Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Easter 2016! part two

Hey everybody!
It’s part two of my Star Wars Easter! Always an exciting time, as I feel more of a connection to the original trilogy and stuff. Indeed, watching them again this year, more than any other time in recent memory, has almost felt like re-setting myself as regards Star Wars. Let me ramble for a bit…

I’ve made a few posts on this blog that have had some inchoate rambling about the state of Star Wars today, and the loss of the wonderfulness that is the expanded universe. I’ve been reflecting on this again recently, largely following my reading of A New Dawn I suppose, which is a tremendous book, and I think if I’d read it two years ago when it was first published, I would likely have had an entirely different feeling towards this. See, that book is a fantastic way to set up this new publishing era, and really lives up to its meta-intent of providing us book fans with a new dawn of Star Wars storytelling. I think I’m going to read Tarkin next, though have already read Heir to the Jedi of course, so at least two of the first three novels to come from the new story group have been absolute triumphs.

It’s not really tempting to think of myself as some kind of dispossessed fan, though I know I have bemoaned the loss of things like the Thrawn trilogy. I’ve always tried to be open-minded about these changes, though having grown up with so many of these books, I always found it a bit difficult to let it go, I suppose.

This Easter weekend, I read a couple of stories from the now-Legends continuity, and my quandary has begun to lessen as a result. I’ve already talked about The Force Unleashed, of course; well I followed those two up with the Agent of the Empire series from comics great John Ostrander!

Star Wars Agent of the Empire

The first book began in December 2011, the sequel following in October 2012. At five issues each, they tell the adventures of Jahan Cross, the Agent of the Empire, as he works in the shadows for Imperial Intelligence. The series was sold as the Star Wars version of James Bond, and the first book in particular really shows us this, as we see Cross meet with Armand Isard (M, in this instance) and Alessi Quon (Q, if you will). I’m something of a James Bond fan, so thought these aspects were pretty hilarious, but I can see that some folks might not appreciate them.

Iron Eclipse follows Cross to the Corporate Sector, where he foils an attempt by Iaco Stark to take over the galaxy’s droids and ultimately topple the Emperor. The story is actually hilarious, though I for one appreciated the throwback to the Republic comics series, most notably the Stark Hyperspace War series. Ostrander was a long-time writer for that series of course, and it was good to see the links made that show the universe to be more cohesive. The series also features Han and Chewie in what might look like a gratuitous cameo, though it ties in nicely with Brian Daley’s novels, and ultimately I can’t really fault their presence.

The second book, Hard Targets, is another interesting one, as we see Cross working almost in a diplomatic capacity when the current Count Dooku (not Christopher Lee’s character, his nephew) is assassinated and Serenno is trying to elect a regent. There are some truly awesome parts to this story, not least looking at the inner-workings of Serenno (Count Dooku is one of my favourite Star Wars characters ever), but also the beginning of the story, on Alderaan. These comics are set before the films, so Bail Organa is alive and well. It’s always been a huge bugbear for me, but there are barely any stories that take place on Alderaan, which I have always found so frustrating as a Star Wars fan!

Jahan Cross is “the Empire’s scalpel”, and while there are plenty of stories that involve agents of the Empire – heck, Mara Jade can be seen almost as the same character – there’s something really interesting about this series that made me really eager for more. There’s a tantalizing cameo from Ysanne Isard in the second book that got me thinking about the possibility of seeing the two paired up for a mission, for instance. There is so much you could do with a character like this, it’s a shame that we’re unlikely to see anything more from him. But I guess anything’s possible.

Bounty Hunters

In addition to these, I also read Dengar’s story from Tales of the Bounty Hunters. It’s an anthology I’ve mentioned before, of course, but while I consider the Zuckuss story pretty decent, and IG-88’s just hilarious, I don’t really remember that of Dengar. Well, what a surprise that was!

Dengar is the bandage-wrapped chap immediately to the right of Vader in the above picture, but because of the editing, you don’t really get to see all that much of him in the film. His backstory is that he’s a Corellian swoop bike rider who suffered a disfiguring accident during a race with Han Solo, and was “rescued” by the Empire, who turned him into an assassin without a conscience. It sounds pretty badass, and should be cool, but his story in the anthology turns into a love story as he rescues a dancing girl who turns out to be a techempath, who feels a connection with him and basically turns him human again. They wind up getting married – and Boba Fett is the best man. Seriously, I’m not making this up.

There is an annoying trend among the stories in the Tales of the Bounty Hunters to make too much of an effort to entangle Han Solo in each of the hunters’ pasts, and while Dengar is perhaps not the worst offender (Boba Fett has the most arduous story in here, and I’m not going to read it again in a hurry), it is so annoying how he’s portrayed to be out for revenge, and tries to imagine each target is Han whenever he kills them. Why can’t these bounty hunters be on the bridge with Vader because they want the money? I mean, that’s what I imagine most bounty hunters are in the profession to do, earn money. Surely the ruthless side of these hunters needs to be emphasized, and not trying to make it all tie into a neat little bow all the time?

