Recent Star Wars comics have seen a resurgence in terms of their quality. No longer the realm of one-off tales that factor little into the franchise’s overall plot, they are now vital parts of the Star Wars mythos filled with engaging plots and some truly stunning visuals. The graphic novel adaptations of the new films, however, have been a mixed bag, often seeming more like a quick cash-in to milk a few dollars from libraries and young kids than products that add much. The latest installment comes almost a year after the release of its inspiration, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and unfortunately epitomises all that Disney has been getting wrong with this particular sub-genre.
The basic plot of this graphic novel matches that of the film to a tee, adding no new tidbits or expanding upon scenes as some entries have in the past. We follow smuggler Han Solo as he escapes his home planet of Corellia only to to get mixed up with the villainous Crimson Dawn syndicate. Along the way, we see crucial parts of Han’s backstory explained and shown, including his meeting Chewbacca and his famed Kessel Run completion. As has been stated in past reviews of the film and its related materials, Solo never drags or wants for things to do, providing thrills from beginning to end, and all of that continues to be true here.
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With such a busy film, however, the graphic novel struggles to condense all of it into a scant 70 pages. Action scenes are jettisoned or shortened considerably, while dialogue is rushed so as to diminish any real emotional impact. This is especially harmful to the story’s finale, which gains its power from the multiple betrayals that occur. In this version, there are no stakes. In addition to the rushed pacing, explanatory captions are nearly omnipresent, often writing out what is already clearly discernible from looking at the illustrations. With such a straightforward adventure, the captions serve as more of a distraction than anything else. Their presence will certainly grate on older readers, and younger readers will likely gain nothing from them either.
The adaptation’s overall art direction continues the recent trend of adopting basic manga characteristics for the characters, leading to a hybrid character style that at time resembles the work of Peter Chung. The characters are decently rendered, with a surprising amount of detail. Han, however, has perhaps a bit too much, giving his face an angularity that reads as slightly villainous.
The backgrounds and vehicles, however, are surprisingly bland. This is quite problematic given that the plot centers on a pilot who visits multiple distinct locales. Much of the grandeur of things such as the train heist and Kessel Run are lost by the choice of standard boxy shapes. A rather primitive, if bright, color palette adds to the problem, often coming across as if colorists used the paint bucket icon to fill in each geometric shape with one primary color. None of this is necessarily unattractive, but it is rarely fascinating to look at. As in the recent Last Jedi adaptation as well, the fast pace of the narrative also prevents any full-page panels to show off exciting scenes with standout artwork, reducing the splendor of many great moments from the film.
These graphic novel adaptations always straddle a line in terms of their purpose, with most of the fun coming from seeing the movie you love translated into a fully drawn medium. Without that aspect, then it must rely on the strengths of the story it is telling, which is so rushed here as to lose most of its impact. The overall effect is unfortunately to make the Solo: A Star Wars Story graphic novel adaptation unable to stand on its own, forcing the reader to pull from his or her memory of the film itself in order to gain much pleasure from the book.
For younger readers, this may be less of an issue, but the bland visuals will give them little reason to return to it and pore over its drawings. Even with its more mature storyline, The Last Jedi graphic novelization is a better pick for them. More mature readers will have even less of a reason to give it a chance, likely better served by reading its full novelization given that sub-genre’s recent success in the Star Wars franchise.
The story of Solo: A Star Wars Story is more suited to the graphic novel format than any other recent Star Wars film, making the failure of this adaptation a missed opportunity. Rushed pacing and bland art direction remove many of the reasons people would seek out this work, making it difficult to recommend. The underlying plot is still strong and enough to satisfy the least demanding of readers, but don’t be surprised if it remains on your bookshelf indefinitely after that first readthrough.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Graphic Novel Adaptation is now available from IDW Publishing.