Synopsis: Han and Chewie spend an action packed night on Imperial Center as Leia reacts badly to Luke getting closer to one of his new squad mates. Elsewhere, Darth Vader arrives at his new assignment, while Colonel Bircher prepares to strike back against the rebellion.
After a noticeable absence in the last issue Darth Vader returns in an appearance that while brief, is pitch perfect in its portrayal of a Dark Lord humiliated by the Death Star’s loss at Yavin. Still angry at the Emperor reassigning (punishing) him to oversee construction of the second Death Star, further insult to injury is added when there is no formal ceremony upon his arrival (also per the Emperor’s orders).
I’ve often been struck at the drastic change in Vader from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back. In one film, he’s an imposing yet restrained subordinate of Grand Moff Tarkin. In the next he’s a Force (pun intended) of nature, personally leading troops into Echo Base, executing two senior Imperial Fleet officers, and teaching his son a brutal lesson in humility. His appearance in this issue makes it easy to see why the Sith Lord is so ruthlessly driven during the events of Episode V.
It’s classic Anakin Skywalker. He’s failed, and he’s being made to feel the shame of that failure. He’s being made to once again feel the helplessness that comes with not being able to control his own destiny. And he’s being forced to confront the realization that 22 years later he still isn’t all powerful, even if he thinks he should be. No one is harder on themselves than Darth Vader is. Credit to writer Brian Wood for many subtle touches that uniquely expand on such well known characters, they make this comic a must read.
Before moving on, I must also give credit to artist Carlos D’Anda’s interpretation of Vader. With a crucial assist from colorist Gabe Eltaeb, he’s drawn Vader in such a way that the iconic mask almost looks expressive in these pages. Whether it’s the lighting or he’s actually drawing subtle changes into Vader’s mask I can’t tell, but I can tell you that the effect is powerful… and chilling.
But where Vader continues to rely on the same tried and true fear the Empire wields so effectively his replacement, Colonel Bircher, aims to inspire. As he prepares to lead his men into battle against the Alliance, he takes the time to instill in them a sense of pride and purpose. This human touch, along with his choice of words, “You represent the best of the best”, and, “The Rebel side is comprised of dropouts, bush pilots, and criminals”, make him seem almost noble. Once again, Brian Wood’s subtlety in constructing characters gives them an unexpected fullness.
Now that he’s had a couple of issues to firmly establish the comic’s take on these characters, we’re seeing a payoff in how they interact with each other. Luke and Leia are perfect examples of this in this issue.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that characterizing Luke Skywalker as brash and cocky is effective in drawing more parallels between him and his father. That characterization continues here in Luke’s dalliance with Prithi* after a training exercise and in his resentment at Leia punishing him for his insubordination. But when the issue takes time to explore how his behavior affects the relationship between him and Leia, it accomplishes the remarkable feat of further developing these two characters while beginning to untangle an infamous Star Wars snag.
The flirtation between Luke and Leia in A New Hope and more notoriously in The Empire Strikes Back is hard to reconcile with the revelation of their shared heritage in Return of the Jedi. Brian Wood seems to be navigating this minefield by presenting their relationship as two people who share an immediate and (thus far) unexplainable bond. Being teenagers of opposite sexes at the forefront of extraordinary events that continuously place their lives in extreme danger, confusing and conflicting emotions are to be expected, but not always understood by older authority figures like Mon Mothma.
If A New Hope was all we had to go on, Leia’s disciplining of Luke here could be easily seen as an act of jealously. But this comic has done such a brilliant job of building up Leia as a selfless and determined leader that it’s extremely unlikely she wouldn’t be able to put aside any personal feelings for the greater good. It’s even more unlikely that she would use her authority to retaliate against a subordinate or friend for a personal slight.
Leia’s emotional reaction to having to discipline Luke comes from a place of profound disappointment. She’s placed a considerable amount of trust in Luke, and the Alliance has a lot riding on the hero of Yavin. The connection they share makes this harder on her, and Carlos D’Anda’s art beautifully conveys that during their exchange.
The Alliance apparently has a lot riding on another hero of Yavin, Han Solo, as we catch up with him on Imperial Center just before a deal to secure weapons for the Rebels goes south. This results in a fun and well written, well drawn action sequence as Han and Chewie use a bathroom for cover in a firefight with a squad of Stormtroopers. It’s an exciting few pages, but it still feels like filler unnecessary to the plot. However, I did very much so appreciate that Han shot a man first… and in the back.
The third issue of Dark Horse’s Star Wars keeps the insightful characterization I’m coming to expect from this title, but didn’t seem to have the same sense of momentum as the previous entries. While it isn’t yet a glaring opportunity, you can’t help but feel the story is taking a little longer to play out than it should.
Perhaps that’s a testament to the way Brian Wood treats the story though. It’s easy to think that every day in the lives of these characters is filled with fantastic space battles and galaxy shattering revelations when you’re accustomed to seeing only the most exciting chapters of their lives. But in executing the story at a slow burn, and giving you no choice but to truly live with these characters, Wood is insuring that when the big events occur they will feel more consequential, as they should.
It’s a different way of telling a Star Wars story, but one I believe is necessary. I’m enjoying it immensely, and I’m excited to read the next issue.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
*Now we know where Jango Fett would’ve have sat if Obi-Wan had arrested him on Kamino and taken him back to Coruscant in that cramped Jedi Starfighter in Attack of the Clones. Awkward.