9.11.2013

Star Wars #9 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #9 (Dark Horse): Seriously, they should just go ahead and start calling him Ryan “Killy” instead, because Ryan Kelly is killing it. There are very few artists who can pull off this aesthetic Kessel Run, plotting a lightspeed course which jumps seamlessly from small details like getting the belly of the X-Wing correct, to the elegance of Princess Leia Organa in her white pilot’s jumpsuit strapped with a blaster, to the dope-ass close-up of Bossk amid the chase scene in the Coruscant skyline. When you break that statement down, that’s Ryan Kelly nailing everything from the used-future tech, to the human emotions, to the dizzying array of races and creatures, and all of the pulse-pounding action (with eye-popping colors thanks to Gabe Eltaeb), which is basically everything the Star Wars Universe was foundationally fashioned upon. I’ve been a little rough on any of the cover artists that were not Alex Ross on this run (an impossible standard, I know), but I’m perfectly happy with this Hugh Fleming number. Fleming is not an artist I’m familiar with, but it’s got a rich old pulpy quality to it, reminiscent of those 1950’s sci-fi paperbacks that were the type of material which helped inspire George Lucas to ultimately find his life’s work. 

Writer Brian Wood is equally adept at jumping around to different sets in order to continue his miraculous world-building within an already well-established world, with some hard-stop cinematic cuts to link it all together. Leia stumbles onto a remorseful Imperial officer floating around in a relic ship amid the ruins of Alderaan she found in the last issue, and is able to quickly suss out what her gut tells her just isn’t quite right about the whole situation. It’s interesting to see Leia struggle with the morality of what actions truly make someone a war criminal. It’s sort of an age old quandary, if the action itself, or just the intent, just providing the means and “following orders” is what qualifies someone, or if that can ever be a plausible defense. The man she finds is now amassing lost Alderaanian artifacts. For me, it was reminiscent of the story “Looted” that Brian Wood wrote back in DMZ #50, involving a man who had salvaged priceless works of art from Museum Mile during a Second American Civil War ravaging the streets of Manhattan. Both men are looking well beyond current events, trying to preserve the culture of a destroyed world, taking the long view of the conflicts they’re mired in. It’ll be interesting to see how this thread resolves.

From there, it’s a sharp cut (you can almost imagine one of those fuzzy screen wipes that Lucas did in the films separating these narrative threads) to Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon above Coruscant, trying to outrun the Hound’s Tooth. From there, it’s Wedge and Luke infiltrating the Star Destroyer. It just never lets up. It never lets the reader settle or become complacent before being whisked off to another fun set. It’s like you get the equivalent of three or four different books’ worth of adventures all consolidated into one. Nitpick Alert: There was one transition that perhaps wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. In one panel, Luke is holding a blaster, he and Wedge are quickly fired upon by Stormtroopers, and then we see Luke defending himself with his lightsaber. The scene never really cuts away, yet we don’t see Luke make the transition, holster his weapon (though they don’t appear to even have holsters) or drop it, and retrieve his saber before igniting it. It’s hardly a showstopper, and I think there’s plenty of redemption in this part of the script otherwise. Wedge drops a reference to Kuat Drive Yards, and the creative team make an interesting decision to largely portray this scene from Wedge’s POV, as he reacts to Luke’s Jedi skills and what they’re doing in a very lucid moment. I’m so ok with Wedge being a main character. The only thing better would be Lando Calrissian. (Sorry, this is a running joke I dish to Wood, constantly nagging about the need for a Lando cameo or even some oblique reference to his existence).

Before you know it, we’re back on Coruscant as fan favorite Boba Fett just up and dives out of his ship in mid-flight. It’s a rollicking good time that will induce smiles in the reader. As we know, scenes with Boba Fett are so scarce, as are his precious lines of dialogue, so they’re all relished. The book is no different. With one utterance, “Drop the blaster, Solo.” you can just imagine that deadpan tinny hollow rasp of his voice. I always seem to enjoy the scenes with Prithi for some reason, and here we see her make an on-the-fly decision that could have immediate positive repercussions, but also some longer term negative consequences, depending on how they’re all extricated from this situation. The scale of her little T-65 fighter compared to the girth of the Star Destroyer is also terrific, because you have to play “Where’s Waldo?” for a moment to find her on the hull. It’s another example of the sense of fun I hope Wood and Kelly are having themselves as they share it with the audience. What’s also so ridiculously good is that final shot of Vader, just gleaming and menacing. Ryan “Killy,” y’all, Ryan “Killy.”
 
By the end, Birrah Seah reveals a huge piece of information to Vader, which is the latest example of the type of indispensable connective tissue that binds ANH to ESB. When you were watching ESB for the first time and saw Vader mercilessly coming after Luke on Hoth, did you ever ask yourself how he suddenly knew there was another Skywalker in town? In the past, the audience always had to provide this type of closure on their own, and now we have a whole series dedicated to gloriously doing it for you in that interstitial space between movies. Marrying those type of logical story extensions with fleshed out characterization and crisp lively art is basically the currency that Wood and Kelly are dealing in so expertly. This series will no doubt go down in history as one of the essential entries in the Star Wars canon. Grade A+.

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