Welcome to Tales From A Galaxy Far, Far Away! This right here will be your monthly hub, looking in depth at Marvel’s Star Wars comics each month! Now, you may be thinking: “Alice, don’t you already have a podcast where you talk about Star Wars every month?” And you’d be right! But, this way, I get to delve deep into Marvel’s comics and I get to talk about Star Wars even more.
We’re back for another month of Star Wars insight as another volume of “Darth Vader” kicks off with a bang and explores the transition from Republic to Empire, ‘The Screaming Citadel’ reaches it’s crescendo, “Poe Dameron” gets a bit weird with an out of place annual and “Darth Maul” gets tragic.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s punch it, Chewie!
“Darth Vader” #1
Written by Charles Soule
Pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inked by Cam Smith
Coloured by David Curiel
Lettered by Joe Caramgna
The most fearsome villain of all time returns with an all-new series! When Anakin Skywalker fell, both to the pull of the dark side and to the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he rose back up, more machine than man. Having lost everything that was once dear to him, the former chosen one must take his first steps into a darker world…as Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith!
Lord Vader… Rise.
Expanding on one of the final scenes of Revenge Of The Sith, this comic opens and immediately positions Vader less as Sidious’s triumphant apprentice and more his Frankenstein’s monster. You get a power play as Sidious calls Vader his “friend” while always tugging the leash just enough to remind him that he is now a slave. It’s such a twisted perversion of their almost genuine friendship as Anakin and Palpatine that you finally get a sense of the horrible machinations behind every interaction they’ve seemingly ever had.
Throughout the issue, we see this kind of power play and it’s a fascinating look into their early days as master and apprentice and the kind of grooming Sidious puts Vader through to eradicate the last vestiges of Anakin from him.
The transformation of a Kyber crystal into the Sith’s distinct crimson is something that was touched on in the latter parts of E.K. Johnson’s Ahsoka novel and is starting to be expanded on here. It’s something I find very interesting because I remember wondering as a kid if there was some unspoken rule that every Sith apprentice had to go find a specifically red crystal for their lightsabers.
To think of the Sith Order as some twisted perversion of the Jedi, who seek only the dark side instead of the light and use the Force to gain power, then for an extension of that to be the fact that they must “acquire” their kyber crystals from a Jedi and for that act of violence to make the crystal bleed makes a sort of poetic sense to me.
Rise Of The Empire
Concurrent with Vader’s transition from Jedi to Sith, we see the galaxy transition from Republic to Empire. On the steps of the former Jedi temple and the now Imperial Palace, Grand Vizier Mas Amedda destroys the last artefacts of their Order: their beloved lightsabers. Not only does this signal to the galaxy the end of their religion as they know it, but it’s another of Palpatine’s power plays as he makes Vader watch the destruction of these precious tools before sending him off to claim his own.
It also shows where Yoda’s lightsaber ended up after his fight with Sidious in the Senate. No wonder he didn’t have one on Dagobah.
Not Just For Aesthetic
Dumped on an unknown Mid Rim world, Vader must seek out his stolen starfighter and here we see something we rarely get a glimpse at: the functionality of Vader’s armour. Every button and switch on his belt and chest panel must have been lovingly catalogued over who knows how many Visual Dictionaries over the years, but it barely factors into the stories themselves. Offering a rare glimpse through his eyes, we see the different vision modes his helmet offers. I hope Soule and Camuncoli will explore the functionality of the armour more in later stories.Continued below
Mid Rim Customs
Vader’s new starship is interesting because not only does it feel like an updated (if uglier, I should say) edition of Darth Maul’s Sith Infiltrator, but it blends the lines between that and the Grand Inquisitor’s TIE Advanced v1 in Rebels and Vader’s own TIE Advanced x1 in A New Hope.
I’m just not into the weird retrothruster things towards the nose of the ship.
The Force Unleashed
Fighting off the slavers that have impounded his starship, we see Vader utilise the Force as a weapon. It does feel somewhat Force Unleashed-esque, but in a good way. Imagine someone who’s spent most, if not all, of their adult life being forced to restrain themselves from their full potential. They know in their heart that they are not living up to their full potential because they are purposefully being held back.
Now imagine that person, as betrayal and heartbreak, finally unleashing all of that pent up frustration, anger and rage. That’s the power of the dark side and this is, I’d wager, truly the first time Vader gives himself over to it since Mustafar.
“Darth Vader” #2
Written by Charles Soule
Pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inked by Cam Smith
Coloured by David Curiel
Lettered by Joe Caramgna
Join Vader as he learns a new way — the way of Darth Sidious and his newly formed Empire…the way of the dark side.
