Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
The Legends of Luke Skywalker: The Manga
Luke Skywalker – is he a man, or just a legend? In this anthology series adapted from the original novel by Ken Liu, several mangaka with distinct, individual styles give breathing life to a collection of tall tales about the world's most famous sci-fi hero.
So – listen.
My name is Zac Bertschy, and throughout my life there have been three constants: anime, manga and Star Wars. I am an enormous lifelong fan of everyone's favorite completely oversaturated and inescapable sci-fi media franchise, created by George Lucas back in the late 70s. My favorite character has always been Luke Skywalker – although now that I'm older, my favorite character is now Old Luke Skywalker, because I'm old, and so of course Old Luke is. I spend probably too much time at Disneyland's Star Wars theme park, Galaxy's Edge. So that should give you some context for this review. As Troy McClure once said – this is the part I was born to play.
So here we have a series of 4 new stories about the classic chosen one, Luke Skywalker, adapted into a manga. This book is a collection of short stories adapted from a novel by Ken Liu, which mirrors a lot of the old Expanded Universe books from the 90's – Tales From Jabba's Palace, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, things like that. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they declared the entire Expanded Universe to be dead – not canon, while everything else they created afterward would be officially canon stories. This book takes a different approach – it's not really clear if these stories are intended to be actual things that happened to Luke. There's no framing device, where people are sitting around a campfire – in my estimation, that's intentional. They're presented as a series of myths, individual encounters with the galaxy's most famous Jedi that may or may not be true.
First up, there's a story by Akira Fukaya and Takashi Kisaki about Luke single-handedly smashing a Star Destroyer – and then saving the life of the only person to escape alive, a kid who's fallen for Emperor Palpatine's sense of what “order” is. Luke puts splints on his broken legs and effectively nurses him back to health on the desert planet they've landed on, right before the Destroyer's engines melt down and turn the sand into an ocean of glass. The story is an examination of the philosophical differences between the Empire and the Jedi, mostly divorced from the emotionally-constipated concepts that the prequels introduced about the Jedi philosophy. Luke, here, introduces instead the idea that “we are all Luke Skywalker” - we're all capable of confidence and heroism, and the individual means little in the face of fascism if you're not trying to help people and do the right thing - something that resonates very directly. Abstractly, he convinces the kid he saved that the Empire is something to be fought against with all your might. So the kid does – and it's pretty great.
Next, we have a story by Haruichi – in her English-language manga debut – that depicts the emotionally complex struggle of droids, being captured and used as a slave class on a planet mining “Tear Opals”. It's not particularly subtle about the slavery allegory. One of them happens to be R2-D2 – who won't stand for this slavery bullshit and tries their best to make a racket and bust out of the joint. It's a little convenient that C-3P0 shows up suddenly – but it's actually Luke in the armor of a protocol droid, and he's here to not only save R2-D2, but liberate the entire slave colony, which leads to some pretty wicked imagery unlike anything else in the Star Wars franchise. Again, this reflects a philosophy of what heroism actually is that resonates throughout the entire book. The Force is depicted mostly as basic empathy for people who need your help – which is what Luke Skywalker has always stood for.
After that, there's a story about a parasite that lives on the scalp of Salacious Crumb during the famous scene where Luke confronts Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. This is illustrated by the artist (also in their English manga debut) Subaru. In this one, the parasite – Lugubrious Mote – witnesses Luke's confrontation of Jabba the Hutt and thinks he's kind of an arrogant idiot who needs to get over himself. It's the only story in this collection that questions Luke's character and wisdom, and it totally works. Lugubrious Mote, from a perspective of the smallest creature in the story, questions a whole lot of things about that scene in Return of the Jedi – including Princess Leia's humiliating slave outfit – and befriends her, learning about Leia's vision for the galaxy. Leia envisions a space where everyone, regardless of where they came from, what language they speak or who they are, is represented equally. It's a really excellent articulation of exactly what the difference is between the Empire and the Jedi. Slowly, Mote manages to understand why Leia respects Luke so much, even if Luke seems completely overconfident and foolish – and ultimately helps provide him with the confidence he needs to defeat the Rancor and save Han Solo. Moreover, Mote manages to raise valid questions about Luke's personality. He sees through him, and provides a very interesting perspective on exactly who Luke is and why he does what he does, climaxing in a scene that shows just how that little insect helped him reveal his true self. Artistically, this is an excellent and very creative expansion on what happened in Return of the Jedi – and Subaru's world-class art and storytelling adaptation do not disappoint. This is the strongest story in the book.
Finally, we have a story by illustrated by Akira Himekawa, the famous team of women artists and writers who produce the Legend of Zelda manga. This one is a touch different – a young alien biology student finds herself hitching a ride by an (extremely handsome) Luke Skywalker, who modified his A-Wing fighter to accommodate passengers, which is another thematic hint at what they're going for with this anthology. In this one, Luke is obsessed with finding out the origins of the Jedi – which leads him and his rideshare client, who's mostly just on her way home, down the throat of an Exogorth, one of those asteroid-puppet worm monsters from The Empire Strikes Back. The belly of the beast contains secrets – and a whole lot of very creatively-written danger, things I've never seen explored in any official Star Wars material, stuff that lends itself very well to manga aesthetics and storytelling. The end of this story – wherein Luke manages to excavate ancient practitioners of the light side of the Force – is reminiscent of the best parts of every Leiji Matsumoto manga, and the entire thing is beautifully illustrated. It explores so many aspects of Luke's personality in very touching ways – the effect watching Obi-Wan Kenobi die had on him, and just exactly what the Force means to him.
I loved every bit of it – there isn't a single bad story in here, and after the disappointment I personally felt with The Rise of Skywalker, this felt like a breath of fresh air, something that expanded brilliantly on characters I already knew and loved without feeling like tossed-off fanfiction or nostalgia exploitation - something I'm very used to at this point as a Star Wars fan. It goes way out of its way to emphasize Luke's humanity, his compassion, and his empathy for all living things. They brought a bunch of extremely talented artists and writers together to adapt this novel into something that not only “feels” like Star Wars, it feels like maybe the direction they should take rolling forward with the franchise if they want to keep relying on characters from the Original Trilogy. Carefully written, beautifully empathetic and with absolutely lovely art the whole way through. If you're a fan – do not skip this one.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A+
+ A wonderful expansion of the classic hero Luke Skywalker, as told by very talented manga artists.
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