|Written by Chris Fluit
|Friday, 03 August 2007
However, licensed properties can also be a really good thing. When done right, they can add depth to the characters and the world they inhabit. They can expand the boundaries, explore beyond the edges and extrapolate into the future. They can tell the stories that come before, that come after and even sometimes the stories that come in between. And for fans of certain concepts, licensed properties are sometimes the only way to get new stories about the characters they love.
This article is focused on a series that got it right… most of the time: Dark Horse’s Star Wars: Empire.
Volume Two: Darklighter
One of the things that a licensed property can do well is to take a deeper look at minor characters from the parent property. This is one area in which Star Wars has excelled. There have been cartoons for Ewoks and Droids. There’s an entire series of novels following the exploits of the Rogue Squadron of X-Wing pilots. And this is one of the things that Empire does well.
This particular volume tells the story of Biggs
Darklighter. Biggs was a minor character
from the first Star Wars film. He was an
X-Wing fighter pilot. He apparently knew
Luke Skywalker and was surprised to see him as part of the rebellion. So there was a hint that he and Luke had
grown up together on Tatooine. Biggs
then entered the fight against the first Death Star. And while the major heroes- Luke, Han and
Chewbacca- survived, Biggs was one of the many minor characters who died in
This volume takes a relatively minor character, one who had only a couple of lines in the film, and turns him into the hero of his own story. We begin with Biggs back on Tatooine. We get to see him hanging out with Luke, working on speeders together and talking about their mutual dreams. Those early scenes build the friendship between Biggs and Luke. They make the scene in Star Wars more important. It’s not just some random character who happens to know Luke. It’s a real friend. Those early scenes also help us to understand Luke Skywalker better as we begin to understand the hopes and dreams that he shared with his friend.
The third and final stage of Biggs’ journey takes place as
part of the rebellion. We see him
participate in a couple of missions, “liberating” experimental Imperial aircraft
and weapons for their own use. Finally,
we catch up to the original movie. We
see the battle planning session from Biggs’ perspective. We see the scene in which he welcomes Luke to
the rebellion. And we live through the
battle of Yavin again, this time through Biggs’ eyes instead of Luke’s.
Paul Chadwick, the author of this tale, does a great job of fleshing out Biggs as a character. He gives him a thorough background that doesn’t contradict anything that we know from the movie. He shows us the movie from another angle. All of this goes to making the characters deeper and the universe richer. It’s great stuff. Biggs’ death, always a noble sacrifice in the film, finally has the kind of impact on us as an audience as it had on Luke. And that’s what a great licensed property can accomplish.
Volume Three: The Imperial Perspective
The next volume does more of the same. However, this time Empire fleshes out the
other side of the conflict. The stories
collected in this volume all focus on members of the Empire. Two of the stories focus on minor characters;
the other two on one of the biggest characters of all.
The two minor characters can’t even be said to have appeared
in the original Star Wars. In that
movie, few of the villains were given names.
They were faceless stormtroopers and nameless soldiers. These stories give a face and a name to a few
of the enemy. The first story, by Jeremy
Barlow and Patrick Blaine, introduces us to one of the stormtroopers. He goes
by the designation TK-622 and he serves directly under Commander Akobi. Through this story, we learn of the utter
devotion and loyalty that stromtroopers are capable of showing to each other
and their commanders. The head of the
Empire may be evil, but many of the people who make up the armed forces are
filled with qualities that we consider virtuous. Not that I’m saying TK-622 is a good
guy. He’s so fiercely loyal that he
fails to notice the corruption around him.
Or at least, that’s the case for most of the story. By the end of his arc, he comes to doubt the
justice of an Empire that is capable of building a weapon that can destroy an
entire planet and willing to use it.
One of the other stories, the longest in this volume,
introduces us to Lt. Janek Sunber. He’s
in the army, commanding stormtroopers and cadets during the occupation of
Carida. Sunber is a very likable
protagonist (which is probably why he’s brought back for the first arc of Star
Wars: Rebellion). Although he clashes
with some of his immediate supervisors, those clashes are due to Sunber’s
compassion for the men under his command and his creativity when faced with new
challenges. And those qualities of
compassion and creativity are what make Sunber so likable to us as
readers. Plus, Welles Hartley, the writer
of this story, has the general overseeing the entire operation notice the same
qualities. There’s actually reason to
hope. Sunber is recognized as a good
leader by those in authority over him and by his enemies. Yet since this is a tale of the Empire, there
can’t be a happy ending. Most of
Sunber’s men are killed despite his heroic efforts to save them. The general who looked upon Sunber favorably
dies in the battle, but not the colonel who was jealous of Sunber’s
ability. And Sunber goes on as a
efficient, capable and compassionate officer in the employ of an inefficient,
uncompassionate and evil Empire.
