels. Video Games especially are hard to do this for due to the fact they offer interaction, an element no other form of media can hope to offer. Comics have seen some successes in the past, but unfortunately The Force Unleashed might as well bear the title “Star Wars: The Phantom Plot”.
Set in the era between the end of the prequel trilogy and the beginning of the originals, The Force Unleashed centres around the story of Galen “Starkiller” Marek. Taken as the secret apprentice of Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith proceeds to train his new apprentice as a personal attack dog. Sending him out to maul Jedi and then usually beating him with a rolled up newspaper upon return. As Starkiller is sent out time and time again, it becomes clear Vader has something more in mind for him than just seek and destroy missions…
Before we get into the problems, let it be known that the comic is hardly without good elements. Chief among these is the art. Many of the Clone Wars comics and Star Wars tales from Dark Horse around this time benefitted from having great artistic styles and a distinctive look.
A major figure in providing this was Brian Ching who brings his talents to work here along with another experienced Artist Bong Dazo. As a result settings, locations, starfields and action sequences have a brilliantly graphic look to them which helps them stand out and his continues here. The pages are left bursting both energy and with elements which seem to reflect the feel of a hero’s journey or story epic these tales tend to try and go for. No matter the scene, you are constantly drawn to some interesting detail or element which will keep you going.
However, there is ultimately one critical point which proves to be the comic’s failing: Its structure and storytelling.
While the main supporting cast proves to be fairly effective and the book creates a good narrator early on, it’s hard to escape that it is a video game plot. This isn’t meant as detrimental, but you can see how this is a story failing.
New figures are introduced, sometimes purely as bosses and little else, simply so Starkiller can fight them and die. Beyond frequently flimsy links to the plot, they serve no real purpose beyond just providing fights. That can be fine with dumb muscle, but few fall under this category and others do not even get basic closure. Major offenders in this area are Shaak Ti and Maris Brood, neither of who are given anything truly worthy of substance.
A more critical problem is that writer Haden Blackman is clearly aware of this problem, but doesn’t do enough to correct it. Whereas other comics had other writers handle the plots, Blackman was responsible for both the script in the game and in this comic. This seems to have led to an attitude of attempting to change as little as possible from the games, when adapting the plot for a new medium is the only way in which a comic might succeed. Instead, entire time periods are simply skipped because they do not fit a comic format. Weeks of fighting and events are told that they happened to the reader but never shown, including major character development which would more naturally evolve over time. It’s a major offense in the world of writing and even Blackman’s considerable skill and experience in writing comics does not save it from failure.
The unfortunate problem is that this skipping of development mashes down any progress there might have been to make Starkiller an involving figure. A classic example of a character relying too heavily upon an origin idea, Starkiller left being extremely flat as a result of this lack of visible progress. The few moments of real development we see are told primarily through the narration or fleetingly brief. Usually lacking major impact thanks to being squashed down to cram together several hours of plot into a few dozen pages and the result does not feel genuine. Instead his progression and turn as a character feels artificial, a synthetic storyline without anything truly there to convey the idea Starkiller is a true character. Instead he just seems to be a walking concept or idea who massacres the mob forces of the Empire.
It’s far from the worst comic you’ll ever read. It’s far from even being the worst comic set in a galaxy far, far away and at least it’s not relentlessly padding itself out under the excuse of decompressed storytelling. That said it’s far, far from being anywhere near good enough to spend your time and money on it. Save your money for something else, it won’t take you long to find something better than this.