In the Shadow of Yavin: Part Four

As the euphoria over their destruction of the Death Star begins to wane, the realities of fighting—and surviving against the Empire begin to take their toll on key members of the Rebel Alliance. Compounding these pressures is the suspicion of a spy in their midst.

Princess Leia risks the cohesion of her newly formed secret squadron by grounding Luke Skywalker and a female pilot, Prithi,- for not taking the initial training seriously—just when the Empire is prepared to unleash Colonel Bircher and his elite squadron of TIE interceptors.

Meanwhile, Han Solo and Chewbacca, on a supply mission for Rebel leader Mon Mothma, have run into their own Imperial troubles on Coruscant . . .

Welcome back to the hottest Star Wars comic for many years with writer Brian Wood, artist Carlos D’Anda, colourist Gabe Eltaeb, letterer Michael Heisler and cover artist Alex Ross at the helm. Will the fourth issue regain ground lost by the faultering third issue? Let’s find out.

The Story

We kick off on Coruscant as the Millennium Falcon is blasting away from a landing platform, TIE fighters in hot pursuit. Solo takes the ship down into the depths of the city, trying to evade pursuit. Chewie, frustrated at Solo’s tactics, takes his bowcaster and starts blasting at the TIE’s from an open hatch. Diving further down, the freighter disappears into the darkness.

We move to the rebel fleet as an unauthorised X-Wing prepares to launch and a Mon Calamarian officer is prevented from authorising fire control to destroy it by Mon Mothma and ordered to forget the X-Wing or Mothma were ever there.

We cut to Gray Flight and Leia handing out security measures and instructions to the squadron as they head on out to scout for the next Rebel base and back at the fleet Luke is seen communicating with Ben Kenobi. Ben tells Luke to remember how important Leia is. Prithi is standing behind Luke, and hears all the words spoken by Kenobi, much to Luke’s surprise.

We cut to a one panel scene of Artoo and Threepio arguing as Artoo tries to access information much to Threepio’s dismay and annoyance.

The Pybus System. The search for a new home continues as we learn that Leia is planting false info to weed out the potential spy. Suddenly an Interdictor arrives, forcing them much like Solo earlier to the planets surface. Realising that the planet will be scorched by Imperial bombardment they opt for offence.

We cut briefly to Luke, datapad in hand and Threepio fretting as he boards his X-Wing, we see Slave-1 using a searchlight scanning for its enemy and see Mon Mothma request that all calls be held as we jump across to Endor and the construction site of the second Death Star. Lord Vader is in talks with Imperial officers. Vader makes it clear that expediency is the key, as the Emperor is keen for a new Death Star to be roaming the galaxy keeping order. An Admiral questions this, asking if the Emperor fully understands the pressures on the ground, but his queries are answered by a lightsaber through the chest. Vader is clearly sending a message and asks if anyone else disagress with him. Surpsisingly someone does, Birra Seah, a systems designer from Death Star builders Kuat. Acknowledging the personal risk to herself she agreed with the dead Admiral, stating that the Emperors presence was essential. Vader takes this, mentioning that the force is strong with her, to her surprise. She tells Vader that the construction crew are not his enemy, as he has plenty of those and requests temporary Moff status to oversee the construction of the station. Ending the scene we see a helmetless Anakin say “Skywalker, his name is Skywalker.”

Back to Gray Squadron. We see the X-Wings making plans to evade the Interceptor’s and capital ships, vowing to make a stand that we will no doubt see next issue.

The Review

An action-packed issue opens with everyone’s favourite stock light freighter the Millennium Falcon evading TIE fighters for the first four and a half pages, accentuated by some delicious Carlos D’Anda artwork. It certainly tries hard to evoke the kinectic action of the films, even harking back to Lando’s rescue of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back by having Chewie lean out of the freighter and take on TIE’s with his bowcaster. Fun and exciting for sure, but could a bowcaster – a projectile weapon – really take out TIE fighters? A slightly over-the-top scene, but interesting nonetheless.

