Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3 - Part 3

This is yet another continuation of my review of the Star Wars Marvel Comics Omnibus, Volume 3. In this installment I'll be looking at a four-comic story-arc that centers around the newly introduced character Shira Brie.

Shira's Story

In this story, we see the Rebel Alliance (Luke Skywalker's Squadron specifically) using its illegally acquired TIE fighters to launch a series of raids on remote Imperial installations unprepared for attacks from "friendly" craft. We also see the burgeoning relationship between Luke and Shira via their banter during and after combat. After one mission, Shira asks to be allowed to run a personal errand. Leia nixes the request, fearful of compromising base security- see, only high-ranking officers actually know the coordinates of the secret base on Arbra. Thus, if Shira left, she wouldn't be able to find her way back. Luke, knowing the coordinates, volunteers to escort Shira on her errand. Leia agrees, though reluctantly (once again implying some sort of unease between the Princess and Shira).

Shira, Luke and a couple other pilots from the squadron head to the remote world of Shalyvane- Shira's birthplace. On the surface they find only ruins. Shira insists on visiting a local temple alone and performs a strange ceremony in which she cuts herself and lets the blood drip onto an altar of sorts. This is rudely interrupted when a large group of humanoids suddenly attacks. Luke and his group are quickly pinned down, even as Shira explains what happened: Evidently her people used to live in these ruins and were at war with the 'nomads' now attacking them. That war ended when the nomads told the Empire that Shira's people were rebel sympathizers- prompting the complete destruction of the city- and all of Shira's family by bombardment and stormtrooper assault. That is the reason for Shira joining the Rebellion and her reason for returning here is to renew her 'blood vow' of vengeance for her people.

After this story is told Artoo discovers an underground tunnel and the rebels prepare to use it to escape. Unfortunately, the tunnel collapses after Shira enters it, apparently killing her. Luke and his men hold out until they run out of ammo, then prepare to make a final stand against the nomads when, suddenly, an X-Wing soars in and drives them back. Evidently Shira made it out of the tunnel and back to her ship, saving them all. Luke seems especially relieved that Shira survived- again hinting at the growing relationship.

This is definitely one of the better story arcs in the marvel comics series. From the dialogue to the 'realistic' feel of the missions presented it was quite grounded in the 'reality' of the Star Wars universe (i.e. it felt like the movies to me). About the only thing I don't really like is the suggested jealousy Leia holds for Shira. Though looking at this with 'modern' eyes, you could easily read something more into it- a protectiveness Leia feels towards her brother and perhaps some unease about Shira herself- whom she doesn't trust for some reason...

Screams in the Void

This issue begins with an awards ceremony for Shira Brie for her actions in saving her squadron-mates in their last mission. The award is presented by Leia herself and Shira is shown to be accepted and admired by the other Rebels. The rift between Leia and Shira seems to deepen, however, as Luke spends all his time with the latter at the expense of the former. This leads to a whole scene in which in introspective Leia examines just what she's feeling and why she's feeling it- going so far as to remind herself that she IS in love with Han Solo, and shouldn't begrudge Luke forming his own relationship...should she?

We then cut to the armada of Admiral Giel, who had briefly been introduced in the former issue. Here, we see him in command of an escort mission for a strange electromagnetic entity called a 'screamer'. This rare (perhaps unique) creature could, if 'installed' on Coruscant, greatly increase the speed of intergalactic communications for the Empire, thus giving them another edge over the Rebellion. Giel is shown to be a firm but fair commander- and in fact comes off as competent- a seeming rarity among Imperial officers.

We then rejoin the rebels as they prepare for their next mission. Here we finally see the REAL reason that they acquired the TIE Fighters in the previous missions. They intend to infiltrate Admiral Giel's armada and destroy the Screamer before the Empire realizes what's going on. It is during preparation for this mission that Shira takes Luke aside and they share a kiss- after haltingly commenting on how dangerous the coming mission is going to be.

