Star Wars 49: Discussion

By Patrick Ehlers and Taylor Anderson

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Patrick: If there’s one part of the Star Wars formula I’ve had the hardest time connecting to on a personal level, it’d have to be the huge battles between spaceships.  Don’t get me wrong: I think the ships look cool, and the Millennium Falcon is so near and dear to my heart that I almost cried during its reveal in The Force Awakens. But there’s something about two factions of cold, gray, lifeless ships zipping through space and shooting blasters at each other that feels remarkably impersonal. With Star Wars 49, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca set out to stage the mother of all space battles at the birth of the Rebel Armada. By linking the ships to the characters, the creators create a sense of emotional continuity that makes this one of the best space ship battles I’ve ever seen.

But before I really dig into this issue’s successes with spacecraft, I want to spend a second explaining what the problem is. All vehicular combat is tough to dramatize, especially in comic book form. On the screen, sometimes it’s enough to raise the audiences’ adrenaline by smashing two cars into each other at high speeds. Even in that, audiences are too well acquainted with the physics of cars to be fooled or compelled by anything artificial. That’s why the Fast and Furious movies are so popular — they rely on killer stunt work and practical effects, actually slamming one car into another. The second they CG a car, the illusion is broken. The physics are off, the light plays off the paint job wrong, window-transparency is just a shade outside of real. When realism is the source of your emotional cachet, any artificiality breaks the drama.

So what’s a Star Wars comic to do then? There are so many layers of artifice between the world the story takes place in and the reader. Larroca starts this issue by laying the challenges out in front of us.

There are something like 20 ships drawn in Larroca’s excruciating, tracerly detail, with dozens more dotting the starscape behind them. Besides the Falcon, they are largely faceless ships. You can determine what side they’re on by their geometry — the good guys are round and bulbous, the bad guys are sharp and angular — but at this point, they’re all just pieces on a board. Even the way they hang in space, with no reference points to establish speed or position, presents a storytelling challenge.

Larroca, like many Star Wars directors before him, rapidly cuts between ships’ interiors and exteriors. But Larroca finds a bunch of other ways to link his cast to their weaponized vehicles. Because this is a comic book, the reader is able to see an entire page at once, meaning that instead of feeling like a series of rapid cuts, we are witnessing what’s happening inside and outside of the ships simultaneously. Let’s look at how effective this when Leia blows up a TIE fighter with the Millennium Falcon’s dorsal gun turrets.

We’re able to see Leia take aim, the TIE fighter explode, and Leia react to the kill all at once. Having all the information simultaneously means there’s no disconnect between the person piloting the craft and the craft itself. It’s a simple shot-reverse-shot in film, and while the effect is similar, we lose the obvious connection between the character’s actions and the ship’s actions.

So, the medium is doing some of the work for our creators. Gillen and Larroca goose the connection between the characters and their ships by depicting them both freely floating in space. Sometimes this is literally true: Urtya’s fishy-droid assistant floats around Urtya’s watery chambers. And sometimes, it’s Larroca having fun with the space on the page, like the Admiral Ackbar introduction, where it seems like Arkbar himself is sitting alongside his unstoppable space fleet.

All of which essentially obliterates the boundary between the ships waging war in the inky blackness and our heroes.

Taylor, I loved this issue, but I’m eager to see your take on it. My analysis is pretty front-loaded, so I’d love to know your takes on the pair of exciting ending sequences. 1) What’s up with modern Star Wars and weaponizing ships? They did it in Rogue One and in The Last Jedi and they do it here. And 2) were you expecting Trios to turn on our heroes? I like that character so much, that it hurts my heart a little to see her rat Leia out to Darth Vader. But, hey, that ruthlessness is also something I love about her, so… it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, I guess.

Taylor: I suppose there’s something easily heroic about a sacrificing your ship and yourself for a cause, and in terms of going out with a bang few things are quite as dramatic as crashing one spaceship into another. The Rebellion (and subsequently the Resistance) have always been comprised of people willing to do whatever it takes to destroy the evil powers that threaten the universe. Obi-Wan did it, Han did it, Biggs and a thousand other X-Wing pilots did it, and most controversially, Admiral Holdo did it. The point is, people often equate sacrifice with caring about your cause and when that’s the case, why not show you loyalty in the most flashy way possible?