For me, Dengar’s tale summarises a lot of how I feel about the wider expanded universe right now, I think. Sure, there are some truly stellar pieces of fiction in the Legends stable, but for the most part – particularly the Bantam era, actually – we see a lot of this sort of thing, where stories are a little weird (with the techempath stuff), have some awesome set-up (Dengar as a conscienceless assassin for the Empire) and take us to the epic locations of the original trilogy (Cloud City and Jabba’s Palace), but ultimately we get some weird little story that feels compelled to explain every nagging detail and make everything link up to everything else.

Which brings me back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this blog, really. When they’re good, the Star Wars stories I grew up with were really, really good. Increasingly, however, I find them for the most part to be fairly bland, a little too outlandish, or downright silly/annoying. Both the Jedi Academy trilogy and Darksaber spring to mind as being in this latter category, despite having been a big fan of them all those years ago. There are still a fair number of Prequel-era stories I’ve not talked about here, but love very dearly, but I think I’m getting to that point now where I can say, yeah, maybe it is time for a change. Maybe we should take what was good about the EU, remove the garbage, and make way for what could be a much more joined-up way of storytelling.

I’m definitely rambling now, so it’s probably time to finish up this blog. But suffice it to say, A New Dawn has really rocked my world, and made me think that perhaps, we could be in for an even more interesting Star Wars history than we’ve had throughout the 90s and 2000s…

Top 10 Star Wars Comics!

Hey everybody!

I’ve been playing with movies again! At the weekend, I cobbled up a video running down my favourite 10 Star Wars comics from Dark Horse, since it’s a topic that’s been coming up a lot throughout this blog. So I thought you might like you see it!

First of all, this list was hard to put together. There are a lot of awesome comics from Dark Horse; trying to whittle the corpus down to just ten was super difficult.

10. Dark Lords of the Sith
I’ve talked about the Tales of the Jedi series here. Dark Lords of the Sith is, for me, such a good story because it’s the first in this series that feels comfortable in its surroundings. It introduces Exar Kun, who is a tremendously great character, but continues the tale of Ulic Qel-Droma begun in Knights of the Old Republic. It was very difficult to decide between this and The Sith War – or, y’know, to have a joint entry, especially seeing as how they’re very closely related, and could legitimately be grouped as such. But DLS has that special place for me simply because, as I said, it feels more natural, and not quite so bogged-down in scene-setting.

9. The Wrong Side of the War
The final story arc in the Empire run, I loved this tale when I first read it because it told a really awesome story. After building up Janek Sunbar in To the Last Man, which just felt like another Empire story (albeit a really enjoyable one), everything seems to coalesce in this story to make it one that feels like a real “timeline” story, like it has actual meaning for the characters. It also brings together a number of characters from the Empire run into something like a cohesive story, and links strongly to the Jabiim storyline from In the Shadows of their Fathers, an excellent story that sadly just missed out on making this list! In a sense, it also feels like it needs My Brother, My Enemy as a kind of coda for the story, but overall, I feel it’s worthy of standing on its own.

8. Claws of the Dragon
It was hard to decide which Legacy story to include, as I read these comics all in one go, thus it feels like one long story to me. However, Claws of the Dragon has a similar feel to DLS, where the scene has been set, and we’ve had all of the foreplay in a sense, so we’re now into the real meat of the series. All of the main characters we’ve seen so far have important roles, and of course, who can forget that shocking reveal! Exceptional storytelling.

7. Darklighter
One of the best, and indeed, if I was ranking these things purely on the storytelling and not on their sentimental/personal effect for me, it would have ended up much higher. Darklighter weaves the tale of Biggs prior to his death in the trench run, and he emerges as one of the most compelling characters of the entire saga. This comic uses a lot of the cut scenes from A New Hope that featured Biggs and Luke, so it’s pretty amazing to actually have that side of things too.

6. Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand
This was one of the first Star Wars comics I read, and I was tremendously impressed with it. We follow Mara Jade immediately following the fall of the Emperor, as she tries to put her life back together. It shows awesome development of the character, and while a lot of the Mara Jade stories tend to be almost irrelevant in terms of the overall timeline, this turns out to be really very enjoyable.

5. The Last Siege, the Final Truth
So #5 and #4 are examples of essentially a two-volume entry that really do deserve to stand on their own. I love the Quinlan Vos storyline, and used to regularly re-read it from Republic through the Clone Wars, and could quite happily have included almost every entry in this top ten. However, the Siege of Saleucami really deserves to be singled out for greatness itself. For long-time readers of the Republic and Clone Wars stories, this tale has a lot to offer, as we see a lot of the “stable” of characters from throughout that series come together, almost as one last hurrah. Particularly important here, however, is the inclusion of the two-part Trackdown story, where we learn about Tholme training with Anzati assassins very much in a samurai-esque fashion, which speaks highly to the meta-origins of the franchise. Stunning artwork abounds – including Oppo Rancisis unleashed! Whoa!

