As a way of celebrating their 20th Anniversary last year, Dark Horse
relaunched their entire Star Wars line. They allowed several
successful and long-running titles come to an end while launching four
new ones. With that particular year at an end (and the 30th
Anniversary of Star Wars at a beginning), I figured I'd review the four
Star Wars: Legacy
by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
This is the best of the four new Star Wars titles. That itself isn't a surprise.Ostrander and Duursema had been the best creative team on the outgoing title, Republic, so the expectations were pretty high for their new title. Legacy has met and even exceeded those lofty expectations.
Legacy is set in the future of Star Wars, more than 100 years after Return of
the Jedi, the last movie in the chronology, and several generations after the
New Jedi Order, the successful series of novels. The nominal lead of the series
is Cade Skywalker, the latest in the illustrious family of Jedi heroes. In the
very first issue, a Sith attack
forces a young Cade to abandon his Jedi ways.
The series then skips forward in the second issue to an adult Cade who has
chosen the way of a smuggler's blaster over the way of a Jedi's lightsaber.
He's a great lead, combining some of the best traits of the roguish Han Solo
and the dreamy Luke Skywalker.
However, this series is about more than one man. It's about an entire universe. And that's what makes it so great. At the beginning of the series, the Sith reassert control over the Empire. The Sith are great villains. Just as Darth Bane had abandoned an earlier path that wasn't working, these Sith have abandoned Darth Bane's dictum of "there shall be no more than two; one master, one apprentice" as that method had failed with the death of Darth Sidious in Return of the Jedi. These Sith are numerous, ruthless and out in the open for all to see. Ostrander has come up with some great names while Duursema has topped him by coming up with some great looks. Darth Talon is a red-skinned Twi'lek (think of Jabba's dancer in Return of the Jedi, or Aayla Secura from the comics). Darth Nihl is a white and black skinned terror. There's a great red-skinned Quarren. And the Sith leader has a rough mask with horns that is menacing in exactly the opposite way from Darth Vader's smooth helmet. Plus, by coming up with a good story reason for abandoning Darth Bane's rule, Legacy can revel in multiple powerful villains.
Standing opposite to the Sith are the Jedi, as has been the case for
more than a thousand generations.
However, at the beginning of the series, the
Sith thoroughly crush the Jedi. This is not the strong and plentiful order of
the prequel era. Nor is this an era of no Jedi as was the case when Luke
Skywalker left his family farm. This is something in between. It is an era of
Jedi who are sparse and scattered but who remain devoted to their cause. If the
Jedi Knights of the prequel movies are like King Arthur's Knights of the Round
Table, the Jedi of Legacy are like Robin Hood's Merry Men. They strike out in
the name of justice and the oppressed, but they do so from the shadows.
One of the other things that makes Legacy so great is that unlike the
original movies, this version of Star Wars is not strictly a story of good
versus evil. In the Star Wars novels, Timothy Zahn introduced a remnant of the
Empire that was noble. Ostrander uses that in this series. When the Sith take
over, there is a segment of the Empire that resents the rule of the Sith. They
may believe in military rule but they aren't tyrants. They're nobility. And so,
the Empire rebels against the Sith, led by the Fel family. The result is some
great conflict. There are battles of stormtroopers versus stormtroopers as the
Imperial nobility and hereditary military fight the Sith. There are alliances
of convenience between Imperials and Jedi. And there's a great new development
as Ostrander introduces a new order- the Imperial Knights. Legacy has it all:
complex characters, a multi-sided conflict, great battle scenes and beautiful
art. It combines the epic and the personal in a way that is true of all great
Star Wars tales. I've loved every issue so far and I can't wait to see what
else will happen.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
by John Jackson Miller and Brian Ching
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the second significant ongoing series coming out of Dark Horse right now. But there are some key differences between Legacy and Knights. While Legacy is set in the future of Star Wars, Knights is set in the past. Way in the past. 3,998 years before the original Star Wars to be precise. And while Legacy is sailing into uncharted waters, detailing a previously untold era, Knights is wading into an era that is already well established. It's the same era that was explored in several excellent Tales of the Jedi stories such as Dark Lords of the Sith and Sith War. It's a similar era to that explored in the Knights of the Old Republic video game. Those aren't complaints, however. Only differences.
