The Force Awakens in Marvel’s Remastered ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Hardcover [Review]
There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? Across toy and bookstore shelves, Disney is gearing up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Marvel's doing their part to make sure there's a good amount of Star Wars comics in preparation for the blockbuster. Part of their initiative involves the release of "remastered" hardcover versions of Marvel's original comics adaptations with updated coloring by SotoColor.
The first volume, an updating of the 1977 Roy Thomas/Howard Chaykin adaptation of A New Hope, came out in April, and this week sees the debut of the adaptation of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, written by Archie Goodwin and penciled by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzón.
As far as the adaptation itself goes, it's nothing you haven't seen before, either in the movie itself or in the Marvel and Dark Horse reprints of the material over the decades since the film's debut. At this point in the game, Lucasfilm had their stuff together enough to provide Goodwin, Williamson and Garzón with heaps of reference material and scripts in order to get the six-issue adaptation as close to what ended up on screens as possible.
Williamson, who made a name for himself doing EC sci-fi and horror comics, has the range to pull off the vehicles, the action and the creatures inherent to a Star Wars adaptation. Garzon, from a similar background, assists admirably, though there's kind of a rough patch about 2/3 through, when I'm sure the pressures of deadlines kicked in and likenesses suffered, but overall, it's a good time.
Goodwin's scripting is also satisfactory, though definitely of its time. There's some unnecessary caption boxes and some ham-fisted, over-explanatory dialogue that wouldn't pass muster now, but it's pretty charming work. When it comes to adaptations, there's always the question of compressing everything in that's important, while also making sure it makes sense as an issue-by-issue comic, and Goowdin picks his chapter breaks well in relation to the source material, ending the issues on cliffhangers that don't feel manufactured.
But if you already know the movie, why purchase this volume? Well, first there's some pretty cool backmatter from the original issues that's included in the collection, as well as a "making of" essay by Goodwin, and a cover gallery from the UK versions of the story that ran weekly, often using panels from the issues instead of the covers from their US counterpart. The hardcover also features some lovely pages of the original inked artwork from Williamson and Garzón and a plethora of pin-ups from artists like Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and John Byrne.
Then there's real sticking point here: the remastered coloring by Chris Sotomayor's SotoColor. There's a lot to be said for vintage comics' expressiveness when it comes to coloring within the limited gamut available at the time, but I can get how Marvel had to "add value" by recoloring the artwork for an audience who, high on nostalgia thanks to J.J. Abrams' forthcoming sequel, will pick these up to chase that Original Trilogy high. (It's also worth noting that the Dark Horse omnibus reprints are still fairly prevalent in the marketplace, and those include an additional 20+ issues of stories for roughly the same cost as this six-issue collection.)
That said, I'm not sold on SotoColor's work on this book. For one: this artwork was never intended to be colored this way and you wind up with some Uncanny Valley moments, when the decidedly two-dimensional artwork is painted to look as close to the film as possible. There's a cockpit shot of Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio in the Millennium Falcon that's unsettlingly close to the film still that I'm sure Williamson and/or Garzón were provided. Or a shot of Slave 1 --- the ship belonging to bounty hunter and dumb stupid-head Boba Fett --- that's rendered in such texture and detail that I thought maybe they pulled it in from the recent Blu-ray transfer of the film. (Obviously they didn't, but I definitely did a double-take.) And SotoColor really lays on the star effects when they show deep space, with Vader's starship plopped on top of a NASA photo in some scenes.
SotoColor's palette, especially when it comes to skin tones, is also murky and muddy, with cheekbones sort of smudged on, and inconsistent shading. This wouldn't be such a problem, but as the overall look of the book is, "Make it look just like the movie," when it doesn't look 100% 'on', you notice it. I'm sure the coloring will placate a lot of fans, especially as justification for a $25 cover price to buy material they've most likely owned for years, but it left me cold.
It's hard not to compare the coloring in these volumes to the (terrible) Special Edition versions of the films. Both of them take classic material and try to "update" it by using modern technology and methods that were never intended to work with the original material. The small favor here is that it's just coloring that looks like bog-standard "realistic modeling," and not, say an inserted scene featuring a dodgy CGI Jabba, or a bloated dance scene. Small favors, I guess.
Finally, there's the package in and of itself. The book is similar in size and format to Marvel's Season One books. Slightly larger, but same deal: same decent, semi-glossy paper; same printed-cover hardback with a soft touch coating. No real surprises. The new cover artwork, by Adi Granov doing his best Drew Sturzan, is attractive across all three volumes, though his Han is a little off-model on all of them and his Yoda on the Empire cover looks more than a little like Ed Asner. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing?
All in all, it's an attractive production, garishly bland re-coloring aside. I'll wind up owning all three because I am a broken person, and they'll look nice on a shelf. Besides, if there's one thing Star Wars fans are used to, it's buying the same thing in a slightly different format over and over and over.