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…!

Lords of the Sith (a review)

Finished reading Lords of the Sith, one of the new canon books that came out about a year ago now, and I have to say, this was a really great book. Of course, if you read the tweet up there, you’d know that already, but still!

The book follows Vader and Palpatine as they are embroiled within a rebellion on the planet Ryloth. A lot is made of the time Anakin spent there in season one of the Clone Wars cartoon show – indeed, a lot is made of Vader’s past in general, and I have to say, I kinda like it! It feels quite similar to the flashbacks in Empire: Betrayal, an awesome comic book that I would recommend to anyone, even though it isn’t canon anymore. Only eight years have elapsed since the events of Revenge of the Sith, and Paul S Kemp has said in an interview that he wanted to show how Anakin became the badass Vader of the original trilogy, by purging himself of the memories of the past. It comes across really well, and I think it was one of the best parts of the book.

Vader and Palpatine are targeted by the Free Ryloth movement, headed by Cham Syndulla (also of Clone Wars fame, and father of Rebels’ Hera Syndulla). The resistance movement is really interesting, and while I am a bit dubious at seeing these various, localised rebels at this time, feeling like we’re being led to seeing a kind of grand alliance of all the various cells into the Rebellion of the movies, at the same time it seems utterly believable, especially on a world like Ryloth, that is being abused by the Imperials for the mining of ryll spice. The Free Ryloth movement manages to destroy the star destroyer on which both Sith Lords arrive in the system, leading to something of a cat and mouse act as they are hunted across the surface. It’s kinda cool to see the two survive in the wilderness like this, though I was much more interested in the dynamics between them than the action scenes. Something I thought was really nice was that the captain of the Emperor’s Royal Guard is a clone trooper – perhaps Commander Thire?

Another awesome thing about this book is how it seems to turn something of a tired trope on its head. At the beginning, we’re introduced to Moff Delian Mors and Colonel Belkor Dray – the Moff has become a hedonistic, pampered thing living in luxury on one of Ryloth’s moons in full abuse of her power, while Belkor is the archetypal scheming underling, with many officers in his pocket just waiting for the right time to leap to power. It’s something I feel has been done plenty of times, and is a little old, really. However, in Lords of the Sith, this is almost entirely reversed. Belkor thinks he can eliminate the spice-addicted Moff and take her place, by using the Free Ryloth movement to have her killed along with Vader and the Emperor. However, Mors realises just how absent she has been with her job, and over the course of the story, seeing her put herself back together, essentially, was a really intriguing character arc. Belkor, meanwhile, comes to realise he has been played by the rebels all along and, backed into a corner, resolves to go out in a blaze of glory by killing Vader, Palpatine, the Moff and the rebels, but Mors gets to him first…

Something that should probably be mentioned here is the fact that Moff Mors is the first canon homosexual character, and unlike Sinjir in Aftermath, it’s almost entirely natural. The only mention that is made of it is when her wife’s death is described as sending her off the rails a bit. I like the fact that we can have a diverse universe without it being made an issue out of, you know?

Star Wars Lords of the Sith

If I had to say anything against the book, there is something of a plot hole around Senator Orn Free Taa. I really liked seeing him again, it formed another nice bridge between the prequels and the new stuff. The Free Ryloth movement get wind of Vader and the Emperor’s visit, ostensibly by a traitor in the senator’s staff. It’s kind of the whole driving force for the plot. But Orn Free Taa isn’t really heard of again from the point where the star destroyer is destroyed. I think he’s described as making it to an escape pod, but we don’t know if he lives, and we never find out how Syndulla discovered the Emperor was coming to Ryloth. It’s hardly going to keep me awake at night, but I thought perhaps it should have been addressed? The book is quite short, 285 pages in hardback, so I feel there was plenty of room to tie up stuff like this.

But maybe I’m just being too picky – the story of these characters was otherwise excellent, and I can highly recommend it (despite kinda spoiling most of the storyline in this blog…erm…!)

But wait, there’s more!

In the May 2015 issue of Star Wars Insider, John Jackson Miller wrote a short story called Orientation that takes place as Vader and the Emperor are en route to Ryloth. It’s a nice little story that shows there are still people loyal to the Republic out there, and features Rae Sloane (of both A New Dawn and Aftermath fame) as a mere cadet. Definitely worth the time picking up if you can still find it!

