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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

Title: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

ISBN: 1569713596

Price: $12.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1999

Artist: Rodolfo Damaggio

Writer: Henry Gilroy

Collects: Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace #1-4

Rating: 2/5

This is the comic book adaptation of the hit movie that serves as the
beginning of the prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. Set decades before Star
Wars, it chronicles a galactic dispute resulting in a sinister force occupying
the planet Naboo, and a couple of Jedi Knights encountering a young boy with a
powerful connection to the Force...Anakin Skywalker.

It's a decent enough representation of the movie. Sometimes I used to be
frustrated reading novels or comics adapting movies, because of the way they would
sometimes diverge from the source material. This was either because the writer
was embellishing with his/her own creativity or, as was often the case, working
from an earlier draft script (in order for the release of a comic or novel to
coincide with the movie, the writers would have to start work before the movie
itself was completed). Yet here what's almost disappointing is how faithful the
adaptation is! At 100 pages, they can basically fit in the whole movie (maybe
trimming a scene here or there) but there are no extra scenes, no novel
interpretations that might make things fresh or exciting. At the same time,
because of its length, it doesn't fall into the trap of some other, shorter
adaptations I've read where the story can be rendered incoherent at times
because crucial scenes and lines are left out will-nilly. At least, for the
most part. There are still spots in The Phantom Menace that, I'll wager, will
be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the movie -- even someone familiar
with it -- particularly in the climax. And occasional subtleties might be lost,
like during the pod race. In the movie, the point was that no human had ever
won a pod race before, adding significance to the line reproduced in the comic
"You have brought hope to those who have none."

But for those familiar with it, it does a nice, evocative job, even imbuing
the scenes with a little more atmosphere than the movie had thanks to the colors and inking. At the same time, there is a kind of "Classics
Illustrated" approach (to use the cliched, and perhaps unfair, put-down of
adaptations). Artist Damaggio does capable work, and evokes the actors well
enough (maybe not so that you'd recognize them if you didn't know who starred
in the movie, but well enough if you do). Al Williamson, who illustrated comic
book adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi so lushly,
is on hand as an inker, but can't bring much to the proceedings in that
capacity. Likewise, scripter Gilroy sticks to reproducing the dialogue from the
film -- no extra thought balloons, and the few text captions are treated as
just bridging text, with no attempt to use them to create mood or to embellish
a scene.

Still, with all that being said, better to have a faithful, if safe
adaptation, than a bad one. I had mixed feelings about the movie itself, and
those remain here (thin characterization, and a plot that contains at least a
few holes). But this was an enjoyable enough comic that, in its own way, I
enjoyed as much as the movie itself.

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