Star Wars reviews: Obi-Wan Kenobi

The six episode Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries has come to its conclusion on Disney+. Quite a few other people have already posted in-depth reviews & analyses of the show. Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I did want to also share some of my thoughts on it, too.

1) Hello There

Ewan McGregor as young Obi-Wan Kenobi was, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant casting decisions of the prequel trilogy. McGregor is an incredibly talented actor, and he admirably succeeded at evoking Alec Guiness’ performance while bringing his own particular take to the role.

McGregor continues to do quality work in this miniseries. He really brings to life an Obi-Wan who, a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith, is suffering from depression and PSTD, crippled by the fall of the Jedi and by his own guilt at not having prevented Anakin Skywalker from turning to the dark side of the Force and becoming Darth Vader.

There are moments here where McGregor’s performance, solely through facial expression & body language, evocatively brings across the pain this man is feeling. Deborah Chow did a superb job directing McGregor and the other actors. That moment at the end of episode two, when Obi-Wan learns that Vader is still alive, is an absolute gut punch, with the devastation & horror on McGregor’s face communicating volumes.

Likewise, as Obi-Wan sets out to rescue young Leia Organa from the Imperial Inquisitors, McGregor effectively shows the character’s gradually journey back from the despair event horizon, eventually bringing him to the place where he finds peace & acceptance.

Besides, Obi-Wan’s infiltration of Fortress Inquisitorius and his rescue of Leia was absolutely riveting. Plus that scene where he discovers the “mausoleum” with the dead Jedi displayed as trophies was one of the most disturbing in the entire Star Wars mythos.

2) Retcons R Us

There was some skepticism among fandom over this show inserting a major encounter between Kenobi and Vader in the time between the prequels and the original trilogy. Honestly, though, Star Wars has been revising is history & backstory pretty much from the word “go.” Despite what George Lucas likes to claim, he did not intend for Darth Vader to be Luke Skywalker’s father right from the start. Luke and Leia being brother & sister was also a late development. So there’s a long precedent for this sort of thing.

The key here would be how well this retcon got pulled off. I actually feel there was some wiggle room that allowed for it. Obi-Wan believed Anakin was dead at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but he’s aware Vader is alive in A New Hope, and when the two meet on the Death Star Obi-Wan shows no surprise at Vader now being a black-clad armored cyborg. At some point he must have learned that Anakin survived their duel on Mustafar and been radically transformed into a creature “more machine than man.”

And we get just that as Obi-Wan first comes face-to-face with his former apprentice on Mapuzo and utters an absolutely horrified “What have you become?” It’s another emotional gut punch, especially as we then see a badly out-of-practice Obi-Wan literally get raked over the coals by a vengeance-obsessed Vader.

Likewise, in their rematch in episode six, with the two on much more equal footing, we get an incredibly dramatic confrontation.

I try to look at this from the perspective of a younger fan. If you traveled back in time some 39 years to 1983 and said that one day we’d get to see a live action Star Wars television series featuring a stunningly fierce lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Vader, with each of them hurtling entire chunks of a planet at each other, seven year old me would never have believed you.

So, yeah, maybe it doesn’t fit 100% neatly into established continuity, but it was damned exciting, and I’ll take that over being overly anal about the consistency of a fictional universe that, as I said, already has a long history of being inconsistent.

3) From a Certain Point of View

“Anakin Skywalker was weak; I destroyed him.”

That is what Darth Vader tells Ahsoka Tano in the Rebels second season finale “Twilight of the Apprentice.” I always found that to be one of the most heartbreaking lines in Star Wars. It really encapsulates all of Vader’s self-hatred & loathing for himself, revealing just how far he has fallen.

Vader something similar in episode six. When Obi-Wan once again apologizes for having failed his former student, Vader flat-out tells him “I am not your failure, Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did. The same way I will destroy you.”

This appears to be the first time that Vader finally admits to himself that everything horrible that ever happened to him is his own fault. And it does help explain how Obi-Wan gets to the point where he is at in the original trilogy, where he truly believes that Anakin is “dead” and gone forever.

4) The Circle Is Now Complete

I’ve mentioned in the past that I enjoyed the prequels and found them underrated, and that certainly extends to Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker.

