Catching up with Marvel Star Wars comics

It’s been a while since I last caught up with the Star Wars comics – almost a year, in fact! If you read that linked blog, then you might know the reason for this delay – I’ve been so unimpressed with the ongoing series and its overall lack of meaningful content to the Saga, that I’d effectively given up. Sure, I’ve still been collecting these things monthly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to want to read anything more. However, after feeling a bit at a loss for reading material, and realising just how many comics I have to catch up on, I’ve made a return to the new canon, starting with the Darth Vader series…

When we last caught up with the Dark Lord, it was in the crossover event Vader Down. Almost worryingly, it’s been two years since I read these earlier comics! Just where does the time go?! Anyway. After those events, which saw Doctor Aphra captured by the Rebels and Vader assigned Inspector Thanoth as a liaison with Tagge, Vader is dispatched to the mining world Shu-Torun to resolve some industrial difficulties. Seems a bit weird, sending Vader for such a thing, but then we get a lot of this sort of thing, where the premise is never what it seems, or is merely a backdrop to a wider storyline. The mining conflict on the planet, where several ore barons have rebelled against the Empire’s demand for nigh-impossible quotas, almost becomes a backdrop to seeing Vader in conflict with Doctor Cylo from the earlier issues in the series. I thought it was interesting at first how he seems to be working much better with the various adepts Cylo has created, though that soon dissolves as the twins Morit and Aiolin try to defeat him, and end up seemingly killing each other instead.

The book ends with Thanoth sending a message to Vader, letting him know Aphra has been discovered. While the storyline itself was very much a throwaway one to my mind, it does feel like we might be returning to the wheels-within-wheels that characterised the second arc and Vader Down, which can only be a good thing!

End of Games is the final storyline in the Vader ongoing series, and brings all of the various plot threads nicely together. Vader concludes his vengeance against Cylo, who we learn was responsible for creating the suit that keeps the Dark Lord alive. Cylo almost shuts Vader down, but through the Force, everybody’s favourite bad guy manages to win the day. Triple Zero and Beetee, having recovered Doctor Aphra after her escape from the Rebels, bring her to the Executor, where she basically tells the Emperor everything that Vader has been up to in a bid to win his protection. Far from being annoyed at his apprentice, however, Palpatine applauds Vader’s cunning, and in turn, Vader pushes Aphra out of an airlock. Does she survive? Well, the Aphra ongoing series would be kinda redundant if she didn’t, now, wouldn’t it? Though I think it’s nice that that series was initially untitled in the solicitations in order to keep the suspense.

End of Games is quite a huge finale to the series, and I think it certainly rounds everything off really nicely – while I have found them a little uneven at times, I think overall the Vader series has been really very good – and the art has been just incredible!

I wish I could say I enjoy the Star Wars ongoing series, however! Yoda’s Secret War kinda picks up after Vader Down, in that we start off with Threepio being held by the Empire and boring them all with his incessant jabbering about nothing. Luke is, understandably, distraught at one of his friends being held captive, and decides to just head straight off to rescue him. Along the way, he once more turns to the journal of Obi-Wan, and reads about one of Yoda’s escapades on a world where all the kids are at war, and the adults have retreated inside a mountain that happens to be alive.

Look, this story is very weird, and I think the overall point of it is something to do with not judging things on their first appearance, or something. You know, because Obi-Wan left the journal more to help instruct Luke in the ways of the Force than as a series of bedtime stories about the days of yore. I must say, though, while the ongoing series has just been a letdown for me so far, the Obi-Wan journals have been particularly disappointing, as I don’t feel they really add anything to the story, such as that is.

I think this is becoming a serious issue for me now, that Marvel’s Star Wars comics have consistently failed to provide any kind of proper, cohesive narrative beyond a need to fill another slot in the solicitations every month. We’re not getting anything that is actually important to the storyline, and it’s just driving me nuts wading through these books in the hope that maybe, just maybe, there may be something worth reading. Dark Horse tried to forge a kind of ongoing series in their Empire comic that told significant storylines such as the Grand Moff Trachta plot against the Emperor, or the very human drama of Luke’s reunion with Tank, to say nothing of the Darklighter story arc. And while that series did have odd patches that didn’t feel like they were really more than just throwaway stories, overall the series felt like it was a meaningful part of the Star Wars canon. Seriously, Darklighter is an incredible piece of storytelling, and I can recommend it to anyone. So far, Marvel has just failed to deliver on anything that is anywhere near the same level, and I’m wondering if it’s even worth carrying on with these books now. When you compare something like The Wrong Side of the War to Last Flight of the Harbinger, I’m frankly disgusted the Story Group has let it pass! But I’ve ranted about this before, after all…

That’s a lot of emotive language, for sure, but I just can’t get past the fact that these new stories we’re getting are just meaningless in the wider scope of the Star Wars lore, and I’m just tired of having throwaway story after throwaway story. We need something better, damn it!

