Marvel Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes! (1-6) Review

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Ever since January 2015 and the Disney buy-out of both Lucasfilm and Marvel, Marvel has been in charge of the Star Wars comcis brand. This post will focus on the first story arc from the Star Wars title, “Skywalker Strikes!” 2015 has been one of the most controversial years in Star Wars history, from the introduction of Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber to a new character introduced in this series…

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I’m not going to lie in this review: I was honestly not that big of a fan of what Dark Horse had produced over its 20 years of running the Star Wars license. The company did great work: it introduced a lot of fascinating concepts (the One Sith from Legacy comics, the latest Star Wars iteration with the birth of Rogue Squadron was interesting) and some great characters (even though I wasn’t a fan of the book, I liked Zayne Carrick from Knights of the Old Republic a lot and I thought that A’Sharad Hett as Darth Krayt was one of their bolder moves). A lot of it fell on deaf ears. Their Vader mini-series were boring, their main titles were way too far from the movies to hold my interest, and it turned into a lot of science fiction rather than the Star Wars that we knew and loved.

Then Disney bought the brand and started all over and I fell back in love with Star Wars comics. The entire canon was wiped when Disney took over, leaving only the movies, Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir, and Clone Wars behind. Out of the ashes rose new Marvel Comics: Star Wars, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Kanan: The Last Padawan, and Lando. These new stories would be the trailblazers setting forth into new territory with the new canon. And boy, did they deliver.

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Star Wars starts with an assault on an Imperial weapons factory called Cymoon I. This comic takes place a very short time after the events of A New Hope, so what we’re seeing is a newly empowered Rebellion, aiming to take advantage of the recent destruction of the Death Star and take bolder steps against the Empire. This isn’t the Rebellion of the Legends canon, hiding out, waiting for a planet to show up. This is an active Rebellion, lashing out while searching for a new base. Leia, leading a small task force to take out an important weapons base, hopes to invigorate the Rebellion as it searches for a new base after Yavin IV was made inhospitable. She and her team pretend to be Imperial sympathizers, negotiators with the Empire, striking a deal that would benefit both. She takes along Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, and R2-D2.

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The plan hits a major hiccough when Darth Vader himself arrives to lead the negotiations. The plan goes up in flames (literally) when he arrives and an all-out firefight begins between the small band of rebels and the large Imperial garrison stationed there. The fight is chaotic and develops some tension even though we know none of the actors involved can die.  The story shows Vader in a dark light, thankfully: when Chewbacca tries to take out Vader with a sniper rifle, Vader lifts two troopers in front of him to take the blasts. This is a stunning change from the Anakin we knew from the Clone Wars who went in front of his troopers into battle. This new Vader is not taking any chances and we see him lumbering through the battlefield, slicing through slaves. One of the problems that all of these series faced was how they handled Darth Vader. If they wanted him to appear in these series and not kill or be killed, something would have to be done to develop him fully and develop real ways for our heroes to evade him. Thankfully, seeing the rebels escape in an AT-AT with Vader in pursuit was a pretty believable way to do this.

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The slaves were discovered by Luke being hidden in an underground cell. The Empire boasted that the weapons factory was all automatic, but it was actually run by slaves of many different species (we see one from The Force Awakens if you look closely enough…) We see a little bit of Luke’s compassion for these slaves when he frees them, hoping to help them escape from the planet with them. After Vader appears, their hope is lost: he slices through the slaves with his lightsaber as Stormtroopers gun them down. It’s a hopeless situation only made worse by the fact that garbage dwelling aliens are dismantling the Millenium Falcon, the rebels’ only way off planet. This battle lasts three issues: the momentum is truly there for the first two, but by the third issue it slows down a bit and most readers will want it to end sooner rather than later. There are some cool scenes that make the fight worthwhile, but I was mostly happy to leave the planet.

