Star Wars 18

Star Wars 18 - revised 4.27.16

Today, Patrick and Spencer discuss Star Wars 18, originally released April 27th, 2016.

star wars div

Patrick: I’d never really considered it before, but the women of the Star Wars universe — even when they’re the heroes — tend to have the most boring and stressful possible existences. Anakin gets to jump around with a magical laser sword while Amidala has to serve in an Orwellian uber-government. And even when they split up the Skywalker twins, little Luke is sent to his ancestral home world, guarded over by a Jedi Knight, practically guaranteeing him a life of swashbuckling adventure, whereas little Leia is handed off to a political ally so she can spend her days pretending to like her Alderaanian vegetables. While The Force Awakens has started to take steps in the right direction by making Rey adventure incarnate, sometimes it’s not enough to simply fix the problem. With Star Wars 18, Jason Aaron and Leinil Francis Yu go out of their way to put this problem in clear view: the boys goof around and fuck up until the very last second, while the girls take charge and eat shit for 20 pages. The result is an oddly empowering book, that highlights just how badass the ladies the ladies of Star Wars are by emphasizing how inconsequential (and how celebrated) Han and Luke’s adventure are.

Like, f’real: there are only two sets of dynamic double-splash pages in this issue and they both go to the dopey space-bros. And their story is hilariously pointless: Luke leverages his recent heroics for an opportunity to fly the Millennium Falcon. And it’s cute and fun. They bicker about how Luke flies, but there’s absolutely no conflict between them. They are playing, and the panel layout reflects this – not only do they get those sweet huge splash pages, all the panels are at odd angles.

Meanwhile, the women are working…

women be all workin

…and Yu’s paneling snaps back into 90 degree, widescreen panels that dutifully honor the limits of the page. The message is clear – whatever’s happening at the Sunspot Prison is immediately less fun than what’s going on in the first couple pages of this story. This is almost a perfect transition – that first panel serves as an setting establishing shot, but it even more effectively establishes the new mood. The prison almost looks like it’s being chaotically swallowed by the sun! And then we smash cut to Sana in mortal peril. While those first four pages were all about screwing around, these two panels are anything but.

And while Leia, Dr. Aphra, and Sana have a physical threat in the form of the droid army attacking the prison, the real work they have to do is with regard to how they work together and how they trust each other. Sana and Dr. Aphra clearly have a tumultuous history with each other, and the questions that are raised about their history are very neatly paralleled in the questions raised about Leia’s connection to the prison’s attacker. Actually, now that I mention it, there are a bunch of little story beats that play this idea that history is dangerous – or at the very least, something to be dealt with. Threepio has decided that, based on all of his past experiences being in siege situations, he and Artoo don’t need to take any action to help Leia. Artoo, naturally, thinks better of this and knocks a battle droid away from a control panel at an opportune moment.

Elsewhere, the attacker (who… I wish we had a name for…), confronts a prisoner locked away in a maximum security cell. It’s like he’s shopping around for the best targets. The Attacker poses the question “why are you here?” and the prisoner responds by admitting to killing Jedi. At least, I think that’s how we’re supposed to read the scene. That super cool mask makes it hard to tell what The Attacker is feeling, and both Aaron and Yu are careful not to give it away.

punishment

A lot of this action is inscrutable, but that may be the point. There are still huge questions about who this person is and what motivates this prison attack in the first place, so that lack of clarity in the action actually feeds into this over all mystery.

I also just love seeing Leia promoted to Main Hero status for this story. Yu frequently places the Princess in front of the  panels, especially when she’s taking charge of the situation. My favorite example is almost the most extreme example, where Leia overlaps with all the other panels on the page. It’s like she’s almost forcing her own splash page, but circumstances simply won’t allow for it.

this is leia's page

Look! She even blows right past the bottom gutter! And that line – “Everybody stop yelling but me!” – is basically perfect.

