Friday, August 24, 2012
Recommended Reading for 8/20: Star Wars: Legacy
This weekend is Star Wars Celebration VI, the big semi-annual (I think it's every two or three years, but don't quote me on that) official Star Wars convention, and so I thought for this week I'd spend some time talking about my favorite Star Wars series of all time.
Star Wars is probably by second greatest geek love, behind Batman, and I've pretty much read all of Dark Horse Comics's Star Wars comics over the years. I've found that, when it comes to Star Wars comics, most readers are Star Wars fans who pick up Star Wars comics and not much else, versus comic readers who happen to enjoy Star Wars comics. This is a shame, since Dark Horse has produced some amazing comics with some excellent creators over the years.
In the timeline of Star Wars stories, Dark Horse has published plenty set in the familiar eras, stuff set between the classic trilogy, and stuff set right before, during and after the prequel trilogy. But some of the best stories they've told are the ones set furthest afield from those eras, ones that give their creators the toolbox of Star Wars tropes to play with, but then throw out most of the rules. For instance, the Tales of the Jedi and Knights of the Old Republic series take place three thousand plus years before the classic trilogy, and are a galaxy very different from what the movies present. But Legacy is set about 130 years after the destruction of the first Death Star, and the galaxy is still a different, and dangerous place.
The galaxy in Legacy bears many similarities to the galaxy at the beginning of A New Hope. There's a tyrannical Sith emperor, Rebels on the run, and a Skywaler at the center of everything. These similarities allow readers unfamiliar with the Star Wars Expanded Universe (the term for all the books, comics, video games, etc. that take place outside the movies and TV shows, from here on out abbreviated as EU), slip easily into this setting. There's everything familiar in Star Wars, but things are different and possibly even darker than a galaxy ruled by Emperor Palpatine.
The Skywalker at the center of Legacy is Cade Skywalker, a not too distant descendant of Luke, who is the character standing at the center of the trio in the image at the top of this entry. But Cade does not share many traits with his legendary ancestor, aside from his name and an affinity with the Force. Cade starts out the series as a bounty hunter. Writer John Ostrander said in an interview he wanted his protagonist to be, "Han Solo with a lightsaber," and Cade is exactly that at the series outset. With the Jedi on the run and hunted by the ruling Sith class, Cade has given up his name and using the Force, and has taken to a life on the fringes of society, travelling in his ship, The Mynock, with his crew, and keeping his head just above water. He's addicted to death sticks, drugs that keep the Force Visions and the pain of losing nearly everyone he loved at the hands of a Sith massacre at bay. Cade is in a bad place, and is not a very good guy.
John Ostrander, legendary comic book writer and former Dewey's customer, has been one of my favorite comic book writers for years, and it's interesting to see how Cade fits into his pantheon of main characters. From his earliest comic works, Ostrander has had a fascination with anti-heroes. His opus, Grimjack, stars a character who, at his best may be heroic, but is a similarly flawed protagonist. Ostrander made his name writing some of DC's more disreputable characters on Suicide Squad, and while he has written many true heroes, his work tends to feel most natural when treading the thin line between good and evil. His earlier Star Wars work, in the series originally just called Star Wars and later retitled Star Wars: Republic, starred Quinlan Vos, another Jedi who struggled with the Dark Side of the Force. I'm going to leave a discussion of Ostrander's body of work here, since I plan on November to feature John Ostrander week here on The Matt Signal, with time spent discussing these works, and most of his other principal works.
Clearly, a series featuring Cade just bumming around the galaxy, avoiding trouble and picking up the occasional bounty might be fun, but would not be much of a Star Wars story. So pretty quickly, Cade draws the attention of both the ruling Sith and the remnants of the Jedi Order. Both want him: the Sith to serve their master, Darth Krayt, and the Jedi to serve as a rallying point for their members and allies. And Cade wants nothing to do with either. This is where Cade differs from Luke Skywalker, and many Star Wars protagonists, the most: when presented with his destiny, Luke embraced it with open arms, and ran towards it. Cade, on the other hand, runs from it, trying to hide or simply outpace it.
While Cade might not be walking in the glow of the Light Side of the Force, he's by no means the bad guy. That title goes to Darth Krayt, the leader of the One Sith. Everyone who's seen the prequels know that there are supposed to be only two Sith, a master and an apprenticce. Krayt has created a new sect, on that believes there is only one Sith, the order itself and it's leader, that all must serve, and he is, of course, their leader. Krayt was the number one character in my list of ten favorite Star Wars comics characters, and I have a lot of reasons. Krayt makes an interesting counterpoint to Darth Vader. Krayt started out life as A'Sharad Hett, a Jedi who was a Tusken Raider on Tatooine, so he and Vader share a home planet. Krayt is also a broken being, only he has had his parts replaced by biotechnology instead of mechanics. Krayt's appearance also has shades of Vader, only instead of black metal, Krayt is clad is grey, rocky armor from head to toe.
