Friday, July 22, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3 - Part 4

And finally- the last few issues included in this collection. All in all, I enjoyed the heck out of this book and the various stories within, even if some of them (as you'll see below) have their problems...

Serphidian Eyes

This is a single-issue story arc- and one that seems oddly out of place since it does not follow the continuity of the previous issue. In fact, it actually 'gets in the way' of the conclusion of the "Shira Brie" arc (which actually happens in the next issue). This story seems as though it could have taken place at any point in the Star Wars timeline, being a rather 'generic' and self contained adventure.

The basic premise of Serphidian Eyes is that the Rebellion needs a listening post established on the remote world of Serphidi. Unfortunately, the ruler of the native population of that world (the Serps) is a tyrant and likely opposed to Rebel contact. Thus Luke and two other pilots (Berl and Cinda) are sent to "change a few minds".

Upon arriving over Serphidi, the rebels find themselves under attack by Imperial TIE fighters. They fend off the attack, but Cinda's craft is damaged and the trio are forced to land. On the ground they are attacked by armored Serps riding lizard-mounts and wielding lances that fire energy. Berl is killed and Cinda captured. Luke just barely manages to escape. While trying to figure out a way to rescue his friend, Luke comes across an older Serp and gains his trust (by rescuing him from a native monster).

The elder Serp (Elglih), tells Luke of the plight of his world, which had banned technology long ago to keep the peace. Unfortunately, the Tyrant S'shah revived some of this technology in the form of the power lance and established himself as tyrant of the otherwise medieval world. The only way to unseat him from the throne is to defeat him at the royal tournament. And so Elglih volunteers to train Luke to fight in this tournament.

Meanwhile, Luke's wingman Cinda finds herself a captive of the tyrant S'shah. He finds her an amusing distraction- nice to look at in her 'slave garb'. But he also enjoys terrifying her by stating that he intends to eat her following his victory in the upcoming tournament.

Luke continues his training as Cinda endures her captivity and even attempts to escape (though to no avail). And then comes the day of the tournament. The battle is hard fought, but Luke manages to win. Thus S'shah is defeated and Elglih takes the throne at Luke's request- vowing friendship and aid to the Rebel Alliance.

As I said before, this whole adventure seems a bit out of place in the timeline of the comics up to this point. Even so, it is a generally solid adventure, if a bit hokily written and presented. The medieval trappings of the Serphidian society don't look alien at all, rather, they look like stereotypical 'knight in shining armor' stuff, except for the fact that everyone (and their horses) are big lizards (it's always big lizards). But that doesn't spoil my overall enjoyment, even if I do have to wonder: what exactly was Leia's intention when she sent three pilots to this world. Did she honestly expect three pilots to be able to overthrow a tyrant? Maybe she just hoped for some kind of diplomatic solution, but... well, it's all a bit obscure.

Golrath Never Forgets

This is a single issue story-arc, but one that brings in and ties together plot threads from previous issues- namely the whole "Shira Brie" saga. The adventure begins with Luke returning from his adventures of two issues ago. He stands trial for both the killing of Shira Brie and his 'desertion' after the fact. He is cleared of all charges, however, due to the evidence he was able to gather on Shira and her status as an Imperial agent.

But before anyone can celebrate another problem rears its head. A Rebel tech had taken a stone from the Alliance's previous (if temporary) base on the planet Golrath as a keepsake. This stone begins to exhibit odd properties: namely, it seems to have somehow 'stored' and can project visual images of what was around it. Rebel scientists determine that this particular mineral acts as a kind of natural video-recorder. Unfortunately for the rebels, this means that the stone walls of their previous base actually recorded all their activities on Golrath. Leia quickly scrambles an attack force to return to their previous base and destroy it before the Empire discovers their previous base and its 'recordings'.

Unbeknownst to the Rebels, the Empire has already found the base. The investigation of it has been turned over to Lieutenant Giel (the same officer who had been demoted by Vader in previous issues). Giel feels that the assignment is a punitive one, but is determined to do his best job anyway. He is thrilled when some of his men discover the odd properties of the stone. Giel sees this as a way to begin his climb back to his position as admiral.

