‘Star Wars’ turning Japanese (I really think so)

BY JAYSON PETERS/TRIBUNE

A fandom phenomenon that’s near and dear to my heart is the collecting of Star Wars posters and book covers – specifically, when possible, the Japanese versions. OK, so I don’t have any yet but it’s a goal.

With the Star Wars Celebration conventions here in the U.S. in ruins due to litigation, the people from the Galaxy Far, Far Away are trying again elsewhere, this time in the Land of the Rising Sun with Star Wars Celebration Japan. And the folks at StarWars.com are taking the opportunity to showcase the Far East’s sometimes wildly fantastic visual take on Star Wars. You can check out Part I of their feature on Japanese cover art here, Part II here and Part III here. (The U.S. cover art is included in the lower right corner of each example.)

At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, it’s worth noting that the covers of Star Wars novels released in Japan frequently focus on the technological side of the films’ unique style. For the stories set decades after the films, when it would be odd to show the same model of TIE or X-Wing fighters that you saw in theaters, the American cover artists often make this mistake, but their Japanese counterparts like to feature newer, unfilmed design elements like the living ships and armor of the extragalactic Yuuzhan Vong invaders.

But there is far more to see than cool gadgets and spaceships. The Japanese art often shows more convincing aging of the main characters, as well as a more developed vision of original characters that did not appear in the films. The best examples are Mara Jade, the former Imperial agent-turned-smuggler-turned-Jedi Knight who married Luke Skywalker and bore him a son named Ben; the Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, and their younger brother Anakin; and Jagged Fel, the son of a former Imperial baron and fighter ace who romances Han and Leia’s daughter (when they’re not busy trying to kill each other).

The American illustrations for that series, known as the New Jedi Order, were particularly abstract, and focused more on big faces of Luke, Leia, Han et al – sometimes, but rarely, aged appropriately.

Then there are the Japanese covers for the Dark Nest trilogy, which followed the NJO series and preceded the current novel line, Legacy of the Force. You begin to see the surviving Solo offspring come into their own here. Other things to note are the insectoid Killik creatures, Mara Jade with the flaming red hair and sleek black bodysuit (also seen above in an NJO cover) and R2-D2 projecting an image of Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia’s late mother.

Troy Denning’s Dark Nest trilogy is easily overlooked, coming after the epic 27-part NJO, but it really is quite good and it ties the movie prequels neatly into the saga’s future generations. And, it sets up the current Legacy of the Force series in a major way, including the Dark Jedi Alema Rar and the possibility of one of the Solo twins falling to the dark side.

But that’s another story.