I was a little skeptical when Dawn of the Jedi was announced. It came out right around a time that I was feeling a bit disillusioned by Star Wars. Decisions by writers and editors for Del Rey, decisions involved in the writing of The Clone Wars, ultimately I was feeling like the Star Wars that had been the better part of a decade of my life was over. I’ve also always had a bit of skepticism about Star Wars comics, not because Dark Horse has ever dropped the ball, but because there’s generally more Star Wars Dark Horse releases in a year than paychecks.
What wasn’t I taking into account? John Ostrander and Jan Duursema. This pair has become a comic-making machine that is synonymous with everything good about Star Wars. Their last major project was Star Wars: Legacy, a project that combined influences from Clone Wars (the retitled earlier Star Wars: Republic comic series), New Jedi Order, the Darth Bane novels, Dark Empire, and of course the six episodes (not counting those that were released between the writing and publishing of this article) without alienating anybody who had not read them, all while telling a new and unique story about an original era in the Star Wars universe, set decades after any established canon.
Apparently, someone behind the scenes at Dark Horse saw this and gave them a similar project, upping the ante by giving them a world that acts as a prequel to Knights of the Old Republic- in addition to setting up things like the great schisms and other historical events. In a manner that I would trust very few creative teams to pull off as instinctually, humans are as much of a minority here as they were on Geonosis prior to the advent of hundreds of Jedi. Twelve species, (one of which I don’t recognize) not to mention multiple complexions of human, are present in the first issue, and it doesn’t take a Mos Eisley cantina scene or a burgeoning urban hub in order to pull it off. To top it off, the art here is absolutely gorgeous, everything that I’ve come to expect from a comic with this team working on it.
Dawn of the Jedi starts off with a deus ex machina, a squadron of eight ships traveling the galaxy to collect Force-sensitive individuals and bring them to one place. I wanted to complain about this, but the fact of the matter is, this is during the heyday of the Rakatan Infinite Empire and the wane of the influence of the Celestials. The fact of the matter is that this sort of shit happened all the time in this era of galactic history. While I do feel that this sequence will be a lot stronger if the creative team explains what happened at some point, this matches well enough with established history that to complain about this would require me to take issue with the existence of Corellian humans.
After we see the various Force-sensitives forced to deal with the deadly world of Tython, we move forward about a thousand years, learning the history of the system in the process. In the years prior to the existence of widespread hyperspace, this sort of event is really the only way we’re likely to see a system populated by so many species- especially without those species having been gathered as slaves of the Rakata. Between a volatile planet that only Force users can manage to survive on and about as many species as Episodes V and VI combined, a rather heated history springs up rather quickly.
Tython itself starts solving mysteries as it is essentially a dark Force planet that requires its inhabitants to learn "alchemy" in order to survive. Alchemy in Star Wars essentially means altering the nature of things with a combination of Force techniques and tools, with the best known examples being Sith swords and creatures such as Palpatine's crystal rancors. Most often alchemy is seen applied to monstrous creatures, and most often prior to the Second Great Schism. Dawn of the Jedi gives us a reason: many of the creatures of Tython are Force mutants naturally, and even regular monsters such as rancors can hardly be seen as dangerous on such a planet.
Off of Tython, Dawn features the Rakata, the dominant space traveling race of this time. Reference guides tell us that their technology was powered by the Force, they kept slaves, and a revolt among their many slave races eventually led to the development of hyperspace travel and the formation of the Republic. Force Storm shows us that the Rakata are as brutal as any historical villain species, apparently invented lightsabers superior to anything the Je’daii (later to become the Jedi) will have for several thousand years, and use Force user slaves (named “hounds”) in place of navicomps.
We watch one of these hounds as he first proves himself the strongest slave of the Rakata, then kills everybody on his ship (off-screen) before fighting our other main characters and disappearing into Tython’s deadly wilderness. These other main characters are a pair of Jedi apprentices, each with different strengths and backgrounds. The one that stands out to me is a Sith, a species we see rarely and one that would, in later years, be synonymous with evil and domination. This is a different brand of Sith, a member of a family who has been separated from their species for a thousand years, though I imagine in later volumes his descendants will be pivotal when the escaping Dark Jedi choose a destination.
This volume isn’t particularly big on character development- there’s no room for that. They’re too busy setting up several brand new cultures, not to mention a world. There is some character development- as I stated earlier, each character has a different personality, backstory, and specialty in the Force (and yes, the Sith’s specialty involves the Dark Side). But that’s really all when it comes to characters and personalities. And I didn’t mind that- it was interesting reading about the origins of Ashla and Bogan (they were originally the names of the two moons of Tython, and became synonymous with the Light and Dark Sides, respectively), and seeing all of these cultures coming together at the dawn of galactic civilization.
This pilot drew me in, with some questions that I hope will be answered, character paths that will be interesting to follow, and a lot of potential for development. This is a fitting start for this journey- the very beginning of the Star Wars universe, and a setting that works just as well to introduce someone to this setting. If this is what Star Wars is doing today, then maybe I feel a lot better about where this journey is going to end up than I did when I planned it.