After the Vader series had finished, Doctor Aphra clearly made it out alive as she gets her own ongoing series, which is kinda nice to think that a completely new, non-movie character gets this treatment. I’d found her a somewhat difficult character to get my head around, as it’s almost like Han Solo teams up with Darth Vader, it just felt so unlikely, somehow. But through his ongoing series, we learn that Vader really just sees her as a means to an end, in building up his own powerbase away from the Emperor. In a lot of ways, then, it’s a continuation of Vader’s association with the galactic underbelly that had been seen back with the bounty hunters in Empire.

Aphra, the first arc in the series, picks up after End of Games as we follow the doctor on a quest to restore her doctorate credentials after her estranged father has called them into question. He persuades her to help him on a quest to uncover the existence of the Ordu Aspectu sect of the Jedi from thousands of years past. The adventure takes them to Yavin IV, where the Imperials are still sifting through the Rebel base under the command of Captain Tolvan, an interesting new Imperial character who I’m hoping becomes more of a feature, as we really need anchor points in these comics, and this would be a great way to do that!

Aphra and her father eventually find the ruins of the Ordu Aspectu citadel, confirming their existence, but find more than they’d bargained for in the survival of one of the leaders, Rur, in a crystal (that, for some reason, is never referred to as a holocron, but I get the impression it basically is that).

The first arc is heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, from the estranged father, to the double cross at the beginning, right to the ending where the Rur crystal is deposited in a warehouse for safe keeping not unlike the lost Ark. Somehow, though, it doesn’t overly detract from the story, and it was nice to return to Yavin and see what’s up there, so I have high hopes for this series!

This blog is kinda getting long now – not helped by my rambling rant earlier! – so I’ll end it here with the second crossover event, The Screaming Citadel.

Much like Vader Down, we get a standalone issue that introduces the series, followed by alternate books from the ongoing series and its new partner, the Doctor Aphra ongoing series. Aphra teams up with Luke in an attempt to open the Rur crystal, which obviously she didn’t really deposit in that warehouse at the end of her own series. It’s interesting to see Luke quite desperate to follow the Jedi path that Obi-Wan firmly placed him on, but the fact he seemingly never gets very far is a little dull now. I know we can’t have Luke very Jedi-like before Empire, but I think if that must be the case, then they should stop doing these things and instead focus on making him the war hero that he seems to be when we see him as the leader of Rogue Squadron.

Anyway! Aphra and Luke head to Ktath’atn, whose Queen famously grants favours once a year, provided they’re interesting. It turns out the Queen is something of a vampire, and longs to feed on Jedi. Learning of what’s happened, Leia, Han and Sana all head off after them, where we learn that Sana and Aphra have had some kind of relationship in the past. Hm. After some attempts to implant parasites in Luke and Han (who actually does end up infected), the Queen is defeated and Aphra makes it out with her activated Rur crystal. The storyline ends with the Queen’s body being discovered by relic hunters, and the parasite infection continuing…

While it wasn’t as interesting a storyline as Vader Down, it’s still nice to see the characters from the two series crossing over like this every so often. I’m even finding myself warming to Sana this time around, which is a turn-up for the books! The fact that Aphra is here confirmed as gay was an interesting touch, something that first cropped up towards the end of the Aphra storyline, with her attraction to Captain Tolvan. While it has previously felt like Disney has been forcing the issue that there are gay characters in the Star Wars universe now, I think there’s a very good case that Aphra, of all the new characters we’ve seen, needs her sexuality confirmed if they’re to continue playing up the Indiana Jones line.

I thought it was interesting that Triple Zero gives Leia almost a lesson in morality when he calls into question her use of Han and Luke as tools. We’ve previously seen Leia almost as the head of a spec-ops team, but we’ve not had a great deal out of her character-wise so far. It also fits entirely with her persona at this point in the movies, and really gels with how she is in Echo Base.

The story reminded me a lot of the Vector crossover event from Dark Horse, with its emphasis on parasite infestations and Jedi from the distant past. Whether that was intentional or not, who knows, but it is interesting to see potential antecedents for the stories like this.

I can’t talk about these comics without mentioning the artwork, either. This is more often evident in the crossover titles, where the respective teams handle their own issues, leading to two distinct art styles that can often be quite jarring. I much prefer the ongoing series art from Salvador Larroca, who is responsible for most of the Vader series as well – there is a beautiful realism to the art that reminds me of my favourite Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda, and I just adore it!