Space: The Final Frontier
One of the things I love about A New Hope is how it positions itself as a Western in space that just happens to have the grudge match of two old samurai at the heart of it. That Western in space feeling comes and goes from Star Wars, but it’s always kind of there. Take Brighthome, for example. A space station designated as a Mid-Rim Jedi outpost.
This is interesting and sort of ties into George Lucas’s love of the idea that space is the new frontier. The Jedi are peacekeepers and it would make sense for these Galactic sheriffs, if you will, to have outposts to be stationed at that isn’t the centralised temple on Coruscant. It’s a small detail, but it makes this new element feel in-keeping with the universe as established.
Clone Troopers: Janitors Of Space
Continuing the idea of the transitory period between Republic and Empire, we see the Clone Troopers as they begin to be phased out. There’s talk of the cloning facilities on Kamino shutting down and instead of being seen as the grand heroes of the Republic, they’re bumped down to menial tasks like the cataloguing of a Jedi outpost hoping to prove their worth to the Emperor.
This ties into stories we’ve seen in “Kanan” and in Rebels that shows the clones as little more than a dispensable aspect of Sidious’s plans. While he used droids on one side of the battlefield, he uses the just-as-easily-controlled clones on the other side to manipulate outcomes of conflict to his needs. Now the Clone Wars have put him in the seat of power, he can boot the clones to the curb and start work on indoctrinating the masses to his will as the new Stormtroopers.
Still That Pilot From Tattooine
This page taps into something I love about Darth Vader stories that have been told with the full context of both the Original and the Prequel Trilogy. With the Original Trilogy, Vader was this unknowable force of darkness and, eventually, crippling tragedy. We never knew what he was like before he was seduced to the dark side other than what was told by Obi-Wan to Luke. Now, though, we know the life story of Anakin Skywalker, warts and tantrums and all, and we can see the actions of Vader with that context.
Now, Vader doesn’t just climb into his TIE at the end of A New Hope for the sake of it, we see the context that he’s still just as good a pilot as he was during the Clone War. Here, we see him use his new starfighter and his command of the Force to absolutely wreck a squadron of Arc-170 fighters.Continued below
Green Isn’t Vader’s Colour
Here, I liked the idea that while Vader is obviously incredibly powerful and his command of the Force is only growing as he taps into his anger, he can’t assault a room full of Clone Troopers sans lightsaber. The lightsaber was an extension of Anakin’s being and now, as Vader, he’s noticeably naked without it, even taking a shot to the shoulder that would have been easily deflected with a lightsaber.
I also loved that the fact that the lightsaber he does grab while in a pinch is green, much like the lightsaber he temporarily used on Geonosis in Attack Of The Clones.
Much Ado About Nothing
As you probably know if you enjoy Star Wars and peruse the internet, this issue introduces the notion of the Barash vow. The Barash vow is a solemn vow taken by a Jedi to exile themselves from the duties of the Order and focus solely on the Force. In the issue itself, it’s presented as a reason why Vader would be able to find a Jedi after the Order 66 purge.
Outside of the issue, there’s rampant speculation that this is why Luke disappeared in between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. I disagree with this for two reasons: for one, we know that the reason that Luke disappeared after Ben Solo destroyed his new Jedi Order was because he blamed himself for Ben falling to the dark side (source: Han Solo told us this is The Force Awakens) and for two, the reason he disappeared after the Battle of Endor was to focus on exploring Jedi temples and ruins in order to find artefacts to learn from (source: “Shattered Empire” #4, Heir To The Jedi, Weapon Of A Jedi and Aftermath: Empire’s End).
Also, to have the Barash vow be Luke’s reason for leaving goes beyond setting up foreshadowing into overcomplicating the narrative and I can’t see them dropping that in a comic a lot of movie-goers won’t read.
One Punch Jedi
Look at this dude. This is Kirak Infil’a, the fighting Jedi. He’s a Jedi who took the Barash vow to exile himself from the rest of the galaxy because all he wanted to do as a Jedi was fight. That’s the most badass thing I’ve ever heard and his design is anime as hell and I love it. I want to see this Master Roshi looking dude bodyslam Vader in the next issue.
“Star Wars” #32
Story by Kieron Gillen & Jason Aaron
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Salvador Larroca
Coloured by Edgar Delgado
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
“THE SCREAMING CITADEL” – Part 4 The Queen’s influence is spreading…Our only hope lies in the kindness of scoundrels.
