Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
At last a good story arc! Some of the previous one-issue stories were decent, but this is the first extended arc in the comics that actually has a good story to tell. Devoid of green rabbits and speedo-wearing space pirates issues #18-23 is a tale of intrigue and complexity that respects its characters and actually delves into the Force where previous issues avoided the subject. Here marks the beginning the Marvel Star Wars line starting to tell intriguing stories fleshing out the characters and the Rebellion vs. The Empire. Gone is the era of Buck Rogers imitation and campy kitsch. The Star Wars EU is finally improving in quality. Now that isn’t to say that some of the goofiness of the series is wholly absent. But the goofiness is now balanced with the writing instead of sucking out the dignity of the Star Wars expanded universe with ridiculous plotlines and funny characters more at home in Flash Gordon than a Galaxy far, far away.
The story opens with Luke Skywalker aboard the Millennium Falcon falling into a comatose state after engaging in meditation in an attempt to improve his focus. The meditation technique accidentally leads him to touch the mind of Darth Vader causing his consciousness to war with Vader’s in a trance.
Han and Leia decide to find a medical facility but the Falcon accidentally drops out of hyperspace into an Imperial-infested sector after Solo forgets to readjust the navi-computer which was beginning to drift. The Falcon is accosted by an Advanced TIE Fighter which Han promptly destroys just before discovering in the sector a ravaged private merchant vessel with Tagge House markings. The Tagge family have strong ties with the Empire with one member even being a high ranking fleet commander. Aboard the vessel are dead and dying Rebel soldiers who were captured and then planted there by the Empire as a part of a plot to discredit the Rebel Alliance by framing them for piracy. Before they can get the Falcon out of there it is once again attacked by Advanced TIE Fighters led by an Imperial light battle cruiser commanded by a Commander Strom who is involved in the conspiracy to put the Rebellion in ill-repute.
The heroes flee to a nearby resort space station known as The Wheel. The Wheel is a known sanctuary for Imperial citizens containing a massive centre for gambling and gladiatorial entertainment. The Wheel is administrated by a former senator named Simon Greyshade whose facility has turned up major funding for the Empire’s military thanks to a tax on its profits. The tax has been especially lucrative because sanctuary policy against Imperial interference aboard the resort has made The Wheel a popular haven for gamblers. Han and his companions assume to take advantage of this sanctuary, but meet with complications when the Falcon and the two droids Artoo and Threepio are impounded due to illegal docking without a permit. Furthermore to make things more complicated Commander Strom decides to violate the sanctuary agreement by sending a detachment of Stormtroopers aboard the station to find the Rebels and eliminate them. Leia and the two droids are captured by Greyshade while Chewie is arrested and thrown into the gladiator pits. Meanwhile, Han in a bid to pay for the Falcon and the droids agrees to participate in the gladiator games voluntarily.
It is revealed that the Empire’s scheme to frame the Rebellion is a part of a plan to justify an Imperial takeover of the facility. The Tagge merchant vessel was delivering Wheel profits making a Rebel attack a serious economic threat. The Empire hopes convincing the resort visitors of this will make them open to Imperial control without losing a large portion of their patronage. Greyshade is in league with Commander Strom in this venture under the promise that his administration would remain unaltered when the Wheel changed hands.
Elsewhere, Darth Vader who sensed Luke’s meditative contact through the Force is now on the hunt for him. Aboard an Imperial Star Destroyer the Dark Lord orders Captain Wermis to change course toward The Wheel so he can track him down.Meanwhile, Luke who has been treated at the Wheel’s medical section overcomes his trance and breaks out of his bonds.
Leia escapes Greyshade and teams up with newly awakened Luke and the droids to find a way to rescue Han and Chewie. They witness some of Greyshade’s personal guard stealing back the profits that were used by the Empire to frame the Alliance and Leia realises that her former senate colleague is double-crossing the Empire for some reason of his own. She quickly discovers what that reason is when he recaptures her and tells her what he wants. He has developed a romantic attachment to and has plotted a scheme to convince her to leave with him and start a new life away from the Empire. In return he promises to release Han and Chewie and let her friends go away from Strom’s hands. This, of course, does not sit well with the princess; but she relents when she senses no other options. Things, however, drastically change when Han fakes his own death in the gladiator arena which is once again set in the zero-gravity environment of space. With Han Solo slaying a giant lizard with a lightsaber and twice now enduring space with no suit I am beginning to wonder if the smuggler’s trade is a pathway to many abilities some to consider to be unnatural.
And in other news Commander Strom discovers Greyshade’s treachery and orders his men to hunt him and the Rebels down and kill them. Amid the chaos Greyshade gives up his dreams of having Leia for his own and flees with his droid companion Master-Com (the only true friend he ever had) only to be caught by an enraged and bitter Strom. Greyshade throws a grenade at the Commander killing him, but the close range of the blast fatally injures the former senator and damages Master-Com beyond repair.
Luke, Leia, and the droids escape in Greyshade’s private yacht and Han and Chewie take off in the Falcon. At this point Darth Vader and Captain Wermis arrive and attack the Falcon when Vader recognises it as the ship that shot him during the Death Star battle. Luke saves his friends when he once again meditates and releases strong feelings of rage toward Vader which temporarily incapacitates him buying them enough time to jump to hyperspace.
This story arc has its flaws, but overall it was a well-written piece. I enjoyed seeing the Force given more exploration this time around and it’s great to see Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, Threepio, and Artoo all have a fair amount of time to shine in the story. The characters are fleshed out and given plenty to do.
Casual readers may not notice, but the Tagge family which owned the merchant ship used in the Imperial ploy has appeared in A New Hope. The Imperial officer aboard the Death Star who expressed his fears that the Rebels may exploit the Death Star plans was a member of the Tagge House. This family’s affairs will be explored further in the Marvel series.
The overall story is pretty good and it doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence by giving a childishly simple plot. The political intrigue, while not at the level of complexity as War and Peace or even Dune, is still an impressive and unusual thing to see during this era of the EU.
Some minor gripes I have is largely to do with the resolution at the end. I find Greyshade’s true motives a bit stupid for a man who had it all. Throwing all his success away for a woman, even if she is Princess Leia, doesn’t fit the sort of character we are led to believe he is. Also I strongly dislike Luke using what is essentially Dark Side powers to escape Vader. Releasing anger in a fight is what Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order teach to avoid. It is an unsettling way to see Luke deal with a problem. And finally once again in one panel we see Luke turn on his lightsaber and the colour is red instead of blue. I still do not know why the artists were having difficulties representing Luke’s lightsaber colour accurately, but it seems to be a frequent inconsistency.
Otherwise, this arc is an excellent and worthwhile read.
Check in next time for my review of Star Wars Marvel issue #24: Silent Drifting and may the Force be with you.