Welcome back to our SWNN Retro Reviews! This week, I revisit an old favorite of mine, Kanan: The Last Padawan. This comic series told the backstory of Rebels Kanan Jarrus when he was known in the galaxy as Caleb Dume, Padawan to Jedi Master Depa Billaba. This issue hit shelves May 6, 2015 when fans were in fever pitch excitement for The Force Awakens. Rebels was still relatively new to the fandom but most of us embraced it, hungry for content and hints of what this new era of Star Wars would bring. I remember enjoying Rebels but I wasn’t a huge fan of Kanan. This comic series, especially this issue, changed all of that. This series began as a history lesson of how Kanan went from a Padawan to a survivor in the underworld of the Star Wars universe, but ended up eventually intersecting with actual episodes and the Ghost crew made several appearances. Overall, it’s one of my favorite comic series and I wanted to showcase this second issue.
The second issue opens immediately after the conclusion of the first. Padawan Caleb Dume and his master Depa Billaba are cornered on the planet Kaller, just after Darth Sidious has issued his Order 66. The first issue of The Last Padawan served to introduce the close bond Dume formed with the squad of Clone Troopers his master commanded. Much like we’ve seen in the animated Clone Wars, writer Greg Weisman demonstrates the tight bond many Jedi and Padawans formed while fighting alongside the clones. This issue underscores how deep the friendship went for Caleb – even as the troopers turn their blasters against he and his master, the Padawan is frozen by the horrible prospect of killing his friends in self-defense.
Master Billaba helps Caleb snap out of it and join the fight, but even as he does he laments his blade cutting down each of his friends. In his head, he says their name, not knowing the malevolent force driving their actions but still recognizing the humanity these clones showed him during their time in and between battles. Billaba realizes this battle is not one they can win and she orders him to flee, assuring him she’ll be right behind him. Caleb knows his master is lying – she won’t be right behind him, she’s buying him time to escape.
Caleb turns to witness Jedi Master Depa Billaba gunned down by their former comrade-in-arms. His suspicion of her sacrifice is confirmed as the clones speed past her lifeless body in pursuit of him. Caleb hides in the thick of the forest and once danger has passed, he quietly makes his way toward Plateau City. At this point, Caleb has no idea what’s become of the rest of the Jedi. He doesn’t know the Republic he fought for now burns in the fires of the Sith and the Empire. All Caleb believes he needs to do is survive in order to get back to Coruscant, though he does know the remaining clones on Kaller still hunt him.
The sheltered life Caleb’s led as a Padawan up to this point dawns on him as he struggles to survive in Plateau City. The dogma the Jedi served up to him his whole life serves little purpose now and Caleb is quickly becoming aware of it. It’s interesting how often we see the monasticism of the Jedi backfiring on those who survived Order 66, as well as those who would later bear the responsibility of attempting to restore the Jedi Order. This is one of the earlier “new canon” pieces of storytelling we received, but even at this point it seems the Story Group were trying to warn us the Jedi’s stoic, stubborn ways helped spell trouble for the galaxy more than help it (or them). Meeting the Jedi at this end is a big reason I’m intrigued to see the state of their order in the forthcoming High Republic stories. Were they always this way or did the cataclysm we are promised in those books cause a shift toward a more strict adherence to interpretation of the Jedi code? Whatever the answer, Caleb Dume is paying the price.
As the Jedi uses the Force as a guide it often leads them to unlikely allies. Meet Janus Kasmir, a person who would help Caleb Dume survive and also gave him his new identity. This issue only provides an introduction, but the underworld rogue played an important role in this moment, showing Caleb sympathy. He ended up being a protector of the former-Padawan at his most vulnerable point, showing him mercy, though their partnership ultimately didn’t end well.
The art in this series, this issue by artist Pepe Laraz and colorist David Curiel, is really something. Not only is it vivid, touching, and raw – we also get to see the Ghost crew interpreted on the page. I remember enjoying the visual feast of every issue. Writer Greg Weisman also penned a number of Rebels episodes, so I felt the spirit of the show shepherded into each issue of Kanan. This was one of the more haunting visuals, a starving child begging for a place to sleep, knowing the longer he’s exposed in Plateau City the more fatigued he’ll become and his hunters will eventually catch him. How many other stories like this were happening simultaneously as the Clone War came to a stop and the new nightmare of the Empire began?
Janus giving Caleb some lessons of tough love. It made me think of Beckett talking to Han in Solo. The galaxy far, far away is indeed an unforgiving place and for those with no support to fall back on, morality is often something of a luxury. How far one can stray from the path of morality and come back is often the most difficult answer to find. Caleb takes Janus’ advice and steals his ship, intending to make his way back to Coruscant. Once aboard, Caleb is greatly relieved to receive a transmission from Obi-Wan Kenobi…until he opens it.
The Jedi have fallen. The Republic is dead. And Caleb Dume has just begun his journey of survival in an already brutal galaxy which just became much more deadly.
Again, I highly recommend this series, especially if you enjoyed Rebels. I also think fans of the game Jedi: Fallen Order would enjoy a story which shares many similarities to Cal’s backstory. This entire series ran between 2015-2016 and there are twelve-issues total. It’s a great chunk of storytelling and adds so much to Kanan’s story, as well as the rest of the Ghost crew. We know Ezra, Hera, Sabine, Ahsoka, and Jacen are still out there in the galaxy with stories we’ve yet to watch or read, so I’d say this is a great way to revisit them and get excited for more.