Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review - Star Wars

Star Wars: A New Hope
From a script by George Lucas
Illustrated by Hisao Tamaki
1999 Eisner Award Winner for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material

I'm going to start with my conclusion. The only person I could see enjoying this is the obsessive Star Wars fan who wants the same material he already knows forward and backward in a different format. Tamaki brings little original or interesting to the table with this adaptation and his storytelling ability is weak. This is something that can be safely skipped.

The story is about two peasants who are returning to their village after being on the losing side of a battle and stumble across some gold. It belongs to a general and princess who are trying to transport it back across hostile territory so that they can rebuild...

Sorry, that's Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress.

So there's an Empire and people rebelling and a space station with a tiny hole in it that lets someone blow it up. And there's a peasant kid who's actually a hidden prince who must learn to use his powers to save the good-hearted people of the universe from an asthma inflicted bad guy. It's Star Wars; if you're on the Internet you're legally required to have seen it.

Actually "It's Star Wars" is an understatement in this case. The dialog is the movie script complete with a few scenes that weren't in the original release. So it is paced and structured exactly like the movie. As far as I can tell they don't even skip over any dialog; the word balloons might as well be the movie script. On top of that Tamaki often photoreferences stills from the movie (or if you want to be less generous, he traces) which makes some panels look identical to the film.

How you respond to that is going to depend a lot on what you think an adaptation should be. If you think an adaptation should be a carbon copy of the original then this isn't going to matter to you. On the other hand if you think an adaptation should take from the source material and adjust to what works in the new medium (as I do) then this manga adaptation is a complete failure. The words are the same and many of the panels might as well be stills from the movie. By mimicking the films so precisely Tamaki has created a work that is redundant.

There are two key areas where Tamaki put his own mark on Star Wars. Where he was effective was the light sabre duel between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Rather than the stiff poses and choreography from the film Tamaki presents it as a samurai duel and it is a very effective sequence as a result. If he had done this well in depicting action throughout the manga then he might have cut my complaints short.

The other place where Tamaki has added something is in his depiction of character interaction and there he is less effective. Characters break into the cartoony over exaggerated emotional outbursts that are common to manga. Those images are attached to the original text of the film script and as a result there's often a disconnect between the text and the reaction. It's often a mood breaker. If Tamaki had been more liberal with the script and storytelling then this stylistic choice might have been integrated better.

Another real problem with Tamaki's art is that other than the light sabre duel he is particularly bad at illustrating action. The climactic battle is a mess of speed lines that blur into photoreferenced images of the fighters. It's like the stereotype of what bad manga looks like. The action is impossible to follow and panels rarely flow together smoothly. Imagine trying to capture the feeling of that final space battle with a handful of randomly selected frames from the movie; that's what the action comes across as.

So obviously I didn't like it. I was predisposed to not like it to begin with since I'm not fond of Star Wars but even outside of that context this is a weak manga. The only reason for it to exist is to suck a few more dollars out of the pockets of Star Wars fans and you're not missing out on anything by ignoring it.