Anyway, there will be a lot of issues from the Star Wars ongoing series to catch up with next, so hopefully there will be something more interesting to read next time I write one of these blogs…!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

Hey everybody!
Continuing the theme from earlier this week and the classic Assault on Hoth, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the quick catch-up I had with the Star Wars ongoing series from Marvel. Despite collecting up issue after issue, I’d not actually read any of the new series for over a year, so it’s time I try and make the long slog to catch up with what’s going on…

Star Wars Rebel Jail

First up, then, we have Rebel Jail, which comprises issues 16-19 of the ongoing series, and is framed by two more stories “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Rebel Jail takes up where Vader Down left off, as Leia and Sana (yeah, Han Solo’s not-wife) deposit Doctor Aphra on a secure Alliance jail that is positioned ridiculously close to a sun for security. Only it’s not so secure, as the facility is infiltrated by a mysterious figure who turns out to be the guy sent to infiltrate Coruscant in the first Star Wars Annual, Eneb Ray. Turns out he was trying to make Leia into the leader he believed the Alliance needed, by forcing her to kill the Imperial prisoners held there.

The story was a bit of a let-down, particularly seeing as how it was drawn out over four parts. I did like how the Annual was brought into this universe, as I was beginning to wonder if these things would ever amount to anything, so that was good. (My only previous experience with such things has really been the DC annuals, which tend to be side stories at best). I’m disappointed that Sana Starros is still around, however. The character is constantly made out to be a mercenary and only hanging around because Leia is paying her for her services – but we already have that storyline in Han Solo at this point in the timeline. I would have preferred to see a few more real rebels fleshed out into the background, and maybe even get some folks like Toryn Farr in on the pre-Hoth action, you know? While they could be downright silly at times, Bantam often made an excellent effort to integrate these characters across all points in the timeline, building up a proper stable of characters that all felt part of the mythos. I get that Sana is a scoundrel, and we’re probably expected to respond better to her than a rebel operative, but it just feels a bit redundant somehow.

The two Obi-Wan stories, while nothing particularly special in and of themselves, are still notable for the really cool artwork that show an aging Obi-Wan that is part-way between Ewan MacGregor and Sir Alec Guinness. Issue #15 introduces the Wookiee Bounty Hunter, Black Krrsantan, who has already made an appearance in the Vader ongoing series that took place correspondingly later in the timeline. There was a reference to his being on Tatooine in that story arc that is now resolved here, anyway, and I really had a bit of a thrill from getting that connection! Something that Marvel can never be accused of is bad continuity in major series like these, and their multitude of crossover events show that they are dab hands at placing little tidbits like these across their products, which do help to make the whole thing feel like a cohesive universe. Issue #20 really pulls the two previous Journal entry stories together, as Black Krrsantan faces off against Obi-Wan in the Dune Sea. We also get a fairly surprising insight into the relationship between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, which I kinda want to see more of. I mean, I get that Owen is hostile to Obi-Wan to protect Luke from him, but I’d like to see how their relationship managed to get to that point, you know? Presumably Owen didn’t go overnight from that final scene of Revenge of the Sith, where he takes delivery of the newborn Luke from Obi-Wan, straight to pounding his fists around and shouting til he’s purple for the crazy old wizard to stay away from his family, you know? Anyway!

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

The Last Flight of the Harbinger is next on the list, starting with a bit of a prologue as we follow Sergeant Kreel (the Games Master from the Showdown on the Smugglers’ Moon arc) leading an elite group of stormtroopers against the rebels. I don’t actually know if this is meant to replace the notorious 501st regiment “Vader’s Fist”, but it’s certainly built up as an elite group of soldiers who are hard-as-nails, so who knows.

The rebels are attempting to break through the Imperial blockade of the planet Tureen VII, and the only thing big enough to break through with is an Imperial Star Destroyer. Leia, Luke and Han manage to steal the ISD Harbinger, forcing its crew to abandon ship, then pilot the war machine through space and straight at the cordon of the planet. When Imperial High Command hears of this, Vader sends Kreel and his men to recover the ship, which is inexplicably flying at sublight speed across the galaxy. The stormtroopers infiltrate the ship, but cannot re-take the Harbinger before the rebels fly it directly at the Imperial ships above Tureen VII.

While Rebel Jail was a bit drawn-out, this storyline was pretty much one of the worst kinds of goofy story I’ve yet encountered in the new canon. Allow me to ramble for a moment…

First of all, the entire five-issue arc seems to have hinged upon the idea of “Hey, you know what would be cool? If Luke and the gang hijack a Star Destroyer!” So we have a blockade of a planet that is apparently impregnable – the actual cordon, like so many comic-book planetary cordons, is in a ring around the equator, and does not exist in three-dimensional space. You know those blockade runners that are so prevalent in the universe? Why not just use one of them? They have “blockade runner” in their name, they might be built for this very task. Nope, we’ve got half a dozen people stealing a Star Destroyer, and also successfully managing to fly it with that many people, too…

Secondly, Han and Leia have a foot race around the ship to see who will be the captain. It actually features as the cover art for one of the issues, too. I can’t even begin to explain just how inane this event is, so I’ll just leave it there.

