A Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – The Burden of Expectations

TITLE: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 152 min
RELEASED: December 15, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had to sleep on this one. That’s partially why I waited a week before releasing my review. When I came out of The Last Jedi, I wasn’t sure what to think. That wasn’t the reaction I expected. When I walked out of The Force Awakens, I knew I loved it. When I left Rogue One, I knew I hated it. This one was in a weird “What did I just see?” zone.

In hindsight, the mountains of advance praise heaped on The Last Jedi harmed it in a way few seemed to anticipate. Not just praise from critics mind you, but from Disney themselves when they put director Rian Johnson in charge of the next Star Wars trilogy. That’s a hell of an endorsement. The biggest entertainment company in the world put this guy in the driver’s seat for the biggest movie franchise in the world. All signs pointed to: “Rian Johnson is great! The Last Jedi is going to be amazing and perfect in every way!” What else were we supposed to think?

Sometimes hype hinders. Just ask George Lucas. He learned that the hard way with a little movie called The Phantom Menace.

That’s actually an apt comparison, as The Last Jedi could be the most divisive Star Wars story since The Phantom Menace. Obviously, a portion of the adult Star Wars fanbase has been perpetually butthurt since before butthurt was even a thing. But even the even-tempered and reasonable among us have taken issue with the film.

So allow me to serve as a voice of the middle-ground. A life-long Star Wars buff who isn’t among those that creates petitions to make certain movies non-canon. For the sake of organization and simplicity, let’s make this a simple pro/con list…

Pro: Rey’s parentage
The Force Awakens left us with a lot of questions about Rey’s parents. There were plenty of candidates. Was she Han and Leia’s daughter? Was she Luke’s daughter? Was she somehow Ob-Wan’s daughter? Could she be Snoke’s daughter?

As it turns out, she’s nobody’s daughter. Nobody we know, anyway. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren (Or are we officially calling him Ben Solo now?) reveals that Rey is the child of junkers from Jakku who sold her off for “drinking money.” They’re almost trolling us with that one. The franchise with the most famous family revelation in cinematic history sets up another one, then gives us an anti-reveal.

But here’s the thing: It’s the right call. Not making Rey a descendent of Luke, Leia, or someone from the original trilogy gives her a refreshing independance. It makes her a self-made hero. I can also appreciate them not repeating the “I am your father” beat again.

Con: Snoke’s identity
Snoke was every bit the subject of speculation that Rey was, if not more. Who was this mysterious Force-wielder that taught Ben Solo the ways of the Dark Side? Why was his face so messed up? Was he even human? Was he the infamous Darth Plagueis?

The truth of Rey’s parentage may not have satisfied everybody, but at least we got an answer. With Snoke we got nothing. Nothing. Ben turns on him halfway through the movie, ultimately taking his spot at the top of the First Order food chain. While killing him off isn’t necessarily an issue, not addressing who he is, even if it’s just another non-reveal, is the movie’s biggest letdown.

You can make the argument we knew next to nothing about Palpatine in Empire and Jedi. Hell, they never even said his name. He was just the Emperor. But they then proceeded to make three movies chronicling his rise to power. Snoke’s identity is also wrapped up in the backstory of the First Order, of which we know so little.

I suppose there’s a chance we’ll learn a little more about who this guy was in Episode IX. But this was their big opportunity to explore him, and they missed it. That’s astounding. It’s not as if they didn’t know we were curious…

Pro: Mark Hamill as grumpy Luke.
There’s naturally a warm and fuzzy nostalgic quality to seeing Mark Hamill come back to Luke Skywalker. But he’s also perennially underrated as an actor. So to see him in a major motion picture again is very satisfying. He more than holds up his end of the bargain.

People have had mixed emotions about what they’ve done with Luke in these new movies. The execution hasn’t been perfect. But the idea itself isn’t bad. The events of Return of the Jedi happened more than 30 years ago. A hell of a lot can happen in three decades. People change. Luke has changed. I like that none of us were expecting grumpy old Luke Skywalker. It opened some interesting doors, and allowed Mark Hamill to turn in a different, more nuanced performance than he otherwise might have.

