The Great Prequel Re-Read, part four

Hey everybody,
I’m finally back to reading Star Wars once more, after a bit of a hiatus in the latter half of last month. The Clone Wars have firmly begun, and I’m starting with some comics as we catch up with the galaxy at war.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The Defense of Kamino is the first trade paperback in the original Clone Wars run, which collects predominantly the Republic comics that were released in the realtime break between episodes II and III. I think there were nine volumes in total, and volume one collects issues 49 and 50, plus the Jedi: Mace Windu one-shot. Dark Horse published a few of these Jedi one-shots across their tenure, and they were all united by both showcasing a single Jedi, while also continuing the storyline that kicks off in Republic 49.

When we left Quinlan Vos, he was going to roam the galaxy, following the whims of the Force. Well, in the two years since the Separatist Crisis really kicked off, he and Tholme have been developing a network of secret agents, trying to foil the Separatists. However, given the perceived failure to anticipate the attack at Geonosis, Quinlan feels like this needs to be stepped up. When his agent Khaleen is able to gain knowledge about an attack on the clone world of Kamino, the Jedi feel this is the break they needed to gain the upper hand in the war. Quin, with Aayla Secura, hatches a plan to copy the intel and return it to the Separatists, making them think that the information is safe. However, it turns out that Dooku was hoping for the Jedi to do this, though ultimately the reason is unclear.

The next issue in the Republic series was issue 50, so was a bumper double-length issue, telling three separate stories about the Separatists’ attack on Kamino. There’s a nice story to start about Obi-Wan feeling like Anakin is growing distant so tries to gain his trust by allowing him to fly in the aerial defence of the planet, where it is addressed how Obi-Wan never chose Anakin as his padawan, but rather took him on as a promise to Qui-Gon. It goes some way to explain why they are forever butting heads, though Obi-Wan’s attempt at reconciliation shows he does actually want to try his best for Anakin. The next story introduces the ARC troopers to the mix, who work with Shaak Ti to defend the next generation of clones from a droid attack. ARC troopers are a less-docile version of Jango Fett, and have a lot more of his independence of thought. The final story features a group of Mon Calamari Separatists who are leading the attack on Tipoca City, and introduces the idea that there are actually brilliant military strategists on both sides of this conflict, and even the Separatists have their own version of heroes.

Jedi: Mace Windu is a fairly important piece of the lore, as we have our first introduction to Asajj Ventress here. Of course, this is the Legends continuity so there will be revelations made here that ultimately don’t hold true of the current Canon, but it’ll be interesting to see this develop, I hope! The story involves a group of Jedi who have turned away from the Order following the massacre at Geonosis, a group nominally led by the Weequay Sora Bulq (who was one of those background Jedi on-screen during the arena battle). Dooku uses Ventress to attack these Jedi, during which she claims to have been sent by Mace Windu, so when the Jedi Master arrives to try to bring them back into the fold, they are distrustful, to say the least! However, it soon becomes clear that it was a ruse, hatched by Dooku and Sora Bulq, who has now turned to the Dark Side as one of Dooku’s Dark Acolytes.

This is one of my favourite storylines in the Clone Wars, and I’ve said it countless times before – the story of Quinlan Vos is almost superior to that of Anakin Skywalker, and I could quite happily just re-read these comics for the rest of my days. Not only is it fairly beautifully told, but the artwork is really quite beautiful as well.

Victories and Sacrifices is the second volume in the Clone Wars trade paperback series, and includes three separate stories, one of which is a two-parter. The New Face of War sees a return of Asajj Ventress, and the introduction of the Jedi-killer Durge, an ancient cyborg bounty hunter who has been re-awakened by the Confederacy. We don’t get much more about his back story here, but he’s a character that was designed specifically to menace the Jedi, and reappeared across several media at the time, including the original Clone Wars cartoon. In the comic, Durge has released a chemical gas on one of the moons around Naboo, wiping out a Gungan settlement. When the Jedi investigate, they are initially overwhelmed, but are able to repel Durge and Ventress and prevent them from launching their chemical attack on Naboo.

Obi-Wan, who led the mission to the moon, was nevertheless greatly affected by the toxin, and after some time to heal he went on a mission to find the antidote to the poison, teaming up with four Jedi wanderers who have all arrived at a Techno Union base where the weapon is being developed. Another fight with Durge and Ventress ensues, and the four Jedi are picked off until only Obi-Wan survives to escape with the antidote.

Finally, we have the next in the Jedi series, this time focusing on Shaak Ti. She is on Brentaal IV with Agen Kolar and Plo Koon, pushing back the forces of the Separatist Commander Shogar Tok in order to land reinforcements. Shaak Ti infiltrates the prison fortress Tok from where Tok is commanding his army, using some of the inmates to help (including none other than Quinlan Vos, along with Sagoro Autem, who had previously featured in Honor & Duty, a three-issue arc that I have actually missed out from my re-read!). Despite treachery along the way, she is able to defeat Tok and complete the mission, and Brentaal IV remains within the Republic – but given that the majority of the planet’s population had actually been in support of Tok, this rests uneasy with Shaak Ti.

I can remember eagerly picking these comics up every month in the wake of Attack of the Clones, desperate for more clone wars action, and I can remember being fairly disappointed by the stories overall. I think I had expected some kind of major storyline from the off, with the Republic mobilising against the droid armies and so on. Instead, we get this tiny story of, well, nothing really. It wasn’t until we got to the next arc, which featured the Battle of Jabiim, that it actually felt like a major offensive. I think the way that the story of the clone wars is told, with these small vignettes that always end in stalemates and villains dashing off “until we meet again!” (minus the moustache twirl) grew really boring in a short time. Nothing ever really happens in the stories – it’s just a series of bush fires the Jedi (that is, Anakin and Obi-Wan, because there are very few other Jedi on the payroll, it seems) continually put out. Count Dooku or his agents fan the flames, get a planet to declare its intention to leave the Republic, the Jedi come in and force it to stay in the Republic, and all is well again.

At least we do get to see the cracks in the whole idea of the Republic though, and a lot of these stories do begin to scratch at that itch. The Republic is corrupt and the majority of planets joining the Separatists are doing so because of that. It’s a legitimate complaint that they were not getting their voices heard, and so the Republic responds with overwhelming force and their Jedi to force these planets to tow the line. It’s a wonder why the Jedi didn’t splinter off from the Republic, really. I mean, it’s all well and good Mace Windu saying that the ideals of the Republic are still valid, but if nobody currently in charge is acting according to those ideals, then surely any sensible adult would think it’s time to affect change? A sensible adult who is as powerful as Mace should surely take matters into his own hands? Hm. I know the story needs to lead into the rise of the Empire, but I can’t help thinking that a lot of characters are very stupid, and there is some really lazy writing going on.

The saving grace of the clone wars is the story of Quinlan Vos, for me. As the storyline begins to fall more into the subterfuge of Quinlan infiltrating Dooku’s camp, things definitely take a turn for the better. I’ve said before that this storyline is so much better than the main arc of Anakin’s downfall. That’s in part because nothing feels natural about Anakin, whereas we get a lot of build-up from the earlier Republic comics that allow for us to see how Quinlan’s trajectory is completely understandable.

I’m not going to re-read the third volume, the Battle of Jabiim, but the storyline is notable for seeing Obi-Wan go missing in action, and Anakin leading the Republic troops in a fighting retreat from the world, causing Jabiim natives to curse the name of Skywalker in years to come. Next up, it’s volume four, Light and Dark!