By Patrick Ehlers and Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: With the conclusion of the “Mutiny on Mon Cala” story arc, things are looking up for our heroes. And why wouldn’t they? One of the features of Marvel’s interquel Star Wars series is that we know an awful lot about both the past and future of these characters. There’s a dramatic irony baked into the entire concept of this series. Any time Luke, Han, and Leia are in mortal danger, we can override our fears for their safety by simply remembering that they all live to fight another day. But that’s only half of it, right? We also know that the Rebels are on the run by The Empire Strikes Back. Writer Kieron Gillen and artists Salvador Larroca and Giuseppe Camuncoli use the oversized issue 50 to pivot from inevitable safety to inevitable danger.
The story starts from a state of peace and hope. The Rebels have a fleet, rescued from Mon Cala and outfitted by the Sho Torun. Leia, Mon Mothma, Queen Trios, Admiral Ackbar, and the rest of the Rebels have something to celebrate, and Gillen and Larroca allow them the space to do so. In fact, the creators sort of luxuriate in it. Leia and Trios have a whole conversation about the accomplishment that is assembling this fleet. Trios credits Leia with putting it all together, but Leia is insistent that it was a team effort — representative of the cooperation needed to defeat The Empire. It’s an inspiring bit of conversational rhetoric, but the scope of it doesn’t really land until we get this jaw-dropping two-page splash.
The Rebel Armada is spectacular in scale, and Larroca has filled these two pages with the aching detail of dozens of ships. This represents every little victory since the end of A New Hope, and while all of those victories may have felt like foregone conclusions in light of our previous knowledge of this franchise, it’s moments like these that help sell the gravity of those victories.
It even seems like Han and Chewie have worked out a good rhythm. They’re off on their own adventure at the beginning of this one, suggesting that they’ve figured out a good way to split their time between their usual smuggling gigs and aiding in the rebellion. Even when some bounty hunters catch up to them, all it takes is a well-rehearsed maneuver to give ’em the slip. And Luke has a peaceful way to apply his skills for the good of the rebellion — as part of a Blue Angels-esque choreographed light show.
In using pink, green, and blue, Larroca is evoking the colors of war in the Star Wars universe. These are normally the glowing hues of blaster fire and lightsabers, but for now, they’re a soaring show of hope.
In short, everything is going great: everyone is safe, happy, and successful. That is not a normal state for our heroes and the whole thing is unsettling as hell. The way this issue builds up to the appearance of the Imperial Fleet is astonishing. As Leia prepares to start the commencement, Larroca settles in to a regular five-panel layout. Repeating the same page layout again and again gives a pulsating inevitability to what’s about to happen. On the first of these pages, Leia checks in with her Flagship Captains, each of whom give their verbal approval. The second page is laid out the exact same way, but now we’re seeing it from the perspective of those assembled to celebrate the Rebellion. The expectation is that we’re about to see something cool, and Larroca has delivered on that sort of thing a couple times already in this issue: Trios mentions the fleet, we see the fucking fleet.
But, Leia says go and… nothing happens. Larroca stays excruciatingly locked into this five-panel layout, and the only thing that’s happening is Leia asking what happened. Last month, Taylor and I were trying to decide just how loyal Trios was to Darth Vader. We were split on the subject, but her presence at the beginning of the issue seems to be a sign not to get too comfortable with this show of Rebel strength. What’s even more unnerving is her totally unannounced disappearance, which Leia finally notices on the fourth consecutive page of this five-panel layout. It’s only now that Larroca delivers on the dread he and Gillen have been building up in the background of the whole issue — another two-page spread, but this one belongs to The Empire.
It’s a masterful spooling of tension, and it seems like Darth Vader shares this creative team’s penchant for drama. He holds on an all-out assault because he can sense that the Rebels are insufficiently terrified by his presence. The implication, of course, is that the readers may also be insufficiently terrified. After all, we’re protected by dramatic irony. But all the Star Wars creators have done such a great job of tying the existence of this fleet to the accomplishments of our heroes for the last 49 issues, a strike against it feels like a truly damaging strike against our heroes. Again, Larroca gets two pages to illustrate what a moment this big looks like.
We’ve got inserts of a bunch of different faces at this moment, asserting the emotional toll this takes on these characters. Sure, dramatic irony means they can’t die, but there are other ways to suffer.