Con: Overstuffing the plot
The Last Jedi is so bloated that it may be the first Star Wars movie that overstays its welcome. It struggles to give both Finn and Poe Dameron something to do. As Rey, Finn, and Poe are supposed to have essentially the same level of importance, they all have their own plot threads. This leaves the story overinflated and less focused. As much as I like Oscar Isaac as Poe, he’s the one who needed to be scaled back.

While Finn and his new ally Rose are off on their big mission to a space casino, Leia is incapacitated. So Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in charge of the Resistance. When Poe doesn’t like her more reserved and passive strategy, he stages a mutiny. We later learn Holdo is trying to be discreet while moving the Resistance to an old Rebel base on the planet Crait. She ends up sacrificing herself to buy them time.

While I enjoyed Laura Dern’s presence in the film, this whole subplot was unnecessary. I understand the lesson Poe is supposed to learn about seeing the bigger picture. But the movie already has so much going on, and they could have saved time by simply having Poe and Holdo work together in Leia’s absence. Then, inspired by her sacrifice, he can take charge and lead the Resistance forward into a new era.

Pro: New Planets
The planets in both The Force Awakens and Rogue One left something to be desired. None were particularly memorable other than Jakku, which is essentially the same world as Tatooine.

Crait isn’t a particularly interesting setting, at least not that we know of. But it does make for a unique visual during our climactic battle. You’ve got a thick layer of salt on the surface, with the red mineral content underneath. It’s a new kind of environment. That’s not an easy thing to give us after eight Star Wars movies.

The casino city of Canto Bight, which Finn and Rose travel to, is memorable as well. It doesn’t blow you away in terms of creatures or visual spectacle. But the novelty of basically seeing Star Wars characters go to Vegas is amusing.

Con: The Era
Here’s a little something Disney doesn’t want you to realize: We’re never going to get another universally beloved Star Wars movie ever again. Hell, we haven’t had once since The Empire Strikes Back, and even that’s debatable in some circles. The phrase “everyone’s a critic” has never been more true than it is in 2017. The advent of the internet, blogs, YouTube shows and the like have allowed for pop culture to be analyzed and re-analyzed to the point of absurdity. (And yes, I am indeed saying that on my own blog.) You can’t find something more heavily ingrained in our pop culture than Star Wars.

You also can’t find a more opinionated fandom. These movies and this universe connect with people on such a personal level. So something that’s perceived as wrong or harmful can spark a tidal wave of emotion. The prequels taught a generation of geeks (myself included) how to pick a movie apart and spit it back at its creators. We love Star Wars, but we are forever on guard from being burned again. As such, any and all future Star Wars films will be under a microscope as long as fans can access the internet. 

The Bottom Line
The Last Jedi does not live up to its hype. But that hype was so ridiculous that you almost can’t fault it for that.

Almost.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, and I appreciate that they surprised us, and are trying to avoid doing the original trilogy over again. But the plain and simple truth is that they tried to do too much with too many characters. As such, the movie’s focus is spread too thin. It almost feels like they shot their wad, and won’t have anything left for Episode IX. We’ll find out in two years, when thankfully JJ Abrams will be back in the director’s chair.

Help us, JJ. You’re are only hope… (No pressure.)

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Talking Star Wars: Looking Back at The Force Awakens

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are going to see The Last Jedi tonight. So naturally, last night we sat down to watch The Force Awakens. It was her idea, actually. Ladies, if you’re husband is a geek, ask him if he’s up for sitting down with some chili and a Star Wars movie. See what happens.

Obviously I’ve seen it a number of times already. In addition to officially reviewing it two years ago, I’ve discussed numerous elements here and there. The Force Awakens rightfully got a lot of flack for mimicking the original film. But I still love it. I can’t help it. There’s just something about Star Wars that brings out the inner child in so many of us. The Force Awakens did that in a way the prequels didn’t.

