REVIEW: “Return of the Jedi” graphic novel

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi graphic novel (Dark Horse, 2006 edition)
Archie Goodwin
Pencils & Inks: Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon
Colors: Cary Porter & Perry McNamee
Lettering: Ed King
Front cover art: Bill Sienkiewicz

For the recent release of the Star Wars: Unaltered DVDs, I had to decide which of the retail bonus items would lure me in. In the end, it came down to the Best Buy tin versus the Wal-Mart graphic novels.

Since reviewing a tin would’ve been quite boring, I took the practical route and bought my Unaltereds from Wal-Mart in order to get the graphic novel/trade paperback bonus items.

The version of each movie that came with the graphic novel sold for about $5.50 more than it did standalone. Since the Return of the Jedi graphic novel was not a free bonus, was it worth the price?

The comic book version of Return of the Jedi first appeared as a four-issue series from Marvel in 1983. The four issues were collected shortly thereafter in a Marvel graphic novel sold by Scholastic books. (Incidentally, it is the circa-1984 Marvel edition of the Return of the Jedi graphic novel that is pictured on Wal-Mart’s DVD/graphic novel box rather than the 2006 Dark Horse reprint that it actually contains.)

I collected the four Return of the Jedi comic issues as a kid. I remember thinking they were “okay.” They at least offered one way to re-live the movie.

The graphic novel compilation had a different cover than the comics, but the same content. I was 8 or 9 at the time and had never heard of a “graphic novel” when I ordered it from Scholastic. The cover sure looked cool, so how could I lose?

I believe I was under the mistaken impression back then that the “graphic novel” would be the full-length novelization with lots of fantastic art thrown in. I remember being quite disappointed when receiving the book that it was, in fact, just the same four comic books that I already owned. This was probably my first instance of buying re-packaged Star Wars, come to think of it. How appropriate, then, that it is included as a bonus item on the Star Wars: Unaltered editions.

In 1995, Dark Horse re-released the Return of the Jedi graphic novel as a two-part collection. Presumably, the reprint rights must have moved with the overall Star Wars comic license from Marvel to Dark Horse.

This 2006 edition is also from Dark Horse, and collects all four parts of the 1983 Marvel Return of the Jedi series. It features the same cover art as that graphic novel I duped myself into buying back in 1984.

Return of the Jedi Marvel Super SpecialAs I did in the 1980’s, I still believe that the front cover by Bill Sienkiewicz is the best part of the book. This would have made a fantastic poster.

That 1984 graphic novel is long gone, but I still have all four issues of the 1983 comic book series. I pulled them out to compare against the 2006 edition.

The most obvious difference is in the coloring. The 1983 comics were colored by Christie Scheele and Bob Sharen. Since the printing process is different now than it was in the 1980’s, the 2006 edition has glossy pages like modern comic books and was re-colored by Cary Porter and Perry McNamee. The new coloring was likely first introduced for the 1995 Dark Horse editions.

The glossy pages are certainly a huge improvement over the newsprint style pages of the original version. As for the new coloring, I ultimately would have to rate it as disappointing. 50% of the time, the difference is negligible between the two. 25% of the time, the 2006 version is better. The 1983 version is also better 25% of the time.

The main problem with the 2006 version is that the coloring job just seems rushed in certain spots. A lot of details are just left plain white, even when they previously had color in the earlier versions. For example, facial features are often left blank/white in this version, while in the 1983 version, more time was obviously spent on coloring them in to add more detail. In other areas, a single color is used on multi-colored objects–even when the same panel of the original used more than one color. It serves to make the comic of lesser quality than it could have been.

The penciling and inking is farily typical for the time period. As I found myself wanting to judge these against modern comics, which are a lot more detailed, I pulled out some other comics from around the same time in order to provide proper perspective. This is the same approach I take when judging movies, actually, particularly special effects. The art varies from rather horrid to quite nice, with most of it falling in the mediocre range.

We all know the story of Return of the Jedi, but the lines are definitely more stilted here. Whether that is the result of the writer working from an earlier draft of the script than the finished version or perhaps modifying it a bit to fit comic book needs or simply being inept, I do not know.

I found the dialogue quite distracting at times. For example, here’s a line from Han as it appears in the comic book, “Not bad for a little ball of fuzz! Just wish he’d checked with us first! Guess he knows enough to grab the nearest vine and leave the Imperials chasing an empty bike!”

There were several big secrets in Return of the Jedi, and the graphic novel actually leaves out a couple of them. This was probably to keep the news from leaking out in 1983. In the graphic novel, Yoda does not die, nor do we ever see the man beneath the Vader mask. (Actually, the three Jedi spirits did appear in the fourth issue of the 1983 comic book, but only in a “Mighty Marvel Bonus Pin-up Section” at the end and not within the story itself. The various full-page pin-ups are not included in the graphic novel version.)

This bonus Return of the Jedi graphic novel offers a bonus of its own. The last 32 pages feature production sketches from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi by Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and others. Though the graphic novelization itself is somewhat unfulfilling, the production art alone makes it worth the $5.50 cost.

To conclude, I was going to suggest that it would be interesting to see Return of the Jedi remade as a manga. It turns out, however, that Lucasfilm beat me to it and already released this back in 1999. I sense another Return of the Jedi related purchase in my future.

Story/Writing: 5 (out of 10)
Art: 6
Cover Art: 9
Bonus (Production Sketches): 9
Overall Experience: 8
Recommended: Yes, mostly for the cover and the production sketches bonus