Well, my week off is going splendidly! Turns out it was precisely what was needed, I must say! Lost of gaming, lots of resting and living life in the slow lane. What life should be about, really!
I do like to get out and about and explore the local area, which has some pleasant hidden corners. I’m quite close to a village called Minera, which has a lot of lead mining bits and pieces – if you’d like to know more, I wrote a blog about three years ago as a culmination of my research into the whole history of the place. You can enjoy that here, anyway!
Adventures with Elves has continued, which has been very exciting, I must say!
I’d thought of playing some entirely new scenarios, but in the end I decided to go for some “iconic Middle-Earth location” scenarios instead. So I went Into Ithilien, which is something I’d not done before – Heirs of Númenor came out about a month before I was caught up in the circus of moving, and by the time I was settled, Against the Shadow had begun and it kinda fell by the wayside. As time wore on, and the reports had come out of how “impossible” this scenario is, I decided not to bother. So it was a lot of fun to play a scenario that is now, what, over two years old, not least to see what all the fuss is about!
I think I might let the elves rest up a bit now, as they’ve been run ragged over the past couple of days! I’ve got a new deck built, a more general-purpose deck that features a whole melange of characters in a true Fellowship, so we’ll see how that goes when I come to attack the Ringmaker!
But the most exciting thing from the last couple of days has to be this!
I think I mentioned this before, but every Easter I re-watch the classic Star Wars trilogy, which is always made so much better when that’s combined with some of the classic literature. Last year I seemed to steam through novels and short stories, but was thinking the other day that I probably won’t be doing that again this year. Instead, I’m going to focus more on the comics, so I’ve started early with the Dark Times series!
Last month, I took a look at the Darth Vader series from Dark Horse, four story arcs that kind of intersect into this series, along with at least one novel – James Luceno’s Dark Lord – all taking place in the months following Revenge of the Sith. The events of the series are actually set up in the preceeding Star Wars ongoing series, Republic, and in fact the individual comics maintained the numbering, meaning the Republic series eventually ran to 115 issues, overtaking the original Marvel run that ran to 107. Bit of apocrypha for you there!
Republic #79 – 80 is a two-part story arc Into the Unknown, which follows the escapades of two Jedi in the direct aftermath of Order 66: Kai Hudorra and Dass Jennir. It’s a really nice story that shows some really intense scenes that the film didn’t really convey, I felt. I mean, there were some moments, but Into the Unknown really explores this more, as we see the choices those surviving Jedi made about their futures. It’s available in the ninth volume of the Clone Wars series, which should be on everyone’s shelf because it also collects the conclusion of the Quinlan Vos storyline!
Dark Times begins proper with The Path to Nowhere, as we follow Dass Jennir immediately following the charge down the hill that ends Into the Unknown now that he has teamed up with the Nosaurians. In order to escape the now-Imperial patrols, Jennir and his ally Bomo Greenbark escape with the help of a rag-tag band aboard the freighter Uhumele. They discover that Bomo’s family has been taken to Orvax IV to be sold into slavery, so head over, only to find out the tragic truth that his wife was killed trying to prevent their daughter being taken. Jennir discovers who bought Bomo’s daughter, but when her fate is revealed, he reveals himself as a Jedi to the rest of the crew, who are not too happy to have him aboard.
Path to Nowhere is a grim story, no bones about it, but it’s also a really amazing entry into the timeline (Legends notwithstanding!). Doug Wheatley has produced some absolutely incredible art in these pages – the series was actually delayed by almost a year all told, because of getting the series to this awesome standard. Some of the panels, such as the townscape scenes, are a true visual feast!
Parallels is a much smaller-scale story. The crew of the Uhumele is trying to offload some merchandise but the deal goes sour, and bad things start to happen! As a parallel story (chortle chortle), we see Master K’Kruhk in the aftermath of Order 66! This guy became something of an EU legend; after his appearance in Jedi Council: Acts of War, he became something of a series regular in the Republic line immediately following Attack of the Clones. With his iconic hat, he kept popping up time and again – most surprisingly in the Legacy series!!!!!
I have to say, Parallels was not as enjoyable a story for me as Path to Nowhere. The artwork sometimes looked a little sloppy, especially in comparison with the earlier series, but I kinda disliked the fact we didn’t get more Dass Jennir! When I first read this series when it came out, I kinda rushed through it, and the plot never really stuck with me as being that great. Now that I’ve read it the second time around, I have to say, it still wasn’t all that memorable.
Part of this, I suppose, is that the next storyline in the Dark Times series really overshadows it. Vector was a massive event in Star Wars comics back in 2008. It was a twelve-part crossover of all four of the ongoing series Dark Horse was publishing at the time – Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, Rebellion and Legacy – and follows the story of what happens when a Jedi comes across a Sith amulet. It’s actually a phenomenally well put-together story, and I was hugely impressed with the logistics of the storyline. The promise from the event was that it wasn’t just some sort of Marvel-like gimmick to make readers buy more series, but instead each story would be self-contained and propel its respective series forwards in new ways, but if you read all twelve issues, it also formed a really great story in and of itself. And boy, did it deliver!
The Dark Times segment of Vector runs to just two issues, and we once again see the crew of the Uhumele trying to offload their merchandise. That merchandise turns out to be the stasis canister Celeste Morne was placed into at the end of the KotOR arc! Worlds collide! Darth Vader shows up to try to take possession, things go haywire, and the Rakghoul plague is once again active within the galaxy. This merchandise has had a question mark over it since Path to Nowhere, and I really liked seeing how that turned out. Even now, seven years after I first read it, I still love how this tale plays out!