Moreso, The Force Awakens was a hell of an accomplishment. It breathed so much new life into the franchise, by introducing new faces and telling new stories. It restored some of the magic of the original trilogy by incorporating more practical effects, and not leaning so heavily on CGI. We had yet another epic score from the incomparable John Williams. In the end, it set the bar pretty damn high for Disney’s foray into the Star Wars universe.

What follows are a some notes I jotted down during the movie. This was my last stop on the road to The Last Jedi. Sometimes in order to appreciate where we’re going, you must first remember where you’ve been…

Mere minutes into the movie, Mrs. Primary Ignition asks: “Who built BB-8?” A fair question, I suppose. It’s sometimes tough to wrap your head around the idea that these robots, who play such pivotal roles in these movies, were mass produced in a factory somewhere. Unless you’re C-3PO, of course.

What The Force Awakens suffers from more than anything is a lack of exposition. When we were last in this universe, the Empire was being dealt a fatal blow. The implication was that they were gone for good. Then in the opening title crawl we’re told the First Order has “risen from the ashes of the Empire.” So where did they come from, and when? How did they acquire all their resources? Has there been relative peace in the three decades since Return of the Jedi? I understand certain things had to be kept a mystery. But little tidbits here and there to fill in the gaps would have been helpful.

Captain Phasma has a great look. Her armor is a nice extension of the stormtrooper get-up, and works as a symbol of the unwavering strength of the First Order. It’s also perfect to base toys off of. That always helps.

On a similar note, I’ve never liked the blasters the First Order troopers use. The mix of white and black makes them look like toy guns.

You can pinpoint the moment the audience is supposed to understand Rey is a good guy. When she’s sitting there cleaning off the parts she found in the old Star Destroyer, she looks at a frail old lady across from her doing some cleaning of her own. We see sympathy and compassion on her face. Thus, we make a positive connection with her. Remember, t this point in the film Rey hasn’t spoken yet. So it’s a nice subtle move.

The Empire’s last stand took place on Jakku. That’s why we see the crashed Star Destroyer, the downed AT-AT that Rey lives in, etc. But no one else us this. Again, lack of exposition. It doesn’t make or break the film either way, but it would have helped.

There are a lot of little details that are meant to make your brain associate The Force Awakens with the original trilogy. The noise the mouse droids make. The placement of the gas masks on the Millennium Falcon. The belch noise from the rathtar monster. That’s to say nothing of the more overt stuff, like the chess board and remote on the Falcon.

The Mos Eisley Cantina has to be one of the most imitated settings in cinematic history. Even within in the Star Wars universe, creators can’t help but put their spin on the idea. We obviously get that here with Maz Kanata’s cantina. It was fine. But it was pretty obvious what they were doing.

Should Kylo Ren/Ben Solo have had a pale, worn face that hadn’t seen light in awhile? When he takes his helmet off, he just looks like a normal guy. But I picture him never wanting to be seen without it, much like Darth Vader.

There’s a great little moment with Leia that was cut from the movie. Now that Carrie Fisher is gone, I really wish they’d kept it in. Leia is talking to someone about contacting the Senate and insisting action be taking against the First Order.

“Not all the senators think I’m insane. Or maybe they do. I don’t care.”

That line, and the way she delivers it, are so great. Considering how open Carrie Fisher was about her own mental illness, I bet she loved that line. I don’t think the line between Carrie and Leia was ever thinner than during those three sentences.

My favorite exchange in the movie happens between Han and Finn while they’re trying to infiltrate the Starkiller Base.

“Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!”

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Han’s death scene is still hard to watch. Even when you know it’s coming, it doesn’t help. That horrified roar from Chewie might be the worst part of it all.

There’s a fan theory that Han actually pointed the lightsaber at himself, allowing Ben to turn it on and kill him. The idea being that he knew Snoke would kill Ben if he failed to carry out the deed. It doesn’t make the most sense. But stranger things have happened.

I love the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey. There’s very little fancy fight choreography, and neither look like extremely polished fighters. They’re just wailing on each other. It’s also a different environment than we’ve ever seen a lightsaber fight, which is accentuated when Rey uses the snow to extinguish Ren’s weapon.