Of course, Leia had to scrape and fight for that approximation of a splash page, but Han and Luke, who come waltzing in at the end here, get one for free. Doesn’t seem fair, does it Spencer?

star wars div
Spencer: 
It sure doesn’t, Patrick, especially since Leia is doing the lion’s share of the work. As you pointed out, Leia’s very much the Main Hero of the issue (capitalization intended) — while Sana and Aphra have similarly horrible luck this month, they also have their own agendas distracting them from the mission at hand. Not only does Leia have to take down the droid army, save her prisoners, save R2-D2 and C-3P0, stop the person killing her prisoners and figure out who that person is, now she also has to keep Sana from killing Aphra and keep Aphra from betraying them all as well. It’s a nearly impossible burden, and Leia shoulders it with the same kind of determination and competence that’s come to define her character.

So yeah, that does make it a bit frustrating when Han and Luke fly in, ready to take all the credit for Leia’s hard work.

%22rescue%22

Now I don’t think either man showed up with the intention of stealing the spotlight; Leia (via Sana) specifically called for help (but didn’t just sit around on her butt and wait for it to show up in the meantime), and Han and Luke were just responding to a friend’s emergency beacon. Still, despite Yu and Aaron playing this moment as a big heroic entrance, that trope’s typical impact is softened by Han and Luke’s actions throughout the rest of the issue. By this point we’ve seen Leia’s tooth-and-nail battle play out side-by-side with the boys’ nerf-herding shenanigans, and that makes the idea of them rescuing Leia feel almost laughable, even when we know the feats both men are capable of.

(Interesting note: Leia is saving the day even when she’s not there, since Han’s main motivation for taking on the nerf mission, and thus making back the Rebellion funds he gambled away, is wanting to avoid Leia’s wrath. Luke threatens to tell the story to Leia if Han doesn’t give him what he wants, so I have to wonder if this is where Leia’s “nerf-herder” insult in Empire came from. It would certainly explain why Han didn’t even try to deny it.)

Also playing into this effect is the fact that our yet-to-be-named antagonist is standing atop the Millennium Falcon, completely undercutting Han and Luke’s confidence by his very presence. He acts as a reminder that Han and Luke have no idea what they’re walking into, and his vantage point reminds us that he, quite literally, has the upper hand against our heroes at the moment. Still, while Han and Luke may have yet to notice the antagonist (let’s call him “Masky,” for lack of a better name), he would be directly in Leia’s line of sight. I’m taking this as a subtle reassurance from Aaron and Yu that, despite this new arrival, Leia is still very much the hero of this story.

This type of writing shows that Aaron not only has a strong sense of who his characters are, but how the Star Wars movies have typically used each character in the past. While the rest of Star Wars 18 isn’t quite as insightful as the themes Patrick and I have already highlighted, I still got a good kick out of the touches of deft characterization Aaron throws around, even in throwaway moments. Patrick already mentioned the “Everybody stop yelling but me!” line (which may now forever live on as the quintessential Leia quote), but I’m just as enamored with his handling of C-3P0.

Optimistic

First of all, 3P0’s complete lack of self-awareness when he labels himself the “optimistic” one is absolutely riotous — talk about irony — but even more perfect is the fact that 3P0 is only an optimist when it means that he won’t have to actually do anything. It’s a moment that’s not only funny, but that contains surprising insight into 3P0’s character, and moments like that are always welcome.

Like Patrick, though, I do find the lack of a name for our masked antagonist a bit frustrating. Is this guy actually supposed to be a character the audience will recognize? It seems unlikely, and if not, then keeping his identity obscured from the readers this long is a strange choice. Overall, this arc is doing a commendable job of tackling themes, settings, and concepts that were largely overlooked in the actual Star Wars movies, thus expanding the universe, yet as I tried to figure out who our antagonist might be and came up with pretty much no feasible options, I couldn’t help but realize how small this EU-less Star Wars universe actually is. The first few pages of this issue don’t help — there’s several references to “nerf herder” and “parsecs” there, and those constant callbacks to the movies are starting to feel a bit constraining.