From there, we head to Blue Harvest. Fans of Star Wars lore will know that Blue Harvest was the fake film that masked the filming of Return of the Jedi back in the early 1980s, and while attempts have been made previously to reference this little bit of Lucasfilm lore, this is possibly the best of them all. We’re back to Dass Jennir, as he makes his lonely way in the universe. He’s now looking a lot like Obi-Wan will end up looking on Tatooine, which is a little distracting really. We follow his attempt to earn a living by dealing with a gang problem on Telerath, but finds the situation is a lot more complicated than it first seemed. It was a lot of fun seeing how he goes about dealing with the gangs – a group of Chagrians, and another of T’surri, making sense of the Blue Harvest of the title.
We also get some glimpses of the Uhumele crew, as they begin to miss Jennir. Another Jedi shows up, a Verpine of all species, who asks the crew to help him locate Jennir. I must admit, I was uneasy about this, as I felt it was some sort of trap cooked up by the Empire. Vader is still hot on the heels of any rogue Jedi survivors, and there are a few panels where we see the wider galaxy once more. It’s pretty awesome, though the story does feel oddly finished, as Jennir steps in to deal with the T’surri survivors.
The storyline continues almost directly in Out of the Wilderness, which pulls together a few plot strands into another really nice tale. Jennir left Telerath with his erstwhile employer, though they are shot down over the desert wilderness Prine. However, the arc begins with one of my all-time favourite sequences, as an assassin sneaks aboard an Imperial Space Station/Prison facility to conduct some intelligence theft, just as Darth Vader arrives. Very nicely executed, and totally makes up for the terrible name (ISO-L8 – because it’s a prison…)
Jennir eventually hooks back up with the Uhumele crew, who have been sadly depleted since they were last together, and there is something of a sense of coming-together after the intervening arcs. I suppose this is another reason why Parallels fell short for me, as it almost exists outside of what feels, to me, like the main storyline of the Dark Times series. Sure, the Uhumele oddballs are there, but even so, it just doesn’t really measure up to the rest of it.
Doug Wheatley is back for both of these arcs, and once again we have some really luscious panels of artistic awesomeness. Overall, Path to Nowhere, Blue Harvest and Out of the Wilderness make for some really compelling Star Wars reading – and Path to Nowhere especially is one of the all-time greatest EU stories I have ever read!
Volume six in the series, Fire Carrier, picks up from Parallels, and follows K’Kruhk and the padawans as they attempt to find sanctuary. It’s actually a really interesting story, although a lot of it does feel like it’s trying to set up the fact that some Jedi did survive Order 66, particularly K’Kruhk, who had by now already made his appearance in Legacy. So it’s more about the journey than the destination, but something very interesting (to me, anyway) takes place within these pages.
We have some exploration of Imperial loyalties here, as we’re introduced to Commander Teron and Captain Denimoor, veterans of the Clone Wars both. When K’Kruhk arrives on Arkinnea, Teron appears to take an interest in him, and while I was at first convinced he’d bring Vader down on them, it turns out Teron fought besides the Whiphid on Saleucami, and still remembers the honour of those times. Teron helps K’Kruhk establish himself on the planet in isolation, a new Jedi temple for the training of the padawans.
It’s a really interesting story, as it shows that some of those in the Imperial hierarchy didn’t necessarily go along with Order 66, and perhaps resent the clones for the possibility that they are operating with a hidden agenda. It’s something that Blue Harvest also touched upon, where Vader asks if Lieutenant Vill has a similar order to eliminate him if the Emperor saw fit. This idea of commanders in the army of the Republic suddenly switching loyalties is woefully under-explored, but definitely needs to be looked at again since the EU slate has been wiped clean. Sci-fi and Fantasy stories are often guilty of using a broad brush to draw the details, Star Wars sometimes more than most, but we really need to see stories like these in the future to provide that depth.
Well, I think so, anyway!
A Spark Remains, the final volume in the Dark Times run, is really quite a good story too, following a plot by Dass Jennir and the Uhumele guys to assassinate Vader. We actually get a lot of closure during this arc, and while it ended before the announcement that Marvel would take over the license, it is tempting to think there was some effort to wrap up the Dark Times run.
The best thing, for me, about this run was returning to a character who first appeared in the Into the Unknown arc mentioned previously, Kai Hudorra. Leaving the Order to become a gambler, it turns out Hudorra has done very well for himself indeed! The crew arrives to persuade him to help taking down Vader, along with the Verpine Jedi Beyghor Sahdett who showed up during Blue Harvest. There was always something a bit off about that guy, and now we finally get to find out what that is! I wasn’t entirely convinced at first by this, though the eventual payoff to this story was pretty good.
Kai Hudorra is an interesting character to me, and I must admit, if I were a Jedi who survived Order 66, I’d probably head off to hide out in the galaxy and make my living as a gambler!
Dark Times is a really great series. I’ve said it a lot up there, but Path to Nowhere is one of the best Star Wars stories ever written – in both comics and novels (and, even, films!) For longtime readers of the Republic ongoing series, it is almost a must-read, as it shows a lot of characters from that series.
Something that saddened me somewhat was how little time we spent with the Empire – we see Vader, we see the Emperor, but never for very long (outside of Path to Nowhere, of course). I suppose you could argue that the four Darth Vader standalone miniseries are a part of the Dark Times run, as they are quite heavily-intertwined. Spending time with the galactic fringe, and following the adventures of a Jedi in hiding at this time, is hugely enjoyable of course, and in many respects more than makes up for that.
I really don’t know how much more I can say this, but it’s really great – and if you only ever read one Star Wars comic produced by Dark Horse, it ought to be Path to Nowhere!