The comeback of Star Wars film franchise has been equally reflected in the field of graphic novels. Kanan: The Last Padawan is one of the few which do not focus on Luke, Leia or Vader, but even without that, it is strongly connected to movie events and elaborates on them, adding more depth to the already existing universe.
Despite picking up one of the characters of Star Wars Rebels as its protagonist, The Last Padawan takes place during the Clone Wars – or rather, at their end. Young Kanan – sorry, his name at this time is Caleb Dume – starts as a Padawan caught in the middle of the war, like all Jedi at that time. He is accompanied by his master, Depa Billaba, and a group of clone troopers. There is a merry camaraderie – which inevitably must end when certain supreme chancellor issues certain Order 66. As a survivor, young Caleb ends up on his own, living in the street. Stripped of everything he relied on, forced to hide his Jedi identity, he is faced with eventually erasing his Jedi past completely. Or at least, that is what his life seems to be taking him through.
The Last Padawan offers a lot of background to one of Star Wars Rebel’s main characters. In addition to A New Dawn, it is certainly a welcome source for Rebels fans. With its distinctive (post-)Clone Wars atmosphere, however, it is surely a good read also for the fans of Clone Wars alone; in fact, it might possibly serve as a good bridge for those who liked the Clone Wars animated series but haven’t watched Rebels. But Kanan is also an interesting read for those completely unfamiliar with both Rebels and Clone Wars; it makes perfect sense as a stand-alone comic book following the life of a lone Padawan boy lost in the aftermath of the war.
Kanan is a nice read and I quite enjoyed also its visual style. It is somewhat closer to the “rough” end of spectrum, which fits the gritty setting. But it is also quite colorful and “splashy” (the few scenes showing other characters from Rebels – used basically just to frame the story – depict them in a way we aren’t really used to). Pepe Larraz and the rest of the graphics team certainly did their job well. In my opinion, it is good that the Star Wars graphic novels do not have a set style, but each can have its own, and the relationship between the image and the story make up their own distinct atmosphere.
So, what is my verdict on The Last Padawan? Would I recommend it? Yes. I think the story is well-written, it isn’t merely a commercial product to add more unnecessary adventures to already existing character, but a new story which actually communicates something. The characters in the comics are believable and Kanan’s conflict with them and with himself are real.
There are, on top of that, many things that will please hardcore fans. The story is full of funny little details like how did Kanan learn to tie his hair or where did he acquire his “fashion sense”. The writers decided to feature a few issues that have been giving fans grey hairs since forever – especially concerning the potential survival of some Jedi after the purge, and some elaboration on Obi-Wan’s message warning the Jedi against returning to the Temple, something that in the movie seems awfully arbitrary (like a forced plot device to give him and Yoda a reason to go to Coruscant, even though there are only dead bodies and thousands of troopers).
One last thing I feel obliged to remark is that if you like redemption arcs of villains, I guarantee you that you are going to enjoy the story. That said, one of the underlying messages seems to be “the Galaxy is full of conflict, but even villains are not completely evil, and if they do something bad, it is because they have a different point of view”. It is a specific point of view which is not present in all Star Wars stories and which does not even fit some of them, but I appreciate the way it works here.