Insert Nietzsche Quote Here
In keeping with the gothic horror style this crossover has been going for, we immediately get a scene showing the differences between Sanna and Leia. Leia seems wary of what they’ve done in order to dispatch Bombinax (RIP you beautiful Bomberman looking asshole, you) while Sanna, throughout the whole issue, seems content to do horrible things in order to survive this whole ordeal.
It’s sadly not touch on more beyond this, but it’s an interesting and fleeting moment of contrast between characters.
“Edge Of Venomverse: Han Solo” #1
This is such a weird part of the issue and, spoiler alert, doesn’t actually amount to much. I worry that Gillen and Aaron focused so much on the story beats with Luke and Aphra that the rest of the gang just kind of fell to the wayside. In order to give them something to do for most of this issue, Han gets infected by one of the symbiotes and becomes the Queen’s new lieutenant and tries to capture Leia.
It’s a moment that does keep with the gothic horror tropes on display, but it feels pretty silly. Maybe it’s the too-realistic, uncanny valley effect of his overly rendered face on top of the flat colouring of the armour that does it, but this just feels… weird to me.Continued below
Communing With The Crystal
After finally unlocking the consciousness of the Eternal Rur inside the crystal, Aphra communes with the ancient Jedi and it’s easily the most interesting part of the issue, character-wise. Aphra is someone who largely acts entirely in her own self interest, even if she beats herself up for it and wallows in self-loathing when no one’s looking. Rur quickly picks up on that, leading Aphra’s change of heart later in the issue. I’m interested to see how this moment will affect her trajectory through her own series after this crossover.
Flash Steppin’ Queen
So, the Queen goes from being this gothic, Batwoman-y nightmare of a character that sucks on life essence like a hookah to… a bunch of pixels that can Instant Transmission around Luke like it’s the end of Terminator: Genisys? I try to shy away from reviewing these issues here, remaining as unbiased as I can be about Star Wars, but this just doesn’t work for me.
The visual design of her “powers” feels incongruent to what’s been established so far (how does having a bug in your head let you teleport?) and goes even further towards the realm of pure superpowers than the Jedi of The Clone Wars. This is the weirdest part of the crossover and really brought down this issue.
The Obligatory Final Page Shocker
So, the issue ends with Aphra’s change of heart and her plan to come back and save Luke by blowing open a wall in the Queen’s chamber. Only problem is that in the explosion, she releases another symbiote that, surprise, latches onto Luke and we get another moment of the overly rendered skin tones making the art just feel weird. With the symbiote latched to him, Luke seeks to take his place as the kind of the hive and we all know how that’s going to turn out…
“Doctor Aphra” #8
Story by Kieron Gillen & Jason Aaron
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Andrea Broccardo
Coloured by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
“THE SCREAMING CITADEL” — PART 5 Jedi! Symbiotes! Rebels! Murderbots! Smugglers! Archaeologists! This one has it all! But can any survive the horrors of the Screaming Citadel?
The Final Chapter
This issue gets a bit heady as it focuses on the challenge between Luke and the Queen’s symbiotes vying for power over the hivemind. On the plus side, it turns out I was 100% right about what the Queen’s source of power was, but wasn’t expecting this to be how the Queen would be defeated. Luke being taken over by the symbiote leads to him eventually rejecting the parasite and just… striking down the Queen with a lightsaber.
It’s a bit weird and, again, kind of un-Star Wars-y and, ultimately kind of easy. It feels like the gothic horror elements are slowly dropped over the course of the story for a more generic zombie-style story with Star Wars aspects. But it has it’s moments for Luke’s arc as he learns some important lessons about mindfulness, even if the story sort of gave up on giving Han, Leia and Sanna something to do.
Becoming A Jedi
This whole crossover seems to be built for this moment, giving Luke the potential to seize the ultimate power only for him to dismantle it instead. Eternal Rur finally gets a bit of play as he gives Luke the edge in breaking free of the symbiote’s control. We knew that Rur wasn’t quite like the Jedi of the Old Republic, being a part of the Ordu Aspectu and all, and here we see that his consciousness trapped in the crystal is craving power, power that Luke denies it.
Luke focuses on his mindfulness and his “being” and, after all that, does in fact go through some Jedi-style training. Sure, he learns the lessons through hardships and perseverance more than traditional training, but the outcome is the same and we start to get an inkling of the Jedi he will become.Continued below
Han Solo, King Of The Galaxy
As I mentioned, the crossover seemed to have just ran out of things for Han, Leia and Sanna to do by the last issue and drummed up the whole “Han gets infected” schtick which somewhat runs into this issue. While Luke’s symbiote challenges the Queen’s to control of the hivemind, the direct control is disrupted and that allows Han to kind of break free and assert his control over those below him.
