Wednesday, 16 December 2015

A Look At... Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

Rounding out my Yay New Star Wars Film Celebratory Look At Posts Trilogy with, fittingly, something with Empire in the title, it’s Heir to the Empire, the first in the Thrawn Trilogy.

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire is considered somewhat important by the Star Wars fandom (do they have a name? Warsies?), a novel by Timothy Zahn it’s considered to be the starting point for the resurgence in Star Wars’ products and profile that’s continued to this day as well as a large and serious focus on the Expanded Universe – now known as Legends. Released in 1991 it was the first Star Wars title published by Bantam Spectra and although Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire (originally planned for Marvel Comics) was in development at the same time it seems Heir’ was put into production first and Bantam’s deal with Lucasfilm really was the spark that got Star Wars rolling again after nearly a decade of not much at all. It’s was/is considered by many fans to be the ‘true’ sequel to Return of the Jedi, even though several things set after that film had already been put out, hence why we’re I’ve chosen it for this, the Thrawn Trilogy being in many fans eyes it seems the first attempt at what Disney is now starting with The Force Awakens, Dark Horse adapted the book in 1995, the script was handled by Mike Baron, the creator of Badger and co-creator of Nexus (with Stephen Rude) as well as the writer who first wrote Wally West’s time as The Flash with art by two French artists Olivier Vatine and Fred Blanchard who I know nothing about and haven’t done much each in American comics according to comicbookdb though I’m presuming they both had more work published in their native France.

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: Heir to the Empire issues 1-6)
Let’s see how quick this summary turns out to be when it’s summarising six issues. NOT-AT-ALL-Quick Summary: Five Years after Return of the Jedi and the Empire is in bits, the Imperial fleet under Grand Admiral Thrawn is attacked but thanks to Thrawn’s knowledge and tactical skill they prevail. While Luke mopes, Han, Chewie and Wedge try to recruit smugglers to the New Republic’s cause, they fail but learn the new top gangster is a Talon Carrde, who we see ‘promote’ a woman named Mara Jade and make nice with the Thrawn, the Emprie take some Ysalamiri and go visit the Emperor’s old private storehouse, though they actually want it’s guardian, an old Jedi bastard named Master C’Baoth, using the Ysalamiri to keep his Force powers at bay (they naturally push The Force back, no-one knows why). He’s not interested until Thrawn promises him the Skywalker twins, then he joins up. Admiral Ackbar’s locking horns (tentacles) with Fey’lya, another councilman then Luke, Solo, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio all accompany Leia (who’s pregnant) to Bimmisaari where they’re ambushed by Gohri, the Emperor’s private death commandos. Han causes a scuffle with some market traders to allow Luke’s awesome escape from the aliens to catch up with them and they leg it off-world, Solo tricking Leia so they don’t have to return.

Thrawn sets plans in motion for an attack on Sluis Van, ordering to have some Mole Miners (which are robots as it turns out) 'acquired' and he, C’Baoth and Thrawn’s captain hash out a plan to trap Luke via putting rumour of C’Boath’s existence out there. Thrawn isn’t very fond of the Jedi Master but his power does allow them to make attacks on three different fronts at the same time. This includes Bpfassh and Leia is dispatched there, but Luke can't come because they hate Jedi and once drove a load of Dark Jedi to Degobah, bringing this up makes Luke want to go back to Yoda’s retirement home, so he does. An attack on Bpfassh by the Gohri and a fake Millennium Falcon (and Solo wielding a lightsabre, so cool!) convinces Solo to hide Leia, so he heads to find Lando. On Degobah Luke goes into THAT cave and has a vision of Mara Jade, he also finds an artefact that leads HIM to Lando, the two meet up over the planet his current mining operation is on only to be attacked by the Empire, Luke zones out as C’Boath contacts him so that turns out to be an anti-climax. Lando’s lost half his mole miners (51) but helps with plan ‘Hide Leia’, they perform a switch using the Falcon and the Lady Luck (Lando’s ship), using C-3PO to impersonate Leia’s voice on the Falcon while Chewie takes the Lady to his homeworld of Kashyyyk but Thrawn figures it out1 and sends some Gohri. On his way to meet C’Boath Luke gets intercepted but pulls off a cool manoeuvre involving trapping X-Wing laser torpedoes in the Star Destroyer’s tractor beam, sadly it burns out parts of his ‘Wing and he runs out of oxygen while trying to fix it, happily he’s found, unhappily it’s by Karrde and Mara Jade, a lady who really hates him and wants to kill him. Luke is tasered unconscious. Leia meanwhile arrives on Kashyyyk and the layouts are confusing.

