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Review: “Star Wars: Darth Vader” Vol. I by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca

Title: Vader
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Salvador Larocca
Series: Star Wars: Darth Vader #1-6 (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Everyone loves a good villain, and few capture the imagination like the hulking ebony figure of Darth Vader. It is then appropriate that Marvel’s main Star Wars line is accompanied by another ongoing series focused on our favorite fallen Jedi….

Spinning out of the main Star Wars book, Kieron Gillen paints us the picture of a Sith Lord on the ropes. In the wake of Vader’s failures at the Death Star and Cymoon I the Emperor has placed his erstwhile apprentice several rungs further down the chain of command than he is used to standing, forcing him to take orders from those he sees as inferior and not even bothering to hide the fact that he is keeping secrets. Vader’s going to have to outmaneuver all the rivals clamoring to fill the power vacuum left by his fall and find a way to work his way back into his master’s favor, or else face being replaced….

As with the main Star Wars series from Marvel, I really enjoyed this. From the propaganda-laden opening crawl to Vader’s final understanding of his relationship with the Emperor, every bit of the story gelled. The writing was superb, and it’s always fascinating to peel back Vader’s helmet and get a peek into the thoughts of one of the more complex characters populating the Galaxy Far, Far Away. At the start of this book, Vader seems to have lost sight of how the Sith operate, following Palpatine with complete loyalty and trusting that the Emperor is likewise loyal. The six issues here will drive home how mistaken he is, and it is one heck of a ride. The side characters introduced here were fun, even if they were a bit derivative. I mean, murderous C-3PO! How can that not be fun? The art was always stellar, though there were a couple panels in certain action sequences that failed to convey the appropriate sense of movement and energy. I enjoyed how tightly this book tied in with the main Star Wars title, but some people may grow annoyed with everything happening off screen. Just read both and you’ll be fine! (In case you were wondering, the proper order is Star Wars #1-3, Darth Vader #1, Star Wars #4, Darth Vader #2-4, and then #5-6 of both series happen simultaneously, both culminating in the same scene from slightly different perspectives.)

CONTENT: Some violence. Mild profanity. Little to no sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes” by Jason Aaron & John Cassaday

Title: Skywalker Strikes
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday
Series: Star Wars #1-6 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Okay, cards on the table: I loved the Dark Horse Star Wars comics. Almost all of them, especially anything featuring the team-up of Ostrander and Duursema. So I was very much saddened to see that company lose the Star Wars license. Not surprised, following the purchase by Disney, as that mega-company also owns Marvel. I figured it was only a matter of time, and that turned out to be the case. So I was saddened, just as I was saddened by the relegation of a bunch of my favorite stories to the status of Legends. But the one thing I never expected was that Marvel would drop the ball. I mean, it’s bleedin’ Marvel! If there’s anything they understand, it’s comic books. Now, having read the first arc of their eponymous Star Wars series, I can confidently state that my faith was well-founded.

We join our cadre of heroes as they attempt a daring assault on the Empire’s largest weapons factory, the entire planet of Cymoon I. Posing as a trade delegation from Jabba the Hutt arriving to negotiate renewed supply lines in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, our heroes slip through security and set about rigging the automated factory’s reactor to blow sky-high. Everything is going to plan, until Darth Vader shows up to negotiate for the Empire….

I mentioned that this was amazing, right? The writing and art sync perfectly to sell you on the fact that you’re watching the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han. Luke is still a brash hotshot, still feeling his way with regards to the Force, and can be kind of whiny when he’s confronted with just how far he has to go. Han is just as sardonic and impulsive as ever, though the backstory they’re teasing for him may help ground him a bit. We’ll see how that one turns out. Leia is clearly in charge, driven to achieve justice for Alderaan and her family, and even Chewbacca knows to follow her orders. It’ll be interesting to see where they take her character in future arcs.

One potential point of annoyance for some readers is going to be how closely this series and the Star Wars: Darth Vader series that runs concurrently are tied. Events from one series are offhandedly referenced in the other with no explanation, and have major repercussions at times. For example, Vader fails to apprehend our Rebel heroes in this book, is chastised by the Emperor and hires Boba Fett in the Darth Vader book, and then Fett shows up in this book to try and capture Luke. Complicating matters further is the fact that there’s a particular order you need to read these in to get the whole story, and even then you’ll get ahead of yourself unless you stop in the middle of an issue at times. I wasn’t that annoyed by it, but I’d checked out the timeline first and knew what I was doing. (In case you were wondering, the proper order is Star Wars #1-3, Darth Vader #1, Star Wars #4, Darth Vader #2-4, and then #5-6 of both series happen simultaneously, both culminating in the same scene from slightly different perspectives.) This is set in the first year following the destruction of the Death Star, maybe a couple months at most.