The story is also just another one of these throwaway things, which is beginning to irritate me about almost the entire new expanded universe so far. I won’t get into full-blown rant here, because this blog is running kinda long already, but suffice it to say, the only book that seems to be anything more than “just another adventure for Luke and the gang” is the excellent Bloodline. There are just so many books and comics coming out that really seem to have no impact on the greater Star Wars storyline, it’s honestly beginning to depress me as a Star Wars fan, and probably the single biggest reason why I’ve not picked up any of the new comics in over a year.

It’s a similar story with the Star Wars Annual #2, which sees Princess Leia injured during the line of duty on Skorii-Lei, and helped by a new character called Pash Devane. Pash is kinda interesting, as she’s not your usual female comic book character, but rather a heavily-muscled type who was forced out of her career as an engineer when the Empire came, and now survives by doing menial labouring. Pash at first expresses apathy towards the Rebellion as well as the Empire, but we get a typical Leia story that sees the Princess change someone’s mind. It’s the usual kind of throwaway story that I mentioned earlier about these Annuals, but worth mentioning just for the different depiction of females in the universe.

The next arc in the ongoing series is, I believe, a longer Obi-Wan Journal, so I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll be back soon with some more musings on Star Wars comics, catching up with the Vader storyline!

Catching up with Marvel Star Wars

Hey everybody!
In addition to re-watching the Clone Wars TV series recently, I’ve also been reading my way through some of the recent Star Wars comics from Marvel. They’ve been a bit hit-and-miss, if I’m honest, but let’s take a look!

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First on the list is Princess Leia. I was really interested by this series when it was announced, though I have to admit, I wasn’t overly impressed. The story follows Leia in the immediate aftermath to the Battle of Yavin, but it’s a bit weirdly done, if I’m honest. More than anything, it feels a bit rushed, with very little time spent on much of anything. We follow Leia as she tries to unite the Alderaan expatriots, first from Naboo and then Sullust, ending on Espirion. It’s interesting, but as I said, a bit rushed. She’s teamed up with an Alderaanian pilot who has something of a frosty relationship with her, but it kinda thaws but kinda not by the end. The Naboo portion really didn’t live up to my expectations, and the Sullust part just felt out of character somewhat. Finally, the Espirion bit seemed just tacked-on in order to bring about a conclusion.

I’m a huge lover of the planet Naboo, and feel like this in particular could have been given more time. Indeed, if the story had been that Leia was going to rescue a hidden group of Alderaanians, was unwittingly betrayed and managed to defeat their pursuit, that would have been a better story. By adding in all of this extraneous stuff, nothing is given enough time to develop, and it’s just left me feeling a bit meh about the whole thing.

Lando was a bit better. We see the con artist steal a ship in order to clear a debt – only it turns out to be the Emperor’s ship, and he’s not impressed! There are some twists and turns, but obviously Lando survives to later run Cloud City and stuff. What I found most interesting here was the way Lobot is used in the story. He’s basically a guy with cyborg implants, who is constantly fighting against those implants asserting themselves over his neural pathway. Kinda spoiler alert: in order to save the others, Lobot succumbs to the implants and is turned pretty much fully into the cyborg we know from Empire. It was really cool to see that, I have to say – so many stories seem to ignore him!

While it is a bit far-fetched at times, overall I thought the story was pretty good for what it tries to do. It’s not going to set the world alight, but if you’re a Lando fan, then you’ll enjoy it.

Finally – Chewbacca. Oh boy, is this one a mess. A comic that focuses on the big Wookiee is always going to be somewhat predoomed by the fact that Chewie is unintelligible to the audience, and while stories have been told previously that use square brackets to give his lines, I was a bit concerned. As it turns out, the story mainly focuses on the denizens of a far-flung planet as they are forced to mine beetle larvae that somehow help to power blasters – a planet that Chewie has managed to crash-land upon. The daughter of one of these miners manages to enlist his help to free the miners, framing the overlord as a Rebel sympathiser in the bargain.

The story was just…dumb. Chewie’s interactions with the kid were weird, as she went from cautious and trying to scavenge food from him to pretty much demanding he help the miners escape and calling him out as a coward between panels. The artwork was pretty great, though a lot of the Chewie portraits had him looking almost ironic, like he wasn’t really taking the whole thing seriously? I don’t know. It didn’t really sit well for me as a story, and really felt just irrelevant to the canon.

The only thing I would say is worthwhile are a couple of flashback panels where we see Chewie being taken prisoner by Trandoshan slavers. Remember, Chewie’s backstory as an Imperial slave freed by the Imperial cadet Han Solo is no longer canon, so this can pretty much go any way. I’m guessing the upcoming anthology movie that shows us Han’s background will likely feature Chewie prominently, so we can likely expect to get the full story there, but it was interesting to note these little bits.