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!

All About Vader

Hey everybody!
I’ve recently been reading the Darth Vader comics published by Dark Horse between 2011 and 2014, four arcs written by Haden Blackman and Tim Siedell. Bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest, and pretty much all of them suffering from just-another-story-syndrome. Back in the day, we used to get Star Wars stories that formed a cohesive narrative, predominantly in the novels of course, but series like Star Wars: Republic and Star Wars: Legacy showed that the comics could do that just as well. Following the release of Revenge of the Sith, however, both Dark Horse and Del Rey seemed to make a conscious effort to move away from providing an actual timeline, and instead opted to “tell a Boba Fett story” or, as is the case here, “a Darth Vader story”. The result tends to be a story that exists in a vacuum and, by the end of it, leaves you wondering just what the point of that was, in the grand scheme of things.

So let’s take a look!

Darth Vader and the Lost Command

Darth Vader and the Lost Command kicks things off with Vader leading a search for the son of Grand Moff Tarkin (who knew?) into the Ghost Nebula. There, they uncover a conspiracy for the Atoans to secede from the nascent Empire, under the leadership of Admiral Garoche Tarkin. It’s a pretty good story, actually, with some awesome fight scenes and a small cast of compelling characters.

We see an interesting side to Vader here, where he is still stricken by the concluding events of Episode III. It’s a device that we see used first in Empire: Betrayal, which was published as the prequels were still being made, and seemed at the time to be a cheesy way to tie-in, but in retrospect seems entirely appropriate. That Vader’s memories here are being affected by the Atoan Shaman, Saro, is just more interesting, as we see what Vader had hoped his future would be. Very interesting, anyway!

This miniseries was the only Star Wars story I read in 2013, and the first that I read following my moving house that year, so has some fond memories for me in that respect, as well. However, it is still well worth picking up. Unfortunately, Dark Horse only collected it, and the other Vader series, in hardback, which just messes with my shelf-edge presentation too much, so I have kept the original comics individually instead. I’m strange like that…

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a more curious beast. Published in 2012, it tells the story of another insurgency against the nascent Empire, led by an instructor in the Imperial Academy on Raithal, a general named Gentis. His motivation is actually very compelling, that he is driven to despair over seeing so many of his sons killed in Palpatine’s name. However, as the story moves along, I found myself asking “so what, you’ll kill the Emperor, set yourself up in his place, and start having other peoples’ children die in your name? Jackass.” But maybe that’s just me.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the Raithal cadets, Laurita Tohm. Disfigured in a terrorist attack on his family’s gas mining station, Laurita emerges as an ambitious lieutenant who I was worried would turn out to be one of these “I’m a good Imperial” types, but actually proved to be quite ruthless as the story got going. Gooooooooooooooooooooooood. The ending was really quite unexpected, but so very, very appropriate that I actually laughed aloud! Does that make me a terrible person? Well, possibly, but it was a good ending.

Something I was very excited about, seeing the cover of issue 4, was the appearance of Grand Moff Trachta. First introduced in the aforementioned Betrayal storyline, he has become one of my favourite Imperials, something that has really been heightened by the fact that, for years, he had only made one appearance in the literature. I’m going to be writing about the Empire storylines when I get to them, but for now, suffice it to say that he’s always struck me as a real Imperial’s Imperial, and I’ve longed to see more of him. However, his appearance in Ghost Prison, while entirely justified, fell much flatter than I’d hoped. In the end, he’s the one who turned out to be the Imperial-with-a-conscience, and the character felt cheapened for it. It felt like Blackman was trying to foreshadow the events of Betrayal by showing his disapproval of Vader and his methods, but I don’t think Trachta is the type to confide his feelings about the Emperor’s Enforcer to a cadet he barely knows. Hm.

Of the two Blackman stories in this series, Ghost Prison definitely feels like “just a Vader story”. The whole point of it seems to show the Dark Lord to be a ruthless leader, but we already knew that. So, hm.

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin was published in 2013, and has always struck me as a wonderful title for a comic book series. As I’m sure you all know, Star Wars was heavily influenced by Oriental culture, and the title of this arc sounds like a samurai movie or something. To me, it does, anyway.

