I’m continuing the countdown to the debut of The Force Awakens in December with another look at entries in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Today’s post spotlights Star Wars: Jedi – Aayla Secura published by Dark Horse in August 2003. It was written by John Ostrander, drawn by Jan Duursema & Dan Parsons, and colored by Brad Anderson.
Several months have passed since the Battle of Geonosis. The Clone Wars, the war between the Republic and the Confederacy, has spread throughout the entire galaxy. Republic supply convoys are being ambushed in space by Confederacy raiders. The Jedi T’ra Saa receives a holocomm message from Senator Elsah Sai Moro from the planet Devaron. Elsah informs T’ra that the raiders are operating from Devaron and are being assisted by a member of the government. Before the Senator can name the culprit, she is assassinated on-camera.
Soon after a trio of Jedi arrive on Devaron undercover: Aayla Secura, Tholme, and the mysterious Dark Woman. Unfortunately the Dark Woman is recognized by Elsah’s killer, Aurra Sing. Years before, the Dark Woman was Aurra’s teacher, but the young Jedi-in-training was kidnapped by space pirates, and she turned to the Dark Side. Now a bounty hunter and assassin, Aurra hates the Jedi with a burning passion. Aurra informs her employer, Senator Sai’Malloc, that the three visitors to Devaron are Jedi and that she intends to kill them.
Sai’Malloc does not want more murders on her hands and reluctantly admits her collaboration to Aayla. By this time, however, Tholme and the Dark Woman have already fallen into a trap laid by Aurra. To save her fellow Jedi, Aayla is forced to fight the deadly bounty hunter.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite writers on the Star Wars comic books from Dark Horse was John Ostrander. The penciler he most frequently worked with on these stories was Jan Duursema. Having previously penciled issue #92 of the original Marvel Comics series in late 1984, Duursema became a regular contributor to the Dark Horse titles a decade and a half later, making her one of only a handful of creators to have worked on both SW runs.
Ostrander and Duursema were quickly paired up at Dark Horse and became an effective team. One of their first collaborations was “Twilight” in Star Wars #19-22. It introduced Quinlan Vos, an amnesiac Jedi tempted by the Dark Side, and his Twi’lek apprentice Aayla Secura. Over the next several years Ostrander & Duursema did excellent work developing the characters of Quinlan and Aayla, as well as the brooding Tholme and the beautiful tree-like T’ra Saa. Ostrander & Duursema examined the upheavals all four experienced as the Jedi were drawn into the conflicts and politics of the Clone Wars.
One of the threads Ostrander & Duursema wove in and out of the Republic monthly and the Jedi quarterly book was Quin’s continuing struggle with the temptations of the Dark Side. By the time of Jedi – Aayla Secura, Quin had apparently defected to the Confederacy, falling under the sway of Count Dooku. In fact Quin was working deep undercover as a double agent, so deep in fact that the handful of Jedi who knew the truth, as well as the readers, were constantly left questioning if Quin really had gone bad.
Quin had previously saved Aayla from becoming a pawn to a Dark Jedi, and she now wishes to go after her old teacher to return the favor. Tholme, one of few to know the truth of Quin’s scheme, forbids it. Consequently throughout this issue Aayla finds her memories returning to her past instruction by Quin, and the bond of friendship they shared.
Ostrander compares and contrasts Aayla Secura and Aurra Sing. Both of them were kidnapped and subsequently tempted by the Dark Side while they were still Padawan learners. Quinlan refused to give up on his pupil, pursuing Aayla across the galaxy to locate her and bring her back to the light. On the other hand, Aurra’s teacher was the Dark Woman, who was so fanatical about observing the Jedi’s code of avoiding attachments that she even gave up her real name. When Aurra was abducted, the Dark Woman simply resigned herself to her student’s loss since she never allowed herself to develop any sort of emotional attachment to her. Aurra’s subsequent corruption, her transformation into a sadistic killer-for-hire, is at least partially due to the Dark Woman’s negligence.
An interesting bit of characterization by Ostrander is Senator Sai’Malloc. Like many politicians, she is not genuinely evil, merely weak and greedy. She had only intended to line her pockets with Confederacy money, and to gain favor with them, so that if they emerged as the victors of the War she would be in a position to use them as allies. But as Sai’Malloc’s involvement with the Confederacy grew, her crimes snowballed out of control. Eventually, in order to keep her role a secret, she resorts to murder. It is a very believable, realistic depiction of how corruption gradually eats away at a person.
The pencils by Duursema are incredible. She draws some amazing action sequences. The fight between Aayla and Aurra is absolutely dynamic, a ballet of violence. Duursema also excels at the quieter scenes of characterization. The flashbacks to young Aayla being taught by and developing a friendship with Quinlan are very effective.
I really like Dan Parsons inking Duursema’s pencils. They began working together with Republic #50 and have been an art team ever since. I had previously enjoyed Parsons’ work writing & drawing his creator-owned series Aetos the Eagle and Harpy. His detailed inking has a very dark tone to it, simultaneously very slick & polished and rough & gritty. Parsons’ early art reminded me somewhat of Michael Bair. Parsons’ inking gave Duursema’s pencils an atmosphere that was appropriate for the grim, moody tales of war and espionage that Ostrander was writing in the Star Wars comics.
The coloring by Brad Anderson is also very effective. It is vibrant yet subdued, somber when necessary without becoming muddy. Again, it works well at creating an atmosphere in these stories.
Aayla Secura has the distinction of originating in the Expanded Universe and then appearing in the actual movies. George Lucas, while he was in the middle of making Attack of the Clones, saw Dark Horse artwork featuring Aayla and, struck by her appearance, added her to the movie. She was portrayed by ILM production assistant and actress Amy Allen.
Aayla subsequently appeared in Revenge of the Sith where she was one of the numerous Jedi killed by the Clone Troopers during Order 66. Between the comic books by Ostrander & Duursema and the movies, Aayla had definitely became a fan favorite, and many, myself included, were upset at her demise.
I wonder if Aayla’s popularity and the reaction to her death helped inspire Lucas to create Ahsoka Tano, another female teenage alien Jedi. She also became popular among Star Wars fans and, unlike Aayla, survived the events of the Clone Wars.
The majority of the Dark Horse material is apparently now non-canonical, but don’t let that dissuade you. If you cannot find this one via back issues or the now out-of-print trade paperbacks, I’m sure that Disney-owned Marvel will eventually be repackaging it. All of the issues by Ostrander & Duursema are well worth reading. They are among the best entries in the entire Expanded Universe.
This review is dedicated to Jan Duursema’s daughter Sian, who convinced John Ostrander not to kill off Aayla at the end of “Twilight,” therefore leading to many more wonderful stories featuring the character.