Just read: Marvel's 'Star Wars' mini-series 'Princess Leia,' 'Chewbacca' and 'Lando'

"Just read" is a blog where I blog about something I just read. I'm trying to read more this year and I'd like to keep a record of that; blogging will theoretically help that cause.

After taking a pretty decently long break from reading, with the exception of a couple novels that I'll write about soon, I returned to the land of trade paperbacks with a few more titles in the Star Wars universe from Marvel. The three trades I read recently include Princess LeiaChewbacca and Lando. Each of these three trade paperbacks collect a full mini-series run, and each run consists of five issues.

That makes these titles great short reads for those who are interested in going a bit deeper on specific characters. As I'll write, the timing and placement of these characters and the adventures they get into make for a very enjoyable ride. I'm still reading some more Star Wars stuff right now -- currently making my way through both trade paperbacks in the Kanan storyline, and I'll have a separate post for those.

I was listening to tons of podcasts, both old and new, throughout my semi-lengthy break from reading. The bulk of time I can dedicate to reading books or listening to podcasts comes when I'm on the train for my commute, so I tend to go through streaks of each. There should be a few posts about some of my favorite new podcasts coming soon as well as I'm motivated to write a bit right now. Onto the new trade paperbacks...

The Princess Leia collection, which was written by the terrific Mark Waid and illustrated by Terry Dodson, is the one I checked out first. Her story is set right after the end of A New Hope, as she awards Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca medals for their service in helping destroy the Death Star. We find Leia pretty stressed out, because with the Empire placing such a large bounty on her head, the higher-ups in the Rebel ranks are eager to keep her out of the spotlight and safe from harm. As any Star Wars fan knows, though, Leia wouldn't be content to sit around and wait while others took action.

Leia's story in this arc revolves around her home world of Alderaan. It's been completely wiped out by the Death Star, of course, but her background as an Alderaanian motivates her to seek out and try to save as many of her people as possible. She discovers an X-Wing pilot and fellow Alderaanian within the Rebellion named Evaan, who isn't super fond of Leia as a representative of their shared home planet when they first meet. She is stricken by how apparently calm Leia is in her reaction to Alderaan's fate. Together, they escape from the Rebel base -- they directly outsmart Luke, who is chasing them down in his own X-Wing in an attempt to keep the princess from getting away, which is a great sequence -- and they start an extensive journey to seek out and unite as many Alderaanians as they can find.

From there, the story goes through your standard fare of action / adventure / suspense. But while the story might not break much new ground in terms of plot, Waid's writing does shine brightly in the realm of character building. He excels in exploring Leia's psychology and regularly pulls her priorities into light during action and adventure sequences. Dodson's art is solid throughout the series here, but the real highlights are the brilliant individual issue covers.

The Chewbacca series is the one I was most excited to read of these three. Writer Gerry Duggan and illustrator Phil Noto had a pretty tough job on their hands with this run; comics are obviously quite reliant on dialogue to tell a story, and their main character only speaks in growls and roars. In the Star Wars movies, we understand Chewbacca mostly based on the context of Han Solo responding to him in conversation, but this proves more challenging to pull off in the comic format.

This series sees Chewie crash-land on a foreign planet and get into a life-or-death adventure with a little girl named Zorro, who is enslaved along with her father to work in a mine that belongs to a local gangster. Zorro requests Chewie's help in helping her and her father escape this mine, but she can't understand our favorite fur-ball any better than we can. While this makes dialogue difficult, Duggan and Noto do a nice job of making Chewie's intentions clear via his body language and actions. I credit Noto with a lot of this, since his style of drawing Chewbacca in a very realistic way pays off big when it comes to facial expressions and such. There are quite a few memorable landscape views in this run as well, which Noto excels at.

I'm happy Duggan didn't resort to thought bubbles or anything along those lines to give us a greater understanding of Chewie. Instead, he uses a couple of strategically placed flashbacks to explain Chewie's reasoning for certain decisions. Overall, I would have liked this story to get a little deeper into Chewbacca's character -- it feels like we only learn a few new things about his past throughout a five-issue run, which is a little disappointing -- but the introduction of a fun new character in Zorro and a well-executed brother-sister bond between her and the title character provide good enough reason to check this one out.

Lando turned out to be the best series of these three. Writer Charles Soule does a fantastic job capturing the personality of the smooth-talking smuggler Lando Calrissian amongst a somewhat unexpected plot. Each of these three runs are set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, so I was expecting to get filled in on how Lando winds up running Cloud City. While this kinda-sorta happens toward the end of this story, the bulk of it is about a job gone wrong where Lando, Lobot (the character with the mechanical headphones permanently attached to his head) and a couple of really cool assassin-type twins are sent to steal a ship. The ship turns out to belong to...somebody you don't really want to be stealing a ship from, and it almost costs Lando his life.

The plot itself provides an entertaining backdrop (full of cliff-hangers, if you read issue-by-issue) to the crux of Lando's character development. He changes a lot throughout this run, so we wind up getting more filled in on how Lando became the man we meet in Empire rather than how he physically wound up at Cloud City. This is a rewarding storyline, a worthwhile deep-dive into a peripheral character from the original trilogy. It's exactly what I want from Marvel's Star Wars runs -- a better and deeper understanding of characters whose psychologies we don't always get to dive into during the busy movies.

Broadly speaking, none of these single-character spinoff titles are better than the main Star Wars title or the excellent Darth Vader title. I'm really looking forward to diving back into both of those following the release of the fourth Star Wars trade paperback in late January. These trades do accomplish an important feat, though -- scratching that Star Wars itch that will persist until the release of Rogue One in a couple of weeks.

Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Lando are all available via Amazon and Comixology at those respective links.