A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

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A Rogue One Review – A Force of Nostalgia

Rogue One posterTITLE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker. 
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
133 min
RELEASED: 
December 16, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars movie. Less a space fantasy, more ground-level combat flick. A movie that puts the war in Star Wars. If we’re going to have one of these movies a year for the foreseeable future, the franchise needs to expand its boundaries. So different is fine. But what we get here is something that simultaneously does and does not feel like the Star Wars we know. That’s a double-edged sword. Or perhaps a double-bladed lightsaber.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans before the events of A New Hope. Our main character is Jyn Erso, whose long lost father develops the plans for the battle station. She is recruited by the Rebellion’s Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help locate her father, who has long been forced into service by the Empire. Along for the ride are Andor’s droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Together, this small band of rebels will win a crucial victory against the Empire. But the cost will be great.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-ersoThat all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is in many ways a love letter to the original 1977 Star Wars film, and there are plenty of parallels to draw. In addition to the obvious characters and imagery, Rogue One is peppered with little details, cameos, and callbacks to firmly plant it in A New Hope territory. Certain shots from the film are even mimicked once we get inside the Death Star. The plot also has numerous parallels. Our rebels sneak into enemy territory to sabotage the Empire, they dress in Imperial uniforms, there’s a droid (K-2SO in this case) manipulating things from a control room, we get a big space battle, etc. Rogue One is definitely a retro movie just as The Force Awakens was, albeit with a darker tone.

But that darker tone doesn’t necessarily help things. For so many years, a subgroup of Star Wars geeks have lamented some of the lighter elements in the movies (the Ewoks come to mind), longing for the series to focus more on the serious, dramatic, and dare I say cool side of things. To an extent, Rogue One does just that. It feels like a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan sort of movie with Star Wars stuff pasted on to it. The movie misses that sense of awe and wonder that helped make the original trilogy (and even the prequel trilogy) distinct and special. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your boundaries. But you’ve also got to remember what universe you’re in.

Rogue One, cast photoWhat’s more, these characters aren’t exactly the most memorable the franchise has produced. We understand their motivations and what drives them. But once you get past that, they’re not particularly likable or distinct. Our ensemble consists of about six people, so there’s not a lot of room for little personal moments where we get to know them as people. Case in point: Han and Leia arguing in the early minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Obi-Wan talking to Luke about his father in A New Hope. When it comes to our main character, Jyn, we know what happened to her when she was a child, and we get some vague information about what she’s done as a teenager and a young adult. But outside of her starting the story as a cynic, there’s not much to her.

Ironically, the most charming character in the movie is the K-2SO, who isn’t even human. He’s got an Alfred Pennyworth, sarcastic butler thing going for him. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, is the leader of an extremist group, and Jyn’s adopted father. His body is largely mechanical, and he needs the aid of a respirator. His dynamic with Jyn might have been interesting to explore as the movie progressed, but he’s only in the first half. Chirrut Imwe is fairly interesting. But again, we know so little about him.

rogue-one-darth-vaderBecause our main characters are fairly blasé, the classic Star Wars elements wind up serving as nostalgia boosters to keep us interested. Instead of being riveted by the story that’s unfolding, we’re looking at the stuff we recognize from that amazing movie from 40 years ago. It’s a nice recipe for warm fuzzies. Especially when we see some familiar Rebel faces, both at the base and in the space battle, two of which are played by actors from the prequels. In a perfect world, those nostalgia elements should be the garnish on top of an already compelling movie. But consider this: How appealing is Rogue One if you scale back Darth Vader’s involvement, and pluck out a few of those familiar faces?

Still, it’s fun to see Vader doing Vader stuff, especially when we get to the closing moments of the film. His entrance takes place on a planet from Episode III, which was a nice surprise. But here’s an opinion that might not be popular: The returning James Earl Jones sounds too kind. It’s like Mufasa is in the Darth Vader suit. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jones had a fantastic growl in his voice, as if there was a rage constantly boiling under the surface. It was fitting, considering all that talk about anger, hate, and the dark side. In both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, he’s lost his edge. But you can’t have someone else do Vader’s voice, can you? Jones likely has the role as long as he wants it, which is how it should be. I just wish he’d release his anger…

Rogue One, image 4This is the first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a John Williams score, which means Michael Giacchino has one of the most unenviable jobs in cinematic history. Imagine having to not only follow John Williams, but follow up on arguably his most iconic work. To his credit though, Giacchino pulls it off. He still has the classic Williams songs to work with, of course. But what he produces still feels authentic to the Star Wars universe. That’s a hell of an achievement, all things considered.