4. Light and Dark
This entry is really a place-holder for the entire Quinlan Vos storyline, which began in Twilight and ran all the way through the Republic series. It’s pretty much top-notch storytelling, and I’m planning to do a blog showcasing just why I love it so much at some point. However, Light and Dark features four standalone stories that come together into a beautiful tale of Quinlan’s career during the Clone Wars. As a big Count Dooku fan, I particularly like seeing the Sith Lord’s manipulations during his eponymous Jedi: Dooku story (as well as all those Ishi Tib!). If you only ever read one story from the Clone Wars run, however, it ought to be this one.

3. Betrayal
My top three were, in one sense, no-brainers, but as I said earlier, this was also a really tough decision to make, given the high quality of Dark Horse comics over the years. The highest-placed of the three Empire entries is Betrayal, the inaugural arc of that series. I can still remember the sense of unadulterated joy the announcement of this comic stirred for me, as we were promised a different look at the Empire, stories set within the corridors of power rather than purely from the rebels’ point of view. Betrayal introduced Grand Moff Trachta, and features a web of deceit and, indeed, betrayal so dense that it takes a couple of read-throughs to really see the beauty of it. Highly recommended to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen!

2. The Path to Nowhere
If you’ve read my recent ramblings about the Dark Times series, you’ll know how highly I rated this comic. It’s a really beautifully-told story, one that interweaves the lives of Vader and the Emperor with the rogue Jedi Dass Jennir and the rag-tag crew of the Uhumele. There’s a real sense of the quest as the good guys try to find Bomo Greenbark’s missing family, with truly horrible results, and while this comic is actually incredibly bleak and grim, it’s nevertheless so wonderfully constructed that you can enjoy it as a piece of art. Truly amazing work, this.

1. Crimson Empire
Should be no surprise about the top spot, if you read this blog from last year. This was the very first Star Wars comic I read, and introduced me to the medium along with a whole cast of awesome characters, headlined by Carnor Jax and Kir Kanos. Some amazing artwork, and a storyline that is utterly compelling, all the more so because it doesn’t feature any of the big movie characters, this tale should be on everybody’s shelf. It’s as simple as that!

***

So there you have it, guys, my top ten! I’m sure I could probably augment this, adding in some more around the Legacy and the Quinlan Vos stories, as I predominantly view these things as storylines and don’t break them down into individual arcs. I enjoyed this look through the comics, anyway, and I think I might soon do something for the novels, as well!

What are your thoughts? Do you approve? Are you surprised there were no X-Wing/Knights of the Old Republic/Original Marvel stories in there? Are you scandalised I didn’t pick Dark Empire for my #1 slot? Let me know what you think!

Buy them from amazon:
Dark Lords of the Sith
The Wrong Side of the War
Claws of the Dragon
Darklighter
Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand
The Last Siege, the FInal Truth
Light and Dark
Betrayal
The Path to Nowhere
Crimson Empire

Happy Easter!

Hey everybody!
It’s a four-day weekend, which is always more than welcome in my book, and whether you’re celebrating Easter or just relaxing with as much chocolate as you can bodily cope with, I hope you’re having a great time so far! As for me, well, this has been happening…

Easter has long had strong ties to the Star Wars franchise for me, and every year I re-watch the original trilogy, usually accompanied by a re-read of a lot of the fiction from that point in the timeline. I am, of course, a massive Star Wars fan, and it was many Easters ago that I discovered the expanded universe of novels and comics. So my big plans will be, as per, a re-watch of the trilogy, interspersed with a lot of comics. Aw, yeah!

I’ve mentioned it before, but A New Hope is my favourite of all the movies. For a long time it was Return of the Jedi, but the original movie supplanted that a few years back now, mainly because it’s such a truly wonderful story.

Continue reading “Happy Easter!”

Week off, day three

Well, my week off is going splendidly! Turns out it was precisely what was needed, I must say! Lost of gaming, lots of resting and living life in the slow lane. What life should be about, really!

I do like to get out and about and explore the local area, which has some pleasant hidden corners. I’m quite close to a village called Minera, which has a lot of lead mining bits and pieces – if you’d like to know more, I wrote a blog about three years ago as a culmination of my research into the whole history of the place. You can enjoy that here, anyway!

Adventures with Elves has continued, which has been very exciting, I must say!