So anyway, the first three miniseries were something of a mixed bag, and not really what I would call hugely relevant. The Leia story tries in this regard, but I feel it fails to deliver, leaving us with a bit of a mess overall, while Lando and Chewie are pretty much throwaway stories with little impact, that will mainly appeal to fans of the characters rather than the franchise as a whole. Lando was probably my favourite, simply because the characters were nailed, but I’m not about to say you need to go out and buy any of these things!

Marvel Star Wars catch-up!

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…

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.

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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!

Easter 2016! part one

Hey everybody!
I’ve mentioned it before, but Easter is my absolutely favourite time of year. It’s nothing religious, for I’m not a religious person – rather, it’s a combination of chocolate, time off work, and some very wonderful memories! See, Easter was the time of year when I first discovered the Star Wars expanded universe, when my mate Dave pointed me in the direction of Heir to the Empire and said, “go read that”. What an amazing time! Between that and Crimson Empire, I was totally sold on the EU, and have made it my mission to make every Easter as Star Wars-filled as I possibly can.

As well as re-watching the original trilogy every year, I usually find myself slipping back into some kind of reading program, which I mentioned in one of my very first blog entries here on spalanz.com! I’ve recently re-read a lot of those posts, which kinda sounds a bit vain now I mention it, but it got me back into the mood like nothing else. I’ve already started, anyway, by reading the awesome A New Dawn (well worth picking up!) and have continued this spirit with The Force Unleashed graphic novels!

The Force Unleashed

Back in the mid-2000s, a new video game was launched as the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. The game was released in 2008, and spawned a whole media crossover event much like Shadows of the Empire back in the 1990s – having never played the game (despite owning the DS version for a while), I’ve enjoyed both the novel and graphic novel versions, as well as the Miniatures line and RPG supplement. But today, I’m talking comics…

The story follows Starkiller, Vader’s secret apprentice, as he fulfils missions for his master, namely hunting down and destroying Jedi. His first target is General Rahm Kota, a Jedi Master who survived the Clone Wars due to his mistrust of clone troopers – being surrounded by his own militia, Order 66 kinda just passed the guy by. Starkiller catches up to him over Nar Shaddaa and, after a fairly huge duel, manages to defeat him – though not before Kota senses he will himself be a part of the apprentice’s future.

Starkiller has been trained by Vader with the intention of one day toppling the Emperor, so to prepare him further for this, he is sent after a member of the Jedi Council. Shaak Ti has been hiding on Felucia following the conclusion of the Clone Wars. The planet is so rich in the Force that she is effectively hidden from any prying eyes, but not from Starkiller. Shaak Ti sends her apprentice, Maris Brood, into the Felucian jungle while she confronts Starkiller alone at the aptly-named Abyss – the maw of a Sarlacc monster! Shaak Ti is clearly powerful in the Force, but Starkiller uses his instinctual rage and manages to push her into the pit.

Upon his return to Vader’s side, the Emperor has discovered Starkiller’s existence, and forces Vader to kill him. Vader, however, saves his body and manages to somehow bring him back to life, whereupon he gives him a new mission – round up the Emperor’s enemies into a cohesive rebellion that will distract the Emperor’s spies long enough for Vader to strike his master down, thus ruling the galaxy with Starkiller at his side. It’s a fairly crazy scheme, but Starkiller goes along with it, and determines to find out if General Kota indeed still lives, to find out what his parting words were.

Starkiller finds Kota as a blind, drunk derelict slumming in Cloud City. He convinces Kota to join his cause following his defeat of the Emperor’s Shadow Guard – huge, black-armoured Force-sensitive killers. Together, they travel to Kashyyyk in an attempt to find Bail Organa, who has also been attempting to create a rebellion – and had in fact been searching for Kota to help. They only find Organa’s daughter Leia there, and manage to evade the Imperial presence on the Wookiee home planet and get Leia to safety. Kota surmises that Bail, having failed to recruit him, will have gone after Shaak Ti instead, so Starkiller returns to Felucia where the planet has begun to slip into the Dark Side now that Shaak Ti has gone. Starkiller finds Bail Organa being held hostage by Shaak Ti’s almost-deranged apprentice Maris Brood, and the two fight – Maris bringing out a Felucian Rancor at one point! She is defeated, however, and while Starkiller may have dissuaded her from following her dark path, she nevertheless flees into the wilderness.

With Bail on board, Starkiller travels to Corellia to meet with other senators dissatisfied with the Emperor’s rule. Together with Garm bel Iblis and Mon Mothma, the Rebel Alliance is about to be formed when Vader arrives to capture them. Starkiller faces off against his erstwhile master, and is defeated. The senators and Kota are taken to the still under-construction Death Star at the Outer Rim, where they are to be tortured by the Emperor himself. Starkiller attempts to rescue them, and while he manages to distract the Emperor and Vader long enough to allow the senators to flee, ultimately the Emperor kills the secret apprentice, revealing that he knew about Vader’s training all along. However, the two Dark Lords now have a significant problem on their hands, as they have unwittingly allowed Starkiller to become the galvanising martyr to the rebellion’s cause.

