In this week’s Star Wars #13, there’s a scene where R2D2 engages in robot shit-talking with his evil fleshbag-killing counterpart. Poor little guy can’t back up his bleep-bloops, though, and runs screaming from the fight. It’s a hilarious moment that serves as a great reminder of how funny Star Wars can — and, really, should — be.
There’s a high level of drama in the main Star Wars books right now. In the current Vader Down storyline, the Dark Lord of the Sith is trapped on a remote planet with entire squadrons hunting him down to kill him. Meanwhile, his son is looking for a long-lost Jedi temple to learn about the forgotten disciplines of wielding the Force. But the life-and-death confrontations in the latest chapter can only be described as straight-up wacky.
Star Wars #13 — written by Jason Aaron with art by Mike Deodato, Frank Marti, Jr. and Chris Eliopoulos — is largely concerned with Han Solo and Chewbacca’s efforts to rescue Luke Skywalker. Luke crashed on a planet called Vrogas Vas after ramming Vader’s ship. They’re racing against Vader aide-de-camp Dr. Aphra, who’s working with homicidal droids BT-1 and 000 to snatch Luke for Vader.
There’s lots of bluster and snark in between this issue’s bursts of blaster fire and cat-and-mouse chases. Dr. Aphra calls out Han Solo as a moron and protocol droid 000 is all a-twitter over the chance to kill someone — anyone, really — and drain their blood. And while the ferocity in Deodato’s art makes it’s clear that everyone involved in these skirmishes is fighting for their lives, Aaron’s brisk dialogue elicits guffaws on just about every other page.
With Star Wars hype running at fever pitch right now, it’s worth noting that a very important thing gets lost with all the Force Awakens plot speculation and the talk of what is or isn’t canon in the Star Wars universe now: humour. The execution of comedy has always been a vital — yet tricky — element in Star Wars fiction. On one hand, the main characters are all fighting for incredibly high stakes, like liberating the universe or crushing a rebel alliance for one’s master. On the other, there’s so much sheer absurdity in the building blocks of Star Wars — knights fighting over a space religion, a deadly race of giant teddy bear warriors — that it’d be folly to play it all straight. It’s clear that George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and the other creators of the original Star Wars trilogy got that.
I think part of the reason that people hate on the Star Wars prequel trilogy is that they were so dreadfully unfunny. Sure, there were attempts at broad comedy with Jar-Jar and other elements but the prequels were bone-dry as far as laughs. When Han, Leia or Luke snipe at each each other or crack jokes under pressure in the original trilogy, it actually helps the drama feel more immediate. The viewer gets the sense that all the nervous energy generated by being shot at, captured and led astray is bubbling to the surface. And the quips and slapstick also moderate the expectations of threat, simultaneously comforting the audience that nothing too gory is going to happen but also setting them up to gasp when, say, Vader cuts off Luke’s hand in The Empire Strikes Back.
So it’s great that the action-comedy aspects of Star Wars are alive and well in Marvel Comics’ various series. In last month’s Star Wars #12 — which was another Luke rescue attempt — Han, Leia and Chewie all fire up lightsabers to fight their way through chaos. It’s the kind of moment that could be played for awe but works better to underscore the cranky scepticism that Han has about the Force.
The amount of narrative space in sequential comics’ storytelling format is perfect for giving comedy space to breathe. Star Wars #13 might be mostly a romp but there’s still enough dread in its pages to create a sense of imminent danger. Part of the reason that Star Wars has won so many fans over the years is that it activates multiple emotional responses like wonder, fear, regret. The films and associated media have also made people laugh, too. Let’s hope these comics continue carrying on that tradition.