I admit, at first I was puzzled by the decision to have Christensen reprise the role, since he was fully encased in the Darth Vader armor, with James Earl Jones supplying the voice.

But then in episode five we get an extended flashback to a training duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin the days before the Clone Wars. It was an effective sequence, especially as the narrative cut back & forth between this past segment and the “present” where Vader is hunting his former master, and Obi-Wan is able to draw on his knowledge of Anakin’s impatience, impulsivity & need to visibly achieve victory to outwit him and get the members of “The Path” to safety.

And then in episode six when we see Vader’s helmet split open, revealing his scarred face to Obi-Wan, enabling Christiansen and McGregor to act opposite one another when we get to the all-important moment when Vader tells Obi-Wan that Anakin is dead.

5) Fear Leads To Anger, Anger Leads To Hate, Hate Leads To Suffering

There’s a moment in episode three where Yoda’s warning to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back very much came to mind. After Obi-Wan and Leia arrive on Mapuzo, a fearful Obi-Wan panics & becomes angry, believing they’ve been betrayed. So it falls to ten year old Leia to have to try to take charge, leading her to accept a ride with the seemingly-friendly Freck… who unfortunately turns out to be an Imperial sympathizer.

It can be argued that if Obi-Wan had not let his fear get the better of him, if he had been patient and waited then Tala would have arrived soon after & quietly taken them to safety, and everything that subsequently went wrong, all of the death & suffering, might never have occurred.

6) Make the Galaxy Great Again

The alien truck drive Freck, voiced by Zach Braff, comes across as a commentary on Trump supporters. Freck is a working-class alien, just the sort of individual we have seen exploited again and again by the Empire. Yet Freck, with the Imperial bumper sticker on his truck, his chumminess with Stormtroopers, and his fondness for “law & order” is very much siding with the oppressors.

When Freck turns in Obi-Wan and Leia, two people who want to genuinely make things better for people like him, it really evokes the phenomenon of voting against your own interests, of blindly swallowing propaganda, of treating liberals & progressives as “the enemy.”

(Gee, you’d think that, considering they co-starred in Garden State, Braff would’ve been more conciliatory to Nalalie Portman’s daughter 😊)

In contract to Freck we have Tala, portrayed by Indira Varma, an Imperial officer who joined up because she genuinely believed the Empire would make the galaxy a better place. Unlike Freck, Tala doesn’t have her head in the sand. She is able to face up to reality, to recognize that the government she serves is irredeemably evil, and as a result she now helps Jedi fugitives & force-sensitives escape the Empire.

7) “They were the only family I knew.”

I guess there has always been a small-yet-vocal subset in sci-fi and comic book fandoms who are angry & narrow-minded. Unfortunately social media really amplifies their voice out of proportion to their size. I was disgusted at all of the vitriol directed at actress Moses Ingram for her performance as Reva / Third Sister. Honestly, I felt Ingram did a great job with the role.

Reva, a former Jedi youngling, encapsulated just how dangerous & all-consuming the quest for vengeance can be. Reva joined the Inquisitors solely to get close enough to Vader so she could ultimately gain revenge on him for having slaughtered her friends & loved ones years before. So overwhelming was her desire to kill Vader that ANY price, no matter how horrible, seemed reasonable to Reva, even if it turned her into everything she hated.

In the end Reva is finally able to step back from the precipice. Before the final episode aired, a few viewers expressed the desire that she NOT reform, stating that that there have been too many redemption arcs in Star Wars and that some people simply cannot be saved from themself. And that’s true. But Lucasfilm ultimately wanted this series to be a hopeful one, and so, having seen that Anakin was seemingly beyond redemption, it was important for Obi-Wan to witness someone else make the conscious choice to walk away from darkness.

8) Cry “Uncle”

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have never been what you would consider three-dimensional characters. They exist in the original movie to basically be an impediment to teenage Luke’s dreams of the future. Owen comes across as unreasonably harsh & inflexible.