I’d thought of playing some entirely new scenarios, but in the end I decided to go for some “iconic Middle-Earth location” scenarios instead. So I went Into Ithilien, which is something I’d not done before – Heirs of Númenor came out about a month before I was caught up in the circus of moving, and by the time I was settled, Against the Shadow had begun and it kinda fell by the wayside. As time wore on, and the reports had come out of how “impossible” this scenario is, I decided not to bother. So it was a lot of fun to play a scenario that is now, what, over two years old, not least to see what all the fuss is about!

I think I might let the elves rest up a bit now, as they’ve been run ragged over the past couple of days! I’ve got a new deck built, a more general-purpose deck that features a whole melange of characters in a true Fellowship, so we’ll see how that goes when I come to attack the Ringmaker!

Star Wars Dark Times

But the most exciting thing from the last couple of days has to be this!

I think I mentioned this before, but every Easter I re-watch the classic Star Wars trilogy, which is always made so much better when that’s combined with some of the classic literature. Last year I seemed to steam through novels and short stories, but was thinking the other day that I probably won’t be doing that again this year. Instead, I’m going to focus more on the comics, so I’ve started early with the Dark Times series!

Last month, I took a look at the Darth Vader series from Dark Horse, four story arcs that kind of intersect into this series, along with at least one novel – James Luceno’s Dark Lord – all taking place in the months following Revenge of the Sith. The events of the series are actually set up in the preceeding Star Wars ongoing series, Republic, and in fact the individual comics maintained the numbering, meaning the Republic series eventually ran to 115 issues, overtaking the original Marvel run that ran to 107. Bit of apocrypha for you there!

Republic #79 – 80 is a two-part story arc Into the Unknown, which follows the escapades of two Jedi in the direct aftermath of Order 66: Kai Hudorra and Dass Jennir. It’s a really nice story that shows some really intense scenes that the film didn’t really convey, I felt. I mean, there were some moments, but Into the Unknown really explores this more, as we see the choices those surviving Jedi made about their futures. It’s available in the ninth volume of the Clone Wars series, which should be on everyone’s shelf because it also collects the conclusion of the Quinlan Vos storyline!

Dark Times begins proper with The Path to Nowhere, as we follow Dass Jennir immediately following the charge down the hill that ends Into the Unknown now that he has teamed up with the Nosaurians. In order to escape the now-Imperial patrols, Jennir and his ally Bomo Greenbark escape with the help of a rag-tag band aboard the freighter Uhumele. They discover that Bomo’s family has been taken to Orvax IV to be sold into slavery, so head over, only to find out the tragic truth that his wife was killed trying to prevent their daughter being taken. Jennir discovers who bought Bomo’s daughter, but when her fate is revealed, he reveals himself as a Jedi to the rest of the crew, who are not too happy to have him aboard.

Path to Nowhere is a grim story, no bones about it, but it’s also a really amazing entry into the timeline (Legends notwithstanding!). Doug Wheatley has produced some absolutely incredible art in these pages – the series was actually delayed by almost a year all told, because of getting the series to this awesome standard. Some of the panels, such as the townscape scenes, are a true visual feast!

Orvax_IV

Parallels is a much smaller-scale story. The crew of the Uhumele is trying to offload some merchandise but the deal goes sour, and bad things start to happen! As a parallel story (chortle chortle), we see Master K’Kruhk in the aftermath of Order 66! This guy became something of an EU legend; after his appearance in Jedi Council: Acts of War, he became something of a series regular in the Republic line immediately following Attack of the Clones. With his iconic hat, he kept popping up time and again – most surprisingly in the Legacy series!!!!!

I have to say, Parallels was not as enjoyable a story for me as Path to Nowhere. The artwork sometimes looked a little sloppy, especially in comparison with the earlier series, but I kinda disliked the fact we didn’t get more Dass Jennir! When I first read this series when it came out, I kinda rushed through it, and the plot never really stuck with me as being that great. Now that I’ve read it the second time around, I have to say, it still wasn’t all that memorable.

Part of this, I suppose, is that the next storyline in the Dark Times series really overshadows it. Vector was a massive event in Star Wars comics back in 2008. It was a twelve-part crossover of all four of the ongoing series Dark Horse was publishing at the time – Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, Rebellion and Legacy – and follows the story of what happens when a Jedi comes across a Sith amulet. It’s actually a phenomenally well put-together story, and I was hugely impressed with the logistics of the storyline. The promise from the event was that it wasn’t just some sort of Marvel-like gimmick to make readers buy more series, but instead each story would be self-contained and propel its respective series forwards in new ways, but if you read all twelve issues, it also formed a really great story in and of itself. And boy, did it deliver!

The Dark Times segment of Vector runs to just two issues, and we once again see the crew of the Uhumele trying to offload their merchandise. That merchandise turns out to be the stasis canister Celeste Morne was placed into at the end of the KotOR arc! Worlds collide! Darth Vader shows up to try to take possession, things go haywire, and the Rakghoul plague is once again active within the galaxy. This merchandise has had a question mark over it since Path to Nowhere, and I really liked seeing how that turned out. Even now, seven years after I first read it, I still love how this tale plays out!