CONTENT: Some violence. Minor profanity. Mild flirtation, and a few scantily-clad females in Jabba’s Palace.

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Review: ” Star Wars: Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden

Title: Dark Disciple
Author: Christie Golden (Novel); Katie Lucas, Matt Michnovetz, & Dave Filoni (Original scripts)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon, The Clone Wars)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

New Star Wars! Dark Disciple is based on a collection of scripts from the canceled Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network which serve to tie up the story arc featuring Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku’s former apprentice.

The galaxy-wide Clone Wars have raged for almost three years, but an end is nowhere in sight. Every Republic victory is matched by a corresponding setback, almost as if both sides were being played by a single entity bent on preserving the stalemate. The Separatist forces led by Count Dooku grow only more ruthless as the war drags on, committing atrocities that haunt the Jedi with their inability to prevent innocent bloodshed until even the Jedi council is ready to consider the unthinkable: assassination. This dangerous mission will forge strange alliances, forcing unorthodox Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to ally with Dooku’s former apprentice Asajj Ventress, a deadly assassin holding a grudge against Dooku for betraying her and slaughtering her entire people. Together, Vos and Ventress could just be powerful enough to take out Dooku…if they don’t kill each other first.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. Towards the end of the animated series Ventress was becoming one of the standout characters, gaining some real depth as she dealt with the consequences of Dooku’s betrayal and her private war for revenge. Add Quinlan Vos, one of my favorite characters from the Legends version of the Clone Wars, into the mix and you’ve got a winning proposition. If you followed the animated series, you owe it to yourself to check this out. If you’re a newcomer, you’ll probably be fine as well, though most of the references to past events will likely be lost on you. If you’re a veteran of the pre-Cartoon Network Clone Wars though…you’ll have to come at this with a clean slate. A lot of this, especially Vos’s storyline, is territory we’ve seen before, albeit through the looking glass. I’ll refrain from saying more in the interest of spoilers, but those who were reading Star Wars: Republic in the run-up to Revenge Of The Sith should know what I mean.

CONTENT: Some disturbing violence and torture. Mild profanity. Mild flirting/sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit.

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review. You can find that here.

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Review: “Lost Tribe Of The Sith: Spiral” by John Jackson Miller & Andrea Mutti

Title: Spiral
Writer: John Jackson Miller
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Series: Star Wars: The Lost Tribe Of The Sith (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2013

As I mentioned when I reviewed the collected Lost Tribe Of The Sith prose novellas, working together and building a stable society is really not the Sith way. Watching these stranded Sith struggle against their nature and philosophy in order to build a functioning civilization has been really interesting, and this final installment continues to deliver.

When last we left the Tribe, they had managed to finally tone down their infighting in order to spread to the rest of the planet of Kesh under the leadership of Grand Lord Hilts. Contrary to Sith stereotype, Hilts is not a physically imposing man. Before seizing control of the Tribe, Varner Hilts was the caretaker of lore for the Tribe during a time of political upheaval and disastrous infighting. Using his knowledge of ancient lore, Hilts managed to uncover still more secrets of their Sith ancestors and unite the Tribe once again in a common purpose, aided by his wife Iliana. Now, with the main continents of Kesh under their control, Hilts seeks to learn what else the planet has to offer them. But when an expedition including his daughter and a stubbornly troublesome slave uncover another power on Kesh, one that predates even the Tribe’s arrival, it may prove too much for even the Sith to handle….

You know what really impresses me? When an author manages to pull in a loose thread from earlier in a series in able to offer a new challenge to his characters. It always makes me wonder whether this was always in the cards from the very beginning or if it was a recent idea, how far in advance the overarching story was planned out. In this case, that thread is the myth of the Destructors and Protectors that the Tribe hijacks when they first arrive. Where did it come from? Most of us never thought to ask–it was a convenient plot device to allow the Sith to easily assume control of a population that could have destroyed them if they had a mind to, overwhelming them with superior numbers despite the power of the individual Sith castaways. But the author apparently had plans for that myth all along…or is at least really good at finding useful loose ends. Either way, this story proves to be an essential one in the ongoing tale of the Tribe, and I wish we’d had the chance to see more of these before Disney and Marvel reclaimed the licensing rights and hit the reset button.