In a moment that makes me think that maybe Kieron Gillen isn’t entirely comfortable writing Han Solo, Han almost attempts to become king of the Galaxy before being quickly talked out of it by Sanna and then de-symbioted. It’s a strange detour and, again, makes me think that Gillen and Aaron built this story around the storybeats with Aphra and Luke and just kind of had to give the rest something to do.
As I kind of mentioned last time, we got more information of Aphra and Sanna’s past relationship with this crossover and here we get a little bit of closure. Aphra’s change of heart to return for Luke and not leave him stranded because of her betrayal is clearly a positive character development in Sanna’s eyes and while Aphra’s still not perfect, she’s certainly learned a positive lesson from this whole ordeal. At least, I like to think so.
When “Star Wars” first started, Luke was still the naive farmboy struggling to find his place in a larger galaxy. He was the hero of the Battle of Yavin, the scourge of the Empire, the heir to the Jedi and so much more to so many people that he seemed overwhelmed by responsibility. It’s mark of the quality of these series that, despite knowing where he’ll end up, we’re seeing an organic sense of character development through the events of the series.
We’re beginning to see Luke mature and come into his own as a person as he comes to grips with what it means to learn to be a Jedi. He’s not quite there yet and he won’t get there until he meets Yoda on Dagobah, but even learning what he’s not is an important lesson.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
Obviously, no true horror villain stays dead so the Queen symbiote returns with a new host vowing to get her revenge on Skywalker. Hopefully, the next time she shows up it’ll be a tighter crossover than this one because this just felt unwieldy.
“Poe Dameron” Annual #1
Written by Robbie Thompson
Illustrated by Nik Virella
Coloured by Jordan Boyd
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Poe Dameron has never been one to follow the rules. So when he disobeys a direct order from General Leia Organa and gets stranded in First Order space…with no ship and little oxygen…how will he survive?
This issue, in and of itself, is pretty good. It’s a one-and-done story that takes place in media res and uses flashbacks to give context to the current story of Poe infiltrating a First Order transport. However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty weird. It’s an annual that interrupted and in progress arc and, initially, I thought it was following up on the cliffhanger of #15, but no, that continues in #16.
So, sure, I thought, this is just a side story that explores how Poe learned something important about himself and that’s that, but no, because the end reveals an important revelation that is said to specifically lead in to #16. An important revelation that’s based on a continuity error, even.
I have no idea what to make of this, so let’s just talk about the three things of note in this annual.
Learning A Lesson
The focus of this annual is all about Poe Dameron learning a lesson that we already saw him learn in #14. Like I said, it’s a weird one. Basically, Poe has to learn to put the cause first and foremost, to put the mission before himself. The way the annual presents this is by showing his mission to infiltrate the First Order transport after waking up in the vacuum after almost crashing his X-Wing into a minefield.Continued below
Throughout the mission, we get two flashbacks to conversations he had with Leia prior to the mission that contrasts and compliments his actions on the mission as he’s ready to sacrifice himself to ensure BB-8’s safety. It’s presented soundly enough, but we saw him go through a similar learning experience in #14 after L’ulo’s death making this feel almost redundant.
Finally A Use For The Orange
This is a small thing because, as I’ve said, there’s not a whole lot going on in this annual, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen the orange jumpsuit of an X-Wing pilot being used to keep them alive in the vacuum of space. It’s something I’ve always been interested in seeing as it really militarises the pilots of the Rebellion and the Resistance, but rarely utilised in stories.
The Terex Conundrum
Remember that important revelation I mentioned? Well, it turns out that at the end of the annual, Poe finds out that Terex is still alive! However, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I was under the assumption that Poe never thought that Terex was dead. At the end of #13, Poe delivers Terex to the First Order after he was stunned by BB-8 and knew he was still alive. In #14, Terex is Lobot-ed by Phasma, but Poe has no idea about that.
Now, the reason this is such a thing for me is that the annual specifically ends on the note that this revelation will be followed up on in #16 which, spoiler alert, it isn’t because Poe and Terex have no interaction in that entire issue.
I am, simply, baffled by the existence of this annual and of this reveal.
“Poe Dameron” #16
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Angel Unzueta
Coloured by Arif Prianto
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Who is Malarus and what does she want? Meanwhile, the Resistance is running dangerously low on supplies. Poe and Black Squadron are on the case!
So, despite the cover and the solicit text, we don’t actually learn all that much about Malarus. In fact, what we see of Malarus in this issue feels slightly incongruent with what we’ve seen of her so far and kind of undermines her as a threat. She continues to treat Terex like a pet which makes her feel more evil than evil, but she also comes off as arrogant to the point of self-destructive.
