Marvel Star Wars catch-up!

May the Fourth be with you

It’s May the Fourth! Happy International Star Wars Day, everybody!

To celebrate this most august of days, I thought I’d catch up with the first year or so of Marvel’s new Star Wars comics, then write a blog in my best rambling fashion for you all. Don’t mention it. So, without further ado…

The first arc of the ongoing series, Skywalker Strikes, I’ve already talked about a little over a year ago – well, I talked about half of it, at least. I even made a video about it, which wasn’t the best quality, but still!

The story begins with the rebel attack on an Imperial weapons factory, headed by our favourite three heroes. During the attack, Luke stops to help some of the trapped workers, and ends up confronting Vader for the first time in the new continuity, with disastrous results. Realising he’s no Jedi yet, he heads back to Tatooine to see if he can get any answers from Ben Kenobi’s old house. Unbeknownst to him, Vader has set a bounty hunter on his trail – none other than the notorious Boba Fett! Fett confronts Luke but, with the help of R2, manages to escape capture, having found an old journal written by Ben with the express purpose of helping Luke on his journey into the Force. Meanwhile, Leia and Han begin scouting for a new rebel base, run into an Imperial patrol, and hide in one of Han’s old smuggler’s haunts, where they are apprehended by a woman claiming to be Han Solo’s wife…

This series started off really spectacularly. The attack on the weapons factory and all that was just terrific. I’m still at war with myself over whether I can really let the old continuity go, however, as it’s the lore I grew up with and all the rest of it. Having Luke explore his Jedi heritage comparatively early in the timeline does leave some questions – why is he so incompetent during the early stages of Empire? Previously, this had been explained by his putting Jedi business on the back burner and focusing more on being the poster-boy for the rebellion.

I have to say, I was irritated by the fact that Boba Fett appears to be the only bounty hunter working in the galaxy, and his reputation as being the most feared etc remains as bad as it ever was in the now-Legends canon. I mean, the amount of time he goes up against the Big Three and doesn’t manage to bring them in, he should be an embarrassment by now…

The most annoying thing, for me, was Han Solo’s wife, Sana Solo. But more on that shortly…

It's time for a Showdown on the Smuggler's Moon! #StarWars #Marvel #comics

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The second arc, Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon, sees Luke travel to Nar Shaddaa, to find a smuggler who will sneak him onto Coruscant so that he can explore the Jedi Temple there. Revealing his lightsaber, he is captured by the Jedi collector Grakkus the Hutt, a weirdly muscular crimelord who desires to pit him against various beasts in his arena. Hm. Grakkus’ designs are thwarted when Leia and Han show up, Leia having struck a bargain with Sana to get her to the Smuggler’s Moon and rescue Luke. Things turn out worse when Grakkus’ master of ceremonies reveals himself to be an Imperial spy called Sergeant Kreel, and calls in the Empire to deliver Luke to Vader. Leia, Han and Chewie manage to rescue Luke, and Sana reveals that she isn’t really Han’s wife, they had a sham ceremony as part of a scam, but Han absconded with her cut.

The first two arcs are separated by a standalone issue, “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. This is a story about Obi-Wan’s time looking over Luke on Tatooine, and I’ve got to be honest, really tuned me out from the get-go. While I can see the attraction of having this kind of meta-story in an ongoing series, I’m not really a fan. There has been another such story released as issue 15, and a third planned for issue 20, so it seems like Marvel are using this as a framing choice, but yeah…

The Showdown arc was fairly good, and reminded me a lot of Legends stories that have seen heroes pitted against monsters in gladiatorial arenas, something that was popular after Attack of the Clones. Emissaries to Malastare springs to mind, of course, but anyway. The repository of Jedi lore collected by Grakkus was an interesting idea that I was saddened to see let go, but I guess Luke can’t learn too much too soon…