The music callback from A New Hope when Rey catches the lightsaber is a touching moment. We heard it when Luke accepted his call to adventure, and now Rey is accepting hers. A hero is born.

On paper, you’d think the ending to this movie would be infuriating. We finally find Luke Skywalker, and then the movie ends. But it works.

Despite only appearing on camera for a matter of seconds, Mark Hamill did not have an easy job. He had so much to covey in so little time. This is the first time we’ve seen the character in so many years, and so much has happened. So the audience is just staring at him, taking in all the details.

I’ve heard that Hamill steals the show in The Last Jedi. I hope that’s the case. It’s time for mainstream moviegoers to see what we in the geek community have known for a long time: This man is a gem.

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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 Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War Review – Size Still Matters Not

TITLE: Star Wars, Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca, Emilio Laiso. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
COLLECTS: Star Wars #2630Star Wars Annual #2
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: July 5, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve referred to the “Journal of Old Ben Kenobi” issues of Star Wars the highlight of the series thus far. I stand by that statement in terms of the one-off tales we got in issues #7, #15, and #20. But they went a little too far here. A five-issue story from the journal? Which features Yoda instead of Obi-Wan? I can understand the temptation to try it. But no. This falls in the “too much of a good thing” category.

As Luke Skywalker ponders a current predicament involving C-3PO being captured by the Empire, he opens Ben Kenobi’s journal and begins reading. Ben weaves a tale of a Jedi being called to a remote planet not on any star maps. A world inhabited only by children, who speak of a mysterious “stonepower.” Little does Luke know that the Jedi unraveling the mystery of this planet is Yoda, the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order who will soon continue his training in the ways of the Force.

Our artist for the main story is Salvador Larroca, whose work I’ve talked about in great detail previously. Long story short: His art is largely based on stills from the Star Wars movies, and it’s incredibly distracting. You want to be into the story, but the art keeps reminding you of scenes from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, etc. It works for characters like Darth Vader or C-3PO, whose faces never change. But for just about everyone else it’s a problem. It’s a shame, because otherwise this is pretty good stuff. Edgar Delgado’s colors really capture the magic and wonder of the Star Wars Universe, especially once Yoda is sent on a question inside a mountain. And we get a big monster toward the end that’s are a lot of fun.

To his credit, Jason Aaron gets Yoda right. He’s not afraid to play with Yoda’s ironic size/power ratio. In issue #26, we see him walk into the lair of a bunch of space pirates to save a Force-sensitive child. As one might expect, they initially laugh him off. But he dispatches them, and gets a pretty good line in: “Something more precious than wealth have I brought you. … Wisdom.”

During our story, Yoda becomes the student of a boy named Garro, who teaches him about the stonepower. Seeing our little green friend as an apprentice instead of a master is always a fun role reversal. Star Wars fans obviously know that he instructs very young Jedi at the temple on Coruscant. So the fact that he’s on a planet full of child warriors is a great little twist. We get some cool visuals of Yoda and Garro with the glowing stones, and the blue light reflecting across the Jedi Master’s alien skin.

But despite what Yoda’s Secret War has going for it, it’s simply too long. They could have trimmed at least one issue off of this and been absolutely fine. In issue #29, we see Yoda face a rock monster that’s as tall as a building. That’s a great match-up, and a perfect illustration of the grand yet unassuming power this little guy possesses. In terms of a grand finale for a Yoda story, it’s tough to ask for more than that. But as we move through issue #29 and into #30, we jump back to present day and see Luke mix it up with an adult Garro. Thus, a story that was already starting to feel it’s length officially overstays its welcome. I understand the impulse to connect the story to Luke. But the reader already knows Yoda eventually trains him. It’s needless filler.

We also have to endure the narrative convenience that, in telling this story, Ben Kenobi never identifies Yoda by name. This is a continuity hoop Aaron has to jump through so Luke doesn’t recognize Yoda’s name in The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciate the attention to continuity, it’s just a little too convenient for my taste. Logically, why wouldn’t Obi-Wan use Yoda’s name?