But the issue I have with all this sacrifice is that it makes the Rebels look like extremists. Granted, there is a difference between what the Rebels are doing here and elsewhere in the series and what terrorists do. The Rebels who are sacrificing their lives are doing so to protect the lives of their comrades whereas terrorists sacrifice themselves solely to cause harm to others. However, both the Rebels and extremists lay down their lives so that their cause will live on. In this way, the Rebel practice of crashing into Imperial ships makes them seem less heroic, and more crazed. Compound this with the fact that the rebels ostensibly need these ships to win the war and it seems ludicrous that anybody is crashing a ship into another when they’re such a precious commodity.

I think this idea of doing whatever it takes to survive is something that Trios understands. If anything else, the Queen has shown that she is a survivor, which means she may be loyal to no one but herself. If this is the case, it makes sense for her to be colluding with Vader to end the Rebellion. We all know what Vader is capable of doing to those who cross him, as does Trios. Can we really blame her for fearing the wrath of the Lord of the Sith? If it’s any consolation, it seems like she would rather be teaming up with Leia than Vader, anyway. After Leia leaves Trios to herself she contacts Vader using a super secret, secure channel that has a cryptic password.

“There was no other choice.” Depending on what your view of Trios, this could mean one of many things. For my money though, it suggests that Trios is being forced to work with Vader to secure her own survival. What’s interesting about this is that Trios is doing exactly the opposite of Rebellion members. Instead of sacrificing herself for a cause she’s choosing her own survival. It’s easy to say that’s the coward’s way out, but if I was faced with the prospect of being hunted down by Vader or working with him, I might choose the latter, too.

This idea of sacrifice is embedded into the idea of war, which is especially true when you’re fighting in outer space, which is actively trying to kill you at all times. I think you’re right, Patrick, in pointing out that making space battles exciting is harder on the page than it is on the screen. One of the reasons this is true is that creators aren’t afforded the use of sound effects when creating a comic. This is especially true with a franchise like Star Wars where the sounds are so recognizable that even dogs emulate them. This being so, the space battle here just isn’t the same when you can’t hear the familiar hum and swoop of X-Wing fighters in the panel below.

That’s not the fault of Larroca or Gillen though, it just happens to be a limitation of the medium. But signing on to create a Star Wars product means you run the risk of not getting things exactly right, such as this space battle. Growing up, I connected to the space battles mightily, unlike you Patrick. Having played the TIE Fighter and X-Wing on my PC as a kid, I got to experience first hand (sort of) the thrills of flying through space and blowing shit up. That means I know the sounds and looks of these famous ships by heart, and when that’s the case, anything less that the original thing is hard to to accept.

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?

5 comments on “Star Wars 49: Discussion

  1. But don’t the Rebels only use sacrifice in the most extreme situations? In Rogue One, it was the last ditch effort to achieve the one thing the Rebellion needed to do to ensure they could keep fighting as the Death Star plans were that important. Meanwhile, Holdo ensured the survival of the entire Resistance with her move. The only other option was to be exterminated (hell, Last Jedi even addresses the wastefulness. Holdo sacrificed the Resistance’s very, very Last ship. But there was no other option)

    Also, considering the original movies inspiration from Vietnam, and Rogue One updating that to the War on Terror, the idea of the Rebellion as terrorists isn’t exactly something Star Wars leans away from. It is actually the central struggle of Rogue One

    • This is true – they only do it when they’re backed into a corner. But we never see the bad guys do it. They always construct a weapon, and that weapon’s sole purpose to is be a weapon. WEIRDLY, these mega-weapons are often fairly immobile. (I know both the Death Star and Starkiller Base can move around space, but they are primarily locations, and not vehicles.)

      I wonder if that just speaks to the nature of rebellion. An empire uses the physical space it occupies as a weapon, leveraging the weight of the state against those that would seek to undermine it. Meanwhile, resistance is about giving things up for the greater good. Works thematically as far as I’m concerned.

      • I’m not sure immobility is a key trait of Empire/First Order strategies. Starkiller Base was immobile, it couldn’t move around space. But trying to say the Death Star is primarily a location ignores the fact that a good portion of A New Hope is about the question of ‘Where is the Death Star now?’. Leia is surprised by its location at Alderaan, and the entire climax on the movie is about destroying the Death Star before it gets too close. And then there is Rogue One, where the Death Star is also jumping around (the Death Star II, however, is a location). Also, you are ignoring the other major superweapon of the Empire. Giant fleets. Empire Strikes Back and Last Jedi are both built around fleets so large to be unstoppable, relentlessly hunting all around the galaxy. The Empire is mobile.