I really like this story! While its episodic nature belies its origins as a video game, with each vignette clearly forming a level of the game, it’s nevertheless a beautifully wrought pastiche of the prequels and original-trilogy, through its use of classic locations such as Cloud City as well as fleshing out places such as Felucia and Raxus Prime. The premise for the story is that Vader has trained the apprentice through fear and brutality, and as a result Starkiller is basically out of control of his emotions, allowing him to do all kinds of over-the-top stuff like pull Star Destroyers out of the skies and the like. Taken in the spirit that it is meant, the story is a lot of fun – not unlike the IG-88 tale from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, actually.

I’m one of these people who grew up with the Zahn ideas of the Corellian Treaty forming the rebellion, and I’ve always been a bit put-out by the notion that they were manipulated into doing so by the Emperor – and I find the involvement of the secret apprentice to be a little too close to the worst kind of fan-fiction at times, the kind where hugely significant plot threads are re-written so as to include the author’s pet character. But as I said before, taken in the spirit of the thing, it’s easy to overlook that.

There’s also an entirely gratuitous love story almost grafted-on. Juno Eclipse serves as Starkiller’s pilot for his missions for Vader, something that always makes me curious – is piloting that difficult that it’s easier to get someone to do it for you? Anyway, throughout the comic she serves mostly to provide cleavage – at one point, entirely unnecessary butt-cleavage – that leaves me feeling a little bit dirty. I’m not a video gamer, of course, but I get the impression that she’s created to appeal to the overly-machismo crowd and has little further function than just set-dressing. Which is unfortunate, because Star Wars actually has some really kickass women in the mythos, so I feel this has been a really missed opportunity.

I love the way Cloud City and Felucia are woven into this story, and in actual fact, the Felucian episodes have inspired me with my own fan fiction when I wrote the short story Chasing Shadows a couple of years ago. Indeed, the end of that story was written to almost tie into The Force Unleashed, as Vader learns Shaak Ti yet lives, so then sends his apprentice after her. So it has certainly been influential for me!

The Force Unleashed II

This one is a bit of a let-down, for me. It’s essentially a Boba Fett story, and while there have been Boba Fett stories in the past that are fairly decent, Enemy of the Empire for instance, this story makes him almost too human to be the fearsome character the films intend him to be. The basic premise is that Vader has created clones of Starkiller, and due to an accelerated ageing process, they have been going insane. They’re also convinced they’re really Starkiller, and are obsessed with tracking down Juno Eclipse. Juno and Kota now appear to be fully-fledged rebels, in charge of some portion of the fleet, which was an interesting move, as I’d have expected to see more “movie rebels” involved at such a high level. Anyway.

Fett tracks the Starkiller-clone to Cato Neimoidia, another nice throwback to the prequels, where his trail of destruction knows no bounds. He somehow finds a mechanic who has refitted vessels with new transponder codes for the Alliance, which allows him to find Juno and he takes her captive. Fett delivers Juno to Vader on Kamino, where somehow Starkiller (the real one? A clone?) and Kota turn up and, following a confusing fight, Juno manages to defeat Vader and she and Starkiller are reunited. Fett feels like he can’t kill Starkiller, and thus deliver on his contract, because the former secret apprentice is making out with Juno. And thus the story ends, with Vader a hostage of the rebels on Dantooine.

After the first story, this one really falls flat to me. I just, I don’t know what the point of it was. The first one has a nicely driven narrative to it, the second one feels just all over the place and a little bit too much like it’s just cashing in. It’s unfortunate, because even though the clone thing had kinda been overdone in the Star Wars expanded universe, there was some potential here for another story that serves to further tie the prequels and original trilogy together, as we see the showdown on Kamino and whatnot. Ultimately, however, this story becomes the sort of thing that Disney has essentially saved us Star Wars fans from.

Unlike the first one, however, I haven’t yet read the novel for TFU2, and I do know that the comic takes a very prescribed look at the events rather than presenting the whole story. So that may be worth looking into at a later date, whereupon I’ll doubtless come here and compare!

I recently read this interview with the game developer, and comic author Haden Blackman, about what a third installment would have looked like. The idea of Vader and Starkiller teaming up to go against the Emperor sounds like it walks that fine line of could-be-amazing, could-be-awful. I think I would like it if Vader ultimately killed Starkiller at the end, once and for all, as otherwise it just gets too messy with continuity and stuff. Though obviously, I’m talking about a pre-Disney continuity here! Suffice it to say, though, the idea sounds interesting…

In addition to watching A New Hope on Friday, I also cracked out this bad boy once again!