From there, we head to Blue Harvest. Fans of Star Wars lore will know that Dass JennirBlue Harvest was the fake film that masked the filming of Return of the Jedi back in the early 1980s, and while attempts have been made previously to reference this little bit of Lucasfilm lore, this is possibly the best of them all. We’re back to Dass Jennir, as he makes his lonely way in the universe. He’s now looking a lot like Obi-Wan will end up looking on Tatooine, which is a little distracting really. We follow his attempt to earn a living by dealing with a gang problem on Telerath, but finds the situation is a lot more complicated than it first seemed. It was a lot of fun seeing how he goes about dealing with the gangs – a group of Chagrians, and another of T’surri, making sense of the Blue Harvest of the title.

We also get some glimpses of the Uhumele crew, as they begin to miss Jennir. Another Jedi shows up, a Verpine of all species, who asks the crew to help him locate Jennir. I must admit, I was uneasy about this, as I felt it was some sort of trap cooked up by the Empire. Vader is still hot on the heels of any rogue Jedi survivors, and there are a few panels where we see the wider galaxy once more. It’s pretty awesome, though the story does feel oddly finished, as Jennir steps in to deal with the T’surri survivors.

The storyline continues almost directly in Out of the Wilderness, which pulls together a few plot strands into another really nice tale. Jennir left Telerath with his erstwhile employer, though they are shot down over the desert wilderness Prine. However, the arc begins with one of my all-time favourite sequences, as an assassin sneaks aboard an Imperial Space Station/Prison facility to conduct some intelligence theft, just as Darth Vader arrives. Very nicely executed, and totally makes up for the terrible name (ISO-L8 – because it’s a prison…)

Jennir eventually hooks back up with the Uhumele crew, who have been sadly depleted since they were last together, and there is something of a sense of coming-together after the intervening arcs. I suppose this is another reason why Parallels fell short for me, as it almost exists outside of what feels, to me, like the main storyline of the Dark Times series. Sure, the Uhumele oddballs are there, but even so, it just doesn’t really measure up to the rest of it.

Doug Wheatley is back for both of these arcs, and once again we have some really luscious panels of artistic awesomeness. Overall, Path to Nowhere, Blue Harvest and Out of the Wilderness make for some really compelling Star Wars reading – and Path to Nowhere especially is one of the all-time greatest EU stories I have ever read!

Volume six in the series, Fire Carrier, picks up from Parallels, and follows K’Kruhk and the padawans as they attempt to find sanctuary. It’s actually a really interesting story, although a lot of it does feel like it’s trying to set up the fact that some Jedi did survive Order 66, particularly K’Kruhk, who had by now already made his appearance in Legacy. So it’s more about the journey than the destination, but something very interesting (to me, anyway) takes place within these pages.

We have some exploration of Imperial loyalties here, as we’re introduced to Commander Teron and Captain Denimoor, veterans of the Clone Wars both. When K’Kruhk arrives on Arkinnea, Teron appears to take an interest in him, and while I was at first convinced he’d bring Vader down on them, it turns out Teron fought besides the Whiphid on Saleucami, and still remembers the honour of those times. Teron helps K’Kruhk establish himself on the planet in isolation, a new Jedi temple for the training of the padawans.

It’s a really interesting story, as it shows that some of those in the Imperial hierarchy didn’t necessarily go along with Order 66, and perhaps resent the clones for the possibility that they are operating with a hidden agenda. It’s something that Blue Harvest also touched upon, where Vader asks if Lieutenant Vill has a similar order to eliminate him if the Emperor saw fit. This idea of commanders in the army of the Republic suddenly switching loyalties is woefully under-explored, but definitely needs to be looked at again since the EU slate has been wiped clean. Sci-fi and Fantasy stories are often guilty of using a broad brush to draw the details, Star Wars sometimes more than most, but we really need to see stories like these in the future to provide that depth.

Well, I think so, anyway!

A Spark Remains, the final volume in the Dark Times run, is really quite a good story too, following a plot by Dass Jennir and the Uhumele guys to assassinate Vader. We actually get a lot of closure during this arc, and while it ended before the announcement that Marvel would take over the license, it is tempting to think there was some effort to wrap up the Dark Times run.

The best thing, for me, about this run was returning to a character who first appeared in the Into the Unknown arc mentioned previously, Kai Hudorra. Leaving the Order to become a gambler, it turns out Hudorra has done very well for himself indeed! The crew arrives to persuade him to help taking down Vader, along with the Verpine Jedi Beyghor Sahdett who showed up during Blue Harvest. There was always something a bit off about that guy, and now we finally get to find out what that is! I wasn’t entirely convinced at first by this, though the eventual payoff to this story was pretty good.

