Despite being a slight step down after the excellent first volume, Kanan: First Blood is nonetheless another well-written and engaging chapter in Kanan’s backstory, even if it does suffer a little from aimlessness.
KANAN: FIRST BLOOD IS PART OF THE CURRENT STAR WARS CANON. CHECK OUT THE TIMELINE.
While the excellent Kanan: The Last Padawan covered Kanan Jarrus’s last mission as part of the Jedi Order, the not quite as excellent but still very good Kanan: First Blood covers his first. It’s an odd direction for the second arc of the book to take, especially after the first was such a success, but here we are. Thankfully the creative team of Greg Weisman and Pepe Larraz (with David Curiel on colours) returns to keep a steady grip of Kanan’s early days as an apprentice to Depa Billaba, in a tale which retains the first arc’s deft balance and sturdy writing, even if it suffers a little from aimlessness.
Much like the first arc, which used the Rebels crew heading to the planet Kaller as a framing device, Kanan: First Blood picks up in the same present-day setting, with Kanan floating in bacta after being quite literally stabbed in the back at the end of the previous issue. The continued adventures on Kaller frame First Blood as it delves back into Kanan’s distant past, finding him in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant at the start of the student-teacher relationship between then-Caleb and Billaba.
I, and I suspect most people, might have preferred the present-day story to take on more prominence in the second arc, but that isn’t to say that another arc told primarily in flashback doesn’t have its merits. After a bump to the head lands Caleb in the infirmary, he finds Billaba herself floating in bacta; the first of many parallels between the two that help to flesh out their Force-mandated intertwinement. After waking from a 6-month coma, Billaba is reassessed to determine if she’s fit for duty in the Jedi Order at around the same time that Caleb is completing his Initiate Trials – a neat juxtaposition of learning and relearning, communicated clearly through the story’s writing and artwork.
The subsequent relationship they form helps to contextualise events in “The Last Padawan”, and feels like a natural extension of Caleb’s inquisitive, precocious personality. Ideas of destiny are tossed around, as are those of relationships within the Force being symbiotic, growing as one teaches the other about the way of things. It might lean a bit too much towards hoity-toity spirituality for some tastes, but it’s handled well; the writing in this series continues to be its strongest element, although the art holds up almost as well.
Where Kanan: First Blood suffers is in how it builds a relationship that we’ve already seen the conclusion of, and mostly concentrates on characters whose fates we already know. Because of this it’s somewhat light in stakes, and inconsequential in the broader continuity. Of course, long-term significance does not automatically determine artistic merit, but whereas the first arc felt like a welcome and necessary expansion of an oft-neglected period of the lore, First Blood returns us to a familiar time covered extensively elsewhere. It isn’t enough of a burden to take away from the fine storytelling, which is packed full of nods to other characters and stories within the expansive Star Wars universe but, again, still works a standalone tale, although it’s enough that First Blood feels notably inferior to the first volume.
That having been said, the generally higher-than-average quality of the material shouldn’t be overlooked, and if you’ve skipped this thus far you’re doing yourself a disservice. I’m sure there are still stories of Kanan that are worth telling, but if this is the last we get, which seems to be likely, First Blood ends the run in as fitting (and surprisingly emotional) a way as I can imagine. It might be a slight step down, but it’s still a cut above.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.