The rebel strike force hits the system and is immediately embroiled in a battle with Giel's forces in space. As the starfighters duke it out in orbit, Leia is dropped (via a Jetpack) onto the base itself to set its reactor to self destruct. Giel notices this and sets a trap- personally cornering Leia in the Generator room. There he cuts her off and then HE sets the reactor to blow. Giel offers Leia and ultimatum, surrender or he kills both of them. He reasons that his loss to the Empire will not be crippling, but her loss to the Rebellion could hurt it greatly. Leia, realizing that Giel is NOT bluffing, surrenders- or rather, appears to. Just when things seem lost, however, Leia remotely triggers her jetpack (strapped to a supply cart). This distracts the Imperial- and in fact runs him right over- allowing Leia to escape the reactor room.

Giel gives chase, but its too late. Outside, Leia is extracted via a daring low-level Y-Wing flyby (piloted by Lando and covered by Luke in his X-Wing). Giel takes a pot shot at Luke as he flies by, but seems to do only minimal damage. The former admiral then calmly evacuates with his men, though to an uncertain fate, as he has to now report another failure to Vader. Behind him, the previous rebel base explodes

In space, the Rebels engage their hyperdrives and escape the still-pursuing Imperials. They all escape. Well. Almost all. It seems that the shot that hit Luke's fighter actually DID do some damage. He's stuck facing an armada of TIE fighters. To be continued (in the next issue, of course).

This story frustrates me. On the one hand, I love the whole 'mission' aspect of it. From the waves of Rebel fighters to the covert drop of Leia to sabotage the base. I love Giel as a villain, for once again he shows both intelligence and true dedication to his cause. His intimidation of Leia is an AWESOME example of that. Yes, I love this adventure...except for the fact that the premise beneath it is entirely stupid. Really? Rocks that record what's going on around them...and play it back? The Rebels were at that base for some time- weeks (if not months) and you mean to tell me that nobody noticed this about the rocks THEN? Again, it seems to be a Macguffin devised solely to set up a situation. This is all the more frustrating because some other, more believable Macguffin could have been used. Hell, it could have been something as simple as: The Empire is setting up a new base on , we have a chance to destroy it before it is fully operational. There. You have a solid reason for a quick strike without any magical movie rocks. I would also have added more saboteurs than just Leia to the 'ground team'. Seriously, I mean they send in just ONE person? And one of their top commanders, to boot? That seems just a little reckless. Why not have a squad of guys accompanying Leia. It wouldn't have changed much at all. Bleh. Yes, so- this could have been one of the most awesome Star Wars adventures yet, Instead it is just 'what could have been'.

Water Bandits

This story picks up after the previous issue. The hyperdrive on Luke Skywalker's X-Wing had been damaged. He manages to hide out on a backwater desert planet to evade the pursuing imperial TIE Fighters. When his provisions are spoiled by local insects, he is forced to visit a local settlement. There he discovers that not all is well on this planet. A friendly female water farmer by the name of Darial explains that mysterious bandits have been stealing all their water harvests and stores, using some mysterious weapon that knocks out any defenders. Luke agrees to help and that night stands guard at Darial's farm. Unfortunately, he succumbs to a strange drowsiness, just like everyone else- but not before sensing something odd- voices saying that they "do what they must" and "mean you no harm".

When Luke wakes, the other dazed farm hands tell him that Darial has gone missing, along with all the water- they fear she's been taken by the bandits. Luke determinedly sets out into the mountains after her. He finds the bandits' base, but is captured and taken before their leader, Gideon Longspar. The villain, of course, lays out his plan now- gesturing to a globe that holds some strange cloud of tiny organisms. Seems these organisms are an empathic colony (referring to itself telepathically as Tirrith). Gideon captured part of the colony and holds it hostage- threatening to harm or kill it if the rest does not do his bidding. Tirrith complies because any harm to PART of the colony will bring great pain to the rest. The water thefts are made possible by the organism creating an odorless chemical that renders humanoids unconscious. After this, the bandits move in and take what they want.

Luke and Darial are then thrown into a cell. They manage to escape, however, with a distraction caused by Tirrith as well as some use of force powers by Luke (who uses telekinesis to open the bolt on their cell). Once freed, Luke manages to free the 'hostage' organisms, but the bandits respond and are about to overrun Luke and Darial. Tirrith urges Darial to destroy the water storage tanks in the Bandit's base- to use the flood to defeat them. Darial is hesitant, because her people NEED that water to survive...but in the end, she does so. The bandits are washed away, but at what cost?

Luke and Darial return to her farm, but the woman is uncertain about her future. At this point, Tirrith returns and through manipulation of the planet's atmosphere causes it to rain.