Phase one of the rebel plan involves ambushing a long-range patrol from the Admiral's fleet. From a captured TIE pilot, the rebels gain the recognition codes they will need to pose as that same returning patrol. Phase two of the plan is the infiltration itself, with some tense moments as the recognition code is given and finally accepted. Phase three finds all hell breaking loose as Luke and his squadron attack- prompting the Empire to open fire on its own TIEs in an attempt to isolate the attackers. Admiral Giel cleverly orders his techs to utilize the "Screamer" to jam all communications channels save his own. Thus, Luke and his squadron find themselves unable to identify each other in the melee. As Luke lines up for his shot on Giel's ship, he finds his path blocked by another TIE. Reaching out with the force to determine if it's a friend or foe, he senses foe and fires- destroying the tie before firing the shots that destroy the Shrieker and cripple Giel's ship (which had been carrying it).

Luke only narrowly escapes Imperial pursuit and makes it back to base. There, he finds an oddly cold reception. Evidently one of Luke's team-mates made it back just before Luke. On his flight-recorder, Rebel techs have made a shocking discovery. The fighter Luke shot down, thinking it was an enemy, was actually Shira Brie's.

Again, this was a pretty darn good story. And again this was mostly due to the dialogue (and monologue) of the various characters. The action leading up to the final showdown was great, as was the Introduction of Admiral Giel as a unique character. What I really did NOT like was the whole concept of the "Screamer". It just came off as being far fetched- and in retrospect it really only seemed to exist as a Mcguffin to set up the REST of the story. It provided a reason for the Rebels to attack. It provided a reason why the Empire could jam Luke's communications- thus setting the stage for the tragic accidental death of Shira Brie at Luke's hands. You could have just as easily had something more believable be the target of the attack (a prototype shield or weapon or vehicle, etc.) and the whole Jamming thing could have just as easily been standard Imperial jamming- or a special jammer on Giel's flagship. You didn't need to make up some 'cosmic entity'. Bleh.


This story picks immediately after the events of the last, as Luke tries to come to grips with the fact that he has just evidently killed Shira Brie, his wingman- and a woman he was beginning to have feelings for. He faces cool hostility from many in the Rebel base- and some outright anger as one soldier accuses him of being a 'sorceror' who may be in league with Darth Vader. Luke reflects moodily on his sudden status as outcast- and feels all the worse because he IS guilty of shooting down Shira. Ultimately, he decides to dig further into the matter, unable to accept the fact that the Force simply led him astray in identifying her as an enemy. Lando and Chewbacca aid Luke in taking the Millennium Falcon, despite standing orders that Skywalker was to be confined to base. Chewbacca goes so far as to accompany the boy in a show of solidarity with his friend.

Not sure where to begin, Luke travels to Shira's desolate homeworld of Shalyvane, hoping to learn more about her and the strange blood ritual she performed there (several issues previous). What he finds are more hostile natives- the same nomads who attacked him the last time he visited. From their Shaman, however, he learns a very different story than the one Shira told. This was not a human city at all, but rather home to the Nomads, wiped out without warning by the Empire. Luke is skeptical, but his misgivings about Shira's story only grow when he discovers a transmitter hidden inside the 'altar' Shira had visited. Mimicking Shira's own action, Luke lets drops of his own blood fall on the altar. At first nothing happens, and then suddenly- Darth Vader Appears!

I thought this was a very solid story, if a bit melodramatic. But then, a lot of comics of this era are. I especially liked the idea of not ALL of the alliance folks liking the fact that Luke has the Force. With this being set post-Empire Strikes Back it has the added gut-punch of making Luke question himself and his training. Is Darth Vader really his father? CAN his powers be trusted if this is so? What else DIDN'T Yoda and Ben tell him… I also really enjoyed the various reactions of the other heroes. Lando and Chewbacca in particular really stand by Luke in his moment of need. What I didn't understand, though, is the 'faked' scene early in the story where Leia pretends to have chewed out Luke and he pretends to be angry with that. It was evidently done so that Leia wouldn't seem 'preferential' in her treatment of a soldier who had just committed 'fratricide', but to me, it didn't seem to work- it just made Luke look all the more guilty- and like a jerk, to boot.