The final episode of this miniseries does a good job of fleshing them out. Underneath it all, they both love Luke, and they’re willing to risk their lives to protect him from Reva. It definitely adds some important nuance to the couple. It also helps explain why Obi-Wan left Luke with them in the first place. He knew they would care for Luke and, having witnessed the failings of the Jedi Order in raising Anakin, realized it was important for Luke to have a real childhood.

It also ultimately makes Owen and Beru’s off-screen deaths at the hands of the Empire in A New Hope all the more tragic. They were probably protecting Luke right up to the end.

9) The Sass is Strong with This One

Ten year old Vivien Lyra Blair does a good job playing young Leia. Working with child actors can be tricky, but Blair really pulls off the role, doing a good job playing off McGregor, as well as feeling like she could be a young Carrie Fisher.

Having Obi-Wan and Leia interact with each other at this point in the timeline is another one of those pesky retcons that the show manages to pull off.  You can argue that it’s rationalizing older plot & character beats long after-the-fact, but this story does explain why nearly a decade later Leia went to Tatooine to find Obi-Wan, why when Luke showed up on the Death Star and told her he was with Ben Kenobi her immediate reaction was an excited “Ben Kenobi? Where is he?” and why she eventually ended up naming her own son Ben.

I really did like the scene at the end where Obi-Wan told Leia about her parents; some viewers said it moved them to tears.

10) A Jedi with a Very Particular Set of Skills

I’m sure most of us were half-expecting it to happen, but it was still cool to see Liam Neeson return to live action Star Wars as the Force ghost of Obi-Wan’s old teacher Qui-Gon Jinn. Neeson had already reprised Qui-Gon when he voiced the character in The Clone Wars animate series, revealing how Yoda first learned that the fallen Jedi’s spirit lived on within the Force. But it was nevertheless great to see McGregor and Neeson share the screen again one more time.

Speaking of Jedi who’s names begin with the letter Q, the show had a very cool Easter Egg when Obi-Wan learns in episode three that his old comrade Quinlan Vos (created by writer John Ostrander & artist Jan Duursema for the Star Wars comic books published by Dark Horse) survived Order 66 and escaped to freedom along The Path.

11) “You should have killed me when you had the chance.”

Okay, so why didn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi kill Darth Vader when he had the chance?

Yes, obviously Vader couldn’t die here, because he’s still very much alive nine years later in Rogue One and the original movie trilogy. But I do think there should have been more of an explanation for Obi-Wan not finishing off Vader. Maybe the Grand Inquisitor and a bunch of Stormtroopers could have arrived at the last minute to save Vader, forcing Obi-Wan to flee? That might have made more sense.

I guess in-story Obi-Wan did not want to kill a foe who had already been defeated. He also might have felt that killing Vader wouldn’t have changed anything, because the Empire would still be in power, and Emperor Palpatine would have just found a new apprentice.

Whatever the case, it did feel to me like the one misstep in an otherwise well-done miniseries. Definitely could have used a bit of clarification.

Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but it was enjoyable. Hopefully we’ll continue to see further quality Star Wars content coming out soon.

Super Blog Team-Up 7: Star Wars sketchbook

Welcome to the seventh edition of Super Blog Team-Up! This time, to celebrate the release of The Force Awakens, all of the participating bloggers will be writing about various aspects of the Star Wars phenomenon.  This ties in very well with what I’ve been doing on my own blog.  For the last few months I’ve been writing reviews of my favorite entries in the Star Wars expanded universe.

StarWarsSBTU7 Header

For my contribution to SBTU 7 I’m glancing through the Star Wars theme sketchbook that I started in 2003. In the last 12 years I’ve obtained incredible sketches & commissions from a number of very talented artists.  There are so many great pieces that I had genuine difficulty deciding which ten I should include here.  I would have featured more, but then this post would have been much too long!

1) Princess Leia by June Brigman

Princess Leia by June Brigman

June Brigman has a charming style to her work that I have always enjoyed. With her husband Roy Richardson she illustrated the Star Wars miniseries River of Chaos which featured Princess Leia.  June also did a cute trading card of Leia with the Ewoks for the first Star Wars Galaxy set from Topps.  She’s also drawn illustrations for a few SW young adult novels.  It was an obvious choice to ask June to draw Princess Leia in my sketchbook.  She did a really wonderful job!  The backgrounds on this commission remind me a bit of the SW work of legendary artist Al Williamson.