Taylor, this sorta feels like a new path for Star Wars comics, huh? It’s the slide back into the more hopeless status quo from the beginning of Empire. And speaking of hopeless, how about the Queen Trios back-up story? I’m finding her character endlessly fascinating, and I loved seeing her champagne glass shatter at the end of this issue — like she’s willing to sacrifice anything good in the name of survival. Does that make her pragmatic, or maybe just evil?
Taylor: Last month, I speculated that Trios is betraying the rebels because she’s doing what she needs to do to survive Vader’s wrath. I still think that’s the case, but I don’t think that necessarily makes her evil or pragmatic. Rather, I think it opens up the interesting topic of what Trios’ worldview and philosophy are. In considering these, I think it becomes clear that Trios isn’t a one-dimensional character who can be described in just a few words.
The complexity of her character comes to light in the second part of this issue, which rewinds things a bit to show the how and why of her betrayal of the Rebel Alliance. During a routine meeting with her counselors, Vader shows up unannounced and lays out the plan which becomes Trios’ double-cross in this issue. Vader starts out his pitch by reminding Trios of what will happen to her world, Shu-Torun, should she refuse to help the Empire.
The message is clear: obey me, or you and your world die. At this point it seems like Trios is an inherently good person forced into evil action by the Dark Lord of the Sith, just as Lando was forced into giving up Han and Leia in the Empire Strikes Back. Her cooperation with Vader isn’t done to preserve herself so much as it is done to preserve the people of her kingdom. This would suggest that Trios is pragmatic in a way akin to Leia. While she doesn’t want to work with Vader, she puts the needs of her own people before those of the Rebellion. That might ring as selfish or spineless since we know the rebellion ultimately wins its battle with the Empire. For Trios the future isn’t so certain, and if I were put in her position, I would be tempted to follow her same action.
That’s one way of looking at Trios — a noble monarch who makes the hard choices to preserve her planet and people. But things are not so clear cut when it comes to understanding her character. After she agrees to help Vader, one of her guards threatens Vader and Trios is quick to kill him herself in an attempt to stop a rampage by Vader. The crux of doing this is that it forces her to realize Vader intends to kill all of her guards and cabinet anyway because he’s talked about top secret plans in front of them. On the final page of the issue the results of Vader’s actions are shown.
The horror of Vader’s violence aside, the second panel featuring Trios here is the more interesting because her expression can be interpreted in more ways than one. This is certainly an intentional portrayal by Giuseppe Camuncoli, because it raises doubts about her feelings towards what Vader has just done. Trios says that she’s willing to sacrifice anyone as long as Shu-Torun survives. This statement is as ambiguous as Trios’ expression and suggests that she is indeed playing for her own survival only. In many monarchies, the queen or king is seen as the living embodiment of the state. Given this, when Trios says that everyone is expendable so that Shu-Torun can survive, she may be expressly talking about herself and herself alone. If she believes that she IS the state and not just its leader, her expression and words aren’t just grim resolve. They are expressions of her desire to preserve herself alone, which seems likely, given that she’s willing to let her own citizens be killed for her, when in fact they are truly the people who make up her world.
Considering both of these views of Trios, she becomes a complex character who is ultimately unknowable. Maybe she is trying to save her people, maybe she’s trying to save herself. We may never know. Regardless, what’s wonderful about this issue is that Trios once again is a foil to Leia’s princess-ship. In the first part of the issue, Leia explains that she isn’t responsible for the Rebellion’s modest successes. Instead, they belong to everyone involved in fighting the empire.
Unlike Trios, Leia doesn’t value her own life more than anyone else’s in the Rebellion. She may be royalty, but she understands that Alderaan and the Rebellion are more important than her own life. This shows one the primary things that makes Leia a hero and Trios a villain, even if Trios isn’t evil. In gunning for her own survival (whether personal or political) Trios has shown she cares only for herself, which in the Star Wars universe is akin to the Dark Side and evil.
Ultimately, this plays into the theme of hope dying in this issue. When people begin to prize only their own interests, the Empire has already won since they can use fear, power, and greed to manipulate people into submission. With a universe full of people like Trios, the Rebellion certainly would fall. Luckily, there are enough Leias around to stop that from happening, even if the Trios’ cause some damage along the way.
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?