The Function of Laughter in The High Republic Adventures

I’m going to confess something: comedy is not my thing. I don’t dislike comedy; I don’t dislike laughing. I don’t think everything should be grim, dark, and edgy. But I have a hard time understanding comedy, on a technical level. I have a hard time picking it apart, peering inside to see how it functions. I’ve tried. I’ve read books and articles on how to write comedy, but it’s still this black box in storytelling that eludes me. Maybe it’s the autism.

I think this is why I took so much longer to put words to issue #2 of The High Republic Adventures than issue #1. Because everyone already said it. From the early reviews to the general reader response: it’s a laugh riot. I myself howled, out loud, a multitude of times. It’s hilarious. What more is there to say?

Comedy is not my thing.

But I also know that comedy itself is a form of storytelling. It requires pacing, setup, payoff, emotional buy-in. It’s why it’s so common for good comedic actors to also be good at drama. It’s why Jordan Peele, who made his name in sketch comedy, delivers quality horror again and again.

So I didn’t want to just dismiss this issue from analysis because it was funny. As much as I struggle with understanding the way comedy functions, issue #2 is still art. It’s still craft. There’s still an entire creative team that put effort into making this a cohesive story, that moves the story forward and reveals elements of our characters. There is still a function…

…a narrative function. Now that is something I do understand. I can’t break apart a joke and tell you how it works. But maybe I can tell you where the jokes fit with the other story elements. And I see three narrative functions that comedy plays in The High Republic Adventures issue #2.

1) Perspective

The characters face great danger in this issue. Ships get stolen, fired upon, and flown on crash courses with each other. Many characters express the fear of dying and their helplessness to stop it. Throughout this chaos, we cut away to the Dank Graks, to Maz and Dex on the ship’s bridge, to Raf in his own fighter. But the primary lens through which we experience all this mayhem is still Sav Malagán. A teenage girl absolutely stoked to be here.

Maz, off-panel, ordering: "Alak, Coromont, take the kid and see what you can find in the gunner station."
Sav, the kid in question, with the most delighted expression ever: "YEEEE!"

As the protagonist, her glee infects every panel of the comic. We see it all, even the danger, as Sav herself sees it. We aren’t just told that she’s delighted; we’re invited to join her in that delight.

Contrast this with another Sav Malagán story: Edge of Balance Volume 2. Set years later, in Sav’s time as a Jedi Master, the protagonist is Jedi Knight Lily Tora-Asi. While there’s no shortage of humor, the more serious tone of the manga tracks with Lily and Lily’s assessment of the threat at hand.

Even issue #1 of The High Republic Adventures, while light in tone, is not nearly the same rambunctious comedy that is issue #2. There, Padawan Sav does consider for a moment that she might very well die against the Dank Graks’ droids. More gravity – in both writing and art – is given to the threat, is given to the atmosphere, is given to the pirates.

Which brings us to the second narrative function of comedy.

2) Vulnerability

In Every Frame A Painting’s episode on Jackie Chan, video essayist Tony breaks down how Chan makes not just action comedy films, but how the action scenes themselves are comedic.

First off, he gives himself a disadvantage. No matter what film, Jackie always starts beneath his opponents. He has no shoes. He’s handcuffed. He has a bomb in his mouth. From this point, he has to fight his way back to the top.

(…) Unlike a lot of action stars who try to look invincible, Jackie gets hurt. A lot. Half the fun of his work is not only are the stunts impressive, there’s always room for a joke. Pain humanizes him. Because no matter how skilled he is, he still gets smacked in the face.

While physical pain isn’t an element of The High Republic Adventures’ humor [1]At least not in issue #2. Let us not forget Raf getting beaned with a tankard., the principle remains the same. The laughs come from vulnerability. From the cracks in the legendary expectations Sav has of her heroes. From peeling back the veil from them to reveal relatability.

Alak – a towering man with a scowl – isn’t surly because he’s a planning his next criminal scheme or being a stoic badass. Nor was the brawl in the last episode with Raf the pirate hunter some sort of ideological crusade. It was a lover’s spat. And now Alak is overthinking his last argument with his boyfriend.

Coromont Vizzle – a pirate with multiple ballads dedicated to his name – has a pair of reveals, the first of which is that he wrote the ballads. All of them. And the lyric declaring that “the law is always on his back” takes a very literal turn.

A very tiny alien leaps from a compartment on Coromont's back, declaring, "Ah ah! I now have definitive evidence of criminal activity."

Sav is startled while Coromont palms at his own face in annoyance: "Oh bazinbarst! Not now, Officer Rado!"