I’m also a little confused about the Jedi-slaughtering prisoner. He clearly hates the Jedi, yet “Masky’s” reveal that the prisoner was secretly working for a Sith Lord seems meant as a taunt, and the prisoner indeed seems horrified by the idea. I suppose being anti-Jedi doesn’t automatically mean you’re pro-Sith, but it does seems weird to me that he’d be upset by the idea.

In the end, though, these are small complaints. As a whole, I appreciate the effort Aaron and Yu have put into this issue to tell a different kind of Star Wars story, and to show a different side to Leia, Luke, and Han’s typical roles within the franchise’s narrative. Here’s hoping Leia saves the day and grabs all the credit for it next month.
star wars div

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

Advertisements

7 comments on “Star Wars 18

  1. Yeah, Spencer, I was trying to track what Masky’s motivations are in killing a three-time Jedi-slayer AND revealing that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, and while I have faith in Aaron that it will make sense in the end, that’s some mysterious shit. But I do think that that “anti-Jedi is not necessarily pro-Sith” idea speaks pretty powerfully toward why there could be smart, rational, non-evil people in the Empire. The presence of the Sith is supposedly very secretive, right? So maybe the sentiment in the universe was just that the Jedis (and therefore all force users) just fucked up – got greedy and stupid with their power and had to be eliminated.

  2. We were both using masculine pronouns, but it should would make more thematic sense if Masky ended up being a woman. Per Spencer’s comment, I can’t really imagine who would be a meaningful reveal, but the character’s identity has been withheld from us for so long, it almost has to be someone we already know. Maybe someone from the comics? How about Leia’s Alderaanian pilot/bodyguard, Evaan? That’d be a pretty quick turn around, but y’know, possible.

    I don’t have any other guesses.

  3. Star Wars has often been at the forefront of strong female character, but as times change, so has how perception. Princess Leia was unlike any other character (there is a great story about this. George Lucas was really struggling to write Leia, because writing the archetypal princess character is utterly shallow and empty, and he didn’t know what to do. So he was told to write her like his wife, and created one of the all time great heroines)

    And while it was worth remembering that Leia wasn’t just a princess, but a member of the Imperial Senate who used her position to act as a spy for the rebellion and did all sorts of secret missions (they should do a movie about that. Leia has a mission for the Rebellion, but can’t let her cover be broken, especially has the Imperials know she’s a rebel, and want to catch her so she ‘won’t get away this time’), it is also worth remembering that until Rey, basically every notable female character don’t really get the awesome jobs of ‘Jedi Knight’ or ‘rougish Smuggler’.

    Haven’t read the issue, as I read Star Wars by the trade, but it is great that this arc seems to be emphasizing those traits about Leia that is too easily forgotten. Reminding us that just because she is a princess who has to pretend to like Alderanian Vegetables, it doesn’t mean she also doesn’t have a long history of kicking down the door as a Rebel Agent.

    I really hope that this comic isn’t where Han gets the nerf herder nickname. I think their flirtation in Empire works much better is there is no history, Leia insults Han and Han, in is smooth way, only takes offence to the idea that he is scruffy looking. Making it a reference to past events changes the context of the flirts, which I honestly don’t think is a great idea. Let the nerf herding just be one of those moments where Luke and Han had to do something that was without glamour, as one of those weird misadventures that’s goofy and weird and eventless, that’s just part of being in a Space Opera. THe sort of thing they prefer not to tell anyone about, and instead trade embarassed looks to each other without ever explaining anything about it. Feels like a much better use of the premise of ‘Han and Luke fill the Falcon with nerfs to make money’ than to changing the context of one of the all time great flirtations

    Also, give me that Princess Leia prequel idea I had. Much better idea than the Han Solo prequel idea

  4. Oh, I’m also hoping that we don’t get any kind of conversation between Han and Leia where he’s like “yeah, so there we were – herding Nerfs” and then she’s like “Wait wait wait. You? Han Solo – you? Herded Nerfs?” and he’s like “Sure, but you’re missing the…” and she’s like “I never thought I’d see the day the cool, bad Han Solo become a Nerf Herder!” and he’d be all “Hey, that hurts my feelings.”

