Synopsis: Jedi-Bendu General Luke Skywalker and his apprentice Annikin Starkiller meet with Skywalker's old friend Han Solo at a spaceport to plan an escape from war besieged planet of Aquilae. Meanwhile, Imperial General Darth Vader has joined forces with Prince Valorum, Knight of the Sith, to locate and destroy Skywalker and his band of rebels.
After a frustratingly uneven third issue, The Star Wars picks up the pace to deliver a much improved Issue #4. While it still struggled to find the right balance of character and plot, it succeeded in keeping me engaged in the story while I read it.
I credit a lot of that engagement to artist Mike Mayhew, who continues to breathe new life into Ralph McQuarrie's classic concept sketches with every issue. Here, in particular, during the panels detailing the desert showdown pitting Luke Skywalker and Whitsun against a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers. I'm always appreciative of comic art that can convey the story without the benefit of word balloons, and Mayhew's work here easily accomplishes that while capturing the frenzy of a life or death struggle.
Mayhew also does a nice bit of symbolic work here in three panels featuring Darth Vader and Prince Valorum as the two conspire to locate Skywalker and those he protects. His art places Vader and Valorum on opposite sides of a transparent display, both of them in similar stances. This produces a mirror-like effect for the two characters that in later drafts were combined to become Darth Vader as he is portrayed in Star Wars. It's a striking alternate universe image.
Also striking is Mayhew's panel layout, which is creates a cinematic feel to the issue. This is most noticeable in the panels contrasting Valorum's hunt for the rebels with their plotting a way to escape Aquilae. Alternating between these plotlines through the art is an effective way of tying the two together, and really produces a sense of momentum during the latter half of the issue.
This is the second time The Star Wars has been able to find its rhythm (the first being Issue #2's attack on the space fortress), and I'm more impressed with that here than in the former issue because this sense of momentum is a byproduct of the actual story rather than a large event.
Mayhew's art is interpreting that story beautifully, and J.W. Rinzler continues to do the best he can with George Lucas' rough draft screenplay. Some of the characters are still coming across as pawns of the story, especially Kane Starkiller, who makes an extremely hasty decision in this issue with apparently no forethought, but others are really showing the kind of growth that makes them characters in their own right, most notably Luke Skywalker.
The Star Wars isn't quite yet all it has the potential to be, but it's showing enough improvement to let me know that as a whole, this could still be something special.
Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5