The payoff with Han’s “wife” was entirely unsatisfactory, however, and annoyed me even more than when she was introduced. The whole thing just came off like an attention-grab, and I seem to recall was marketed almost as such, “you’ve gotta read this!” and so forth. It just felt really badly handled, and was ultimately kinda pointless – we could have gotten Han and Leia to Nar Shaddaa without it, you know? Whether she shows up again will remain to be seen, but yeah…

I did think it interesting how closely Sana resembled Salla Zend, Han’s old flame from The Han Solo Trilogy and Dark Empire. That Salla had an intense desire to marry Han in the novel Rebel Dawn is an interesting link here, at any rate…

Leaving the ongoing series for a while, let’s delve into Vader!

The first arc, merely called Vader, is a little bit weird, but overall actually really good. I’m one of these people who prefers to read comic books in complete arcs rather than issue-by-issue, one of the reasons why I’ve not made more of an effort with this one I suppose, but I think if I had been reading each issue as it was published, I might have been turned off to it. Let’s delve a little deeper here.

The arc opens with Vader being demoted in the wake of his failure at Yavin. Remember General Tagge from the Death Star briefing room scene? Well, he left the Death Star shortly after said scene, so has actually survived to become one of the top-ranking military officers of the Empire. The Emperor has promoted him to Grand General, and he is now essentially in charge of Vader. Tagge assigns him a liaison officer, Oon-ai, who turns out to be a traitor when Vader is on a mission to destroy a pirate outpost.

Deciding he needs his own resources outside of Tagge’s purview, Vader enlists the aid of the “archaeologist” Dr Aphra in obtaining a private army of battle droids. The two travel to Geonosis with her modified protocol and astromech droids, both of whom provide some comic relief in their incessant urges to torture humanoids. Vader destroys an insane Geonosian hive queen and obtains the private army, then discovers the Emperor has been working to replace him with a series of adepts trained by Dr Cylo, an agent of the Emperor who uses cloning technology to essentially remain immortal.

The first arc is decidedly weird. The weirdest thing, for me, was the inclusion of these replacements for Vader. While I totally buy the Emperor’s reasoning – he tells Vader that the incident on Mustafar disappointed him, and Vader will likely never reach his potential now that he is encased within the famous black suit. This is an idea that has previously been explored in the Legends canon – though it was developed along the lines of Vader’s suit keeping him from reaching his potential and therefore from overthrowing the Emperor. But anyway, among these adepts is a mad scientist who controls a series of droid drones with her mind, and a Mon Calamari cyborg General Grievous-wannabe. It’s all decidedly weird, and I can’t decide whether it smacks of the same urge to be different that Han’s “wife” appeared to embody.

Next up, more #Vader! #StarWars #Marvel #comics

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The second arc, Shadows and Secrets, has got an awful lot to recommend it. The last arc ended in the same place Skywalker Strikes did – with the same panels, in fact. Boba Fett reveals the rebel pilot’s name to the Dark Lord: Skywalker. Vader realises he has a son, and his anger at the Emperor is doubled. However, he decided to keep his own counsel on this, and heads to Tatooine himself, to see if he can discern anything further. Coming up dry, he returns to business and puts down a smuggler network on Son-Tuul, confiscating the wealth for the Empire. Aphra recruits a band of bounty hunters, including Bossk no less, to steal the credits. They only manage to recover a small portion, however, but this plan is revealed to be a ruse for Vader to get some capital behind him and further his own agenda away from Tagge’s prying eyes. Despite Oon-ai’s treachery, Tagge assigns Vader a second liaison, Inspector Thanoth, and assigns him the task of discovering who stole the credits.