Kai Hudorra

Kai Hudorra is an interesting character to me, and I must admit, if I were a Jedi who survived Order 66, I’d probably head off to hide out in the galaxy and make my living as a gambler!

File:Republic Emblem.svg

Dark Times is a really great series. I’ve said it a lot up there, but Path to Nowhere is one of the best Star Wars stories ever written – in both comics and novels (and, even, films!) For longtime readers of the Republic ongoing series, it is almost a must-read, as it shows a lot of characters from that series.

Something that saddened me somewhat was how little time we spent with the Empire – we see Vader, we see the Emperor, but never for very long (outside of Path to Nowhere, of course). I suppose you could argue that the four Darth Vader standalone miniseries are a part of the Dark Times run, as they are quite heavily-intertwined. Spending time with the galactic fringe, and following the adventures of a Jedi in hiding at this time, is hugely enjoyable of course, and in many respects more than makes up for that.

I really don’t know how much more I can say this, but it’s really great – and if you only ever read one Star Wars comic produced by Dark Horse, it ought to be Path to Nowhere!

Buy it from amazon:
Path to Nowhere
Parallels
Vector vol 1
Blue Harvest
Out of the Wilderness
Fire Carrier
A Spark Remains

Dark Times Omnibus 1
Dark Times Omnibus 2

Empire Lost

Hey everybody!
As discussed previously, I’m back with the Star Wars comics for a short while, and have been reading through the Crimson Empire saga. The first arc in this series really helped to define the entire medium of Star Wars comics for me back in the day, and will forever remain one of the best examples in the entire genre. The second, Council of Blood, is a good story that could have benefited from some extra pages to help with the flow. The third, Empire Lost, is a fairly recent release that I have finally gotten round to reading this week, and is the subject of today’s blog!

Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost

Empire Lost has had something of a troubled genesis. Released in 2011-12, the original storyline was intended for a 2001 release, set within the time period of the New Jedi Order and featuring a climactic duel between Luke Skywalker and Kir Kanos, which had been Randy Stradley’s original story kernel back when he was writing for Marvel comics. Following the release of Vector Prime in 1999, and the direction Del Rey took the Star Wars universe – and, perhaps crucially, the direction they took Nom Anor – any further Crimson Empire story was shelved, though the 2000 short comic Hard Currency was published, more as a postlude to CE2 than anything else. Despite rumours in 2008 that the story was again in development, it wasn’t officially announced until 2010, with the first issue appearing in October the following year.

A short, eight-page prequel was released in April 2011 called The Third Time Pays for All, and serves to help us catch up with where the characters will be in the story. Mirith Sinn is back with the New Republic, serving as now-Chief of State Leia’s head of security, while Kir Kanos is still grubbing around as the bounty hunter Kenix Kil in an effort to raise the money he will need to finance his vendetta against Skywalker.

The actual story of CE3 is really very good. The character progression of Kir Kanos over the entire saga is something that I have really enjoyed, and this story certainly doesn’t disappoint. There is a lot going on, and more than either of its predecessors, Empire Lost ties itself firmly into the EU, with appearances by Leia, Han, Luke, even Admiral Pellaeon makes his comics debut! (Not counting the Thrawn trilogy adaptations, naturally).

300px-Sodietraitors

The story feels almost James Bond-like, with Kanos abducted by a renegade Imperial group intent on restoring the glory of Palpatine’s Empire. Their leader, Ennix Devian, definitely feels like a Bond villain, and his audacious plan to attack both the heart of the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant feels like something such a chap would concoct. Kanos escapes to warn the New Republic, specifically Mirith Sinn, before the two head off to begin negotiations with Pellaeon and Feena D’Asta for a peace accord between the Empire and the Republic. The meeting is sabotaged by Devian, and D’Asta is killed. Sinn and Kanos head for the D’Astan Sector with Feena’s body, and enter an alliance with her aged father against Devian. As Devian attempts to kidnap Pellaeon, Sinn and Kanos intervene with Baron D’Asta’s help, and Kanos and Devian duel to the death – Kanos defeats the “thug” Devian, though is wounded in the shoulder. Sinn resigns from the New Republic, while unbeknownst to her, Kanos survived the duel and is helped by Baron D’Asta to move on from the Empire.

Gratuitous Boba Fett appearance aside, this story is a solid one, and a worthy conclusion to the series. Perhaps more than CE2 was to CE1, this one feels very much like a continuation of the tale, with a lot of references to the second book. I greatly appreciated the way the comic integrates itself with the larger EU, as well – it is set following the novel Planet of Twilight, and for me, it is a much more interesting and enjoyable story than the novel that follows it up, The Crystal Star.