Knights of the Old Republic is almost as excellent as Legacy but for different reasons. In Knights, the lead character is Zayne Carrick. Zayne was a young Jedi Padawan who wanted to be a great Jedi knight but who wasn't a very good student. He was often tardy and unfocused. He was more like the class clown than the teacher's pet. But on one fateful day, Zayne Carrick's tardiness became his salvation. He was late for a significant Jedi ceremony but when he arrived, he discovered that the Jedi masters had killed their Padawans and his friends. Zayne fled for his life and the Jedi masters framed him for the crime.
That's not exactly the kind of opening you would expect in a Star Wars tale, but that's exactly what you get in Knights of the Old Republic. The hero is a failed Padawan. His initial allies are smugglers, junk dealers and dilapidated droids. He eventually befriends a Mandalorian, a race currently at war with the very Republic that the Jedi are sworn to protect. His enemies are the Jedi themselves, or at least a small group of them. Zayne can't trust the good guys and isn't sure he can trust his allies. For that matter, he isn't even sure he can trust himself.
Eventually, we learn why this group of Jedi Knights turned on their Padawans. Apparently, they had a prophecy that one of their students would destroy the Jedi Order. They killed their own students to prevent this from happening. They truly thought they were acting in the best interests of the Order and the Republic it protects. Yet by resorting to murder, they betrayed the ideals they stand for. Plus, they may have just turned Zayne into the one person who could make the prophecy come true and bring the Order to an end.
Like Legacy, Knights of the Old Republic is a complex tale. The line between good and evil isn't as clear as it is in other Star Wars stories. The good guys are hiring assassins while the outlaws are saving lives. In some ways, this is a familiar story. Zayne Carrick is coming-of-age just as Luke and Anakin Skywalker have done in other tales. But Zayne is coming-of-age on the wrong side of the law and his experiences there are fairly interesting.
It's also interesting that Knights, despite spending so much time on the wrong side of the law following outlaws, smugglers and runaways, is actually a fun and often cheery read. There is a kindness to many of the characters. There is humor to some of the scams that the smugglers try to pull and to some of their antagonists. Knights isn't just good, it's also good fun.
Star Wars: Rebellion
by Rob Williams and Brandon Badeaux
Rebellion is the heir to Empire. Star Wars: Empire was one of Dark Horse's successful ongoing series that was cleared out of the way to make room for the new anniversary titles. Empire took place during the latter days of Imperial rule- the same time frame as the original trilogy. Most of the stories in Empire took place between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Rebellion picks up where Empire left off. It brings us back to the same time. Emperor Palpatine still sits on his throne. Darth Vader is still the fearsome enemy. Luke Skywalker is a young farmboy, fairly new to the ranks of the Rebellion, though quickly growing in stature, strength and respect.
Because it's such an obvious continuation of the earlier series, it's hard not to compare Rebellion to Empire. At times, Empire had been a great title. It had taken the time to show the war from the Imperial side and we got to see some Imperial officers and stormtroopers who were basically decent guys fighting for peace and order. There was a pretty good unofficial crossover with Republic in which both Anakin and Luke were fighting on the same planet in different wars. Anakin was there fighting against the separatists in the Clone Wars while Luke was there fighting with the separatists against the Empire.
But Empire could also be an uneven title. The stories for the main
characters were set. Anything significant that happened to them was shown in
the movies. So Empire was often forced to focus on new or minor characters.
Significant things kept happening to the people around them but the nominal
stars of Empire weren't always the stars of their own title. Such an approach
can work. Indeed, a similar approach worked very well in Republic. But the
approach was hit or miss in Empire. There were some successes, as noted above,
and some obvious misses.