2) Boba Fett by Tony Salmons

Boba Fett by Tony Salmons

Tony Salmons penciled “Wookiee World,” issue #91 of the original Marvel SW comic book series. At first I was going to ask Salmons if he’d draw Chewbacca.  But I thought Salmons might prefer to tackle another character.  I asked him who else he’d enjoy drawing.  He suggested Boba Fett.  That was a great idea.  Salmons had a lot of fun drawing the bounty hunter, and it shows.  I love that “ZAT” sound effect.

3) Han Solo by Rich Buckler

Han Solo by Rich Buckler

Rich Buckler has a very bold style, influenced by Kirby. I thought Buckler he’d be perfect to draw either of the action heroes from the first movie, namely Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.  I asked Buckler who he’d prefer, and he immediately chose Han.  Buckler did an amazing job at capturing Harrison Ford’s likeness.  Buckler’s only published Star Wars art was the Lando Calrissian trading card he drew for the Galaxy series two set from Topps. That’s definitely unfortunate.  This sketch shows that he’s perfectly suited to the material.  I would really enjoy seeing him do further SW work.

4) Admiral Ackbar by Michael William Kaluta

Admiral Ackbar by Michael Kaluta

Michael Kaluta previously did an imaginative rendering of Ackbar for the first Star Wars Galaxy trading card set. When I began this sketchbook, I hoped to eventually have Kaluta draw that character.  Kaluta was generous enough to agree to it, with impressive results.  Note that he rendered Ackbar’s pupils in pencil to convey a watery, “fish-eye” look.  It’s that attention to detail that makes Kaluta such an incredible artist.

5) Tusken Raider and Bantha by Michael Lark

Tusken Raider and Bantha by Michael Lark

I suppose you can lay the “blame” for this one at the feet of fellow Star Wars sketch collector John Higashi. He obtained a nice sketch of Tarkin from Gotham Central artist Michael Lark.  When I later met Lark at a convention I asked him if he would be willing to draw that character again.  Lark felt it would be more fun to draw one of the Sand People on a Bantha, and asked me if that was okay.  I decided to let him go for it, and Lark produced this very impressive illustration.  It’s interesting to see Lark, who often works on noir-themed stories, illustrate sci-fi material.

6) Yoda by Guy Dorian

Yoda by Guy Dorian

Guy Dorian saw a scan of a Star Wars sketch his brother Ian had done for me, and he e-mailed to say he wanted to contribute one too. Guy told me that he’d worked on a SW coloring book several years earlier, and so had drawn a number of the characters before.  A few months later at the next Big Apple Comic Con, I stopped by Guy’s table with my sketchbook.  Guy told me he was interested in drawing Yoda.  He spent a fair amount of time working on this.  As you can see, there’s some very detailed linework to this piece.

7) Emperor Palpatine by Paul Azaceta

Emperor Palpatine by Paul Azaceta

Paul Azaceta was at the 2007 New York Comic Con to promote the release of the trade paperback collection of the Grounded miniseries he drew for Image Comics. He was also doing a lot of sketching at the show.  An incredible drawing of Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean that was sitting on his table immediately caught my eye.  Seeing that, I asked Azaceta if he’d be able to draw something in my SW sketchbook.  He agreed, and produce this stunning rendition of the malevolent Emperor.

8) Mace Windu by Jim Webb

Mace Windu by Jim Webb

When getting SW sketches, some artists are understandably uncertain if they’ll be able to do good likenesses. In his Comic Art Fans gallery Jim Webb has posted a scan of advertising art he did for the board game Stratego that had the characters from the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. I figured if Jim could draw a good likeness of John Lithgow, I might as well ask him if he’d have a go at sketching Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Mace Windu. After Jim agreed to do a commission for me, I said something along the lines of “Maybe you can have him fighting a snake as a nod to Snakes on a Plane.” That’s how we got this epic struggle. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, one very frustrated Jedi Knight is shouting “I have had it with these mother@#&%ing snakes on this mother@#&%ing spaceship!”