We shift locations to the Rebel fleet, and the first of a handful of leaps of logic in this issue which pull the reader out of the action. An unnamed Mon Cal officer is questioning the apparently unauthorised launch of an X- Wing fighter from it’s hangar, threatening to call fire control if it doesn’t identify itself. All well and good, this is clearly an efficient officer, but wait a second. An elite and most importantly secret squadron has just been discovered by it’s own people, with no explanaition of who they are or why they are there. What if Mon Mothma hadn’t been present to rescue the situation? Presumably fire control would have been alerted, and the X-Wing destroyed. Where’s the logic of that? And Mothma’s words – “You will also scrub any mention of those fighters from the bridge logs. And, as is my hope, from your mind as well.” This makes no sense at all. If launching fighters are visible from the bridge, then surely either a clued-up officer would be stationed there, allowing them to covertly launch or orders given to allow for their launch would be initiated. Or better still, a secret launch station that doesn’t link to the bridge officers, who by the very nature of the mission would have no knowledge of Gray Squadron. A sloppy failiure of logic that made little sense.

We join Gray Squadron and once again it is clear that in this series Leia Organa is the Alliance’s top pilot, as she is not only – logically – handing out the orders to Gray Squadron, which is after all her responsibility, but also leading from the front and asking her crack team to “try to keep up.” As I’ve said before, there’s zero issue with Leia being a solid pilot, but this series is making her out to be the best of the best, which simply doesn’t jibe with other Star Wars comics or novels. As ever I mention this at the risk of sounding sexist, but it isn’t that. Leia hasn’t been presented in the past as a crack pilot, and soon we’ll have a similar situation with Leia as we have had with Han Solo over the years, where he is said to be the best smuggler/pilot/gunman in the galaxy. We know these guys are experts and multi-taskers but sometimes (especially in Solo’s case) the reputation is taken as fact, when we all know that such stories are ‘enhanced’ by their retelling, especially when the story is recounted by Solo himself.

And Luke receives a one-two of surprises as he communes with Ben Kenobi. Ben tells Luke that it’s Leia that’s important, a message you just know Luke is going to misinterpret, especially as he has a burgeoning relationship simmering with Prithi. Speaking of which, she overhears the conversation between Luke and Ben, but how? Clearly they are hinting at possible force powers with Prithi, as they do later in the issue with another character.

A strange, one-panel scene follows with Threepio, under implicit orders from Princess Leia, reprimanding Artoo, under orders from Luke for trying to get delicate information. The relevance is unclear, as we are so used to the two droids bickering, but the implication is that Luke still wants to ignore Leia’s specific orders and do things his own way. Perhaps his intuition will be bourne out over the next few issues, and let’s hope it is as Leia could fast become an annoying character if he doesn’t as right now she is self-absorbed and righteous, admittedly with good reason. But she’s not the only person who’s sacrificed and lost something in the war. In their own ways Luke and Han have sacrificed and lost important things as well, and while no other character has lost an entire planet, the destruction of Alderaan is such a huge thing to conceptualise for anyone there’s a limit to how much someone could take that loss in. Is Leia losing her surrogate parents the Organa’s any worse than Luke losing his surrogate parents the Lar’s, regardless of the manner in which they died? It’s worth remembering that Luke and Leia essentially lost both their ‘parents’ in A New Hope.

Back with Gray Squadron, we see them aiming to locate the next Rebel base, the key point of this secret mission. But again, the focus seems to be not finding the new home for the Rebellion, but flushing out the spy. And Leia seems to be certain that the spy is one of her covert squadron members, which begs the question if that’s case then why are they being given covert and sensitive missions to carry out and not being railroaded into non-essential missions? An entire Rebellion of freedom fighters, with just the few members of Gray Squadron suspected, but given the most delicate and sensitive (not to mention vital) missions. I think ultimately the spy will be revealed to be someone outside of the group (unless they are doing a Shira and aim the finger of blame at Prithi), time will tell.