The new title, Rebellion, is neither Empire at its best nor at its worst. Brandon Badeaux's art isn't as amazing as Jan Duursema on Legacy or Brian Ching on Knights but he more than holds his own on Rebellion. He goes for a straight action style that serves the story well. And he's probably the best of the three artists at drawing machinery, a skill that serves him well when he's called upon to render X-Wings and Tie Fighters.
The story is okay but not great. It does have a bit of an emotional impact as it focuses on one of Luke's childhood friends, Janek Sunber, who happens to be an Imperial officer. Both sides hope to turn him against the other and his struggle to be or not to be a double agent is a worthwhile one. But Rob Williams doesn't want this to be a story about Janek Sunber. He knows that his star is Luke Skywalker and Williams tries to keep him at the center of the story even though he really isn't. The result is a tale that is sometimes muddled and unfocused. We get action scenes for Luke that don't have anything to do with the story. They don't advance the plot at all. Instead, they seem to be there just to give Luke some face time. Later issues apparently focus on Luke's attempt to redeem his friend and bring him over to the Rebellion but early issues show lots of scenes of Luke Skywalker not doing anything.
It doesn't help that Sunber is a new
friend for Luke, introduced just for this story and not mentioned in the
movies. The suddenly discovered best friend from childhood is a comic book
cliche that should really be retired for a while. Luke's emotional turmoil at
his friend's status doesn't ring that true for the reader because we've never
heard Luke mention him before. It could be made to work, but doesn't come off
all that well here.
Unfortunately for Rebellion, we can only judge it as a title by this one arc. Despite being listed as an ongoing, Rebellion hasn't solicited an issue since the first arc ended with issue #5. Rebellion is an okay title. It's better than some of the tales that were found in the parent title, Empire. But when compared to Empire at its best, or to the other new titles of 2006, Rebellion comes up short.
Star Wars: Dark Times
by Welles Hartley, Mick Harrison and Douglas Wheatley
Obi-Wan Kenobi first mentioned "the Clone Wars" and "the dark times" to Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie. Movies, cartoons, comics and novels have shown us the Clone Wars in recent years. The Dark Times, however, have remained relatively untouched. Until now, that is.
Just as Rebellion is the heir to Empire, Dark Times is the heir to Republic.
Star Wars: Republic was the Dark Horse series that focused on the events of the
latter days of the
Dark Times takes place shortly after the establishing of the Galactic Empire
and the end of the Clone
Wars. It's a time I'm particularly excited to explore.
I want to know what happened to Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. I want to know how
they worked to create a rebellion. I want to know if Ben Kenobi and Yoda were
simply hermits in huts or if they surreptitiously worked against Darth Sidious
and his Empire. This particular story doesn't answer any of those questions.
The major players are being held in reserve, with the possibilities of
television series or novels being prepared to tell those tales.
Instead, Dark Times focuses on a few lost Jedi. They survived the Emperor's Order 66 and the massacre of Jedi. They've survived Darth Vader's quest to purge the remaining Jedi from the galaxy... so far. Similar to Knights of the Old Republic, this is a story of Jedi on the run, going underground, finding themselves in difficult situations and dark times. Unlike Knights, however, these are not young Padawans coming of age. These are older Jedi, trained and battle-tested, having given their entire lives to an order that no longer exists.
The story itself is almost a direct sequel to one of the final stories in Star Wars: Republic. In that earlier tale, we saw these Jedi fight in the Wars and avoid the fate of their fellow Jedi. In this tale, we see the Jedi embark on new lives, some in hiding, some as thorns in the side of tyranny. And in this case, the sequel is better than the original.
Well, at least so far it is. It's disappointing enough that Dark Times is
only scheduled as a five-issue mini-series. There are enough stories to be told
between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of A New Hope that I'd
love for Dark Times to become an ongoing title. But even worse, Dark Times has
experienced several delays and has only shipped one issue so far. As much as I
enjoyed that issue, it's hard to judge any series on only one issue. And it's
hard to remain excited about a story that is so slow in being told. I'd love to
judge Dark Times and give it a positive grade. But, really, all I can do is
call it incomplete and hope that it's good when it finally comes out.
(Originally Published on 18 January 2007, at the CaptainComics.us)