CONTENT: Mild language. Some violence, not too gory or anything. No real sexual content, beyond mild flirting between a couple characters.

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Review: “Star Wars: Crucible” by Troy Denning

Title: Crucible
Author: Troy Denning
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

I’ve recently fallen a bit behind the Star Wars publishing schedule for, ah, budgetary reasons. But with an influx of birthday cash, that problem is solved! So now I’m catching up, and can share my thoughts on these newfound treasures with my helpless adoring readers. Lucky you! Next up, Crucible by Troy Denning.

Crucible is a standalone title in the ongoing Star Wars Expanded Universe, occurring about a year after the close of the Fate Of The Jedi series and X-Wing: Mercy Kill, or about 45 ABY.* We open on Han and Leia in a bar waiting for Lando. Lando owns a refinery in the Chiloon Rift, and has been having trouble with some pirates who coincidentally showed up right about the same time as the Qreph brothers, owners of an outside outfit who wants to buy Lando out. Oh, and they’ve got Mandos and bioengineered cyborgs running their security system. Throw in a couple other “coincidences” and one or two unsubtle power grabs, and you’ve got a crooked game even Leia can see without resorting to her Jedi powers. But when an “industrial accident” comes close to taking out his friends, Luke decides its time to join the investigation himself. What he finds is chilling–the stakes of this hostile takeover bid are far higher than Tendrando Arms’ small operation. The Qrephs want nothing short of controlling the entire Galactic economy. Sounds far-fetched? They might pull it off, between their Columi mental abilities and their cloning efforts. And into the bargain they have a shot at taking out Han Solo, with whom they have unfinished business. He doesn’t know them, but they know him–and they are not happy about it. Throw Vestara Khai into the mix, several missing Jedi and the ongoing hunt for Mortis, and you come up with Crucible.

Crucible is a standalone, and it does manage to stand fairly well on its own. The events of last decade and a half of publishing have shaken the Galaxy Far Far Away to its core, and everyone has to deal with that, but on the whole this book is divorced from the politics of the wider Galaxy. This is Han, Leia, Luke and Lando, joined later by Ben and Tahiri, fighting in a barren corner of the galaxy–to save it from an insidious threat, sure, but more viscerally to save their loved ones. So yes, you’ll need a basic overview of recent galactic history, but more importantly you’ll need to be aware of the character beats that have gone before. Most of them get explained in the book, but it’s good to know going in.

Galactic History for the newbies! Recently, Han and Leia’s oldest son Jacen fell to the Dark Side and plunged the Galaxy Far Far Away into civil war once again. Jaina, his twin sister, was forced to take him out to stop him and save innocent lives. In a surprise move, the war ended with Natasi Dalaa ruling the Galactic Alliance from Coruscant. After settling into power, Dalaa blamed the Jedi for the war and exiled Luke for the crime of failing to foresee Jacen’s fate. Luke and his son Ben set off on a quest into the Unknown Regions to determine why Jacen fell. Meanwhile, the descendents of the crew from a wrecked Sith warship set out to return to a galaxy much changed in the millenia they’ve been stuck on their lone world. Luke and Ben are forced to join forces with a small group of them to fight a powerful Dark Side creature, Abeloth, who may have been partially responsible for Jacen’s fall and has strange ties to The Ones seen in the Clone Wars TV series trilogy Secrets Of Mortis. Ben and Vestara Khai, a young Sith girl, even fall in love. This ends about as well as you would expect when the Sith attempt to seize control of the galaxy and even occupy Coruscant before the Jedi can stop them. In the wake of this invasion, the Jedi are once again pariahs. There are those in the Alliance who don’t blame them for what happened with the Sith, but these voices are few in number and the Jedi have relocated to Hapan space….**

I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since there’s been a standalone novel focusing on the original characters has been published in this part of the timeline–quite a few of them filling in explored episodes between films, but the later part of the timeline has been largely dominated by sprawling epic series that tend to have a darker tone, such as The New Jedi Order, Legacy Of The Force, or the most recent Fate Of The Jedi. I’m not saying this is lighthearted, by any means, as Del Rey is perfectly capable of killing off major characters in a standalone, but the focus on the original characters lends an air of the adventure of the classic films that has been slightly overshadowed by the darkness of recent events. That said, this is a VERY violent book. Our cast of characters gets shot, tortured, blown up and burned so badly that for a while I had a sneaking suspicion that one purpose of the book was to get the characters looking as rough as their actors currently do–with the possible exception of Harrison Ford, the cast has not aged nearly as well as the book covers would suggest their characters have. If you’re an old hand at the Star Wars EU, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re a newcomer unwilling to backtrack and marathon everything since The New Jedi Order, this is a decent jumping-on point. You may want to consult Wookieepedia occasionally to get a reference or two, but you shouldn’t be too confused.