        However, I think the idea of the Empire/First Order leveraging the weight of the state compared to the Rebellion/Resistance giving things up for the greater good is a good thematic comparison. And speaks to why the Rebels make sacrifice plays. The idea of sacrificing everything to achieve a greater cause has been a long used heroic trope because it is the ultimate example of giving up literally everything for a higher cause (and thankfully, Last Jedi deconstructed this trope to give it a bit more nuance and really emphasise that it only really works when there is no other option and not an easy way to get a cool climax to your character arc).

        Though while you have that comparison been Rebels and Empire, we can’t forget that A New Hope is not just part of the Star Wars trilogy. It is also part of George Lucas’ anti-Vietnam trilogy made up of American Graffiti and Apocalypse Now. Comparing the Rebel Alliance to the Vietcong and the Empire to America is another important comparison.
        And the Last Jedi’s evolving concept of Resistance built around discussions happening even in this very moment in activist circles.
        And the fact that Empire v Rebels will always be a David and Goliath story of some sort, which insists on some sort of asymmetric conflict

        But yeah, leveraging state power v personal sacrifice is a key thematic difference between the Empire and the Rebels

        • I meant that the way the films treat the both the Death Star and Starkiller base is as settings. Our characters have adventures while physically traversing those locations. All the spaceships have a personal connections to characters – Luke’s X-wing is an extension of Luke, The Falcon is an extension of Han and Chewie (or Lando and Nien Num, depending on when we’re talking about). An individual can fly a ship, but it takes a huge bureaucratic organization to run a Death Star or a Starkiller Base.

          And, honestly, I think the Empire’s fleet (or the first order’s fleet) is sort of an extension of that. There’s no one “pilot” of a Star Destroyer, and we’re never really connecting them emotionally to a character. Vader’s ship isn’t the Executor, it’s his fucking tiny custom TIE fighter.

          I love Last Jedi as an update on what it means to be a rebel in 2018. The more I think about that movie, the more I love it. It just has way more to say than any of the rest of the series.

        • Can’t something be treated as both a setting and as something whose mobility is key to how it functions? The Death Star II is certainly immobile. Despite technically having the same movement abilities as the first, it just sits above Endor. Same with Starkiller Base.
          But the first Death Star is different. Is it a location that stories are told in? Yeah. But so is the Milennium Falcon (especially in Solo, which shows us new rooms to improve the its ability to be used as a setting for stories). But we wouldn’t say the Milennium Falcon is primarily defined by its immobile nature. And when the finale of the first movie is defined by the dramatic question of “Can we destroy the Death Star before it moves into position”, can we really say that the Death Star is primarily defined by being immobile?
          Yeah they are settings, but they are mobile settings. And yeah, they require large crews, but that doesn’t matter. Any analysis of Empire and how it works has to take into account that mobility. State power is shifted from where it is to where it is needed (and this creates an interesting contrast with the First Order. The Empire sends things where they are needed. The First Order, who are essentially the alt right, instead hide away in their safe space to launch attacks, only to come out of hiding after they’ve already “won” and destroyed the New Republic. Which reflects the way that the First Order is a pale reflection of the Empire, unable to properly replicate the empire’s strengths like its ability to create (oppressive) stability. Instead, the First Order has people like Kylo Ren and General Hux, who are threatening specifically because the ways they fail to measure up to the ideal of the Empire is also exactly why they are dangerous.

          And honestly, while it would be hard to say that the Tarkin/Death Star pairing is iconic in the same way the Han/Falcon or Luke/X-wing is, I would certainly say Vader/Executor is the iconic combo and as iconic as Luke/X-wing. Vader uses the TIE Advanced x1 for two minutes of one movie, while he spends two movies and much, much longer in the Executor. As iconic as “I have you now” is, Vader has more iconic moments in the Executor, like Ozzel’s death. The Executor feels like a better thematic fit for Vader, because it reflects both the overwhelming and intimidating presence of Vader and fits his modus operandi better. And I feel the emotional link is stronger because Vader’s command decisions on the use of the Executor act as better extensions of his character than the TIE Advanced x1 scene. The Executor is much more closely connected to Vader because that is where he killed Ozzel, that is where his quest for Luke Skywalker led him in an obsessed chase of the Falcon, and where he made the choice to let the Rebels land on Endor. I personally associate the Executor much more closely to Vader than the TIE Advanced x1

          And yeah, the more I think about it, the more I love the Last Jedi. Which is pretty impressive considering how hard it is to think of a recent movie that works so well on first impression than Last Jedi. I love how even the smallest procedural plot points serve multiple purposes and provides so much more context to the bigger, thematic moments.
          You are right, it just has way moee to say than any other Star Wars movie.

          I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson’s next Star Wars movie is. I can’t wait to see what he does with a trilogy of his own

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