Escape from the Death Star

Escape from the Death Star wowed me last year as being a truly amazing gaming experience, especially if you watch the movie first! It’s definitely not easy, in fact the reliance on luck can sometimes make it soul-crushing, but I was particularly pleased this time when I managed to escape from the battle station and win! Was not expecting that, as Luke kept making ham-fisted rolls that got him trapped by stormtroopers for most of the game – as it turned out, Leia both disabled the tractor beam and was first onto the Falcon, and the game ended with Han leaping clear of his 8 pursuing troopers! What a finish!

I’m not sure if I’d put this game in my top ten, but for nostalgia purposes (I have such strong memories of trying to figure out how to play this with my brother) it’s a winner, every time!

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My world-famous pasta al tonno! #GoodFriday

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My Friday ended with my world-famous pasta al tonno, and some painting. More on the latter in tomorrow’s update blog, of course!! Though, if you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I’ve returned to some old favourites this week, in an attempt to get them finished…

Whatever you’re up to over the weekend, I hope you’re having an awesome time of it! Stay tuned for more exciting Star Wars updates here, anyway!

Shattered Empire

So I’ve been meaning to get round to this for a long while now – issue four was delivered last month, after all! I was also hoping to do a small video review, as is my want with new Star Wars stuff lately, but I’ve been feeling under the weather of late, so I’m sticking to the written word instead. Now that this exciting preamble is out of the way…

Shattered Empire takes place both during and in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor, which is perhaps obvious given the cover of issue one. There are actually three distinct episodes in the miniseries, which follow the adventures of Lieutenant Shara Bey, a pilot from Green Squadron during the battle. First off, an Imperial garrison on the other side of Endor is destroyed; then, Shara flies Princess Leia to a diplomatic mission to Naboo that goes kinda wrong, and finally she flies Luke to an Imperial Research Facility to recover some Jedi artifacts.

here be spoilers!

Overall, I liked the story, but I felt it was a bit rushed in parts, possibly due to trying to cover too much. The Luke story in particular felt a bit tacked-on, really. In fact, the Luke story didn’t do the comic any favours overall, as it came across as being more in the realm of fan-fiction. Follow Shara Bey as she works alongside Han, Leia and Luke! Yeah, right. But putting that to the side, it wasn’t all that bad.

The Endor storyline continues with Han and his ground assault team (though no Judder Page, which is a bit sad). The team includes Shara’s husband, Kes Dameron. Folks who have been following the spoilers for Episode VII will know who their son is, then. So we’re treated to a bit of the backstory there. I won’t deny, even though I’m still currently less-than-enthused for the new film, it was kinda nice to have that sort of recognition.

The Naboo storyline was really interesting, but ultimately far too rushed for my liking. In fact, the end was such a fizzle that I feel it really damages the book. Leia is attempting diplomatic negotiations with the Queen of Naboo, Soruna, to support the Alliance in re-establishing the Senate. Just as Naboo throws their support behind it, the Empire attacks – by altering the weather. They have an Imperial Star Destroyer at their disposal, and they’re tasked with destroying the planet by the dead Emperor, so they drop satellites to mess with the weather, rather than just delivering an orbital bombardment. It’s Legends now, of course, but there’s a great scene in one of the New Jedi Order books – I think it’s Rebel Stand – where Wedge discusses these things, and the point is made that a Star Destroyer is capable of levelling a planet with ease. After all, it’s kind-of in the name… But anyway, Leia, Soruna and Shara head up to stop the Imperials (of course – three antique fighters against the Imperial war machine…) and Lando shows up to chase the Empire off while Soruna destroys the satellites.

The story had such a great set-up, but really ended with me in amused disbelief. Bantam were always criticised for having stories where the Empire shows up with a terrible new weapon but the Rebels always win in the end, often with ease, and here we have Marvel doing the exact same thing! The fact that this is tying into the new film seems to be leading a lot of folks to overlook at the actual story in and of itself, instead concentrating on ferreting out the hints of things to come. Hm.

I do like Naboo, though, and I really liked the fact that Leia could sense Darth Maul’s presence in the Theed hangar. That was cool. There’s also the start of what looks like the Imperial counter-propaganda against the Rebel victory at Endor with the launch of Operation: Cinder. The Emperor has tasked some select few to continue the war, quash the rebellion, and also destroy any links to his own history, it seems. Hence the attack on Naboo. That was interesting, and something I hope we see explored in more detail – like, say, the second Aftermath novel?

The Luke story was a bit weird. Shara pilots the shuttle for Luke (because he’s such a bad pilot apparently?) to an ISB facility to recover two trees that used to grow in the Jedi Temple. They recover them, and he gives her one. The comic ends with Shara and Kes planting the tree as they retire on their new home, Yavin IV. So…yeah… Force trees? Hm. I was kinda hoping for something else, but that’s just me.

Overall, it was a good comic, with a lot of interesting ideas and stuff. The fact that some of them seemed a bit weird seems to be par for the course with Marvel at the moment (I’m hoping to catch up with their ongoing series at some point here, as well). But hopefully some of these ideas won’t disappear, as there are some potentially interesting stories to be spun out!