The wheels-within-wheels plotline develops as Vader pursues his own agenda through Aphra, who first uses her criminal connections to find a Naboo mortician who confirms Padme was not pregnant at the time of her funeral, then secondly manages to confirm the location of Skywalker on the desolate world of Vrogas Vas. Vader determines to proceed there, not realising that it is part of a plot set in motion by the Grievous cyborg wannabe, General Karbin…

This story arc is the kind of Star Wars story that I adore. The manoeuverings of all the major players are a delight to read, as we see Vader pursuing his duty with Thanoth while knowing what is going on and trying to steer the investigation away. It’s also really intriguing to see Vader discovering more of the past around Padme’s death and such. It also made the earlier stuff with those “replacements” almost justified, as we get to see them as part of a wider storyline. Sure, I wish they weren’t quite introduced in that way, but overall, I find it interesting to see the power-plays within the Empire, and hopefully we’ll get a lot more of that as the series progresses.

Last up, we have the crossover event that has effectively provided the finale to the first year of Marvel’s publishing, Vader Down.

Vader proceeds to Vrogas Vas, and finds himself in the middle of a rebel training exercise. Clearly, Luke isn’t alone on the world. He manages to wipe out an entire squad of pilots, prompting Luke to realise who’s in that TIE fighter. Luke rams Vader’s ship, and the two crash on the surface, setting off a double manhunt as the rebels try to capture Vader while Aphra and her droids attempt to capture Luke. Han and Leia travel to the world, Han to rescue his friend, and Leia to remove the tyrant complicit in the destruction of Alderaan.

The story progresses as Luke is captured by Aphra, but rescued by Han, while Vader, alone in the wastes manages to destroy squad after squad of rebels sent against him. Leia has a chance to shoot him, but realises rescuing her friends is more important than revenge. Just when Han and Luke are again almost captured by Aphra and her droids, Leia saves the day by punching the archaeologist! General Karbin shows up to claim the prize, but Vader uses the Force to pull his shuttle from the sky and Luke is again reunited with his friends. The rebels leave the wasteland planet with Aphra as their prisoner, though Luke is regretful he’ll never get to explore the ruined Jedi Temple on the planet.

I have to admit, I really liked this story as well. There were quite a few times over the course of reading both ongoing series where I thought the direction Marvel was taking Star Wars was just plain silly, and part of me was in mourning that something as interesting as, say, Empire: Betrayal, was being replaced with this stuff. However, Vader Down has served to allay almost all of those feelings, and I’m currently in a place where I’m really excited to see what happens next!

A lot of this story felt derivative of several elements from the Legends canon. Vader alone on a planet had been explored in the Empire ongoing series, for example, and the Jedi Temple ruins felt like something out of Dark Forces. Whether that helped me to enjoy it more, who can say. It was certainly an enjoyable story that I felt rewarded readers of both the series over the first year of publication. There was also the air of the team-up in here, as we have characters from both series crossing over. While this has never been an issue in Dark Horse’s tenure, because the ensemble cast of Star Wars has almost always been at the disposal of the writers, the two series from Marvel have felt fairly distinct from each other, even though Vader and some others have appeared in both. Maybe it’s just my own perception, having burned through all 30 comic books in very quick succession over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Overall, I find this whole experience of catching up with Marvel’s comics to have been quite interesting. I’ve gone from fairly dismissive of them by constantly comparing them to Dark Horse, to really enjoying what they have to offer – particularly the Vader issues – and looking forward to what’s coming next. Part of my enjoyment of Star Wars stories has always been around seeing the old favourite characters and locations cropping up, and seeing just how so-and-so is entwined into the plot, but I think I need to stop thinking like that now. Sure, we have Dengar turn up in the Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon arc (whoa, there’re two bounty hunters in the galaxy!) and he still appears to have his murderous compulsion as regards Han, but I don’t think we’re going to be seeing a great deal of this going forward. Instead, I hope we can get a recurring cast of more characters and locations soon, so that the new Star Wars universe can begin to feel familiar once again, as the seeming need to appear different to what has gone before it in the Legends canon has led to perhaps too much new, which in turn leaves the galaxy feeling pretty isolated and stuff.

It’s certainly an interesting time to be a Star Wars fan, though!

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