The Mind Spider

This issue picks up right away with the Cliffhanger from the last- which is quickly defused as Darth Vader turns out to be just a pre-recorded Hologram who (very thoughtfully) 'monologues' his entire plan to Luke. Seems Shira was an agent of the Dark Lord, placed to bring about the downfall of Luke by destroying his credibility within the Rebellion- turning him into an outcast with nobody to turn to- except Vader. The hologram- and the transmitter- then self-destruct, leaving Luke with the knowledge that Shira was a traitor- but no proof.

Meanwhile, on Vader's Flagship, Admiral Giel (from two issues ago) must report his failure to the Dark Lord. His professionalism and courage impress Vader enough that he doesn't kill the man- he merely demotes him to Lieutenant. At this point, Vader receives word that the transmitter on Shalyvane has terminated- and Vader sets course immediately for a world called “Krake's Planet”.

As it turns out, this is where Luke had traveled as well- looking to break into an Imperial “data vault”. The vault is revealed to be of rather unique construction: an organic “crystal cocoon” shaped by native slug-like creatures under Imperial control. It is held aloft in the middle of a ravine by spindly, leg-like supports, giving it a resemblance to a giant spider (the titular “mind spider”). Luke and Chewbacca manage to sneak inside through a difficult to reach (and less well guarded) kitchen entrance. Here, they ambush an Imperial officer and (by pretending to poison him) convince him to access the computer files via the Kitchen's recipe terminal. Here then, Luke finally gets the proof he needs- Shira Brie's complete file. It reveals her to be an Imperial agent in Darth Vader's employ. Unfortunately, stormtroopers attack and destroy the data-disk Luke had just used to capture that information.

A running battle ensues as Luke and Chewbacca try to escape the vault. The two are separated, forcing Luke to find his own way out (and hope Chewbacca can do the same). He manages to get back to the Falcon and take off. He then swings back around to see if he can find Chewie. Utilizing the Force, Luke reaches out and 'convinces' the commander of the Vault to lower its shields momentarily. This allows Luke to fly in and pick up the Wookiee. By this time, however, the shields are back up. Nothing to do now but destroy the whole complex. And that's what they do- escaping as the Data Vault explodes. Vader's fleet has evidently just arrived in orbit as this happens, but is unable to prevent the Falcon from escaping yet again. Luke is at first distraught at being unable to get the proof he needs. Thankfully, Chewbacca had gone back to make another copy of the data (hence the reason for his getting separated from Luke). The two then head back to base to clear Luke's name.

Meanwhile, on Vader's ship we follow the Dark Lord as he visits the medical bay. There, floating in a bacta tank, is none other than Shira Brie herself- injured but apparently still alive.

I was REALLY enjoying this story arc until the very end. I mean the exchange between Giel and Vader was neat- as was the fact that Vader's plan to discredit Luke was actually not that bad (though I do wonder just how Shira intended to do that if she HADN'T been blown up). The infiltration of the data vault is fun as well, as it the con-job Luke pulls in convincing an Imperial officer he had been poisoned (using soap flakes). There is also an awesome fight between Luke and some Stormtroopers that shows just how badass Luke was getting by this point. I also really loved the cliffhanger- with Shira revealed to be still alive. She will, of course, come back to haunt Luke in the future.

The whole Data Vault thing was a bit odd, however. Why would the Empire make use of crystal-exuding slugs to create a base? Maybe it was just cost effective. If that's the case (and I'm assuming it is), then I have no problem with it.

The 'deal-breaker' for me, however is in the final few moments of the adventure. It is another example of the Force used as a deus ex machina. Without even seeing her, or being anywhere close to her, Luke manages to somehow mentally control the base commander and force her to lower the shields momentarily. It just felt so out of the blue and way beyond anything Luke had shown before. I also disliked the fact that Luke and Chewbacca apparently destroyed the Imperial base by turning the Falcon's shields on and flying straight THROUGH it. That seems implausible, otherwise, why wouldn't ships with shields just be flying through everything? Bleh. In any case, it was a lame “Wah wah wah” ending to an otherwise great story arc.

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