9) Aayla Secura by Jan Duursema

Aayla Secura by Jan Duursema

I saw Jan Duursema at the November 2002 Big Apple show where she was drawing some amazing convention sketches of Star Wars characters. That was what inspired me to start this theme sketchbook in the first place.  One of my goals was to get a sketch by Duursema. Well, it took some time, but I finally met her again at the 2009 New York Comic Con.  I asked Duursema to draw Aayla Secura, the very cool character she created with John Ostrander for the Dark Horse comic books.  Fortunately, I just managed to get onto Jan’s sketch list, and she drew this on Sunday afternoon.  It turned out great.  So, yes, it was worth waiting six and a half years for this after all.

10) Shaak Ti by Jodi Tong

Shaak Ti by Jodi Tong

Jodi Tong is a talented artist with a really fun style.  Every time I get a new sketch from Jodi it’s inevitably better than the last one. She did an amazing job on this drawing of Shaak Ti, one of the Jedi from the prequels who was featured prominently in the Dark Horse comics.  There’s so much detail to this piece.  I’m hopeful that I’ll have an opportunity to obtain more sketches from Jodi in the near future.

I hope everyone will check out Comic Art Fans to see the rest of my Star Wars sketch collection. There are some really great pieces.

SBTU Crawler

Here are the links to the other Super Blog Team-Up 7 contributors.  You will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…

This concludes Super Blog Team-Up 7.  May the Force be with you!  Well, either that or… Something, something, something, Dark Side; something, something, something, complete 😛

Star Wars reviews: Jedi Aayla Secura

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.

SW Jedi Aayla Secura cover signed

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.

SW Jedi Aayla Secura pg 8

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.

SW Jedi Aayla Secura pg 25

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.

SW Jedi Aayla Secura pg 29

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 Attack of the Clones

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.

Star Wars reviews: The Apprentice and The Dream

Continuing the countdown to The Force Awakens, I am looking at past Star Wars comic books.  Today I’m spotlighting two more issues from the original Marvel Comics series.

“The Apprentice” appeared in Star Wars Annual #3 (Summer 1983).  Its sequel, “The Dream,” was in Star Wars #92 (Feb 1985).  Both stories were written by Jo Duffy.  “The Apprentice” was illustrated by Klaus Janson.  “The Dream” was penciled by Jan Duursema and inked by Tom Mandrake.

Star Wars Annual 3 cover

Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, “The Apprentice” sees members of the Rebel Alliance on the planet Belderone investigating rumors of an Imperial project that threatens their base on the nearby world of Kulthis.  Most of the locals are secretive except for two curious teenagers, Flint and Barney.  Flint in particular is intrigued.  Noticing the lightsaber Luke Skywalker carries, an excited Flint mentions that his late father was a Jedi Knight.  The teens take the Rebels to the local tavern, which is run by Flint’s mother Zana.  Princess Leia realizes that the two teenagers are star-struck by Luke, but he brushes this off, insisting that they have an important mission.

The Rebels’ arrival does not go unnoticed, and one of Zana’s neighbors notifies General Andrid.  The Imperial officer dispatches assassins to eliminate them.  But Luke’s connection to the Force alerts him to the impending ambush, and the Rebels are able to thwart the attack.

Off in space, Darth Vader’s ship is en route to Belderone.  He has sensed that something important will take place there, and he is expecting Luke’s involvement.  Vader learns of Andrid’s failed attempt to kill the Rebels, and the enraged Sith strangles the General.  Vader decides to take personal charge of operations planet-side.

Luke, realizing Vader is near, leaves for Kulthis to summon reinforcements.  Leia and the other Rebels are led by Flint and Barney to the mysterious installation where most of the population is employed by the Empire.  Suddenly the ground splits open and a group of Imperial Walkers emerge.  They begin marching to the nearby airfield, where they will be transported to Kulthis to attack the Rebels.

Star Wars Annual 3 pg 25

Flint and Barney, seeing the enormous AT-ATs heading towards town, rush off to warn everyone, including Flint’s mother.  They are secretly observed by Vader and one of his men.  The aid asks if they should have stopped the two teenagers, but the Sith is dismissive of the pair.