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Governor Tarkin in this movie. That was unexpected, considering he died in 1994. But through the magic of CGI, and the voice talents of Guy Henry, he’s back. It mostly works fine. Though I’d be curious to know what those who were close to Cushing think about this little trick. Also, does this mean the door is open for Alec Guinness to “return” as Obi-Wan Kenobi in future movies?

Rogue One makes for a decent viewing experience, with a lot of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. If you needed proof that the Star Wars Anthology idea can work from a creative standpoint, you now have it. But it may be the worst Star Wars film in terms of holding up to repeated viewings. All the best stuff in this movie was in A New Hope first. So given the choice, why not just watch A New Hope?

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A Darth Vader #25 Review – “Not like this. Please not like this.”

Star Wars: Darth Vader #25, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #25
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLERS: Salvador Larroca, Max Fiumara. Cover by Juan Gimenez.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: October 12, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I maintain that this Darth Vader series doesn’t have to end simply because Kieron GIllen’s story is ending. It’s not like there’s a shortage of creators out there looking for a crack at the dark lord. Nor is there a shortage of fans that will read stories about him. Nevertheless, for now this is the end for Vader’s ongoing adventures. Thankfully, he goes out on a hell of a dramatic note.

As this series has progressed, we’ve learned it’s essentially a bridge story between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Vader goes from being in the doghouse after the destruction of the Death Star, to being in a more powerful position and obsessed with finding his son. But it’s also about Aphra, a crafty archaeologist Vader forms an uneasy alliance with. She knows Vader will kill her when she’s of no further use. In issue #4, she flat out asks him to give her a quick lightsaber through the neck when the time comes. She also asks him not to eject her into space. That scene has hung over the entire series. Like Aphra, we all knew it was coming.

I didn’t think we’d actually come back to the space ejection thing. But low and behold…

Darth Vader #25, 2016, airlock, Doctor AphraLarroca’s face work with Aphra isn’t the best here, and this isn’t the most natural looking thing in the world. But that top panel on the page at right makes the whole scene. Her body language is perfect. Then on the next page you have the simple line: “Not like this. Please, not like this.” It’s a fantastic pay off to what we saw in issue #4.

And then she lives, which was actually a disappointment. While I really dig Aphra, that’s a waste of an awesome death scene. But we’ve got a Gillen-penned Doctor Aphra book coming in December that needs its title character. That could be a great book, if for no other reason than Triple-Zero and BT-1 will be in it. Plus, after what he gave us in this series Gillen deserves to stay at the table as long as he’s hungry.

Someone I could use a break from is Salvador Larroca. He’s extremely talented, he draws an incredible Darth Vader, and he’s a very natural fit for the Star Wars universe. But it’s so obvious he draws off of stills from the movie that it pulls me out of the story. Case in point, he was obviously looking at Revenge of the Sith footage when drawing Palpatine for this issue. Perhaps the key is to put him on characters that don’t appear in the movies, a la Aphra or Sana Solo.

On the plus side, Larroca’s final two pages are very good. First, we see Vader and Luke Skywalker reaching out to each other in a dream-like scene (shown below). It’s somewhat reminiscent of the climax of the Empire duel, where Vader beckons his son to come with him. Then we cut back to reality, with a long shot of the bridge on the Super Star Destroyer. Again, much like Empire.

Darth Vader #25, 2016, Salvador Larroca, Luke SkywalkerWe get a bonus back-up story here, pencilled by Max Fiumara. It turns out the Tusken Raiders had a rather unique reaction to Vader’s slaughtering of one of their villages back in issue #1. The story is silent, which is a nice change. There are a pair of pages where Fiumara switches to a more storybookish style, which is a cool textural change.

