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