Over the years, the team of writer John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema has been responsible for some of the best “Star Wars” stories to come out of Dark Horse. Initially they introduced us to amnesiac Jedi Quinlan Vos and his struggle to stay on the light side of the Force while going undercover in Count Dooku’s separatist movement. Then they started co-plotting stories together and we got the story of Luke’s troubled grandson Cade Skywalker and his struggles to find himself in a galaxy fractured by a new Sith empire in “Legacy.” Now they’re back again and taking us all the way to the beginning of the Jedi order with this title. It’s not as impressive as their previous efforts, but it does have the potential to grow into something more interesting.
In the pre-Republic era, hundreds of Force-sensitive individuals were gathered from many different planets by ships known only as the Tho Yor and brought into the deep core to a hostile planet called Tython. There, they learned to master their abilities and survive. Though their descendents have endured many hardships in the millennia since arriving on the planet and in the system, they have been relatively isolated from the events of the galaxy at large. This all changes when Xesh, a Force Hound of the Infinite Empire, crash-lands on Tython and disrupts the balance of the Force on the planet. With the title event set to bring untold destruction and chaos, three young acolytes find that their visions have put them in the right place to track down this interloper.
“Dawn of the Jedi” has a different kind of advantage to its storytelling in the expanded “Star Wars” universe than “Legacy” did. While that series was set far enough in the future to not have to worry about contradicting or working around any of the other projects involving Luke, Leia, or Han and their era. Though that’s also true here, by setting the series before the foundation of the Jedi Order it’s not bound by any of its guidelines. That’s manifested most interestingly in the beginning where we’re told that the Je’Daii strive for balance in the Force. A balance that includes feeling hate and anger but to not dwell exclusively on those emotions or others. While we’re shown what focusing on these things can lead to here, the whole light side/dark side schism hasn’t happened yet. The thought of actually seeing that happen, based on what we’re shown here sounds like a potentially fascinating event.
This first volume, by necessity, is more concerned with setup and introducing us to the major characters in this saga. While the Ostrander/Duursema team has produced some memorable characters over the years, Ostrander’s style has never been what you would call “subtle.” Therefore, our three journeymen Je’Daii (and no, it’s not explained where that word comes from or what it’s a contraction of) human Shae Koda, Twi’lek Tasha Ryo, and Sith (yes, Sith) Sek’nos Rath are characterized in the broadest strokes possible as reckless, “spoiled princess,” and arrogant hothead. Xesh’s depiction is the most thuddingly obvious as he lands on Tython with the three sensing, “Darkness,” “Intense darkness!,” “Anger!” before he chimes in himself with “Death!”
Yet the reason I keep reading and looking forward to “Star Wars” projects involving Ostrander is that in spite of this clunkiness the man thrives on moral ambiguity and clearly loves having his characters make difficult choices. I’m sure he was thrilled at the idea of having a Sith be one of the protagonists here, even if Sek’nos is more interesting for that contradiction than his actual character. Though most of this story is a standard man vs. nature one as the acolytes track Xesh across the harsh wilderness of Tython, the Force Hound eventually overcomes his melodramatic arrival and emerges as the most interesting character in the story. What we learn of his origin is that it was one “devoid of light” and subject to the whims of his masters, so that he didn’t choose to follow the dark side so much that he didn’t have a choice. As a result, though he is the cause of the imbalance of the Force in this story it’s not his intent at all. Furthermore his upbringing also plays a key factor in making his completely predictable last-minute-save be more affecting than you’d think it would be.
As for Duursema’s art, it’s fantastic as usual. She does another excellent job of the many varied races and settings of the “Star Wars” universe to life and remains one of the best artists I’ve seen to tackle it at Dark Horse. Though there always seems to be an element of photo-referencing in her characters, they still come off as far more natural than you’d expect from such a practice and don’t drag you out of the story. I can’t recall if I’ve said this before, but here it is for good measure: Greg Land can learn a thing or two from seeing her work here.
The story ends with Xesh’s fate in transition as he’s not exactly welcomed into the Je’Daii (and I do hope they explain where that name comes from in the second volume) after his actions here. Not only am I interested in seeing what happens to him, but the next volume appears to involve a closer look at those who dwell on emotions specific to the dark side. As this story comes from a time before they were considered evil and outright threats, I can’t imagine it ending well for those who are currently in balance with the Force. However, it does remain to be seen if Ostrander and Duursema will be able to follow this story to its conclusion given recent events. I certainly hope that they will, if only to see if the promise shown in detailing the origins of the Jedi Order seen here is fulfilled or cut off at the knees.