Officer Rado begins to cite extensive law titles, sections, etc. as Sav squints at him and Coromont.

"Officer?!" she says.

Coromont: "After my last trial, I had to agree to have a court-assigned officer with me at all times. It's a drag, really, but anything illegal that happens, he's implicated in by being present, so he never gets far in his citations. Best to just ignore him. He always shuts up after a while."

Now thoroughly unimpressed, Sav begins to ask, "Wait, is THAT why the song says you always have the law on your b--"

Dexter Jettster, despite appearing in fewer panels than Coromont and Alak, is still another demonstration of how humor humanizes these legends. Issue #1 – in both writing and art – displayed him as a self-assured badass. His eyes go pure white in determination. He snarls in the face of blaster fire. And now, in issue #2, he panics at the controls of this old, weird ship.

Each of these reveals – each delivered in a comedic moment – is accompanied by a reaction from Sav. Her expressions and words reveal she’s peeking through the cracks in her own hero worship to see these pirates as they are. She blanches in realizing her prank in issue #1 caused a rift in Alak’s personal relationship. She squints and frowns as Coromont blasély reveals his secrets. She meets Dex’s panicked expression with the flattest teenager look she can offer.

The humor of issue #2 is Sav – and us as the readers – realizing that these pirates, whom we regarded with such awe in issue #1, are just…people. People who can fail. People who can get hurt.

Which brings us to the third narrative function.

3) Threat

Twice now, Maz Kanata has warned us.

“The Dank Graks are a criminal outfit made up of rejects from various backwater Force factions around the galaxy. Bunch of losers, basically. But they’re ruthless and very connected.”

Issue #1

“The Dank Graks are eccentric, but don’t be fooled: they’re vicious and will do whatever it takes to get what they want.”

Issue #2

There is humor in the absurdity of the Dank Graks. They were introduced to us like this for goodness’ sake:

When we laugh at something, there is the instinct to not take it seriously. Which might very well put us in danger. Maz herself admits to falling into this in issue #2. She had expected this encounter with the Dank Graks to be a “quick little jaunt”, a fun adventure on which she could let the sneaky Padawan tag along. Maz had expected the humorous adventure that we saw from Sav’s perspective and instead was faced with the very real possibility that her crew and this tagalong kid might die.

I wonder if the comedy of issue #2 is playing that same game with us as readers.

When a reader approaches a work of writing, they come at it like a boxer with their gloves up. In theory, readers know what the point of a story is. It’s to make them feel things. But they need to be prepared to feel things. You can throw all the jabs and crosses and hooks you want at the reader with all of your emotional, tear-jerking scenes or terrifying twists and turns, but if they’re still guarding themselves, those punches won’t land.

You have to get readers to lower their guard. The easiest and most effective way to do that? Get them to laugh.

What better time to deliver on an emotional gut punch that will resonate like never before? Clearly after getting your reader to laugh, to let their guard down, to feel safe.

“Why humor in fiction is so essential” by Josh Sippie, The Writer

Get us laughing at the absurdity, lose ourselves in the delightful comedy of this adventure, unaware of the stakes looming over our shoulder. I have my doubts that anyone will die in this all-ages comic, but the previous run of The High Republic Adventures hardly shied away from its own gut punches. Perhaps issue #2 is setting us – and Sav herself – up for such a blow.

Or perhaps I am reading too much into a literary technique that I do not understand. Comedy, after all, is not my thing.

References
1 At least not in issue #2. Let us not forget Raf getting beaned with a tankard.

The Legendary Eleven-ThirtyEight Turns a Page

Four years ago, I attended Star Wars Celebration for the first time. Never having attended a real convention before, the months leading up to it were filled with a lot of uncertainly regarding hotels, passes, the survival of my car, and so on—some of which I documented here, actually. The biggest uncertainty, of course, the one that fed all the others, was money. Had I saved enough? Had I saved enough to enjoy myself? What if something went wrong?

To alleviate some of these concerns, I decided to ask you, our stylish and insightful readers, for assistance paying that year’s hosting bill. I originally intended to collect donations for a week, but by the third day I had to deactivate my PayPal link because I had collected enough to pay for not just that year’s hosting but for four years.

That level of support felt lovely, of course, but it brought with it a major sense of responsibility: I now had to earn all that support. With only one Star Wars movie left on the horizon at that time and Disney+ still a major question mark, could I keep Eleven-ThirtyEight going another four years? What the hell would Star Wars even be by the end of that time?

It also occurred to me, though, that those four years of funding would bring us to 2023, the year of the site’s tenth anniversary. If I could keep things going that long, justify all that faith you folks had expressed in us, that anniversary would be a great moment to put this whole thing to bed. That was still a long way off, of course, so I put a pin in it and got back to business.