This story was pretty good, too. I’m always a bit wary of such things – a wealthy industrialist’s son is killed by Vader, so he goes after revenge by hiring assassins to kill Vader, it seems so ridiculous a plotline! But then, we the audience have seen what Vader is like – in-universe (at least, in-Legends-universe), Vader is a shadowy figure sent by the Emperor to make things happen. Outside of the inner circle, very little is supposed to be known about him. As such, these kinds of plotlines are kinda forgivable.

Something I really enjoyed about this story was the headless serpent thing. The Star Wars universe is supposed to be vast, where all manner of strange things take place. Seeing weird cults like this reminds us (reminds me, at least) that it really is full of all manner of stuff. I thought it was done really well, and the focusing-crystal thing that Vader finds on that moon didn’t actually feel cheesy at all (read it – you’ll know what I mean then!)

The conclusion was also really effective, with the Emperor proclaiming his dominion over Vader. Completely in-character, and quite creepy for it. All in all, this was a cracking tale, and ushered Tim Siedell into the expanded universe oh-so-late! Well worth picking up, even if you can only find it in hardcover.

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is the fourth in this quartet, and like Ghost Prison before it, is told entirely from the point of view of someone other than Vader. It’s actually an old Clone Trooper who’s doing the talking – an embittered clone who has come to hate the Jedi since they abandoned him to die, and sees in Vader something of a kindred spirit. However, things aren’t as rosy as he first thought in the New Order, and he eventually escapes for a more humble life.

Clone Troopers with minds of their own have become a disconcerting theme in the wake of the Clone Wars cartoon series, one that must surely make the old clonemasters of Kamino pull their metaphorical hair out in the face of such failure. However, this comic shows that in a different light, and it actually becomes pretty compelling as a result! Despite the fairly grim narrator, there are some moments that made me chuckle.

A lot of this one, however, felt a bit like some of the old Empire issues – particularly, To the Last Man. I suppose people want to see the Empire having crushing defeats as well as unbridled victories, but there were a lot of panels that put me back on Maridun with Lt Sunbar. That’s not to say it was a bad thing, of course, it just didn’t feel particularly fresh or anything. Coming towards the end of Dark Horse’s run in 2014, it’s almost tempting to think they shifted resource away from the Star Wars line to bulk out their other titles and ensure a continued readership into 2015, and certainly these issues are quite full of full-page adverts for their other titles. Maybe I’m just being cynical, however.

At any rate, the main point of this story seems to be that, once again, Vader is a ruthless leader. In fact, there were a couple of points where Vader felt like an incompetent leader – while these stories are all set in the early days of the suit, Anakin was never supposed to be that bad in the Clone Wars. As someone who always led from the front, it surprised me that he would stay back here. Anyway. For me, this was a disappointing finish to the series, but the strength of Lost Command and Ninth Assassin tends to overshadow anything overly negative.

So there you have it! A bit of a mixed bag, and all of them unfortunately fall into the “just another Vader story” category. With Marvel’s ongoing Vader series starting imminently, I’m intrigued as to what they’re going to do about these things. The Marvel series is to be set between IV and V, of course, whereas all of these stories take place immediately after III, but given that Kieron Gillen basically has only the slightly nuanced movie villain to work with, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the character this time around.

There are nevertheless some really good books to be found in this series – don’t let the Legends banner put you off!

Buy it from amazon:
Darth Vader and the Lost Command
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison
Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin
Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Marvel Approaches

So!

First of all, I did not go to Comic Con at San Diego, as I have been working. However, I’ve been waiting to hear if Marvel would be making any announcements about their upcoming Star Wars line, now that there are scant months left before the licence reverts to them.

SDCC revealed some details on three books: a Princess Leia title, a Darth Vader title, and an ongoing series. I must admit, now that we have some details on these things, I am beginning to lose some of my ire about the existing EU being trodden-over!