CONTENT: PG language. PG humor and flirting, mostly between Han and Leia (what else is new?) Quite a bit of brutal violence, more than usual for a Star Wars book. Not too gory, generally, but Luke and company get banged up pretty good.

*Star Wars dates are typically given the designators Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) or After the Battle of Yavin (ABY), functioning similarly to our BC/AD, with the Battle Of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as the turning point.

**Incidentally, the Columi come from a 1990 Choose Your Own Adventure book also by Troy Denning, Scoundrel’s Luck. Its not required reading, I had never even heard of it until I went digging.

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Review: “Star Wars: The Lost Tribe Of The Sith” by John Jackson Miller

Lost Tribe Of The Sith: The Collected Stories

Title: Star Wars–The Lost Tribe Of The Sith: The Collected Stories
Author: John Jackson Miller
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: ****
Copyright: Lucasbooks, 2012

So here’s the deal on this collection: they needed an antagonist or antagonists for Luke and his New Jedi Order to face in the aftermath of the Legacy Of The Force arc of novels. And of course these villains should be Sith, because that’s how it works (not knocking it, just sayin’). But how? Bane’s Sith are destroyed, dead with Palpatine and Vader, as are all the Executers and Dark Jedi that served Palpatine’s cause. Lumiya’s splinter sect are also destroyed, dead with the Dark Lady and her apprentice, the fallen Jacen Solo. Krayt’s “One Sith” are out there and in play, but not viable antagonists–they have to be able to come out of nowhere in the beginning of Legacy, so a full-scale battle with Luke’s Jedi is not in the cards. So they created the Lost Tribe Of The Sith. To avoid the appearance of Deus Ex Machina spawning these characters out of the void, they decided to flesh out their backstory in a series of free ebooks and gave the task to the excellent John Jackson Miller, writer of the KOTOR comic series. So that ran for eight stories, and then they decided that they should actually get paid for this. So they released this collection and made it the only way you would get to read the finale. Kinda a jerk move, but hey, I can’t complain….I checked it out from the library to read the last couple stories (apparently I missed the memo that they had been released….)

The first several stories tell the tale of the Omen, a Sith cargo ship carrying war materiale for Naga Sadow’s forces, that crashes on the uncharted planet Kesh around 4,000 years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin, i.e. Star Wars Episode IV). The captain and crew are forced to figure out how to survive on this hostile planet and how to deal with its native population–being Sith, they decide on subjugation, but with the caveat that they are impersonating the natives’ gods. Also being Sith, they have a distinct inability to cooperate very well….Miller tracks the evolution of this society through the years in his next several stories, tracing probably the only route that could possibly end in the mostly-stable Sith society we meet in Fate Of The Jedi.If you’re a newcomer to the Star Wars EU (Expanded Universe–if you didn’t even know that much you’re REALLY in trouble) this probably isn’t the place to start. I always tell people that the best entry point into the EU is either Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire or Steve Perry’s Shadows Of The Empire. If you’re really into the Sith you will enjoy this, but still do some background reading first. At the very least to understand the beginning of this collection you should read the Tales Of The Jedi comics from the 90s–Golden Age Of The Sith and Fall Of The Sith Empire are the relevant volumes I believe, conveniently they are also the first. After the first several stories there will be references to the next couple TOJ volumes, but this is less necessary (The TOJ series is actually pretty good, so reading the whole thing woudldn’t be unwise, but not essential for our purposes). All that said, this is a pretty good study of the Sith and how a purely Sith society might unfold if they were extremely lucky and managed to avoid killing each other off first. Good for fans of the Sith or those who want to look at the background material for the FofJ story arc.Other good books on the Sith are Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane novels, the tie-ins to the Old Republic video game (especially Deceived), and James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis novel chronicling the rise and fall of Palpatine’s Sith Master (and thus Palpatine’s rise in the process).

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