Star Wars fans have long asked why the Rebels waited months to go after Han Solo after he was captured by the bounty hunter Boba Fett on Jabba the Hutt’s orders. Finally, we get an answer in Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters — the five issue (six, counting the alpha issue) miniseries from Star Wars comic veteran Charles Soule, artist Luke Ross (with help from David Messina and Steve McNiven), and color artists Neeraj Menon and Guru-eFX (with help from Laura Martin).
SPOILERS AHEAD for Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters!
Touted by Marvel Comics as their biggest crossover event in the Star Wars universe, War of the Bounty hunters had lofty expectations but was released with more marketing fanfare than actual excitement from fans. As someone who read the individual issues as they released, however, I had a sneaking suspicion that this breakneck-paced adventure might read much better in a trade paperback form that allows for binge-reading instead of waiting a month (sometimes longer) between each book.
With the release of the War of the Bounty Hunters trade paperback I’ve been able to test my suspicion, and, sadly, I was wrong. Even in trade format, War of the Bounty Hunters is an overhyped, overstuffed, and ultimately forgettable event that serves more as a setup for future stories than a meaningful expansion of Han Solo, Boba Fett, or the Rebels’ stories.
This collected edition begins with the best issue of the entire series: War of the Bounty Hunters: Alpha #1, written by Soule with art by Steve McNiven and colors by Laura Martin. McNiven’s incredibly detailed yet stylistically imperfect art is an absolute gift to the Star Wars universe, while Martin’s colors give the smuggler’s moon of Nar Shadda the perfect mixture of vibrancy and grime. Each page is a visual delight that leaves you lingering long after you’ve read all the words, and the frenetic action sequences are some of the best we’ve seen in Star Wars comics thus far.
From a plot perspective, Alpha #1 picks up right where Empire Strikes Back left off and immediately puts Boba Fett through the wringer — in order to pay for repairs to Han Solo’s faulty carbonite chamber, he must eliminate the local champion of the fighting pits who has been costing his trusty repairman a lot of credits. It’s not the most groundbreaking narrative device, but it allows Soule, McNiven, and Martin to remind the reader just how awesome Boba Fett is while giving an easy (and believable) reason for why Boba would’ve been distracted enough to let Han slip through his grasp.
This brings us to the main series, War of the Bounty Hunters #1-5 written by Soule with art by Luke Ross and colors by Neeraj Menon and Guru-eFX. The art, on one hand, remains incredible. Ross’s soft style contrasts with the sharp lines and edges of McNiven but is nonetheless perfect for a Star Wars story focused on the more glitzy and glamorous elements of the underworld.
Ross manages to capture the neon-soaked elegance of Courascant and the gold-crimson halls of the Vermillion in a way that is rich in detail but never distracting. His character models faithfully personify iconic heroes while still retaining a sensibly unique feel. Menon and Guru-eFX’s colors complement Ross’s style wonderfully, using an almost pastel palette that allows for the colorful cityscapes and fortress interiors to pop without drowning the reader in color.
Unfortunately, everything else about this series unravels from here.
Thankfully, this story is pretty to look at, because it is a narrative disappointment. For starters, this whole event takes place over a mere couple of hours in real-time. I thought this, in particular, wouldn’t be a problem if the series was read in one sitting, but boy was I mistaken.
The story somehow feels even shorter when read all at once and left me asking “why wasn’t this just a one-shot instead of a major five-issue event with dozens of crossover issues?” While there are plenty of wonderful stories in other mediums that take place in real-time, such an approach rarely works in comics — and this series is no exception. In this format, The rocket-fast-paced and almost “bottle-episode” style eradicates any sense of tension or excitement and simply feels like a means of launching the reader to the end of the book so it can set up future stories.
The series also lacks any kind of stakes or mystery. We already know that Boba Fett successfully delivers Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt, so the story must establish its own stakes or intrigue to keep the reader hooked. Still, the series fails here. The one major reveal, the only hope for an added sense of mystery, is rushed through so quickly that it fails to add any new sense of risk or danger to the story.
The big reveal, of course, is that Crimson Dawn is back and is led by Han Solo’s former love Q’ira (who’s not been seen in any way, shape, or form since Solo: A Star Wars Story). Don’t get me wrong — this is a rad reveal.
I’ve been wanting more stories about Q’ira and Crimson Dawn as a whole since the credits rolled on Solo, and I am so excited to know that Soule clearly has big plans for Crimson Dawn moving forward. The problem, though, is this is all revealed by the end of the first issue, removing any sense of suspense surrounding who took Han and what they might be after.
Actually, Q’ira’s plan is pretty obvious throughout and is disappointingly simple — Crimson Dawn is going to steal Han Solo as a means of announcing that they’re back and still powerful. That’s really it.
I kept waiting for a major development that might shed light on Q’ira’s master plan, but, aside from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it panel with what seems to be a Sith artifact, nothing ever materializes. The whole point of Q’ira’s plan — and really this event as a whole — is to just announce the return of Crimson Dawn. As exciting as that is for the future of Star Wars, it ends up making for a disappointing and dull “event.”
This trade paperback might actually be the most egregious victim of the eventization of comics that I’ve ever experienced. There are multiple minor storylines from other books jammed into this series because of the series’ event status.
As someone who reads all the Star Wars comics, I wasn’t confused by these references but found them so annoying — Doctor Aphra randomly referencing artifacts despite no mention of her plans beforehand, Beilert Valance showing up out of the blue to save his “friend” Han Solo, and even Leia, Lando, and Chewie mounting their own Han Solo rescue felt like unexplored plot threads at best, unnecessary tangents at worst.
That’s not to say these plots aren’t enjoyable within each series — they are actually more enjoyable than the main event. But this constant reference of other plotlines or inclusion of characters from other series leaves the book feeling completely overstuffed and frantic. Rather than simply focus on Boba Fett working to get Han Solo back from Crimson Dawn, the series feels more like an excuse to use Boba Fett as a vehicle to do a major crossover event in which he sporadically interacts with plotlines from other series over the course of a few hours.
Perhaps the most egregious and unbelievable moment of this series, though, is when Q’ira goes toe-to-toe with Darth Vader. I try really hard not to be that person who argues about the legitimacy of a fight between two fictional characters in a fake universe filled with space wizards and bipedal talking monkey-dogs, but this fight was simply too far.
Q’ira loses to Darth Vader, but it is neither immediate nor particularly devastating, and that is just stupid. Darth Vader is the most feared man in the galaxy who rode a void monster to the planet Exegol and wiped out an entire battalion of Rebels on Vrogas Vas (among many, many other things). Q’ira has trained in Teras Kasi and that’s enough to stand a chance against Darth Vader? This completely undermines the power Vader has displayed in literally every other medium and story (many of which Charles Soule wrote, even) and is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read in a Star Wars comic.
Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters is a massive disappointment that such a beautifully drawn book can be so narratively devoid of excitement or intrigue. War of the Bounty Hunters may set the stage for some great Star Wars stories by unveiling the return of Crimson Dawn, but this series is yet another example of the bloated “event” format at Marvel Comics — overhyped, overstuffed, and ultimately little more than a launching point for better stories in the future.
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