10.09.2013

Star Wars #10 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #10 (Dark Horse): Hey, I loves me some Ryan Kelly, but I’m also glad to have regular series artist Carlos D’Anda back aboard the ship since he really defined the incredible and distinct look of this series for me from day one. The magic of Carlos D’Anda is evident from the first image seen on the opening page, where the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator functions as an in-your-face expression of raw Imperial technological might, but also showcases D’Anda’s ability to convey both immense scale and tiny detail with equal swing-for-the-fences gusto. Your eye then quickly drifts down to the enticing glow at the bottom of the page, where Gabe Eltaeb’s moody colors punch you in the gut and then suck on your face like a rabid mynock. The crimson illumination in the sequence that follows is a somber signal of the meaningful conversation Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles go on to share. It’s a reminder of the losses that soldiers, any soldiers, experience in war, and how that drives them to cling to connections and relationships to heighten their precious lives, even if they might otherwise seem fleeting.

For a hot second there, I actually thought Wedge was going to come out as gay, like maybe he was lamenting one of the other pilots lost at the Battle of Yavin, but for deeper reasons? I mean, was he porking that big lovable bear Jek Porkins? Sorry, couldn’t resist the 4th grade humor. Wedge doesn’t turn out to be gay (which I wouldn’t put past writer Brian Wood to handle deftly), but seriously, it got me thinking. Have there been any homosexual relationships established in the Star Wars EU canon? I’m familiar with a lot of it, but have read precious few of the novels. Would Star Wars fans “accept” that or get all rage-y like comics fans probably would? They’re slightly different demographics. Wood describes being really embraced by non-comic Star Wars fans, but getting the majority of the pushback he’s received from diehard comic book fans, so (assuming LucasFilm approved) I’m interested in what would happen with the introduction of an openly gay Star Wars character. I’m digressing.
 
This scene has so much heart! Fans should really lose their minds when Wedge starts talking about how he’s been thinking about changing the name of Red Squadron and retiring that designation. We’re witnessing the birth of something really cool in this lost little moment. It’s also an interesting bit of characterization, showing that Wedge is really an introspective guy, a leader who considers how the very name of something has significance for its connotations. As if that wasn’t enough, I loved how Wedge’s eyes light up with emotion when Luke mentions another pilot who’s a mutual friend. 

Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda manage to visit every single plot thread they’ve introduced so far within the course of this issue. There’s Leia’s lament about her adopted home world of Alderaan. There’s the Han/Chewie/Perla dynamic. Mon Mothma’s stealth cat let out of the bag. The determination of Boba Fett. The hubris of Colonel Bircher. There’s Birra Seah and Vader’s dogged quest regarding an otherwise “unremarkable” young moisture farmer from the Outer Rim. That being said, while these other threads are intercut amidst the Luke/Wedge conversation, it’s an extended scene that runs the course of the single issue. By the time you start to figure out the background patterns, see a hangar bay loaded with TIE Interceptors, TIE Fighters, and TIE Bombers, it builds toward an absolutely brilliant and enveloping reveal when you finally grasp exactly where Luke and Wedge are, where they’ve been hiding out, and what's about to happen.
 
D’Anda’s visuals don’t stop there. It feels like the three-issue break has allowed him to focus and reinvigorate his pencils. It’s clear in the withered majesty of Mon Mothma, or the detailed facial features of the Mon Calamari. It’s Vader standing in quiet contemplation on the bridge of a ship, or a lone X-Wing rocketing off into deep space, all familiar visual characteristics that tickle nostalgia buttons while pushing to craft new content with a simply delicious art style.

If the line “It’s a good bet the Empire…” sounds familiar, it’s because the sentence structure is intentionally lifted from Empire Strikes Back. Hold onto that thought for a second. Then we see Mon Mothma down on her knees, getting dirty, rolling up her sleeves, and doing some kind of galactic CPR with a 2-1B medical droid lurking around the same page. Hold onto that for a second now. Colonel Bircher is slinging procedural jargon about fleet warfare tactics. All of this serves as the juxtaposition of known things, but in unknown circumstances. It’s this combination of items that delight our collective sense of familiarity. The people and places and lines of dialogue that tickle the inner fanboy and recall our shared experiences with the property. But, the key is that Wood’s scripts go beyond mere fanboy titillation, because, really, anyone can do that and just drop references given access to the source material and an understanding of the internal patterns. What makes these scripts special, what makes them rise above just being a litany of Easter Eggs, is that they are Star Wars speculative fiction about the interstitial space between the known. They push forward instead of just looking back in hollow self-referential fashion. They mine and create.

Princess Leia Organa holding an old man at blaster point in her white pilot’s jumpsuit, well, that’s just about the sexiest thing I’ve seen this side of the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell. Leia’s got all the moxie and skill of her peers, don’t you doubt it for a second. It’s important to note that the eventual tears she sheds are good indicators of not only the raw emotion anyone would experience after the extermination of their race, but the fact that it’s not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a result of the incredible strength she just exhibited, of bottling up her emotions, of containing her rage, when the easier thing to do would have been to just fry this guy like poor old Greedo. She doesn’t. She shows restraint and cold calculation. She leave’s him, as far as he knows anyway, resigned to his fate, a punishment worse than death, floating out in an asteroid belt in a beat up old ship, contemplating his integral role in genocide. That note circles back around to the idea expressed in the first scene with Luke and Wedge about loss. Leia’s lost her entire planet. Luke’s lost his mentor and his friends. Wedge has lost his friends and a lover. They’re reeling emotionally, because Wood has the time now to express things on paper that the movies barely touched upon in fleeting glimpses.

There’s so much going on in this series that I alternately feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, yet I also feel like I’m getting repetitive about singing its praises. I’ve enjoyed every single issue of the series, but this feels like one of the absolute best yet in the run. It has that mixture of action, heart, and visuals I often talk about being required to achieve greatness. The excitement of grand happenings with grand consequences, the characterization and depth of personality that only a writer like Brian Wood can bestow these creations with – one met with the audience’s emotional investment, and the aesthetic panache that sees art, inks, colors, letters, all firing perfectly, like a fresh new reactor engine off the assembly line at Kuat Drive Yards, coalescing to become more than the sum of their parts. Most importantly, there’s the intelligence of the extrapolated connective tissue that spans the time between the seminal movies. It answers questions we had, speculation we’d all gleefully done in our head or with friends, and even gets around to exploring logical questions we didn’t know we had, in a seamless creative effort. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributions to the Expanded Universe that the Star Wars property has ever witnessed. Grade A+.

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