The Princess Leia story will be written by Mark Waid, and is due out from March 2015. starwars.com has put together a nice little feature with all three of the authors talking about there books, and here’s what Waid had to say about his:

So, our story is about Leia not long after the end of Episode IV deciding, “Well, as the princess, there are still responsibilities that fall to me, like making contact with any stray Alderaanians out there who may not know what happened. It is my job as princess to deliver the bad news. It is my job to bring those who survived by being in other places, together. It is my job to help preserve some sort of cultural heritage of my people, so that everything my planet stood for and everything my people stood for doesn’t get forgotten.” So it’s a five-issue story [arc] that takes her across the galaxy in search of others of her kind to try and pull them together. Of course, some of them are going to be suspect, because they suspect this could be some sort of weird trap by the Empire. Some of them are going to be very angry, as they rightly or wrongly blame the house of Organa for what happened. Obviously, Leia will be traveling as low profile as she possibly can. If and when the Empire gets wind of the fact that Leia is doing is this, they’re going to be very interested themselves in what she’s doing, what she thinks she’s doing, and what information there is to be mined from these people.

Five issues of running around the galaxy trying to find stray Alderaanians, set in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin? Sounds like it could be interesting. I really like the idea of a Leia story, as she seems to have been perhaps unjustly neglected by the Legends stories. There were a few issues of Dark Horse’s Empire series that saw Leia in action, but largely the classic trilogy era was filled with tales of derring-do from Han and Luke, with lots of pilots and soldiers and whatnot. Seeing what Leia gets up to will be really good!

I really hope we see people like Winter and Tycho Celchu brought back into the Canon fold. Something I had often thought about was whether Winter and Leia knew of each other’s survival, and imagined a fun little tale that saw them meeting up under fire with an emotional reunion. Of course, whether Winter will be kept on as a Canon character will remain to be seen, though I hope that most (if not all) of Zahn’s creations will prove to be too good to leave on the scrapheap. We shall see!

Next up, the Vader book will be written by Kieron Gillen, and is due from February. This is what Gillen has to say about his upcoming work:

The high-level concept is that it picks up very shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Vader is the sole survivor of the greatest military disaster of all time. A disaster he isn’t entirely to blame for, but at least some of the blame is his. He completely let the Rebels escape with the plans. So this kind of comes back to him. So there’s an implied sense that Vader might not be in the Emperor’s best graces at this point in the story.
It’s a story set inside the Empire, but a lot of the driving force is Vader’s own personal choices and the people he keeps around him to achieve his aims. The one problem with doing a book like this is it’s just kind of, Vader plus dudes in uniform plus stormtroopers. It’s very gray, you know? If you move the story into the underworld and [bring in] some of the more colorful characters, you get a much wider tone without undermining Vader.

So, an Empire story, but we’ll be investigating Vader as a much more widely-drawn character, looking not only at his position within the Empire, and specifically how he rose from the debacle at Yavin to head of the Death Squadron, but also at the other aspects of his life, including his relationship with the Emperor and his contacts with the galactic fringe. This should be a really interesting story, I feel, and one that I had hoped we’d see back when Dark Horse launched their Empire storyline with Betrayal. I loved that book, but was a bit miffed when we meandered through generic rebellion stories for the most part. While it’s doubtful we’ll see Grand Moff Trachta, I still look forward to seeing a Vader story with some intrigue and stuff! So that should be interesting, too.

And finally, we have the ongoing series. From the mind of Jason Aaron, the series is set to begin in January next year. Says Aaron:

We wanted this to feel like the movies. We wanted to feel like we were hired to do the direct sequel to the original film. So in terms of look, feel, and tone, that’s what we’re shooting for. It’s very much a team book and we’ve got all the main players here. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and Darth Vader all get big moments in this first arc, and that’s our core cast going forward. I do want to be able to use Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve always liked the old Ben Kenobi version of Obi-Wan, so we will see him in some capacity.

I always get worried when people say these sorts of things, as they so very, very rarely deliver. But I’m forcing myself to have an open mind, so we’ll see what happens…

There will be “new stuff”, in terms of the comic universe, but there are also hints that we might be seeing stuff from the upcoming movie, which is an interesting idea. I imagine, though, that we won’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, the question of reviving Legends material was not broached. However, all three of these books will be crossing over at some point – particularly the Vader title with the ongoing series – in true Marvel fashion. That should be good for now, but could prove to be a nightmare in the future (if House of M was anything to go by…)

But still, I feel fairly excited about these upcoming stories now. While it’s a bit difficult, because it’s not going to be the Star Wars that I know and love, I’m still trying to keep an open mind, so have a cautious curiosity about it all…

Just, please, give us Mara Jade back!

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