Star Wars Shattered Empire

What do you think? Have you read the comic? Looking forward to the movie? Let me know in the comments!

Back in the day, part two

Hey everybody!

Last weekend’s look at some of the Classic Star Wars comics was so enjoyable, I thought I’d take a look at some more! Starting where I left off, then, let’s check out Luke’s mission to Fondor!

Classic Star Wars

This is actually a good premise: set against the construction of the Super Star Destroyer Executor at Fondor, Vader attempts to wheedle out some treacherous admirals with the assistance of Admiral Griff, a new recurring Imperial character. Griff’s plan is to test the loyalty of the admirals by suggesting working with the Alliance to sabotage the SSD project, lest Vader’s prestige with the Emperor increase any further. A message is sent to the alliance at Yavin, and Luke volunteers for the mission to get away from Han and Leia, as he feels jealous of the relationship the two are building following Ord Mantell. At Fondor, Luke manages to spy on the project, storing the information in Artoo, then escapes with the help of the transport pilot Tanith Shire. Cue lots of early-80s-style “courtship”, which Luke is a bit taken aback by.

Classic Star Wars

Anyhow, with Vader aware of a strong Force presence, Luke escapes in a barge drone, and crash-lands on Ophideraan, where it transpires Tanith has been sending Imperial barges to crash-land for the Serpent Masters. This whole story is a bit daft, if I’m honest, and it was a bit of a chore to get through at times because of that. Serpent Masters? It’s all a bit too fantastical for Star Wars, in my opinion…

Concurrent with this, Han has dropped Leia off at a planet called Kabal, where she’s trying to recruit more rebels, which seems to be a de facto role for her in most of these early stories. Anyhow, when Luke and Tanith escape Ophideraan, they land – where else? – on Kabal, where Leia sees them kiss goodbye. Oh, these early tales! In the pre-Jedi world, there was so much awkwardness around this triangle!

The Imperials show up, and the rebels escape Kabal only to find themselves in a deadly trap cooked up by an Imperial weapons technician. Some radiation experiment went wrong, and he’s now awaiting death at the hands of a neutron star or somesuch. Again, it’s a pretty weird story, and feels like a filler-story between the main storyline of the ongoing series – such as the newspaper strip can be called a series. Well, anyway…

Classic Star Wars

Again, the rebels are escaping, and they rendezvous with one of Leia’s newly recruited rebels, a reformed pirate chief named Silver Fyre. It soon turns out that Han knows her from his chequered past, although nothing is really made of this beyond the fact that he knows her, and is suspicious of her because of her past conduct. Anyhow, Han loudly talks about the information that is still hidden within Artoo, convinced they’re being bugged, and it turns out that’s right! Some weirdness results, as Silver Fyre and the rebels go on an underwater safari in search for the Demonsquid. Yes, that’s right – it’s like that sequence in The Phantom Menace, only not…

Classic Star Wars

The story carries over into volume two, The Rebel Storm, where the heroes survive the squid, expose a traitor within Silver Fyre’s organisation, and manage to finally get back to their base on Yavin.

Wait, they’re still based out of Yavin IV? Yes, apparently so! The Imperials know they’re there, too, as they have the moon blockaded, and yet nobody seems to have done anything about this situation. Hm. Anyway, the Falcon makes it through the blockade, and is followed by an Imperial craft that crashes into one of the Massassi temples, awakening a Night Beast! First serpent riders, then demon squids, and now this. It’s like D&D, only it’s not…

The Night Beast actually figures really quite nicely into the later stories around the Yavin IV temples, as it seems to be some sort of Force-aware construct/beast, something you could totally imagine Ludo Kressh creating. We also get to learn some of the early lore of the temples, as we’re told the beast is guarding the ruins after its masters left the galaxy – not quite how it was portrayed in Tales of the Jedi, but no matter. Luke manages to convince it to stop its rampage, and all is well in the world once more…

Classic Star Wars

News soon reaches the rebels that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been seen on Aridus, so Luke heads on over to check it out. This is one of those stories that is actually pretty goofy, and yet has managed to permeate the lore to become more than it actually is. Spoiler alert: it isn’t actually Ben Kenobi returned from the dead, but an actor hired by Vader to lure Luke into a trap. Once this actor sees how much Kenobi meant to Luke, he betrays Vader and let’s Luke escape. Setting aside the fact that Luke has seen Kenobi die, he’s actually quite annoying here anyway – in order to set up the actor’s change of heart, Luke is given lots of “I love you, Ben!” style dialogue, which begins to feel a bit out of character. Yes, Luke thought he was “a great man”, but the way Luke idolizes Kenobi here begins to belittle Luke as a character, like he can’t function without his old mentor. But anyway, it’s not a terrible story, it’s just a little weird.

But weird is par for the course with some of these things! I’ll explore this some more in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, the early years of Star Wars were replete with this, well, weirdness!