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After the destruction of Cymoon I, the rebels return for a briefing while Vader negotiates with Jabba the Hutt. The Rebellion is worried that Leia is pushing her team too hard, and we see that Han and Luke are both hesitant about joining any more missions just yet. This arc showed us a great deal about Luke: he is not yet a Jedi, but wants to be, but there is no one alive that can train him. He comes face to face with Darth Vader himself on Cymoon I where Vader spends time reflecting on Ben’s incomplete training and the fact that Luke has Vader’s old lightsaber. I’m digging that these books are set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. It’s a fertile time to show how our main characters developed from a ragtag team on the Death Star to the Generals and Commanders we see in Empire Strikes Back. We see a lot of doubt in Luke, and I think this comic does the job of showing it better than Heir to the Jedi did. The novel showed us Luke practicing new tricks, but the comic shows us Luke thinking over what it means to actually be a Jedi. His fight with Vader leaves him extra skeptical of his abilities, so he finds himself on a mission to Tatooine to seek out Ben’s hut and see what he left behind. The great part about these series is the way that Darth Vader looms over his training. In this comic, Vader’s appearance pushes Luke to become a true Jedi. In Heir to the Jedi, Luke even considers the fact that Vader may be the only person alive that could train him. The series has so far hit a good stride with Luke’s Jedi training: when we see Luke again in The Empire Strikes Back, he’s still more likely to reach for his blaster than his lightsaber and this series isn’t pushing him too fast.

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Vader’s negotiations with Jabba, and really Vader himself, at this time are barely fleshed out in any new direction. This series barely even explains what he is doing on Tatooine, and skips the scene where Vader commissions Boba Fett to seek out the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. If you want the full picture of what’s going on in the issue, you need to be reading Kieron Gillen’s awesome Darth Vader series. This is a huge disappointment for Star Wars: precious pages are wasted going over what the Vader series already has covered in significantly more detail. Because the series doesn’t focus on Vader’s emotions or reactions to events very much because the Vader series is designed for that, it seems strange how many pages are given to Vader. They don’t seem utilized well, and any scene that overlaps between this and Vader are fleshed out in a lot better detail in Darth Vader. This is especially noticeable because any scene that overlapped was covered first in Darth Vader and later in the year in Star Wars. It’s like getting six meatballs on your sub the first visit and two on the second. It’s noticeable, and it sucks. It would have been nice to see these pages given back to Luke or Leia.

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Han and Leia are motivated to go on a mission to seek a new planet but have a run-in with a new bounty hunter connected to Han’s past. This woman turns out to be a Solo…Sana Solo, or Han’s wife as she calls herself! We don’t know a lot about this woman except she has some gun that can attack certain body parts based on a verbal command (good for torturing, I guess) and that she says that she was married to Han. This scene set the Internet on FIRE with debate, but we have literally no context to how or why the two were married and if their marriage is still legal or not. I was super excited to hear about this new twist, and it proved to me that Marvel was committed to telling a new story. Sana’s inclusion was definitely necessary because the love between Han and Leia was growing at a huge rate that needed to be cut off at the knees as soon as possible. I was curious as to why we don’t have a Han series yet, but it looks like this series is going to flesh him out well without making him the focus and losing too much of his cool veneer.

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The final instrumental piece of this arc was the commissioning of Boba to find the pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Boba here is reduced to a role that any bounty hunter could have played: nothing was distinctive about the way that they approached him and he could have been replaced to save his aura. I honestly don’t get why people think that Boba is so cool, and this arc didn’t do a lot to help out his persona. He finally does track down Luke after torturing a poor kid and fighting a dude in a cantina and there is a real showdown. The two actually fight. The fight scene is well-done: Boba hits Luke with a flash grenade, limiting his sight, but thankfully Luke practiced with a blinder on in the Millennium Falcon, so he is able to hold his own with his lightsaber. Luke gets away with an accidental use of the Force, forcing Boba to retreat and tell Vader that Luke got away. But this is where stuff hits the fan: Boba reveals to Vader that the pilot’s name is Skywalker. His anger comes out, but his reaction is largely shrouded in mystery that is fleshed out more, again, in Darth Vader.
Ultimately, there wasn’t a lot of content in the first arc. The first battle took place over three issues, the fourth was an issue about reactions, the fifth was set-up, and the real meat came in issue 6. The arc was also all over the place and lacked a clear vision: unless you were told that this was all in the same arc, not much tied issue 1 to issue 6. That isn’t to say that the arc was bad: the revelations about Han and seeing Luke’s Jedi training begin were definitely worthwhile and I am happy that I invested in the series. It would be nice, though, if the series could continue to push forward with a clearer vision and clearer storylines.

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