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 Star Wars #27 Review – This Looks Familiar…

star_wars_27TITLE: Star Wars #27
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We haven’t seen much of Yoda since Star Wars returned to Marvel. He’s been around, of course. But to my knowledge this is the first story we’ve seen that’s actually focused on him.

Framed, oddly enough, as an entry in the diary of Ob-Wan Kenobi, part two of “Yoda’s Secret War” sees Yoda travel to a planet of primitive warriors. Warriors that also happen to be children. The planet’s society revolves around it’s strange blue mountains. The ore from these mountains is somehow strong in the Force. The Jedi Master is quickly caught up in the feud between the tribe that controls the ore, and the young outsiders. As a Jedi, Yoda’s mission is to bring peace. But as he’ll soon find out, peace is not on the table.

The artist here is our old Darth Vader buddy Salvador Larroca, who I’ve criticized for making it blatantly obvious that he’s duplicating movie stills. I’ll repeat that critique here, as you can tell exactly where he hit the pause button during Attack of the Clones. You’re into what’s happening in the book, and then these familiar images of Yoda pluck you out. Larroca is a very talented artist. It’s such a shame he waters down his own work like this.

star-wars, Yoda, Salvador Larroca, 2017Putting Yoda in a story with kids is obviously fitting. Star Wars lore tells us he teaches a lot of the “younglings” (a la that scene in Clones) before they’re assigned to a master. There’s an opportunity here for insight into how Yoda relates to children, and what makes him an effective mentor for students that age. It doesn’t have to be anything big or monumental. A small moment would do. Maybe even something as short as a sentence. We don’t get anything like that in this issue. But the door is wide open for it next issue.

Jason Aaron’s handle on Yoda has impressed me. In neither this nor last issue did we see a lightsaber, or any sort of flippy moves from him. What we have here is wise Empire Strikes Back Yoda, as opposed to CGI dancing Yoda. For that, I’m thankful. What we’re getting here seems that much more authentic as a result.

Jason Aaron came across something really cool with these “Journal” stories, as it allows him to take a break for a month and tell some cool stories with Obi-Wan. This is the first time he’s gone a little more long form with it, while also journeying away from Obi-Wan’s life on Tatooine. I much prefer the single issue stories (see issues #7, #15, and #20), but what we’re getting here with Yoda is still pretty good. But with at least two more issues, most likely three, left in “Yoda’s Secret War,” I’m just hoping our little green friend doesn’t overstay his welcome.

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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: Poe Dameron #5 Review – Droid Martial Arts

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Phil Noto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve curbed my expectations when it comes to this Poe Dameron series. I’m no longer looking for info regarding the state of the galaxy before The Force Awakens. This is simply an action-adventure title, which is fair enough. What I didn’t expect coming into issue #5 was for BB-8 to steal the show.

Poe, Black Squadron, and Agent Terex of the First Order remain trapped in Megalox Beta, a deadly prison run by the slippery and devilishly clever Grakkus the Hutt. Grakkus has struck a bargain with Poe and Terex: Whoever can break him out the fastest gets the location of Lor San Tekka, the man who reportedly knows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Terex definitely has connections that Poe doesn’t. But Poe also has friends in high places…

BB-8 becomes the hero in this issue, leading the other Black Squadron astromech droids on a mission to compromise the prison’s security system. What follows is essentially Mission Impossible meets “Duel of he Droids.” The astromechs hide from guards, until we get what can only be described as a bit of droid martial arts (shown below). It’s a lot of fun, and very reminiscent of the BB-8 we saw in The Force Awakens.

Poe Dameron #5, 2016, droid martial artsSoule and Noto also do a tremendous job of capturing the charm and heart Oscar Issac put into the Poe character. He’s one for sarcastic quips, obviously. But he’s also a born leader. He’s compassionate and empathetic toward his teammates, and he stays positive even in the most dire scenarios. Soule gets Poe Dameron.

Phil Noto is pretty good at drawing him, too. Handling the pencils, inks, and colors on this series, Noto makes each setting in this issue very distinct. A sickly yellow haze hangs over Megalox Beta. Terex finds his way into a dingy and dimly lit cantina, not unlike the one we saw at Mos Eisley. The hangar the droids initially find themselves in is very calm, and has an almost relaxing quality to it with different shades of grayish blue. A stark contrast to the chaos they’re about to cause. And it all feels very familiar, very Star Wars. Noto also gives us a great cliffhanger shot, with the camera down on BB-8’s level as he looks up at a sizable new adversary.

Poe Dameron isn’t the book I wanted it to be. But the last two issues have been more fun, adventurous, and exciting than most of the Star Wars content Marvel has put out since it got the license back. It’s tough to sling mud at something like that.

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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 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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A Star Wars: Han Solo #1 Review – The Panel Duplication Effect

Star Wars: Han Solo #1, 2016TITLE: Star Wars: Han Solo #1
AUTHOR: Marjorie Liu
PENCILLER: Mark Brooks. Cover by Lee Bermejo.
PUBLISHER: 
Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Why it took so long for us to get a Han Solo miniseries from Marvel is a mystery to me. You’d think he’d have been one of the first characters they took a swing at. It seems like a lay-up. They could do a whole series on Han if they wanted to. Hell, I’d buy it.

In any event, here we are. In an attempt to flush out a mole in the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia recruits Han and Chewbacca to fly the Millennium Falcon in a race that would put him into contact with the turncoat. But the race takes an unexpected and deadly turn…

Lee Bermejo’s covers are a nice selling point for this title. It’s fun to see him playing in this universe again. Though it must be said: His Han Solo doesn’t look much like Harrison Ford. His work on issue #2 isn’t much better, though it looks like by issue #3 he starts to get the hang of it. His Princess Leia, however, is spot on.

Han Solo #1, panel duplicateMark Brooks, however, does a pretty good Han Solo. The presentation we get here is very clean, and the colors by Sonia Oback pop in a way that really fits this universe.

Let’s talk about what I’ll call panel duplication, i.e. the process of using the exact same image Han Solo #1, panel duplication #2for two consecutive panels. Full disclosure: I’m not an artist. And I understand what deadlines are. But as a reader, this trick always feels cheap to me. By no means is Brooks the only perpetrator in the industry, and I don’t want to take anything away from his talent. But he did it twice in this issue. So I’m going to call him on it.

Typically, this trick is done to indicate the passing of a beat or two for comedic effect. But in the first instance, in which Han is talking to another bounty hunter, there’s no pay off for it. It’s just an image of Han and the alien dude staring off into space. At least in the second case, we get Han leaning into frame. But look at the renderings of Leia and General Cracken (Unleash the Cracken!). They’re the same as the ones in the previous panel. I can’t help but be jerked right out of the story.

We also see Han with a pretty bad case of puppy dog eyes (shown below). Brooks got a little too animated on that one. He even looks right into the camera.

Han and Leia, Han Solo #1Our story looks promising. Han and Chewie flying around in the Falcon, meeting different aliens and getting into trouble. It’s tough to ask for more than that. This issue is essentially a big pointer scene, where we find out where our heroes are going, what their goals are, etc. But it looks like the action will pick up next issue.

I’m hopeful this is the first of several Han Solo stories we have coming our way. I’m sure there are no shortage of creators looking for a crack at the galaxy’s most notorious smuggler. This one has its ups and downs thus far. But it’s a decent read, and will be worthwhile for Star Wars fans.

Images from author’s collection.

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