    Because that’d be dumb.

    But, just having this adventure in the background, informing his Nerf Herdery, works perfectly for me.

    • I feel like the only thing we need informing Han’s nerf herder comments in Episode 5 is his own smoothness. What makes him complaining about being scruffy looking isn’t the fact that he actually is a nerf herder, but his refusal to take any insult about his lower class life as an insult, as well as the level of charm that comes from so effortlessly deflecting off an insult like that.

      I don’t think Han and Leia’s flirtation needs any informing that isn’t in the movies. THe flirtation works perfectly without it, and trying to change to context of the lines by informing the events will only serve to weaken it. So let the actual nerf herdering be an actual zany misadventure, and not in any way something that informs Episode 5.

      The reason Leia called Han a nerf herder in Episode 5 shouldn’t be a reference to a previous event, but because it was the lowest thing she could accuse Han of being. And the reason Han deflects it shouldn’t be because it is a fair description, but because he’s a smooth charmer effortlessly deflecting the insult while remaining proud of his lesser social status. Changing the context of those lines to references to actual events dilutes their meaning, which is actually Leia using harsh insults to push Han away so she doesn’t have to admit her feelings.

      • I think I strongly disagree with these statement – I think Leia using something she knows about Han against him in that moment actually strengthens her blow, and therefore loads both the insult and Han’s assertion that she wants him to stay because of the way she feels about him. She does feels so strongly for him because she knows him so damn well – nerf herding adventure inclusive.

        But more than thinking that this episode in nerf herding has the opposite effect from what you’re describing, I mostly believe that it’s a wash. I probably watched The Empire Strikes Back 30 times before I realized she was saying “nerf herder” and not “nerve hurter.” Admittedly, “hurter” isn’t a word, but whatever, it made more sense next to a word that sounded an awful lot like “nerve.” One of the reasons I liked that was because it sounded to me like she was flustered and couldn’t possibly come up with something more articulate that “nerve hurter,” and I was a little crest fallen to discover that she called him something that was real within the universe. (Also, reflecting on it, if she is just calling him low class, that’s a shitty thing for Leia to say – way to punch down PRINCESS.) But regardless of the actual worlds she uses, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford’s performances sell that scene perfectly. I don’t NEED to know why Leia says “nerf herder,” but I don’t lose anything by knowing. Just like I don’t need to know the whole story of the bounty hunter on Ord Mandel, but I also don’t believe reading that story would necessarily take away from Han using it as an excuse to leave. (Though, if the story sucks, that’s a different case all together – I don’t like it when stories suck.)

        It really just comes back to one of the questions we’ve raised about all these Star Wars comics since the first one came out about a year ago: does our experience of the overall Star Wars saga benefit or suffer from having these narrative gaps filled? I’ve had a great experience so far, with Darth Vader and Princess Leia helping me come to terms with my distaste for the prequels, but I also think that’s an unfair metric to measure the comics against. The real question should be: are they telling a story that I’m enjoying the experience of? I know it’s impossible to read them in isolation, so talk of the movies is always going to filter into our discussions and analysis of the comics, but if we can’t enjoy the comics on their own, then we may as well admit that we’re only reading advertising for a film series. I like these comics, and I certainly don’t want to reduce them to that.

        (And just to clarify: I don’t think that you are doing that — certainly not intentionally. I’m just trying to articulate the perspective that I always hope to approach this issues from.)