I was quite surprised at how much this story feels like a New Republic story, as well. Long-time Star Wars readers will hopefully know what I’m talking about here, but there is a very definite ‘feel’ to the Star Wars stories of the 1990s, the constant battles with the Empire, the eternal kidnapping attempts on Leia’s children, etc etc. There is a sequence early in this story where yet another kidnap attempt is made, and rather than rolling my eyes at the thousandth iteration of this trope, instead I felt like I was once again reading these pre-Prequels stories with that sense of swashbuckling heroism that the Bantam era managed to put across so well. Despite being a “new” story, CE3 feels like a synthesis of the old in a true throwback style. Excellent stuff!

I really enjoyed the idea of the Restored Empire, which has a long history that feels entirely natural and not at all contrived. While the novel Darksaber shows a sort of unification of the Imperial remnants under Daala (who passes on the leadership to Pellaeon at the end of that novel), it feels entirely plausible that not absolutely every remnant would have been gathered up in that way. Ennix Devian is quite the interesting character, as well – if circumstances had been different, I would have liked to have seen more of him in the Empire era. It strikes me that CE2 was missing a strong central villain – by having Nom Anor too shadowy, while the Ruling Council being too distilled to actually be the nemesis of the story, it seemed to fall short, while CE1 had the excellent Carnor Jax, and CE3 provides the intriguing ‘Kaarenth Impaler’, Devian. Hopefully Marvel and the ‘new continuity’ won’t overlook him in the future!

Something that initially troubled me was the idea of Pellaeon’s peace accord with the New Republic, which he doesn’t reveal in the novels until Specter of the Past, which is set six years after CE3. Initially I was left wondering why it would take so long for the Imperial Remnant to broach the subject of peace again, but then, Pellaeon and the Imperial Remnant don’t actually appear in any of the intervening stories. That itself, however, then raised the issue for me – just what are they doing while the New Republic deals with the Yevetha, Kueller, and the Sacorrian Triad? Again, had circumstances been different, that would have been an interesting time to explore.

All in all, it’s a really good book, and I can highly recommend it to any fan of Star Wars. The entire Crimson Empire saga is definitely one of the high points of Star Wars comics, and despite the slight dip in the middle, this third installment is a really great conclusion.

Tales of the Jedi

It’s Sunday! You know what that means… well, I’m not quite sure where that is going, but it’s Sunday! And it’s the middle of the three-day-weekend! So I thought it might be nice to go for a bit of a feature-Sunday here (this probably won’t become a thing, but you never know!)

So, after my blog on the Dark Empire series, I’ve been feeling pretty bummed out. I think, more than anything, I feel like I’ve let myself down by being so derisive of what is often seen as a modern classic. It’s tantamount to blasphemy, almost! But anyway. I thought today I’d talk about another classic of the early years of Dark Horse comics publishing of Star Wars, the Tales of the Jedi saga. I’m quite the fan of these books, and read them fairly often, most recently in Feb/March this year, just outside the scope of this blog, hence I suppose why I’m writing this now. Anyway!

Tales of the Jedi

Tales of the Jedi began back in the 80s, when Tom Veitch was pitching ideas for Star Wars comics to Lucasfilm. Initially refused, on the grounds that the franchise wasn’t going anywhere, it was only after the success of Dark Empire that the team managed to get some renewed interest in the idea. George Lucas himself apparently got very interested in the idea of a comic series set 4000 years before the film trilogy, and personally approved the storylines for each.

Beginning in October 1993 with Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon, the series would eventually run to 35 comics that told the whole story of Ulic from his days as a padawan, through his fall to the Dark Side, and his eventual redemption, alongside that of the unwilling Jedi, Nomi Sunrider. Further issues would explore even further back in the mythic past of the Jedi and the Sith. A year after the Onderon story began, the next arc of the saga came out, Dark Lords of the Sith. Opening the universe still further with the Jedi enclave on Dantooine, we are introduced here to the Jedi Exar Kun, who would fall to the Dark Side and unleash the terrible Sith War on the galaxy. Dark Lords of the Sith added the author Kevin J Anderson to the production team, who was currently working on his Jedi Academy trilogy of novels that dealt with the spirit of Exar Kun trapped on Yavin IV. With the comic series, Anderson was able to tell the backstory on this, slotting in his ideas neatly with Veitch’s, to create more of a homogeneous feel to the universe. Despite Veitch’s departure from the project before the end, the series was brought to a suitable conclusion at the beginning of 1996 in The Sith War, before Anderson launched into a prequel story set 1000 years before the saga of Ulic, The Golden Age of the Sith. This was a universe still being discovered, where ancient Sith Lords were more like mad alchemical scientists. Featuring stories around Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh, as well as Empress Teta and the Great Hyperspace War, not to mention lightsabers that came with backpack power generators, the universe really does feel like a mythic past in this and the following arc, The Fall of the Sith Empire, which concluded late in 1997. Finally, in summer 1998, the saga of Ulic Qel-Droma began its conclusion with the emotionally-charged Redemption arc. In a series spanning five years, the Tales of the Jedi finally reached their conclusion.

