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Rebellion #5 My Brother, My Enemy Part 5

Story: Rob Williams
Art: Brandon Badeaux
Coloring: Wil Glass
Lettering: Michael Heisler
Cover: Brandon Badeaux
Released: 12/06/2006

Reviewed by: Paul Urquhart (02/09/2007)

SUMMARY:

The reunion of Luke Skywalker and his boyhood friend Janek "Tank" Sunber comes to its shocking conclusion, as one of these two men is forced to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever! With the entire Rebel fleet under siege by a massive Imperial force, Wedge Antilles and Red Squadron launch a valiant defense, but even they know if the fleet doesn't figure out an escape plan soon, there won't be anything left to defend. Meanwhile, chaos reigns on the Rebel command ship as a threat from inside continues to have devastating consequences for the Alliance. White-knuckled action in an era when Darth Vader was unstoppable and Luke Skywalker was little more than a brave farm boy - don't miss it!


REVIEW

The Rebellion series, in contrast to Knights of the Old Republic, has been a bit of disappointment. It’s not actively bad, though, and I suppose the main problem is the sense that it could be much better: this a storyline is which is falling short of its potential, letting itself down a little.

Rebellion is set in between the movies of the original trilogy, shortly after the original Star Wars and during events leading up to The Empire Strikes Back. That means it can do a lot with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Darth Vader. It also has the advantage of picking up directly from the end of the previous Empire ongoing series.

As well as the iconic heroes and villains of the Star Wars saga, Empire took the chance to add more depth to a number of background characters from the movies, and to develop entirely new ones. Individual stories that used the familiar scenarios of the films as a springboard to visit new places – emotionally and psychologically as well as geographically – were orchestrated into an overall structure that wasn’t so much a story-arc as a way of following compelling characters through the ongoing war between the Alliance and the New Order.

Before the reboot a year ago, Empire was probably the big success of the Star Wars line – it was certainly the series I was enjoying the most, by far. It had the Star Warriors and Lord Vader, and it had a compelling storyline and a consistent high quality in the delivery of it. And with To The Last Man and The Wrong Side of the War, the team of writer Welles Hartley and artist Davidé Fabbri had shifted gear to a whole new level.

At the end of Empire, we were left with Luke Skywalker blasting out of an enemy base with brave-busty-and-blonde Rebel soldier Deena Shan and ex-Imperial prisoner Jorin Sol – victorious, but each left with questions to answer. Jorin was brutally scarred by his torture, Deena was appalled by her betrayal of the Imperial officer she’d fallen in love with... and Luke was left reeling after an encounter with his childhood friend Janek ‘Tank’ Sunber, whose reintroduction into the storyline was perhaps the most impressive move in Empire.

Tank had been namechecked in a one-line reference early on in the first Star Wars movie, and pretty much forgotten ever since. To The Last Man introduced him as a young soldier in the Imperial Army, building him up as a character with no obvious hint of his backstory; in The Wrong Side of the War, readers accepted him as a recurring character in the series, before his relationship with Luke was revealed in what amounted to the climactic twist of the entire series.

Rebellion began right where Empire ended, picking up the threads of intertwined plotlines that had been carefully developed over nearly twenty issues, while also providing an accessible new platform where new readers could join in. And, in all fairness, I can’t say it failed in any of this. True, there was a new creative team in Rob Williams and Brandon Badeaux, but they were both tested and proven performers in the Star Wars franchise, particularly on the excellent Nomad storyline in Star Wars Tales.

Yet at the same time, a change of creative team inevitably meant a change in direction: Rob Williams’ Star Wars stories are full of ghosts and dreams, crafted in subtle shades with an edge of darkness and madness; so the continuing plotline had to be combined with new characters and new ideas – understandable, even inevitable in principle, but in practice, perhaps, rather complicated.

Back in the last issues of Empire, Welles Hartley represented the corrupting power of the New Order primarily through Lieutenant Zuud of Imperial Intelligence, whose abilities in warping the minds of Rebel prisoners seemed closely linked with the fact that she was a beautiful woman, dedicated to her cause, and having wicked fun in serving it. It didn’t hurt that she seems to be a subtle Monty Python homage, too.