One thing I found confusing: Someone who’s apparently meant to be an elder of sorts appears after the attack. The “storybook” part of the back-up recounts a village slaughter by a man with a lightsaber. Is this supposed to be Darth Vader’s attack, or Anakin Skywalker’s from Episode II? I’d like to think it’s the latter.

At one point, Darth Vader stood head and shoulders above every other Star Wars book Marvel was putting out. Over time it lost it’s must-read status, but remained supremely executed and mostly well drawn. I’m sad to see it end. Hopefully some of its momentum will carry over into Aphra’s series.

But seriously, what a waste of a death scene…

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A Review of Darth Vader #24 – The End is Near

TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #24Darth Vader #24, 2016, cover, Salvador Larroca
AUTHOR: 
Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The penultimate issue of Star Wars: Darth Vader invites Salvador Larroca to do something he does too much of for my taste: Draw stills from the movies. But in his defense, if there was ever an issue to do that, it’s this one.

The cybernetics in Darth Vader’s suit have been shut down by Cylo-V. His respirator having (presumably) been deactivated, Vader’s life flashes before him. His mind takes him back to Mustafar, and questions arise. What if Obi-Wan had killed him? What would Anakin Skywalker think of Darth Vader? What if he were to simply surrender and die…?

I’m a sucker for issues where Vader reminisces and agonizes about the events of the prequels. So I couldn’t help but be sucked in when Vader imagined an alternate Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan throws the amputee Anakin into the lava, and the man in the black suit emerges. From there, we go into pure fan service as we get an Anakin vs. Vader lightsaber fight. Larrocca gives us a striking near-full page shot of Anakin, and while brief, the fight is a thrill. Particularly poignant is the moment where Skywalker yells “I hate you!” at his future self. Less poignant, however, is the moment where Vader says he’s well-versed in killing children.

Darth Vader #24, 2016, PadmeWe then go into many a Star Wars fan’s worst nightmare: A Padme scene. Kieron Gillen keeps this one pretty simple, though. Anakin’s dead wife represents the temptation of surrender. A temptation I’d have thought would be greater. That relationship longed for depth and substance. But boy did Anakin love Padme. If the implication here is that they can be together in death, you’d think he’d just give in.

But Vader’s choice here is powerful, and telling as to just how far into the darkness he’s gone. Instead of going with his wife, Vader summons his anger and hatred to will himself into a comeback. To their credit, Gillen, Larroca, and the Darth Vader team made me believe Anakin Skywalker was dead.

HIs rendering of movie stills notwithstanding, Larroca does deliver some great imagery with Vader. Early the issue, as the dark lord is motionless and vulnerable, we get a shot of Cylo with his hand on Vader’s helmet. Someone being able to lay a hand on him like that is…unsettling. It’s certainly not something we’re used to seeing. Also, In the Mustafar sequence we see Darth Vader emerge from the lava like a black phoenix. Lightsaber in hand, of course.

This story also sets the stage for a confrontation in our final issue between Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra, which is what the ending should be. I maintain this series doesn’t have to end. For obvious reasons, a Darth Vader book will always have an audience. But 25 issues is a good run, and it’ll be good to see Gillen and Larroca finish what they started.

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A Darth Vader #21 Review – The Hunt For Aphra Continues

Darth Vader #21 (2016)TITLE: Darth Vader #21
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 8, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really surprised to hear Darth Vader is ending at issue #25. The series isn’t quite what it was when it began. But it’s got a solid cast in Doctor Aphra, Triple-Zero & BT-1, and of course, Darth Vader himself. It’s still very much worth picking up. But apparently Gillen is done. That’s fair enough. But I’m not sure why Marvel wouldn’t hand this series off to another writer. I guarantee you that’ll be the case when Jason Aaron is done with Star Wars. So why not here?

In any event, things aren’t looking good for Aphra, as the droids have been tasked with hunting her down. Meanwhile, the Emperor has tasked Vader with bringing an end to Cylo, a former servant of the Empire. But neither Cylo or his “abominations” will go down without a fight.

I’ve been turned off by Salvador Larocca’s art lately, particularly his drawing of the characters from the movies. At certain points it’s painfully obvious he’s rendering them based on specific shots and moments in the films. He’s hardly the only artist to have done this. But that doesn’t make it better. At this point, my favorite Darth Vader issues are the ones that don’t feature any classic characters other than Vader. The only instance of what I’ll call “movie rendering” in this issue is a shot of Vader in his TIE Fighter (shown below).

