By Charles Soule & Phil Noto
The first comics to be set in the Force Awakens timeline, this story actually takes place not too long before the start of the film, as the mission Poe is on as the issue opens is the one he concludes at the start of the film: locating Max Von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka and his piece of the Luke Skywalker Map. Given that constricted time frame, it’ll be interesting to see when future stories in this series take place: further back in the past, immediately after the film, or toggling between both?
This issue also establishes that Poe set out in his mission with a hand-picked squad of allies, including both Snap Wexley (played by Greg Grunberg in the film) and Lulo, the Duros pilot who was a mentor to Poe’s mother, as seen in the Shattered Empire series.
Continuing The Force Awaken‘s interest in introducing new specializations of Stormtroopers, this issue gives us jet pack troopers.
A backup story written and drawn by Chris Eliopoulos rounds out the issue, featuring BB-8’s efforts to bring two together two Resistance officers with feelings for one another. It’s notable for naming one of its main characters Peet Deretalia, a nod to “Pete the Retailer”, one of the co-hosts of the Star Wars Minute podcast.
Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1
By James Robinson & Tony Harris
Reuniting the creative team of DC Comics’ acclaimed Starman series for the first time in decades, and sold with the promise of revealing the story behind Threepio’s one red arm in The Force Awakens, this issue was delayed numerous times (it was originally intended to be published shortly before the film’s release, not months after) due to a long script approval process from LucasFilm (according to Harris, he and Robinson didn’t receive final approval until about a week before the issue’s first solicited release date). As a result, expectations for this issue grew to possible unreasonable proportions: no story could possibly live up to the hype generated just by virtue of its constant rescheduling.
In the end, though, it mostly does live up to expectations. Harris’ art is unlike anything Marvel has put into their Star Wars comics yet (and, along with the more cartoony backup story in Poe Dameron #1, hopefully indicates a willingness to break away from the standard heroic comic book look more often, something Dark Horse became quite good at during its tenure with the license), while Robinson grounds the issue’s “big” reveal (the story behind the red arm) in characterization, giving it meaning to Threepio and making it a poignant symbol of the relationship between fellow droids, even droids on opposite sides of a war, and the common ground they share in their relationship with biological beings, an idea that Star Wars stories don’t explore as often as they should.
Threepio’s role in the story is built on the fact that he is the Resistance’s chief communication officer, responsible for managing spy data from droids all over the galaxy, a role mentioned in ancillary material (like the Visual Dictionary) but which never made it into the movie.
Threepio who, unlike Artoo, experienced a memory wipe at the end of Revenge of the Sith, removing his knowledge of Prequel events, reveals in this issue that he occasionally has flashes of those deleted memories.
Darth Vader #19
By Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca
With this, the “Shu-Torun War”, the first real dud on a storyline for this series, comes to a merciful close, with Vader cementing the rule of Queen Trios and defeating Dr. Cylo’s latest attempt to take him out. Trios is a character with potential, particularly her relationship to Vader in terms of being a dark Princess Leia analogue , but Gillen never managed to make the politics of her planet read like anything more than a drawn out diversion from more important events (while this is hopefully the last we’ll see of her planet for a long while, future appearances by Trios would not be a bad thing). Thankfully, with the storyline complete, the series can hopefully move on to better things, and reclaim its past glory.
Along those lines, the issue ends with Dr. Cylo’s attempted betrayal of Vader revealed to the Emperor, and the Emperor calling Vader back to Coruscant for explanations; hopefully, this signals a change in direction for that storyline (which has pitted Vader against Cylo and his creations for the Emperor’s favor to diminishing returns) and/or a brief respite from it, as Cylo spends some time on the run from both Vader and his master.
Most maddening of all, most of the fight between Vader and the Astarte cyber-twins, poised as the cliffhanger to last issue, occurs off-panel between issues, with this one opening after Vader has essentially already defeated them.
By Charles Soule * Marco Checchetto
While the main story continues to read like a mix between an average consequence-less Dark Horse Star Wars story and a 60s Star Trek episode, the best stuff is still happening on the margins, in the flashbacks. Here, we get a glimpse an older Anakin’s reaction to being taken from home by Qui-Gon Jin in The Phantom Menace, basically saying that eight-year-olds probably shouldn’t be trusted with making life-altering decisions, as things can sound cool to them without them thinking through the possible repercussions, which motivates his flashback decision to leave the Jedi Order. Obviously, he’ll be back (even without knowing about the later films, he’s seen operating as a Jedi in a later point in time in this issue), but anything that adds some depth and new meaning to Phantom Menace is appreciated.
Star Wars #18
by Jason Aaron & Leinil Francis Yu
While the identity of the person attacking Sunspot Prison and targeting Leia has always been a mystery, this issue really ramps up that idea, making it clear that Leia is supposed to be wondering who the masked culprit is, along with the reader. It kinda comes out of nowhere (like Aaron suddenly realized he needed to be teasing the identity of the villain, even though he hadn’t been doing it much thus far), with the character suddenly taunting Leia with clues about his or her identity (there’s at least one good theory floating around the internet, if you want to look for it), but that aside, the strength of this issue lies in the continued interplay between Leia, Aphra and Sana, three women who don’t really like each other but whose individual skills make them a pretty effective team.
Han and Luke’s tonally dissonant smuggling adventure comes to an end this issue, as it concludes with the pair showing up at Sunspot Prison to “rescue” Leia. While it’s always good to see Han and Luke spend some time together (especially given how they’re supposed to be good buds by the time Empire begins), this whole subplot seems like a waste of time, and it distracts Luke from the larger “learn about the Jedi” plotline that has served as the series’ overarching narrative thus far. Hopefully, that’ll get back on track in the next arc.
Before their reunion with Leia, Luke manipulates Han into letting him fly the Falcon for a bit, and this is presented as being the first time Luke has gotten to fly that ship.
Cover of the Month: Poe Dameron #1 starts off strong with a simple but iconic cover.
Book of the Month: Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1, a long-delayed issue that risked being overhyped, it turned out to be a surprising poignant tale of how some bonds survive the stress of war.