We also get the obligatory scene at the end with Yoda on Dagobah, talking about how Luke will be ready soon. Again, needless filler.

Also contained in this book is Star Wars Annual #2, in which our creative team shifts to Kelly Thompson and Emilio Laiso. We meet a character named Pash Lavane on the planet of Skorii-Lei, which has been devastated by the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. While she’s an immensely talented former engineer, with the physique of an Amazon to boot, Pash opts to stay out of the conflict. But when she rescues Princess Leia from a stormtrooper attack, she’s irrevocably drawn in. She may have no choice but to pick a side.

I appreciate the story Thompson tells about how one can’t always stay neutral when it comes to what’s happening in their world at large. But what I came away thinking about was the Pash character herself. The juxtaposition of a big, muscled up character who’s also technically savvy is intriguing. Pash is almost the She-Hulk of the Star Wars universe. Laiso strikes a lovely balance, as he makes her both facially expressive and imposing in stature. Between Doctor Aphra and Sana Solo, Marvel hasn’t been shy about creating new strong female characters. Pash makes that list as well, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen her since this issue.

I’ve drifted in and out of Marvel’s main Star Wars series since its debut. As big a Star Wars geek as I’ve always been, this title has had trouble holding my attention. Sadly, Yoda’s Secret War is my latest exit cue. Hopefully I get a reason to return sooner rather than later.

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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 Star Wars #20 Review – You’ve Upset the Wookie!

Star Wars #20, coverTITLE: Star Wars #20
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Mike Mayhew
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jason Aaron really came across something cool with these “Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” issues. It’s a great breather from the events of the ongoing series, and Obi-Wan’s time in exile hasn’t necessarily gotten the attention it deserves from storytellers. Having Mike Mayhew take a crack at it is, more often than not, a joy.

A short time after we last saw this younger Ben Kenobi and an even younger Luke Skywalker, the bounty hunter Black Krrsantan has returned to Tatooine to collect the price on Kenobi’s head. When Owen Lars gets caught in the crosshairs, Ben finds himself in a fight for both their lives.

I criticized Mayhew for getting a little too cartoony in Star Wars #15. I’m happy to say he’s scaled that back here. That’s not to say our characters aren’t expressive. But at no point during this issue did I roll my eyes. For obvious reasons, that’s important. And it makes this issue an improvement over its predecessor.

Star Wars #20, 2016, Mike Mayhew, LukeMayhew’s rendering of a young Luke has been the highlight of his two issues. That youthful exuberance radiates off the page. It instills you with the sense that this kid is important and we need to protect him at all costs. Because, of course, that’s really what Obi-Wan is fighting this wookie for. Yes, he wants to save Owen. But in the end, he can’t this monster find his way to Luke. That’s almost said outright during the fight. But it doesn’t need to be.

This version of Obi-Wan is interesting to look at. Not only have we never seen the character look quite this way before, but Mayhew’s photorealism makes it look like he’s being played by a new actor. An actor who not gives a fairly versatile performance, but (as I’ve said before) conveys both the charm of Ewan McGregor and the wisdom of Alec Guinness. That’s a lofty task for a comic book. But Mayhew pulls it off.

In reading these journal issues, I’ve found myself wondering just how old Obi-Wan is at this point. In this issue he talks about age wearing him down. But his age has always been somewhat ambiguous, hasn’t it? Wookiepedia indicates he was born 57 years before A New Hope. Luke looks to be 7 or 8 years old here….which would put this issue about 11 years before A New Hope…which would make Obi-Wan about…46? I’ll buy that.

Obi-Wan, Star Wars #20, Mike MayhewI’m not sure how many issues Jason Aaron has left in him. But if for some reason he were to leave Star Wars tomorrow, Marvel might consider keeping him around to do an Obi-Wan miniseries, ideally with Mayhew. These flashback issues have been the highlight of the series thus far.

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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