        • Just because the acting sells the scene perfectly, it doesn’t mean it is right to add context that weakens it. In fact, their performances have influenced my opinions a lot. To me, Carrie Fisher’s performance did a great job showing Leia desperate to push Han away, and l always got a feeling from how she said nerf herder that it is supposed be hurtful (and completely, and utterly a low blow. Because that’s Leia). Of course, a reference to a personal event can be more hurtful than a random insult, but not when the actual event is a zany, wacky side adventure. You are right that Leia is flustered (I mean, the whole point is she is desperately trying to not admit her feelings) but the way she says nerf herder sounds like something that is supposed to have a little venom, andI don’t think you can say there is venom is you say it is a reference to a zany misadventure (I know this misadventure related to Han losing Rebel funds gambling, but if you wanted to reference that particular irresponsibility, you wouldn’t reference the nerf herding itself, but the gambling). Is it possible to explain a reference in the movie in the way that makes the scene deeper? Yes. I don’t know if you can make the nerf herder reference deeper considering ultimately she’s calling him a farmer, but there are stuff you could do in other cases. Hell, Sana Solo is a great example of something that adds another layer to Han and Leia’s romance. But I feel the need to give background on every line is something that should be approached with care. Giving explanations for every single reference requires you to understand all the aspects of that line intimately, and I don’t think, watching the scene as a whole, that ‘Han had a zany misadventure involving nerfs’ make the line stronger. Which is why I hope it is kept as this thing that Luke and Han are embarrassed about and refuse to talk about (this isn’t me saying that this sort of story is bad. The idea of Luke and Han having such a stupid adventure is a brilliant one).

          WHich leads me to what the Star Wars comics should be. I’ve discussed that Star Wars is my one exception to the whole licensed comics thing, and there is a goo reason for that. I avoid licensed comics because, as you said, so often they are little more than advertising. I mean, Orphan Black has/had a comic. Orphan Black is a show with such small scope that there really isn’t much in the way of story to tell that shouldn’t be in the show in the first place. The difference with Star Wars is that Lucasfilm are putting great effort into making everything matter, in creating a meaningful universe. So that’s why I read them (though Gillen writing a Darth Vader book that reads like a top quality cable drama and Aaron writing amazing pulp adventure helps a lot). You will never be able to read these books without the movies influencing them, but to me, what the Star Wars books should be doing is using the movies as a seed to grow the story in new ways. It should avoid filling in the blanks too often, and focus more on telling a new story that grows the universe.

          Telling the story about how Jyn Erso stole the Death Star plans, the story about Han’s ex-wife, the story about Darth Vader’s fight for the EMperor’s approval against Cylo’s ‘apprentices’ are all new stories that don’t just fill in the blanks, but grow the story in new ways. I gave a pitch for a Princess Leia movie in my first comment, and the idea of that movie is not about filling in the blanks about Leia, but to tell a spy story about the rebellion, and explore the Star Wars universe and the EMpire from the perspective of a spy story. I’ve discussed with friends how the one movie I really want to be made is a story about an average accountant or something like that on Coruscant/Imperial Centre who accidentally sees something she shouldn’t, and is forced to go on the run. A story where the rebellion barely features, just a conspiracy thriller that also explores everyday life on Coruscant during the Empire.

          If the comics can create new stories that expand the universe, instead of incestuously feeding back into each other like a giant ouroboros, that is what makes the comics more than advertising. In fact, creating actual new stuff that introduces new layers to people’s relationships does positively effect the movies (Sana Solo being a great example). But I think that giving an origin to Leia’s nerf herder comment doens’t add something new, it just recontextulizes it. And I feel that any recontextulization isn’t going to work for two reasons. Firstly, that’s not how the actor’s performed the scene, which leads to things like me discussing how Carrie Fisher’s performance doesn’t match the new origin. Secondly, any attempt to recontextualize is going to have to balance the fact that 99% of the people are going to watch the movie without reading the comic, and therefore the recontextualization can’t change things too much.

          And I think it is fair to say that how a Star Wars comic affects the other things it is connected to is a fair metric to discuss, as long as it isn’t the sole metric. Any critique should involve multiple metrics together. I am perfectly happy saying ‘Leia gets a powerful story that pushes her to interesting places and really deepens her characters, while Han and Luke have an adventure that is consistently enjoyable. But the ways it tries to connect its story to Empire Strikes back serves only to weaken the movie, providing needless backstory that removes some of the bite that made Han and Leia’s romance famous’. A story can both be good, and have problems with how it connects to the rest of the Star Wars universe, and I think everyone here is mature enough to be able to treat a criticism of one aspect as something other than an attack on the entire story

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s