Darth Vader #21, Salvador Larroca, movie renderingI don’t consider this panel a major offense. I’m such a stickler on the rendering of the Darth Vader mask that I’m just happy to see it done this well. Plus, it’s the exact same cockpit we saw in A New Hope. There’s only so much Larroca could change.

On a happier note, Larocca’s work on Aphra is very endearing here. She looks tired, beaten down, and ready to give up. As if being hunted by the Empire isn’t enough, readers of the Star Wars ongoing know Aphra just narrowly escaped death at a prison. She’s not a sympathetic character per se. But you feel for her here.

Triple-Zero and BT-1 are great here, as usual, as they lead a battalion of Vader’s battle droids in search of Aphra. Triple-Zero’s dialogue is always the riot, as you can’t help but hear it in a prim and proper accent. He’s ever the diplomatic protocol droid with a delightful violent streak. His best line this month is: “I’m afraid we’re going to have to hunt you down like the human meatbag you are, Mistress Aphra.”

Darth Vader #21, Doctor Aphra, Salvador Larroca

Our final page also sets up a pretty epic fight for next issue. I won’t spoil it. But Vader must feel like he’s back in Jabba’s palace

Darth Vader may be ending, but I’m hoping the characters that were created in this book can cross over into other books in the future. Though it’s looking Doctor Aphra may not survive much longer. That’s what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

Images from author’s collection.

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Blatant Insubordination: “What’s Star Wars About?”

Captain Kirk, You haven't seen Star Wars?By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“What’s Star Wars about?”

A young lady asked me this at work the other day without a hint of snark. She’s an outdoorsy girl without much use for movies. But still, it’s easy to just assume everybody knows what Star Wars is. You’d think people would inevitably see the original simply by virtue of being alive.

But I think that’s a geek bias seeping through. After I got this question I put the above meme (Get it?) on my Facebook. One of the comments I got read: “I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Thought about getting the DVD and starting from the beginning, but I’m not sure where it starts.”

I don’t push Star Wars, or anything else I love, on other people. But if people are curious about this kind of thing, I’m happy to offer my opinions. And this idea of explaining what Star Wars is about intrigues me. How do you offer a simple explanation of something that’s come to encompass so much?

Star Wars, trioFor whatever reason, when I got this question I thought of Kyle Gnepper over at Unshaven Comics. I’ve seen Kyle and the Unshaven crew a bunch of times at Chicago area comic conventions over the years. When he’s hyping a new comic series, he’s always got a one-sentence pitch to hook you in. Something to catch your interest and intrigue you. I won’t try to directly quote him for fear of butchering his words. But for instance, he might hype Unshaven’s The Samurnauts by saying: “It’s about a group of samurai astronauts led by an immortal Kung Fu warrior monkey.”

At that point you’ve got to at least look, right?

So what would a similar pitch be for Star Wars? And by Star Wars, I mean the original 1977 film. The young lady I spoke to was shocked to hear there were seven movies in all, with more on the way. But Episode IV: A New Hope is how the world at large was introduced to this strange universe, and it obviously served as the basis for everything else. That’s where newbs should start.

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New HopeI figure simplicity and conciseness is important when you begin to explain something like this. Don’t start by trying to explain who Darth Vader is, or what a Jedi is, or how the Skywalkers are all related to each other. You’ll lose them if you try to explain all that stuff.

Here’s the “Gnepperfied” Star Wars synopsis that I came up with: “It’s about a galactic dictatorship with a weapon that can destroy a planet, and the rebel heroes fighting against them.”

Some might argue it’s too simple or generic. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You lure them in with the broad strokes, and then explore the intricacies as you get closer. Once you’re past the simple explanations, you can get into how the Empire works, who the iconic characters are, etc.

On the subject of those iconic characters, I’ve recently started wearing character socks to work. Star Wars, superheroes, etc. Because, you know, that’s what cool people do. One such pair features little images of C-3PO. This girl in question sees the socks, her eyes pop and she asks: “Are those Minions on your socks?”

We can only do so much.