Before the Walkers can reach their ships, a group of Rebel X-Wings led by Luke arrives, catching them off guard.  With the aid of Leia and Lando Calrissian, who have seized control of one of the AT-ATs, the Rebels defeat the unprepared Imperials.

Unfortunately, before the battle is over, one of the Walkers wrecks a path of destruction through the nearby town.  Among those killed are Zana.  Flint, crouching by his mother’s body, is distraught…

“It was all just a game… we were useless… we couldn’t do a thing… And they let us go on… pretending we could help… But we couldn’t… we were useless… I was useless… and now you’re dead…

“I swear… I swear to you… I’m going to learn… I’m going to get the training… the same training my father had… I’m going to become someone who matters… And then I’ll show them all!”

The grieving Flint does not realize that he is being watched.  The observer steps forward and addresses him…

“I know how you feel… I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel that way… It has been some time since I heard anyone speak the way you do now… I did not take you seriously before, and I should have… forgive me. Let me make it up to you now…

“I could not single you out for special training right away… you would be just one of our men at first… but I have sensed the power in you… in time, I promise you, you will be tutored specially… and if you really wish it… you will become someone who matters very much!”

The way this scene is written by Duffy and illustrated by Janson, the reader is led to believe that it is Luke speaking to Flint, recruiting him into the Rebellion.  However, a few pages later we learn from Barney, who witnessed this exchange, that the individual who has approached Flint is none other than Vader.

As the Annual closes, Barney leaves Belderone with the Rebels.  Elsewhere, watched over by Vader, the grim Flint dons the armor of a Stormtrooper, joining the ranks of the Empire.

Star Wars Annual 3 pg 36

“The Dream” takes place several months after Return of the Jedi.  The former Rebel Alliance is attempting to organize the newly-freed planets and to deal with the Imperial remnants still active across the galaxy.  Luke is having a series of troubling dreams in which his now-dead father, Darth Vader, appears to him in an eerie mist-filled void.

A ship piloted by Prince Denin of Naldar arrives on Endor.  The desperate Denin informs the Alliance that Imperial forces are laying siege to his world.  The Prince demands assistance.  He also wants to be trained as a Jedi by Luke.  Reluctantly Luke declines, remembering how his own father Anakin Skywalker was not adequately trained, allowing him to be turned to the Dark Side of the Force.

Despite Denin’s brusque manner, Leia convinces the Alliance to investigate the Prince’s claims.  Luke accompanies Leia and the others.  Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Luke falls asleep.  He is once again in the void, but this time he is greeted by the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and even his father Anakin.  Luke realizes the image of Vader represents a new Dark Lord.  Anakin explains to Luke…

“Do you not recognize him? We share the blame for his creation, my son.

“He is not beyond redemption, my son… but I am unable to return and undo the evil I did. Only you can save him, Luke.”

The Falcon arrives to find Naldar completely decimated by the Empire.  The ship is hit by a powerful energy cannon and crashes.  While repairs are being made, Luke heads out with Lando and Denin to investigate.  They are attacked by Imperial forces and soon surrounded.  A black-armored figure approaches.  Luke faces down the dark figure and challenges him…

“Why don’t you show us what’s under that armor? It’s not as though you need it to survive. Or are you afraid to face me without it?”

Grimly the armored figure removes his helmet… and, yep, it’s Flint!

Star Wars 92 pg 30

Luke and Flint engage in a lightsaber duel.  Flint reveals that Vader began training him in the use of the Force, and accuses Luke of killing him.  Luke tries to explain that Vader was his father, and that in the end he turned away from the Dark Side, but Flint is too enraged to listen.

The crew from the Falcon then arrives, and Barney is among them.  Flint is shocked to see his old friend.  Barney approaches him, accusing Flint of fighting the people he once admired.  When Flint argues that the Rebels couldn’t save him mother, Barney counters this…

“Was it an Alliance bomb that killed her? No, it was the Empire. And you couldn’t save her and be a hero… so now you’re gonna punish the whole universe, and kill a whole lot of mothers and sons and innocent people? That makes a lot of sense!

“Frankly, I don’t think you can. But I’ve been wrong before. So, prove it to me, for old times’ sake. See the face of one of your victims. Kill me first, Flint.”