Overall, I really liked this story. For the most part, it seemed pretty plausible (in a space fantasy kind of way). Tirrith was a unique kind of alien entity and didn't seem TOO outside the realm of believability. About the only thing I didn't like about the story was the fact that the water farmers never thought to use breath masks when there were a LOT of clues that the Bandits could have been using some kind of chemical knockout gas to commit their crimes.


This story is told within the Star Wars “King Size Annual!”. While on the run from the Empire on the planet Ventooine, Luke and Lando stumble across a statue of Han Solo. A local priest informs them that Han is revered on this world as their savior. A rather convenient audio-recording in the statue then begins to narrate the tale, in Han Solo’s own words.

Years ago, Han and Chewbacca had visited Ventooine in search of some rare spice. This being Han Solo, things rapidly got complicated. Finding himself on the run from some hostile locals, Han inadvertently saves the life of a beautiful woman named Chrysalla. The latter turns out to be the consort of the local Tyrant (known as the “Satab”) and insists that Han accompany her back to the palace to be rewarded properly. Meanwhile, we see that a local priest that Han had helped out earlier is actually part of a plot to overthrow the Satab.

At the Satab’s palace, Han is treated to a banquet- but also gets to see first hand the corruption of the tyrant. The Satab ‘entertains’ his dinner guests by executing a revolutionary with a strange power that seems to just drain him of life. During the dinner, Han is also forced to give up his blaster. This leaves him an unarmed and slightly unwilling ‘houseguest’. Once night falls, however, Han determines to continue with his original mission- to get his hands on the rare spice he came here for (and which he had seen the Satab using earlier). While sneaking through the darkened halls of the palace, however, he is discovered. Thankfully, it is by a friendly Chrysalla, who invites Han to join her in her room. Ahem.

Unfortunately for both of them, the Satab seems to be aware of this tryst, able to perceive the two of them through some strange clairvoyant ability. The next day, the tyrant invites Solo out for a tour of the realm, taking him to see a mine. Here, the Satab’s lackeys release a monster to attack Solo. With some quick thinking, Han manages to kill the beast. At this, the Satab comments quietly to his underlings that he may have must found the perfect candidate to be the NEXT Satab. This development, overheard by a spy, is reported to the local priests conspiring against the tyrant.

That evening, Han is invited to the throne room of the Satab, who has a ‘gift’ for the smuggler- the “Shadeshine”- a strange gemstone amulet that seems to be the source of his power. Han (being Han) is ready to accept this, seeing it as a bit of good luck. Before he can, however, the proceedings are interrupted by the capture of the rebellious priests, who had come to the palace in disguise. Even so, Han is about to accept the “Shadeshine” when Chrysalla suddenly acts- using Han’s blaster to create a distraction, she pulls the smuggler away from the Satab and the two flee. Han is confused by all of this, but as he puts it: “Sure wish I knew what was goin’ on. But until I do, I’m sidin’ with the pretty one.”

Whilst fleeing through the bowels of the palace, Chrysalla explains the TRUE nature of the Shadeshine. It does indeed grant many powers, but it comes with a price. Within a year of coming in contact with the stone, a victim’s senses are enhance to the point where the slightest sensation is overwhelming. All of the previous Satabs have fallen to this and placed themselves in suspended animation in a vault beneath the palace. The current Satab had intended to retreat here as well. The plan, you see, is to Select a suitably ‘ruthless’ and capable person to be the next Satab in the hopes that THIS person will be able to find a ‘cure’ for the Shadeshine, if only out of self-interest (but in the hopes that he will then cure those who came before). Han is shown proof of this when Chrysalla opens the vault containing all the Satabs that came before.

It is at this point that the current Satab finds the two of them and a battle erupts. Using the mystical powers of the Shadeshine, the Satab rapidly begins to gain the upper hand over Solo. Chrysalla then steps in, managing to wrest the stone away from the tyrant. Suddenly able to use those same powers, she manages to resist the Satab’s attack. This clash of powers is evidently the last straw, as the Tyrant literally burns up from the power of the stone. Unfortunately, this means that Chrysalla will eventually share the Satab’s fate. Even so, the Tyrant has been overthrown. Han gets his spice, but the ‘victory’ is dulled by the fact that Chrysalla must retire to the hibernation vault. Thus, the story ends.

Back in the ‘present’, Luke and Lando are aided by the priest when Stormtroopers come looking. The holy man directs the troopers into a mysterious vault where they fall victim to the suspended animation machinery within. Looking on from the Doorway, Luke and Lando see Chrysalla there, thus confirming this amazing story.