Click here for more Blatant Insubordination.

Image 2 from usatoday.com. Image 3 from digitalspy.com.

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A Star Wars: Bloodline Review – Descended From Darkness

Star Wars: BloodlineTITLE: Star Wars: Bloodline
AUTHOR: Claudia Gray
PUBLISHER: Del Rey Books
LIST PRICE: 
$28.00
RELEASED: May 3, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Politics have always been a part of Star Wars. After all, one usually can’t have war without politics. Such things have the spotlight at some points more than others. It’s as much at the forefront in Bloodline as any Star Wars story you’ll ever read. That works to its detriment at times. But ultimately, Bloodline reveals something that may turn out to be a very important factor in Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side.

The book takes place over two decades after Return of the Jedi. The Galactic Senate of the New Republic is divided into two parties. First are the Populists, of whom Leia is a prominent member, who believe planetary authority should be retained by the individual worlds themselves. In contrast, the Centrists believe planets should be governed by a larger government and a more powerful military. Sadly, these two groups are more divided than ever, as such leaving the Senate largely unproductive. But when representatives from the planet Ryloth alert them to the emergence of an organized criminal element, Leia stumbles on to the foundation of a new war for the fate of the galaxy. But Leia is also about to face personal adversity. A secret will be revealed that few have ever known. Even two decades after his death, the shadow of Darth Vader looms heavily.

Star Wars: Bloodlines, postersThe imagery and marketing associated with Bloodline is somewhat misleading. It leads you to believe much of the book is about Leia being nominated for First Senator, more or less the equivalent to what the Chancellor of the Republic was in the prequels. It even comes with a double-sided “Vote Leia” poster, which on the flip side is defaced with an image of Darth Vader and the word “traitor.” In truth, the book has little to do with Leia being part of an election, and more to do with the unraveling of who the criminal group is. This is frustrating, but it doesn’t necessarily tarnish the book. Once we get into the second half, and the Vader element comes into play, things really pick up.

One of the reasons many fans soured on the prequel trilogy was the emphasis on politics, and the happenings in the Senate. Such fans will want to avoid Bloodline. It’s less about the action and more about the intrigue. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as much a die-hard as I am, I had trouble staying interested at times. Mostly during the first half.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Princess LeiaThough it plays the political card pretty heavily, Bloodline is somewhat timely for those who are so inclined. The book is largely about a political body heavily divided in its beliefs as they try to elect a leader. If you pay even the most remote attention to the news, that should sound familiar. It even offers us a little ray of hope, as we see Leia learning to trust and befriend a Centrist senator. Apparently even in a galaxy far, far away, one can reach across the aisle now and then.

One of the great things about new Star Wars stories in 2016 is that there’s so much fertile ground to cover between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. In various Star Wars novels and comic books (including Claudia Gray’s other Star Wars book, Lost Stars), we’ve been getting bits and pieces of the state the galaxy is in, what happened to the Empire, etc. Bloodline offers a lot of that, including how the First Order and the Resistance were formed.

But the major event of this book involves the revelation to the galaxy that Leia is Darth Vader’s daughter. What’s more, Ben Solo, who is off training with Luke Skywalker at this point, doesn’t know the truth about his heritage. That point is understated, but it’s perhaps the most notable development in the entire book. Ben doesn’t know. Imagine learning a secret like that, not from your parents, but from the news. How angry would you be? And in time, wouldn’t you want to know more about the grandfather you never knew you had? For a certain kind of person a fixation, or even an obsession, might form…

Kylo Ren, Darth Vader helmetReportedly, Rian Johnson, the director for Episode VIII, contributed ideas for this book. I’d be floored to learn that either Johnson, or someone on the inside at that movie didn’t float that to Gray. That’s too integral a detail to Ben’s turn to the dark side.

Bloodline isn’t the most thrilling Star Wars book you’ll ever read. Readers will definitely feel its length at times. But it offers an abundance of something many fans are looking for these days: Information. Casual fans may want to leave it on the shelf, but die-hards will gobble this up like a Sarlacc Pit devouring their favorite bounty hunter.

Image 1 from stormtrooperlarry.wordpress.com. Image 2 from cinemablend.com. Image 3 from screen rant.com.

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