As a note of clarification, technically the story in #0 could be considered separate from the Commencement story arc, but it’s more of a prequel lead-in so I included it with the main Commencement arc.
Cover Art By: Travis Charest
Art By: Michael Atiyeh, Brian Ching, Travel Foreman & Michael Heisler
Written By: John Jackson Miller
I think most people who read this can relate to the awful feeling that comes with a movie or book that is great for three/fourths of its existence only to take a giant tumble in its final act. It’s hard for me to express how much the final two issues of Commencement, the first story arc in Knights of The Old Republic, affected my view of the overall arc. I was in love with issues #0-4, completely in love with them. Commencement was well on its way to getting the first perfect rating ever at The Domain Of Nihilus. Then issues #5 and 6 had to take place and perfection was shattered.
However, before I get into those issues it’s important to lay the groundwork of why they hurt the arc so much. To do that we need to talk about issues #0-4 and why they were as great as they were. There isn’t one single thing I can point to, because as with most great works Commencement succeeds when the sum of its parts are all at the same level and contribute to the excellence of the story in their own way. A good place to start would be the obvious connectivity of Commencement to the Knights Of The Old Republic video game. A big deal is never made about any of the connections, but they are there and easy for fans of the game, or games as the case may be, to pick up on. It’s not just that the action takes place on Taris, there are certain lines of dialogue, almost throwaway lines that reference the game to come. John Jackson Miller manages to tie the comics to the games effortlessly, not for a second does Commencement feel bogged down by the events of Knights Of The Old Republic, the video game.
Where Commencement really shines is in its writing and storytelling. It’s smart, but it’s also a whole lot of fun. Out of all the various Star Wars books, comics and video games in existence today, Knights of The Old Republic, Commencement specifically, feels most like the movies we have all come to know and love, to varying degrees obviously. Commencement is a rousing adventure tale, full of snappy one liners, characters with sass, but with moments of seriousness that give weight to what we are taking in. It’s very hard to get the wisecracking adventure with serious moments type of story right, but Miller has captured it in great detail.
I was not privy to any of Brian Ching’s art prior to Commencement, but I quickly fell in love with his art style. He presents a world that is rich in color (although the honors color wise go to Michael Atiyeh), but free of any clutter as well as very natural looking. His character designs are always interesting and really draw you to what is happening on the page. Unfortunately Ching didn’t do the penciling for every issue, and that is where the first problems popped up.
The artwork in issue #5 is jarring, the shift in styles is extremely hard to get used to. I don’t want to badmouth Travel Foreman in any way, I’m sure there are people who really like his art style, but art is very subjective and I didn’t like his style one bit. But, beyond the subjectivity of finding his art muddied and unattractive, his art style was too often confusing. I had a heck of a time figuring out what was going on in the scene where Zayne attempts to escape from the bounty hunters. Even if I don’t like your art style, the most I ask is that I’m able to understand what is happening on the page, and in the one issue Foreman penciled that wasn’t the case.
Sadly, the writing of John Jackson Miller also dipped a little in the last issue. It became a tad confusing as to what was going on or why, and I don’t mean in terms of foreshadowing. But the comic really nosedived in the resolution of the arc, with Jarael coming to save Zayne. That didn’t wash for me and seemed far too miraculous to be believable. I know the world of Star Wars is one where the miraculous quite often happens as a result of the Force, but the ending of Commencement didn’t jive for me.
Halfway through Commencement I was already thinking of writing this conclusion paragraph. I couldn’t wait to finish the story and relate to everyone else just how perfect it was, but the last two issues dashed any chance of that happening. Commencement ends up a good story arc, but one that goes well off the rails as it nears its conclusion. It’s still worth a read, just be prepared for disappointment when you stack the end up with the beginning, and there is certainly evidence that the series is capable of great things down the line.