She flippantly disregards details until they become so important as to bite her in the ass and it makes her feel almost incompetent. To have her be told that the transport they just left armed with a bomb is heading for them and for her to not remember the name of the ship makes her feel foolish in a really unthreatening way. I may have been mistaken in thinking she’ll be taking over from Terex and the main antagonist for the series.
The Truckstops Of The Galaxy
This, I think, is the first time I’ve seen something that isn’t a Jedi starfighter use a hyperspace ring, but it does make a certain sense for freighters that are looking to cut down weight and space to eliminate a hyperdrive in favour of using a hyperspace ring to travel along hyperspace lanes.
Although… it does raise some questions. For example, where are hyperspace rings placed and why? Was that a specific First Order rendezvous they were heading for with a pre-planned hyperspace ring? What if someone nicks it? How do they account for drift in the vacuum? There’s too many logistical oversights here, I need more useless information about this technology that isn’t real.
I was very ready to accept Malarus as the new antagonist of “Poe Dameron,” but it looks like it’s not to be. Sure, like I said, seeing Malarus manhandling Terex makes her feel especially evil as I’ve found myself taking a shine to Terex despite his awful nature. It’ll be interesting to see if Terex returns to his rivalry with Poe or if he’ll strike out against the First Order for how they’ve treated him.Continued below
I mean, you do have to question the build quality of their cybernetic implants if the only thing stopping Terex from returning to his natural state is a bump to the head. Maybe instead of investing all your credits in a big gun inside a planet, you get a some better quality equipment on the frontlines.
“Darth Maul” #4
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Luke Ross
Coloured by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Darth Maul and his crew of bounty hunters have captured Eldra, the hunted Jedi Padawan! But Xev Xrexus will not give up her prize without a fight. There’s a new bounty out…and the reward for whoever defeats Maul and captures the Padawan is worth dying for. Not to mention, Eldra isn’t leaving without a fight, either…
The Story So Far
The weird thing about starting this column so long after Marvel started publishing Star Wars comics again is missing out on so many series and jumping into the middle of others. If you’ve missed “Darth Maul” so far, the jist is this: set in the year prior to The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul is restless to face the Jedi despite his Master’s forbidding. However, when he learns of a Padawan being sold on the Black Market, he enlists the help of bounty hunter Cad Bane to kidnap the Padawan for sport.
Now, with the Padawan in tow, Maul, Bane and Bane’s crew and stranded on the moon of Drazkel, beset by bounty hunters looking to reclaim the Padawan.
Bounty Hunter Christmas
As you might have guessed if you read last month’s column, I love panels like this. Anything that allows artists to bring species from all corners of the Star Wars galaxy together is fun in my book. Among the cadre of bounty hunters on Darth Maul’s tail are some IG assassin droids, Trandoshans, Weequays, Pykes and Kyuzo. If you’ve seen The Clone Wars, all of those species should be familiar to you and between that and Cad Bane, I’m loving this series as a prelude to The Clone Wars.
A Jedi Craves Not These Things
This is perhaps the most introspective issue since the first issue as Cullen Bunn dives into what drives Maul. As you might imagine, a large part of what drives him is the anger and rage that consumes all Sith, but there’s something beyond that. Something pushing him towards the Jedi: excitement.
It’s a really insightful reading of the character as we often see him pent up like a caged animal, ready to strike. We see him in preparation to face his foes, but before that fateful battle on Naboo, he was simply an eager apprentice who was excited to finally face his foe in battle.
Cad Bane, Still The Coolest Character In The Galaxy
God, Cad Bane is just the coolest. While most of this issue focuses on the interactions between Maul and the Padawan, Eldra, we do get a great showcase of why Cad Bane is the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Sure, he knows that he could outdraw the Trandoshan in a fair fight, but that doesn’t mean he’s dumb enough to fight fair. Honour is for cowards and the dead and Cad Bane lives to fight another day.
Please, Marvel, give me a Cad Bane comic.
The final page of this issue, leading into the showdown between Maul and Eldra in the next issue, feels very much like Kurosawa movie and I love it. Not only does it feel like an epic, tense endcap to the issue, but it feels like a bookend to the tale of Maul, given his demise in Rebels in a very similar duel. Only that time, it wasn’t with a Padawan, but with a Master. It’s a bookend that ties into that tragic irony that Star Wars loves and paints a full picture of the life of Darth Maul.Continued below
And there we have it! A deep dive into the stories of Marvel’s Star Wars comics from the last month! Join me next month for a look into the release of June.
And, as always, may the Force be with you…