Graphic novel adaptations of films can be a tough sell to older audiences, rarely offering any new story content that could tempt those already familiar with the plot. Disney is seemingly aware of this fact and has geared their new adaptations of the original Star Wars films towards a decidedly younger demographic. The result is a bit slight, but certainly has its charms.
The plot of The Empire Strikes Back has been heralded as the best of the series and it is easy to see why. There is action, romance and world-building aplenty as Luke goes off to train with the mysterious Jedi master Yoda while Han and Leia attempt to outrun their Imperial pursuers. The film covers a lot of ground, causing the graphic novel to speed through much in order to cram it into 74 pages.
That overstuffed feeling does keep Alessandro Ferrari‘s writing from ever lagging. The characters are in constant motion, running into or out of danger as the dialogue is stripped down to only the most necessary and iconic lines. That momentum can be a lot of fun, pumping up the excitement in a way that the film itself never really managed.
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The problem with this, however, is that the character moments are never given much of a chance to breathe. Han and Leia’s love story is rushed through so that it does not register with the emotional heft needed to ground the finale, while the struggle over whether Luke should go to save his friends is settled so quickly as to not register. The iconic scene of Luke encountering the spectre of Darth Vader on Dagobah is also noticeably absent.
A big help in keeping the reader engaged is the attractive art design by Igor Chimisso (Artist), Eric Jones (Cover Artist), Matteo Piana (Artist) and Davide Turotti (Colourist). The overall aesthetic draws heavily from the online Star Wars: Forces of Destiny video line, using a more cartoony look with heavy manga influences. The style allows for very expressive characters that mimic the physicality of cartoon shows, further feeding into the feeling that this adaptation is geared towards younger readers.
The backgrounds, however, are a bit more sophisticated and traditional in their rendering, capturing the iconic locations perfectly. The Hoth scenes are especially well done, and the entrance into Cloud City provides another beautiful panel.
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As beautiful as these images can be, the rushed nature of the storytelling does hurt one’s ability to enjoy them. The need to speed through the plot means no space for full-page panes that showcase the artwork. The relatively strict adherence to the film’s visuals also keeps it from ever putting much of a spin on the classic Star Wars iconography.
The end result of all of this is an attractive product that lacks much of anything that an adult reader would look for in a graphic novel adaptation. Its style is bright and glossy rather than realistic or unique, and its brevity undermines the narrative’s nuance or depth.
Younger readers, though, will find plenty to enjoy here. It is very much in line with the Star Wars content Disney has been creating over the past year; and does a good job of keeping a familiar story from ever lagging. Parents can feel confident picking it up this graphic novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back for young Star Wars fans, who will delight in its simple pleasures and its ability to recreate the escapism of the film.
IDW Publishing’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Graphic Novel Adaptation is available now.