Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm
Dawn of the Jedi is the five part first arc in a new series aiming to provide readers with a look into the very beginnings of the Jedi order. Released from February to June of 2012, the trade paperback collection will release on December 12th, 2012.
Set some ten thousand years before A New Hope, Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm is a look back to the beginning of the Star Wars universe, most notably the formation of the early version of the Jedi and their struggles to create a culture on the world of Tython and its outlying planets. This book also features some important revelations about how all the force sensitives first got together, and it is a very satisfying revelation delivered at the start of the book. Unfortunately, although the exposition and world building is great, there isn't much else that succeeds. With a dull plot of a surprisingly minor scale and a small cast of incredibly annoying characters, Dawn of the Jedi doesn't quite manage to balance out dynamic story telling with introducing readers to a new aspect of the Star Wars universe.
The central conflict involves a Force Hound, Xesh, who has crash landed on Tython. Xesh's mission on Tython is to identify planets with a large density of force sensitive people in order for his masters, the Rakata (an immensely powerful empire familiar to fans of the Knights of the Old Republic video game series) to enslave them. A group of the most boring Jedi Apprentices ever tries to seek him out, believing that he is the cause of the recent imbalance present on the planet. Tython isn't like most planets, so the skewed amount of dark side energy present on the planet as a result of Xesh's arrival has caused many of the creatures and the environment as a whole to go berserk. Throughout the course of the story, the elements and creatures battle our heroes and provide much of the conflict. In fact, Xesh can hardly even be considered the a true antagonist, and the Rakata mysteriously play no part in the unfolding conflict. The lack of a major organization to oppose the large Je'daii order means that this is the Star Wars book that actually focuses on just a few people and a struggle that is, while important, far from the galaxy shattering events we have become so wearily resigned to. Unfortunately, this break from the norm brings with it an all new series of problems, mostly stemming from a terrible group of characters for the reader to experience this journey with.
A small scale plot generally relies on the strength of its characters to be effective. The fact that the fate of the galaxy isn't hanging in the balance for once can be easily offset in terms of dramatic tension by putting the fates of characters that the reader enjoys into question. Unfortunately, this book utterly fails to create protagonists worthy of emotional investment. Though there is a nice bit of species diversity among the young Je'daii that make up the core group of heroes, they are written remarkably similarly. Everyone is very light hearted and takes every available opportunity to crack stupid jokes and engage in ridiculous, unfunny banter. One character like this is expected and a welcome bit of comic relief, three and it becomes something of a sideshow farce. In an attempt to balance this out, there is a very heavy handed attempt to add some conflict and back story to two of the characters, but it just comes across as kind of silly far too overt to be effective. It comes out of nowhere and leads to a very stilted scene, so even the one attempt to give these characters some depth fails. The outsider, Xesh, is the most interesting character, but more based on where he has been and where he ends up at the finale than anything else. During the story he is written as basically a Sith assassin with a weighty conflict of interest at one point. Of course, he isn't a Sith, having been raised by the mysterious Rakata, but he is quite Sith like in terms of personality. His casual disdain for life and focus on honor and combat relates him to those malevolent force users, and it will be quite interesting to see if he has some part to play in the origins of the Jedi's archenemies.
Bringing to life a whole new era of the Star Wars universe in just five short comics is a difficult task, and when paired with having to actually tell an engaging story, there is every reason to think that this book could have turned into a complete disaster. It is thoroughly unsatisfying in many ways, whether it is the flat characters that sound incredibly similar to one another, or the plot that is surprisingly small scale and seemingly unimportant (all while perpetuating the typical Star Wars story of Jedi vs. Sith-esque,) this book leaves much to be desired from a story point of view. Thankfully, the opportunity to learn about a new setting in the Star Wars universe isn't wasted, and the world building is never neglected, so while the bland story can't be entirely overlooked, it is at least mitigated by a very successful first effort to show us such a different area of the Star Wars mythos.
The art in this book, as is typical of most of Jan Duursema's work, is absolutely phenomenal. If you enjoyed the Legacy or Clone Wars comics, then you should know what to expect out of this tandem here. Even when the script meanders a bit, the art never slacks off and we are treated to very fitting facial expressions and poses to help convey what the script usually doesn't. Action sequences are top notch too. Explosions are very vibrant, and there are plenty of smartly composed shots to spice up the various sword fights. Duursema is equally skilled at bringing to life the tranquility of Tython seen in the flashback scenes and in the early moments of the book as she is at showing us the totally unbalanced and chaotic Tython that dominates the book during the final two or three issues.
Since this book is set so much further apart from most of the timeline, there is also an attempt to distinguish it from the more typical Star Wars designs seen in the movie eras. This generally works very well and I appreciated the fact that each of the Je'daii had their own sense of style that helped to define their character a little more than the script did. The planet of Tython comes to life beautifully with many different locations and a unique elemental aspect that manages to distinguish it from most other planets in the lore. Of course, not everything works particularly well. Some of the designs look like very uninspired typical sci-fi fare (Quan-Jang's goggles), the winged rancor was a really terrible idea, and Shae Koda's pants-sans-hips were quite awkward, but overall this is a re working of the Star Wars universe that is much more creative and far more successful than that which we saw in the Tales of the Jedi series with its uninspired designs ripped straight from Egyptian lore.
Although Dawn of the Jedi fails to deliver a fulfilling story, it does a number of things right. As a gateway into a brand new era of the Star Wars universe, this is a fantastic book that shows us all kinds of very interesting things. Whether it is Tatooine as a waterworld or the early foundations of the Jedi Order, Jan Duursema brings it all to life with her highly competent and expressive artwork. The next arc will need to give us a meatier story for this to become a truly first rate title, but you could do much worse than to check out this book for its art and world building.