Luke wakes up on Myrkr and meets Mara Jade and Karrde again; his Force powers turned off by the local population of Ysalamiri, Karrde hasn’t decided whether to give Luke over the Empire yet or not. Meanwhile Han and Lando cheat a game of cards to help out Flynn Torve in order to get him to take them and Threepio to Karrde. Their arrival forces Karrde to hide Luke away in a cell which he easily escapes from using his artificial hand’s power supply. Karrde and Jade’s dinner with Solo and Calrisian is interrupted by Thrawn, who wants more Ysalamiri and to give Karrde shit for not helping search for Luke. Things get hectic – Karrde hides the New Republicans because they’re his guests, then Luke escapes and Mara chases after him, desperate to evade her Luke pulls of a manoeuvre that crashes both their ships in the forest miles away. Another one of Thrawn’s dinner guests clues Lando and Han into everything so far as Thrawn lands. Luke and Mara then have to work their way back to Karrde’s compound with the Empire looking for them to ‘help’ Karrde who’s said they’re dodgy, we learn that Mara Jade used to be Emperor Palpatine’s ‘Hand’, his top assassin, until Luke killed him and ruined her life. Lando and Han do some detective work and force Karrde to tell them Luke’s around, Thrawn has also figured this out, fuck knows where Master C’Boath is, still waiting for Luke to turn up on that other planet I suppose.  

That night Mara Jade saves Luke’s life from the local monsters and Leia is attacked again, but this time the Gohri gets close enough to smell her and proclaims her the Mal’ary’ush and lets her go, there was also an attack on Kashyyk at the same time but none of that is shown because large panels of Leia in her underwear is more important, Chewie sorts out the Gohri but Leia has him keep the attacker alive. turns out Leia shares the scent of her father and the Gohri pretty much worship Darth Vader after he saved them, they agree to meet her above Endor in a month. Threepio gets a message to Artoo (who’s with Luke and Mara, sorry) and then Luke saves Mara from the local wildlife to help them bond. Above Myrkr the cloaking device Thrawn’s had being built since he found the parts with C’Boath is successful tested, he can now hide a Star Destroyer. Mara gives Luke his lightsabre back and then helps disguise him (aww she does like him really) then they get captures (on purpose) so does Han and they plan an ambush that end sin dropping a whole stone archway on the Imperials, the only hold up is Lando and Torve arguing over trusting Luke (Lando does, Trove doesn’t) that gets Lando injured. The Imperial arses thoroughly kicked Han decides to take Luke’s X-Wing to get fixed…at Sluis Van! (Karrde and co evacuate the Myrkr). At Sluis van Thrawns’ plan goes perfectly, cloaked he sneaks his Star Destroyer in accompanied by an empty freight, which explodes and is full of TIE-Fighters! Wedge leads the Rogue squadron against the attackers but while they’re detected the Mole Miners are sent out, Thrawn is stealing himself a fleet! Until the Falcon blindly stumbles across this huge attack and becomes the fly in the ointment, setting off the Mole Miners to scuttle the ships so at least Thrawn doesn’t have them, Thrawn runs. Leia then calls in to say Admiral Ackbar has been arrested – dun dun dun! 

This has the strangest choice of cliff-hanger ending I can think of; in fact the pacing is somewhat arsebackwards the whole series but instead of say, having Thrawn have stolen the ships, or blown something up, or something else big and dramatic the cliff-hanger is the bloke who says ‘it’s a trap’ being arrested, Admrial Ackbar was about the F-plot of this story, in fact I wasn’t even aware I should be paying attention to it, I thought the scenes were there to benefit Han and Leia’s plots. That actually encapsulates my critics for the whole comic - too much going on, weird pacing choices and no flow. There's so many scenes per issue, refreshing in today’s world of decompressed writing for the trade style of comic books but it can become overwhelming and a little confusing, mostly due to the lack of simple things like information caption boxes telling us simple things like what planet we’re on. A novel can throw scenes at you and have them all be contained with no flow between thanks to the chapter format they employ but that really doesn't translate so well to a comic format and with some chapters translating to as little as a page it becomes a bit choppy and segmented. The pacing and focus issues are, on reflection, possibly caused by the same thing, which can be boiled down to 'pages given to an event relative to how important it is', fuck this up and the book feels weird, this book feels weird. For instance: Thrawn is given lots of page time during the build up but his 'finale' (final scene) in Sluis Van isn't given half the page time of the events of Karrde's planet, which thanks to how many panels it takes up feels like the actual finale with Sluis Van scene just tacked on the end as an almost epilogue of sorts and makes the book appear to be badly written, like wasted too much time on Thrawn when Karrde and Mara Jade were really the more featured characters later on. I actually think this isn't the case and it's due to just giving the each scene in the book the panels it requires rather than the panels it needs to get across what's going on.  