Just as Darklighter added perspective to a minor character
on the side of the rebellion, The Imperial Perspective adds depth to those on
the side of the Empire. They aren’t all
evil. Some are part of the Empire
because of their loyalty. Some are quite
capable and compassionate. Suddenly, the
story of Star Wars becomes more than the simplistic clash between good and
evil. It’s still an epic clash, but it’s
a deeper, richer one.
However, that’s only half of The Imperial Perspective. The other two stories focus on the baddest of
the bad guys: Darth Vader. One, by Paul
Alden, shows how Darth Vader escaped from the battle of Yavin and what he
needed to do in order to get home. The
other, by Ron Marz, is set a little bit later as Vader confronts an informant
only to fall prey to an assassination attempt.
The escape story is okay. The
second story is much better. The first
one gives us a little bit of insight into Vader, showing his ruthlessness with
those under his authority as he allows the men who operate one station to be
devoured by wild dogs. However, it also
tries to draw Vader out in a way that seems inconsistent with his standard portrayal. He comes to see himself in the wild dogs and
agrees to be the leader of their pack.
And while Vader may share their viciousness, he’s generally shown to be
inhuman in his evil rather than animalistic.
The Ron Marz story is much better. We get to see the Vader we’re used to
seeing. He’s ruthless with his
informant, relying on threats and violence to get what he wants. Marz also tries to give us a new angle on
Vader, but he does it in a way that is consistent with other portrayals. He coldly foils the assassination
attempt. When one of the assassins
accuses him of war crimes, he doesn’t even bother to deny it. She insists that he remember his past. She tells him, “You can’t run from your
past.” Vader replies that he has no
other choice. And when he kills her, his final words to her are “I don’t like
to be reminded of the past.” That’s the
inhuman Vader we’ve come to fear. He’s
completely displaced himself from his emotion, from his past, from anything
that ties him to other people. And that’s
a great story which again shows the potential of licensed properties. Minor characters become the stars of their
own stories. Villains are given new
spotlights that confirm their villainy, while also casting them in an almost
sympathetic light. And again, the
fictional world becomes richer and deeper.
Volume Four: The Heart of the Rebellion
Which brings us to volume four. Volume Two focused on the minor character of
Biggs Darklighter. Volume Three split
time between minor characters in the Empire and the major villain Darth
Vader. Volume Four focuses squarely on
one of the major characters: Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan.
The first story takes place before the events of Star Wars
IV: A New Hope. Princess Leia is
involved in covert missions on behalf of the Rebel Alliance, delivering
information as well as much-needed medical supplies. At this point, she’s certainly sympathetic to
the rebel cause. She’s certainly going
out of her way to help the
Finally, there’s one more story. This time, Leia and the Rebel Alliance have
found a new home for their base: the frost planet of Hoth. This third story takes place during the
building of the base and the unloading of supplies. However, the real story isn’t about the
military details; it’s about a relationship.
Han Solo is part of the rebellion now and Leia joins him on a trip down
to the planet. Yet the trip doesn’t go
as planned. They fly into a snowstorm
and crash land. Throughout the flight,
they bicker and fight. After the crash, they help each other and work well together. They even snuggle together for warmth. It’s the same relationship that we’ll see in
The Empire Strikes Back. Whenever
they’re in the same room, they can’t help but insult and belittle each
other. Yet as much as Han and Leia can’t
stand to be near each other, they can’t stand to be apart even more. They know they have feelings for each
other. That’s part of why they push each
other way. Han Solo can’t believe he’s
falling for a princess. Princess Leia
can’t believe she’s falling for a smuggler and a rogue. The third story of this volume doesn’t tell
us anything new about that relationship.
It’s simply a nice foreshadowing of things we already know. And for fans of Star Wars, especially those
who like to see Han and Leia together, sometimes that’s enough.
That’s what a license property can do. It can remind us of what we liked in the first place. It can show us stories around the edges and in-between what we already know. It can expand the boundaries of the fictional universe, making it richer and deeper, making it more real. And it can feed our imagination as it gives us what we want and a little bit of what we didn’t know we wanted until we got it. A licensed property can be great. And it this case, it was.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 03 August 2007 )
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