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A Rebels Reflection: Ahsoka and the Future of the Rebels Storyline

Nine years ago, my debut piece was published on Eleven-ThirtyEight. It was a defense of the then-yet-to-come animated series Star Wars Rebels, hitting back against the criticisms that early promotional materials had been receiving of being too “kiddie” or “Disneyfied” compared to its predecessor, The Clone Wars. Since at the time, the show had yet to air, I had to work in the hypothetical and with conclusions based off of what little we knew and what I could try to infer, meaning that not all aspects of that article have aged well, and the writing itself could certainly use some improvement. But the reason I bring it up here is that it shows that I have been following Rebels for a long time, even before the show itself had released anything more than a piece of concept art. I followed the show’s development and release, I’ve absorbed the tie-ins (few though they may be) and, after the show’s end with its fourth season, I’ve watched the horizon for any sign of a sequel.

I and many others like me expected that there would be one, because what successful story in the Disney Star Wars era doesn’t get a sequel of some sort? For a while, it seemed like one was very near in the offing. Rumors came trickling out years ago about a proposed “New Republic” show starring some members of the Rebels cast, dealing with the fate of Thrawn and showing the youngest members of the Spectre crew, Sabine Wren and Ezra Bridger, as adults. But that show never emerged; it remained the subject of rumors and nothing more, as other animated efforts like Forces of Destiny and Star Wars Resistance came and went. Rebels moved further and further into history as more Star Wars media came out, obscuring it further and further in favor of other eras and other characters.

Then The Mandalorian was released, and everything changed. At a time when the lukewarm receptions of Solo and The Rise of Skywalker had left the future of the theatrical films in doubt, The Mandalorian was a genuine blockbuster smash, or at least as close as a show on a streaming service could be. Thanks in large part to Baby Yoda, it put Star Wars into the public consciousness in a way that it hadn’t been in years. And with it came a seismic shift in the Lucasfilm slate of releases moving forward, as theatrical releases were deprioritized (to the point where, as of this writing, there hasn’t been a theatrical Star Wars release since Rise in 2019) and Disney+ releases ramped up. From the first season of The Mandalorian was born a second season, naturally. And from that second season three other shows were born, all announced in the wake of the finale: The Book of Boba Fett, Rangers of the New Republic, and Ahsoka.

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Sav Malagán, Community, & Identity – A Queer Lens on The High Republic Adventures

Content Warning: spoilers for Adventures #1 and discussions of real-world queerphobic violence

Maybe it’s because I’m queer. Maybe it’s because of Lula, Zeen, Kantam, the very queerness of The High Republic Adventures Phase I run. But ever since we received the preview of a young, gremlin Sav Malagán in the first issue of Phase II, saying this about Maz Kanata’s castle –

“I head to a place where no one bugs me about meditating or following rules, where I can be whoever I want, whatever I want, or even disappear. The only place I can really be myself.”

– I can’t stop thinking, “queer bar.”

Now that we have the full comic, it’s embedded in my perspective. I do not know if writer Daniel José Older or artist Toni Bruno intended this reading, but for me as an aromantic asexual trans man, it felt inescapable.

We join Sav Malagán on the sidelines of this queer bar, watching the various characters who represent the person she wants to become. She tells herself their stories and hopes one day to be counted among them. The pirate outfit she dons at the beginning is perhaps even inspired by one of these elder queers she idolizes; the one she scampers after to learn about how she can live her full identity.

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The Dexter Jettster Renaissance: Twenty Years of a Literary Classic

In 2002, we were blessed with a scoundrel of a space cook with an arm gimmick, a ready grin, and a menacing chuckle. Dexter Jettster – the one-scene wonder of Jedi Quest #2: The Trail of the Jedi.

Oh, and also of some movie, I suppose.

While created and developed for Attack of the Clones, the Besalisk actually debuted in Legends literature. His first appearance came a month and a half before the film’s release, in Jude Watson’s middle-grade series Jedi Quest. Though the movie would obviously make a bigger impact, this pulp-fiction book set the stage for how Dex would grow into a more complex character: through literature.

Over the course of the Legends Expanded Universe, Dex would make enough scattered appearances across novels, comics, and magazines that certain character traits began taking root outside of the movie. Traits that held a distinct similarity to a literary classic.

In 2002, we were blessed with another scoundrel of a space cook with an arm gimmick, a ready grin, and a menacing chuckle. Long John Silver – the villain of Disney’s Treasure Planet.

Oh, and also of some novel, I suppose.

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