Mara Jade's arse will be the focus of this panel because...?
The art’s… very European, the closest equivalent I can think of is Chris Bachalo though it’s not quite as stylized as that (but few things are), it also puts me in mind of the official artwork for the Street Fighter Alpha trilogy if you remember that (Edayan I think?); I’m not going to say it doesn’t work because it does look good, often very dynamic, and you can see the actors within the style but I never really quite understood why companies have these really cartoony exaggerated artists work on books based on live action properties, it’s just so… illogical. There isn’t any comparison stuff on Wookieepedia so I have no idea how closely the comic follows the book buuut at there isn’t any comparisons stuff on Wookieepedia I’m going to assume it must be pretty good, the dialogue and movie characters are all fine but by being so isn’t particularly noteworthy, everyone’s in character and it makes up for the weird pacing and sensory overload level of scenes.   

What else? The new characters! Karrde’s a very disappointing replacement for Jabba the Hutt, you can’t go from a huge pervo-slug to a bloke with a Durango moustache and not have it feel like a let-down, this bloke feels like he should be jobbing for Stone Cold Steve Austin or carrying amps for Motorhead not running a universe’s worth of organised crime, as a character though he’s quiet likable, it’s nice to have an honour amongst thieves character replacing the brutal self-serving Jabba. Mara Jade... she’s often straddles the line of Mary-Suedom but mostly she stays on the cool side, the time she spends with Luke in the forest is great, they have genuine chemistry and it puts her over well, you can see in these scenes alone why people took to her as much as they did/do/have - she’s actually one of my favourite Star Wars gals. Thrawn is awesome, he’s the complete opposite of Vader and Sidious but he still rocks the same level of presence – while wearing white of all things! He’s calm, knowledgeable and genre savvy but still fallible and gets his arse kicked pretty spectacularly, what confirmed by liking of him how well he reacts to it, he admits he lost and pulls out, no stomping, no blasting of laser in frustration, no blaming anyone and everyone, just pulls out. The Gohri, eeeeh, they’re endemic of a problem have with new races added in a lot of expanded universe material, not just for Star Wars, but for Star Trek, Doctor Who, most things based on live-action properties – they don’t look like special effects, they look like cartoon/comic characters, this is partly to do with the whole ‘having cartoony artists draw life action properties’ but some of it’s just not putting enough effort in, this is the early 90’s, how hard is it to watch a VHS of the Jabba’s Palace scene and match your design appropriately – well it seems that I wasn’t the only one, someone wrote into the series to say that they kind of didn’t look in-style with the movie’s aliens and in reply they said ‘well LUCAS approved it’ (an argument that will lose all weight once the Prequels start coming out) and shows the design, which looks completely fucking different:
Look at that, that’s barely the same thing!
I suppose it IS the first part in a trilogy (and the last time I read it all in one go the pacing didn’t seem too bad) but the best trilogies present us with a satisfying and complete story each part, surely? Thus it’s my least favourite of the three Thrawn Trilogy comics, it’s little flaws combine the worst on Kashyyk but they just niggle all the way through and the art is the worst suited of the three (Terry Dodson draws the next mini, so good) but it’s not bad, it can be badly paced but no, I can’t say it’s bad, flawed, we’ll call it flawed, a flawed start to the Thrawn Trilogy, yes, that sounds professional and shit. also I am never recapping six issues in one go ever again if I can help it!

That’s your lot, thanks for wasting time on my ramblings, go look at porn or something. While you do I’m going to go do something very similar and watch The Force Awakens, which will either be a cause for celebration or a cause to shift all of those 'George Lucas is Satan' snarks over to J.J. Abrams, I'll know tomorrow.   

1 there’s an error in the original print of this, when Thrawn is going on about how he’s figured out the switch he says that Leia and Chewie are on the Millennium Falcon, when they are in fact on the Lady Luck, it confused me to hell until I realised it as just a mistake

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