And, despite all the crimes he has committed, Flint realizes that he is unable to murder his friend.

One of the Stormtroopers, watching this unfold, prepares to shoot Flint in the back for his “betrayal.”  But Denin (who we now know to actually be Princess Vila, taking on her fallen brother’s identity) sees this and grabs Luke’s fallen lightsaber.  Throwing herself in front of the Stormtrooper, Vila intercepts the blast meant for Flint, and kills the Imperial.

Witnessing Vila’s sacrifice, a disgusted Flint turns his back on the Imperial cause.  He uses the controls on his armor to destroy the energy cannon.

Star Wars 92 cover

Jo Duffy became the regular writer of the Star Wars comic book with issue #70 (April 1983) and, except for a few fill-in issues, wrote the series until its cancelation with issue #107 (September 1986).  Her stories were a wonderful mix of drama and comedy.  Duffy’s run is rather underrated, especially the later issues, where she was working to devise a new direction for the series after Return of the Jedi.  Duffy showed the characters attempting to transition from freedom fighters to diplomats, politicians and teachers.  She also introduced new adversaries to threaten galactic freedom.

“The Apprentice” and “The Dream” are two of my favorite stories that Duffy wrote for Star Wars.  She examined Luke’s burden to continue the legacy of the Jedi.  Luke was understandably reluctant to train a new generation of Jedi, concerned that if he did not do so properly that they could be corrupted by their powers.  But with the events of these two stories Luke learns that if he neglects to take up that responsibility then those with the potential to utilize the Force, such as Flint, might fight other teachers who would not hesitate the steer them towards the Dark Side.

This is another one of those instances where I’m really left wondering if George Lucas was influenced by these stories!  Flint is similar to how Anakin Skywalker was depicted in the prequels.  Flint’s mother dying, resulting in him accepting Vader’s offer to train him, is remarkably similar to what would happen in Attack of the Clones, when Anakin’s mother was killed by the Sand People, beginning his descent towards the Dark Side.  Vader’s own dialogue here implies that he was once in a situation that was similar to this.  Flint even looks somewhat like Hayden Christensen!

Speaking of the artists, these two issues were both well done.  Janson had a very moody, noir-ish style to his work on “The Apprentice.”  That’s not unexpected, given that this was drawn around the time he was wrapping up his six year long association on Daredevil.

The battle between the X-Wings and the AT-ATs is unfortunately a bit on the sketchy side.  Janson does much better work on people than machinery, although that splash page reveal of the Walkers is really stunning.  Most of the scenes are well-rendered, especially the shootout in the tavern.  Vader’s recruitment of Flint is effectively told, and Janson’s depiction of the Sith is menacing & sinister.  On the lighter side of things, I always laugh at the expression Janson gives Chewbacca on finding the tavern food disagreeable!

Star Wars Annual 3 pg 16 Chewbacca

Jan Duursema and Tom Mandrake happen to be married.  I believe “The Dream” is one of the few occasions they’ve worked together.  This was fairly early in their careers.  Nevertheless, the artwork is extremely good.

Duursema and Mandrake have very different styles to their work.  Duursema’s art is well suited to sci-fi and fantasy, while Mandrake’s is very much in the horror and supernatural vein.  This makes their collaboration on Star Wars #92 especially effective.  Duursema’s effectively pencils the characters and technology of the Star Wars universe, and Mandrake’s inking gives the story a genuinely eerie, atmospheric feel.

Although this was Duursema’s only work for the Marvel series, years later she would become a regular contributor to the Star Wars comics when Dark Horse held the license.  From 2000 to 2010 she did great work on several of their of Star Wars titles.  But hopefully more on that in a future post!

Star Wars 92 pg 19

The cover to #92 is an interesting collaboration by Cynthia Martin and Bill Sienkiewicz.  Martin was the regular artist on the Marvel series for its final two years.  She had a rather cartoony look to her work.  Having her finished by Sienkiewicz, with his bizarre, abstract style, results in a cover that very much suits the story within.

I recommend reading these two issues.  I’m confident Marvel with be reprinting them in the near future.