When this series was first announced, it seemed reminiscent of the kind of thing Dark Horse was churning out towards the end of their time as the Star Wars license-holder: an innocuous Prequel Era limited series that told a self-contained story of little consequence. With this second issue, as the conflict between the Open and the Closed is explored further, it’s starting to read more like an old Star Trek episode, a thinly-veiled metaphor about the pointlessness of conflict, with the two sides unable to declare why they’re fighting beyond “we always have”, with Anakin comparing them to the Jedi and the Sith. It’ll be interesting to see how that holds up in future issues, and if there’s more to the story of the Open and the Closed.
Easily the best part of this series thus far has been the flashbacks to Anakin’s training on Coruscant, and this issue goes even further, given us a heaping helping of Anakin/Palpatine interactions that gain something just from knowing the future forms of the two characters (Palpatine even dons a Darth Sidious-like hood at one point).
One excellent bit of characterization comes early in the issue, as Obi-Wan defends himself against one of the Closed, and Anakin’s pride in his master’s abilities is apparent. Given how their relationship ends, it’s always good to be reminded that the pair were, at one time, friends, and that Anakin deeply appreciated and respected Obi-Wan and his abilities.
Darth Vader #16
By Kieron Gillen & Slavador Larroca
Darth Vader‘s first annual, while enjoyable in its own right, read very much like filler – a one-off story that illustrated the levels the Empire would go to crush rebellion and maintain its interests, but otherwise superfluous to the larger narrative of the series or the Star Wars saga as whole. This issue reveals, rather, that it was the laying the seeds for the series first post-“Vader Down” storyline, the “Sho-Torun War”, as Vader returns to the planet of the annual in the face of increased rebellion. In the process, it cements Triton, installed as queen by Vader in the annual, as the Princess Leia figure in Vader’s twisted supporting cast (joining Dr. Aphra, Black Krrstan, BeeTee & Triple Zero, aka Vader’s Han, Chewie, Artoo & Threepio), a royal figure capable of snarking back to Vader but still willing to kowtow to his will.
Speaking of Dr. Aphra, this issue ends with Vader placing a bounty on her head, as she’s now a captive of the Rebels, chillingly declaring he doesn’t care if she’s brought in alive or dead. Not only is it an intriguing development in their relationship (is he just saving face and keeping their partnership a secret, or does he truly not care either way?), but also an effective yet subtle tie-in to Star Wars, keeping the two series connected even though the direct crossover is over, while also keeping the events of that crossover from feeling entirely self-contained.
Star Wars #16
By Jason Aaron & Leinil Francis Yu
Like Darth Vader #16, this issue picks up on threads left over from “Vader Down“, helping make that crossover feel more like a part of the overall narrative and not just a one-off stunt. It also features Sana Starros, the character introduced as Han’s wife in the series’ second story arc, which also helps add to the impression that these issues are part of a larger whole, and not just a series of self-contained stories.
Using the capture of Dr. Aphra at the end of “Vader Down” as its impetus, this story introduces a Rebel prison, to which Leia has hired Sana to help deliver Aphra. While it makes sense that the Rebellion would need a place to stash prisoners (especially given that they are, by definition, less bloodthirsty than the Empire), this is really the first time such a thing has been seen in any Star Wars fiction, and it’s good to see the series breaking new ground in this way.
It also turns out in the course of the issue that Sana and Dr. Aphra have a past together; the jury is still out as to whether this is a shrewd use of the shared narrative, showing that two supporting characters from two different series have a history together, or if this a case of making what is supposed to be a large, expansive galaxy filled with stories all the more smaller, because everyone has to have known everyone else at some point in time.
This issue also marks the debut of Leinil Francis Yu as the new series artist. This book seems to be adopting a rotating artist approach, handing over the artistic reigns to a new creator with each major story arc. While it gives the series variety (and a PR boost every time they get to announce the latest big name artist to come aboard), I’m generally not a big fan of this approach, as it robs a series of any kind of artistic consistency, and undercuts the efforts to make everything feel like a chapter in a larger story.
Yu’s art is definitely grittier and more grounded than the smooth lines of John Cassaday or the raw energy of Stuart Immonen, but even by Yu’s standards the art in this issue seems a little rougher than usual. Not sure if that is deliberate, the work of the inker (Gerry Alanguilan inks this issue), or, somehow, a result of Yu being rushed.
Terry & Rachel Dodson, who drew the Princess Leia limited series, provides the cover for this issue, as well as the rest of the story arc. There couldn’t be a bigger disconnect in styles between the cover artist and the interior artist (another pet peeve of mine).
At this point little more than a comedic subplot to the main story, this issue also sees Han and Luke embark on supply mission for the Rebels, only to have Han lose all their money playing sabaac; it’s nice to see Han and Luke paired together for a storyline, something we haven’t seen yet in the series.
Luke also notes that the bounty on his head is much larger than Han’s, much to Han’s costernation, something that both makes sense and is rather funny.
This issue wraps up Kanan‘s second storyline, concluding the flashback to Kanan’s first mission as Depa Billaba’s Padawan and showcasing Billaba’s battle with General Grievous.
Kanan is an odd series – ostensibly setup as a tie-in to the Rebels cartoon, in eleven issues, it’s spent most of its time in the past, with Kanan as a Padawan in the last days of the Republic. Which is fine (modern Star Wars can always use more acknowledgement of the prequels), but both story arcs also feature framing sequences set in the “present” of Rebels, featuring the characters of the show, that don’t really add much to the story.
In this particular arc, the flashback is setup as occurring while Kanan is healing inside a bacta tank, while his friends fight to ward off approaching Imperials to buy him time to heal. Just as the flashback story ends in this issue, his friends are overwhelmed and Kanan wakes up just in time to save them. There’s little thematic connection between the two stories, making the Rebels-set stuff read like filler. The series really needs to either devote some time to a present day Rebels story, or just commit fully to being a series set during the events of the Prequels, and lose the framing sequences entirely.
For what it’s worth, this issue depicts the first time Kanan killed someone.
Great cover on this (Kanan routinely has great covers), blending the Clone Trooper armor into the white backgroundm to make Kanan and the red highlights pop.
Cover of the Month: Kanan #11
Book of the Month: Darth Vader #16