In terms of the overall story-arc, the darker, more pensive and dislocated mood of Rebellion makes sense for the next stage; but I’m not sure that it isn’t narrowing the vision of the series and its portrayal of the Galaxy just slightly to ignore the Zuuds of the Galaxy in favour of an emphasis on the mental mechanics of denial and self-deception. Also, to begin a new series by intensifying the emotions and psychology of an ongoing arc runs the risk of alienating returning readers, who might be expecting something more like Empire, and simultaneously discouraging new readers, who might be expecting something more like Return of the Jedi.

The intermittent subplot involving Rebel spymaster Tungo Li, agent Wyl Tarson, and information broker Raze felt tacked onto the side of the ongoing storyline. If those names seem unfamiliar to you, it’s because they are: they’re new characters – but their storyline was too intrusive to serve as introduction for a subsequent arc, too little to stand on its own. In the end, by failing to fit in, it just distracted from the main storyline. Perhaps the shift to a primarily space-based setting was a problem, too: where almost every storyline in Empire brought in a new planet with its own distinctive character, the best that Rebellion could manage was to move the protagonists from one fairly generic star cruiser to another.

Also, after being heavily featured alongside Luke Skywalker for the first few issues of the new series, Deena Shan has basically disappeared. Eye candy she might have been, but giving her a drink problem and then dropping her from the plot doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know what they’re doing with the character here – which is fine if they have some ideas themselves, but not so good if it means they’re basically in the same position as I am.

That said, there’s nonetheless a lot to enjoy here. If you’re a casual reader, it’s still an issue that’s definitely worth picking up. Rebellion #5 features what must be the biggest fleet battle of the Rebellion before Endor, and has some lovely eye-candy whether you love Star Wars battleships or the human form – the return, even if only as a madman’s hallucination, of the black-clad, soul-destroying beauty of Lieutenant Zuud, and a shameless shot of swimwear Leia in a bacta tank, which becomes much more fun, and even intellectually justifiable, when we know we’re seeing her through Luke Skywalker’s eyes.

There’s also an unequivocal emotional punch in the clash between Luke and Tank; and even more so in the final fate of Jorin Sol, destroyed but not defeated. That alone might justify the price of admission to returning readers.

In the end, I guess the biggest question is why this needed five issues: the story could have been told in two or three parts, and wrapped up back in April or May last year. Maybe it’s to fit into a trade paperback, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that they’d have been better with a tighter opening mini-arc to clear the decks with Tank, Deena and Jorin (two issues) then a couple of one- and two-part stories by other teams, and then a three-parter by the main Badeaux/Williams creative team to pick up the opening storyline and make up the collected volume. It’s not just that I think the story would have been better served, but they might not have needed a relief artist for issue #3, and this one might not be six months late.

Probably more than anything, it’s the delays that have taken their toll on Rebellion. There’s something appropriately heroic in the fact that the My Brother, My Enemy storyline has actually reached its destination, scarred but unbowed, and after many months lost in space, but the failure to succeed as well as it could have done seems to be symbolised by the fact that it’s being replaced by the new Dark Times series – or rather, that was the plan, but the first two issues of Dark Times have already been published.

And whereas Knights of the Old Republic has had twelve issues to establish itself in the past year, Rebellion has had less than half that number. At issue #5 of Knights, I didn’t feel anything like this positive about the story of Zayne Carrick, and I’d have written it off completely as a bad joke if the delays had been this bad.

Rebellion isn’t actually bad – in terms of story and art, I think it’s as good as many of the best issues of Star Wars Tales. It’s just that it doesn’t have the real excellence it could have done. Williams and Badeaux, individually or as a team, are capable of impressive stuff together, as shown by Nomad and the best of this series.

We’re told that the series will return with issue #6, after the first story arc of Dark Times; and we can hope that when it does, it will finally achieve the heights it deserves.

Until then, though, there’s Legacy.

Rating: 6 / 10 Good... as far as it goes?

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