Overall, I liked the story. It was a solid adventure tale that felt very ‘pulp hero’ to me, complete with decadent tyrants and scantily clad female consorts. The writing was a bit ‘expositive’, but not bad- and Han Solo did have a few good lines. In fact, I thought they did a reasonably good job of keeping him ‘in character’- or at least in character for his younger self- obsessed with wealth and luxury and perhaps not as wise as his older self. But again there are some problems I have with the ‘root’ of the story- the “Shadeshine” itself. I don’t have a problem really with the ‘powers’ the stone granted. In fact, they felt a lot to me like ‘dark side’ Force abilities. No, the problem I had was with the reasoning behind the Satab’s actions. If each Satab was ruthless and ‘morally flexible’, what makes any of the guys who went on before think that if one of their successors DOES find a ‘cure’ for the gem that they would ever use it to revive all the previous rulers. I mean, if you’re a Tyrant do you really want to suddenly wake up hundreds of OTHER Tyrants who will probably want the throne back? Uhhh. No. To me, it would have made more sense if the Satab was simply looking for a ‘host’- a body and a mind compatible with his own in order to prolong his own life by transferring his consciousness- or even by ‘draining’ the host. But maybe that’s just me…

The Darker

As with the previous few issues, this is another relatively self-contained, single-issue story. It is different from most of the rest in this collection because it focuses almost entirely upon all the ‘sidekick’ characters of the Saga, namely C-3PO, Chewbacca and R2-D2. In fact, of all of them, I’d say that Threepio was probably the main hero of the story.

While working on the Rebel base on Arbra, Artoo hears a call for help coming from one of the unexplored cave passages. Following this, the droid Disappears- causing one of the locals (a bunny-like ‘hoojib’) to go seeking help. 3PO and Chewbacca (along with a small group of Hoojibs) respond to the call and soon find a cave sealed off by a strange Force Field. Within, they find a creepy, ruined city- and also a partially dismantled Artoo. Before they can rescue him, however, they discover the true resident of the area- a strange, floating entity calling itself “The Darker”.

“The Darker” explains its origins- claiming that the race that USED to live on this planet were ultra advanced, technologically. They had even found a way to eliminate their ‘baser emotions’. They weren’t able to destroy this evil half of themselves, though, but rather built a prison for it- this very cave. The Darker, then, is the remains of this evil energy, trapped here long after the original race that created it had departed. Furthermore, the Darker intends to escape by using the Droids to weaken its force field prison. It then intends to inflict its will upon others.

Needless to say, the heroes don’t take this well. Chewbacca attacks- only to find his hatred amplified by the Darker- and redirected towards Threepio. The droid flees, managing to elude the enthralled Wookiee. The droid searches through the records of the lost city to try and find some way of defeating The Darker. He manages to do just that- all the while evading Chewbacca. Threepio even manages to get Artoo running again- just in time to be Cornered by Chewbacca. Before the Wookiee can demolish the droid, however, Threepio appeals to Chewie’s love for Han. This snaps Chewbacca out of his rage-trance.

Threepio then explains that the Darker had lied earlier. He said that the race that created him could NOT destroy him. The truth of the matter is, they CHOSE not to destroy him, because he was a part of them, even if he was their worst part. The force field that holds the Darker does so because it CAN destroy him. The Darker then returns. Chewbacca tries to face him, but is overcome by waves of fear directed at him. Only the timely intervention of the Hoojibs (who had been cowering the the shadows all this time) distract the Darker long enough for Chewbacca to recover- and throw the entity into the Force field, destroying it for good.

As the weary heroes leave the cave and return to the Rebel base, they are teased by Luke and Lando for their absence- with Luke insinuating that they’d been on ‘vacation’.

This is certainly one of the more strange Star Wars stories, dealing as it does with disembodied entities and ancient all-powerful races. But even so, it’s not bad, and not entirely outside the realm of believability (within the Star Wars universe). It was also nice to see Threepio get a chance to be the hero, however reluctant he was to do so.

1 comment:

  1. "Golrath Never Forgets" was one of my favorite comics growing up. Leia shines as a warrior, able to accomplish the mission alone...with Giel's help. The art was great with technology matching the movies.

    Quite a few Marvel comics make for easy adaptation for role-playing, this one especially. Of course, you're correct that Leia acting alone on such an important mission would be foolish. A small strike team makes better sense, though one of the PCs could end up separated from the rest and face Giel alone.

    Giel is such a great villain. I really enjoy returning villains, especially when they're allowed to grow.