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A Classic Star Wars Adventure!
on 7 May 2014
This book collects the second half of the "Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi" comic books that were published between 1993 and 1998. These were several miniseries that led onto each other and featured the adventures of Jedi Knights in the Ancient Past of the Star Wars universe, which happened well before the first film trilogy (about 4000 years before "Episode IV: A New Hope" to be precise). This of course means that you won't find any familar faces from films 1 to 6 here. But it also means that the period is a very good 'stand alone' one to check out if the reader's knowledge of Star Wars is light and they are wary of getting into complicated continuity. This volume was published by Dark Horse, who released two Tales of the Jedi omnibus volumes. These aren't superhero company-sized hardcover omnibuses however - the size of the book is a little shorter than the average trade paperback. But it should be said that the paper quality is very good and there are about 450 pages that still fit together very well (the width of the book is about the size of my thumb).
As I said there are two volumes in the set of this era and this review is of the second one. Although the narration of the comic means that there is no genuine need to grab the first one to understand what is happening (as the information of what has happened before is clearly conveyed and each character gets an introduction in the dialogue), I would recommend it for the future as the two volumes share the same characters and the same style of storytelling.
What is good about this style you may ask? Well before Episode I came out in 1999, and before the making of it began in 1997, the Star Wars universe was very open to new invention and new stories. The rulebook was less constrictive and the audience of fans old or new were less pedantic about detail. This shows in all the other Dark Horse Star Wars content from the period which vary greatly in style: from a series of Young Adult stories about R2-D2 and C3P0 drawn in charming fashion by Ian Gibson, who was the artist on Halo Jones) to a bunch of grim EC-style Jabba the Hutt gangster stories with several twists in the tale and a black sense of humour, this was definitely a golden time to be inventing and expanding upon Lucas' universe. You can sense in the stories that the writers & artists are having a ball being part of a fictional world rapidly expanding and experimenting. Also at this point American pop culture had not darkened yet as A Song of Ice and Fire had not come out, and HBO's winning streak of pessimism was yet to come.
The result of all this is a action packed story with a tone much closer to the original Star Wars trilogy than anything that would come after it. Here the Sith take the centre stage as a group of antagonists, and this is the first time we would see Jedi vs Sith on a large scale, with large stakes. At one point the Sith manage to freeze the entire Senate of Coruscant in their seats! The hero characters are flawed but charismatic - unlike their dour, grim successors trying too hard to be relatable you can actually root for these Jedi and want them to hold back the tide of evil which is sweeping the galaxy. Two of my favorites are Nomi Sunrider - a single-mother Jedi who possesses the skill of "Jedi Battle Meditation", a kind of probability altering prayer and the cat-like Sylvar from a feral warrior culture who takes her honour and her fierce sense of justice very seriously. And of course who could forget the tragic figure of Ulic Qel-Droma, a bold Jedi Knight who may lose everything he holds dear, and yet may find hope in the unlikeliest of places...
The writing team on this volume is Tom Veitch co-writing the first story (he was the single author on all but the 2 first stories in the first volume), and Kevin J. Anderson the co-writer for that story and writer of the rest (including those other 2 stories in vol 1). Now KJA gets a lot of flack for writing Dune sequels and the Jedi Academy trilogy in a way that other sci-fi fans don't like because it "isn't realistic" or because the characters are too clearly good and evil. In this story IMO this focus on moral choices, redemption and the spiritual side of Star Wars is one of his strengths here as this storyline builds to a dramatic (and a personal, small-scale) finish. Ultimately it is good to not just have more than one style dominating the Star Wars universe as this generates more creative energy and reader choice than it would otherwise. The artwork is okay to average in this volume (certainly not as good as David Roach in the first volume) but Christian Gossett who started as the artist on the first story-arc in 1993 comes back for the concluding story-arc "Redemption" which definitely helps the story to pack that extra emotional wallop. Gossett would later on create his own creator-owned comic property The Red Star (a fantasy in a Soviet-style dictatorship) which I highly recommend if you like this book!
(As a small aside, excluding Redemption, the architecture and clothing style of this period of Star Wars comics is highly different than usual, as again there was more creativity allowed at this time and things were not set in stone. I sometimes hear it refered to negatively as "Space Egypt" but I LOVE the strange decayed/worn forms of many of the temples/cities and the stone-like outer covering of the spaceships with castellations/spires/strange shapes. It gives the period a real sense of being in the past of Star Wars, 4000 years before the start of Luke's journey. It also adds to the sense of how young the Republic is, that it hasn't yet adopted a monocultural attitude to spaceship design. Sadly this ends in the Redemption chapter (clearly Lucas was making Episode I and tightening control over his licensed property at that point) but the colourful and expressive art by Christian Gossett makes up for it.)
Comic fans will know that as of 2015 all Star Wars comics will be produced by Marvel. Also relevant is that most of the expanded universe will be considered "not canon" in the wake of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm (ie they want new fans after Episode Seven to buy other new products). These combined factors make it very unlikely that any of Dark Horse's run of comics will be reprinted again. So my advise to the online reader is: if you see this one, buy it and keep it safe! (And if you DO happen to be a Marvel editor, please prove me wrong and reprint this in large format!)