I really enjoyed this series. The core of the saga, which follows Ulic on his journey from Jedi apprentice to Sith apprentice, through being stripped of his Force powers and finally to his redemption, is really nicely done. Despite the fact that Ulic falls to the Dark Side in a misguided attempt to learn its secrets and thus to defeat it from within, I still think this is a much better tale than that eventually told by the Star Wars prequel movies. It’s also a lot better than the execution in Dark Empire of Luke’s fall, but I won’t go over that again.

There are all sorts of things in these ‘early’ stories, perhaps most notably the idea that anyone can be trained to use the Force, back when the idea appeared to be more in terms of a mystical religion than a biological phenomenon. Satal Keto and his cousin Aleema are described as “bored aristocrats” with no particular affinity for the Force, and yet through the power of the Sith amulets they find, they are able to control the mystical energy field. Hm. Personally, I prefer this view as being much more, well, sensible. But anyway.

The key to success with any Star Wars story, for me, lies firmly between boldly-drawn characters and epic situations, and the whole saga has that. Even what are, I suppose, the bit-players are really compelling characters, including Shoaneb Culu, the first Miraluka to appear in the universe (perhaps more famous examples include Jerec from Dark Forces, and Visas Marr from KOTOR2). The series is made increasingly rich as we follow first Ulic and then Nomi on their very different paths through the Jedi way. From the beginning, we have incredibly compelling situations, as Ulic, his brother Cay, and the Twi’lek Tott Doneeta travel to Onderon to help mediate in the Beast Wars. Some epic storytelling, including incredible reversals, launches the galaxy-spanning epic. By the time we’re introduced to Exar Kun, the figures of Ulic Qel-Droma and his companions already have something of a celebrity feel about them. By the end of the series, we feel like we know these characters as well as the films of the original trilogy.

I don’t often mention the art when I’ve looked at comic books in the past, largely because I’m not really that much of a connoisseur. However, I have to say that I absolutely love the art of Christian Gossett, who drew most of the Dark Lords of the Sith arc, and whose art was, for many years for me, synonymous with Star Wars comics.

Of course, having grown up with the Bantam books, and the Jedi Academy trilogy were among the first that I’d read, when I eventually got into the comics and started to read these stories, they really were like reading the long-lost history of the galaxy. Reading about Exar Kun’s exploits when I’d only previously known him as a disembodied spirit wreaking havoc on Yavin IV, that was particularly gratifying. Somehow, the names of these characters and locations have a mythic feel to them, too – Ulic Qel-Droma, Nomi Sunrider, Arca Jeth, Vodo Siosk-Baas, Satal Keto, Freedon Nadd, and of course, Exar Kun himself. While we have the classic Yavin IV location, which explains what those jungle temples the Rebel Alliance were using were all about, we also visit Dantooine, but also have new locations such as Onderon and the Dxun Moon, the Jedi training centre on Ossus, and the Sith ‘homeworld’ of Korriban. All of these things are so intrinsically part of Star Wars lore that I can’t help but feel like it’s part of something really special.

Aside from the Jedi Academy trilogy, the events and situations were most strongly referenced in the later Dark Empire stories, where Leia takes refuge on Onderon to escape the Emperor’s attempted kidnapping of her son Anakin. In later media, the novel Darth Bane: Rule of Two features a trip to Onderon in a sort of pilgrimage to find the tomb of Freedon Nadd. The Sith stronghold of Ziost plays a significant part in the Legacy of the Force novel series, while Korriban, as a sacred world to the Sith Order, features strongly in pretty much any story where the Sith are prominent, either by name or an actual appearance. Perhaps the greatest homage was paid by Lucas himself, however, when he modeled Darth Maul’s twin-bladed lightsaber on that of Exar Kun.

Before the advent of BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic reinvigorated interest in the ancient history of the Star Wars universe, Tales of the Jedi sat apart from the rest of the canon, which centred around the original trilogy and, as the prequels came out, ventured no further into the past than forty or fifty years before A New Hope. But now, there’s all sorts of stuff going on at that end of the timeline, including even earlier stories, Dawn of the Jedi.

Ulic Qel-Droma
Ulic Qel-Droma
Nomi Sunrider
Nomi Sunrider
Exar Kun
Exar Kun duels Vodo Siosk-Baas
Cay Qel-Droma
Cay Qel-Droma
Arca Jeth confronts the spectre of Freedon Nadd
Arca Jeth confronts the spectre of Freedon Nadd

It’s a really great series of comics, and I can heartily recommend you take a look!

Buy it from amazon:
The Golden Age of the Sith
The Fall of the Sith Empire
Knights of the Old Republic
The Freedon Nadd Uprising
Dark Lords of the Sith
The Sith War
Redemption

Tales of the Jedi: Omnibus 1
Tales of the Jedi: Omnibus 2