An incidental point, why would Mothma ignore a priority incoming message, marked confidential? Given the mission Gray Squadron is carrying out, surely she would want to be on the top of every priority message coming in, especially when Gray Squadron is out there trying to locate a new home. Again, the logic of that evaded me.

On to the issues best and most illuminating scenes, featuring Darth Vader. While the comic still seems to be shoe-horning vehicles and events from Return of the Jedi into the era of A New Hope, there is solid logic to this. The original Death Star began construction at the time of Revenge of the Sith, and we’ve long known the assembly of the second Death Star was happening concurently with that of the first, but here we see a very Jedi conceit – that the presence of the Emperor was vital to the fast construction of the station. That said, why is the stationing of Vader not enough to encourage a faster workforce? Well, we see here through both Vader’s action of executing an Admiral who argues with him and the wise words of Kuat design engineer Birra Seah that the construction crew are not his enemies, but that the presence of Palpatine would bring stability, a stability that only Palpatine could provide.

Now, we know that historically the Emperor remained on Coruscant and Vader was despatched to regions far and wide. In part as a way of punishing Vader for his failiures (and there were many), utilising his imposing presence on the wider reaches of the Empire and also to keep the two apart, as Vader’s promise of dominance (and therefore threat to Palpatine) continued to rise. Here we see that the brute Vader isn’t as powerful as the tactical Vader, but this is something that we are seeing develop very nicely in series such as Darth Vader and the Lost Command and Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison. To shift forward almost two decades and see that he hasn’t learned his own strengths could be seen as a shortcoming of the writing or a way of reinforcing Anakin’s deep-rooted doubts in his own abilities and the path fate and his own bad decisions chose for him. The introduction of Birra is interesting, as she is clearly wise, brave, organised and as Vader notes, strong in the force. Moving forward, perhaps she will be a great ally and confidant for Vader, but knowing his inability to utilise such resources she will likely become collateral damage along the way.

And a pedantic observation, Vader’s claim that “the Emperor is eager to complete construction, to restore the proper balance of power in the universe.” Star Wars is set in a galaxy, not a universe and in the Expanded Universe it’s accepted that there are other local galaxies. Surely Vader would refer to restoring balance in the galaxy, not the universe? As I said, a pedantic observation – even Admiral Motti warned that the Death Star was the “ultimate power in the universe”, so perhaps Wood is aping that here..

And that scene in his hyperbarric chamber. Is he communing with his master or talking aloud? Mentioning the name Skywalker presumably refers to Luke, or is it himself he is referring to?

We blast out of the issue with Gray Squadron in deep, deep trouble (cue Bart Simpson song) battling heavy odds against overwhelming Imperial numbers and setting the scene for the next issue. A perfectly functional scene apart from a pet peeve – the wheeling out yet again of the phrase “never tell a Corellian the odds.” When are people going to realise that it was Han Solo who said never tell me the odds, a phrase in the heat of the moment from a smart-mouthed smuggler that was unique to him. How this has become attributed to all Corellians is beyond me and has become an all-too regular annoyance.

So, the overview. Without doubt it’s an improvement on the sluggish issue three, packing the issue with action all sumptuously illustrated by artist Carlos D’Anda, colourist Gabe Eltaeb and letterer Michael Heisler behind the final (for now) cover by superstar artist Alex Ross. But there are still certain contrivances which cause the flow of the issue to stammer somewhat and character traits coming out that seem, well, out of character. Nothing to overly concern ourselves with right now, as the title is still finding its feet (having already found a huge and eager audience), but if it doesn’t find a balance soon then it could really go off-kilter into Infinities territory. That may seem a harsh assesment, but with a talent like Brian Wood at the helm I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect top-quality writing every month. Right now we’re at full sublight and I’m keen for the hyperdrive to kick in.

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Mark Newbold
Mark is the Daily Content Manager for Jedi News as well as the Program Director, and co-host of RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network.