But the differences between Krayt and Vader makes the comparison more interesting. Vader fell to the Dark Side through manipulation and ignorance. Palpatine played on all of Anakin Skywalker's insecurities, and the Jedi Council at the time simply ignored all the problems with Anakin, so blinded by the Clone Wars and their own traditions. Krayt fell willingly and knowingly. His fall was a slow one, taken in steps brought on by years of pain and anger. His biological enhancements were also not a blessing, as they were lsowly killing him. It was for this reason he sought Cade Skywalker, who had an unusual gift: he could heal any wound using the Force, or even prevent death, but only by drawing deeply on he Dark Side. Krayt sought to use this ability to save himself, setting a collision course for Cade, whether the young ex-Jedi liked it or not.
The galaxy can't just be populated by two characters, and Ostrander builds a whole cast surrounding Cade and Krayt. Cade has two loyal crewmembers on the Mynock: Deliah Blue, the engineer and his love interest, who is an earthy, fun character, nothing like Leia and her regal bearing, and Jaraiah Syn, the closest thing to a Han Solo type rogue in the series, always with a quip and a cocky grin. Krayt has his seemingly loyal major domo Darth Wyyrlok, his two hands (personal agent and assassins, pictured above with Krayt from left to right) Darth Talon and Darth Nihil, and his mistress of torture, Darth Maladi. All of these characters get time over the course of the series to show who they are and what they can do.
Even more than these characters directly related to the two principal antagonists, Ostrander spends much of Legacy world building. Issues in between arcs tended to be one or two issue stories featuring other characters throughout the galaxy. The remaining Jedi, headed by K'Kruhk, a character Ostrander wrote often in his Republic run come in and out of Cade's life. The emperor betrayed and deposed by Darth Krayt, Roan Fel, and his Imperial Knights, have their plotlines, attempting to reclaim what they believe is rightly theirs. The remnants of the Galactic Alliance fleet, headed by Admiral Gar Stazi, nip at the Sith Empire, and serve as the analogue for the scrappy Rebels from the classic trilogy. The Council of Moffs, Krayt's non-force using advisers, scheme to claim power, and include the mysterious Nyna Calixte, who has some secrets of her own that deeply affect the series as a whole. And beyond these grand and mighty figures, there are little people too, like Hondo Karr, who appears as a soldier for various factions over the course of the series. All of this does a great job of creating a galaxy around the main characters, and showing just how much goes on that doesn't directly involve them.
Thematically, Legacy has two chief motifs that play through it: choices and, well, legacy. While Cade is presented with a series of choices, of whether to move further down a dark path, or to try to claw his way back to the light, the central conflict of his character, each of the others are presented with choices that will impact their lives. Most of these come at critical juncture points in the plot of the series, so I don't want to talk about them here, but the smallest personal choices can have great impact on events far beyond them. The Skywalker legacy is something that Cade must face down from the moment he is discovered. Can he really live up to the name that has brought destruction and redemption on the galaxy? Cade struggles with that for the entire series, and the fact that the Force spirits of various famous ancestors have a habit of popping up to lecture him doesn't help. Who we are and how that relates to the people who have come before us is a universal theme, and seeing it writ large on a sci-fi canvas makes for great reading.
While Ostrander worked with various artists over the course of the series, the principal artist was Jan Duursema, one of his regular collaborators, who also was his principal artist on Republic, and who has worked on many other Star Wars projects, including a Darth Maul mini-series and the adaptation of Episode II. Duursema does excellent work, really stunning stuff. She is just as comfortable in giant space battles as in a dive bar full of aliens or during a Sith/Jedi lightsaber battle. Her versions of familiar movie characters are easily recognizable but have touches of her style; she doesn't lose the fact that this is art and not photoshopping in actor's faces on drawn bodies. The characters she created for the series all have unique looks that are stunning and iconic, very much in the Star Wars tradition; Sith assassin Darth Talon, the red skinned Twi'lek, has become a fan favorite. Her art is very detailed, with fully fleshed out backgrounds. She and Ostrander work wonderfully together, and any collaboration between them is something that is worth checking out.
Star Wars: Legacy regular series ran fifty issues, and was followed up by a six issue mini-series, Star Wars: Legacy- War, that wrapped up the main plot of the series. The series and mini-series have been collected over eleven trades, all of which should be available at your local comic shop. There's a lot more to say about this series, but it's a great ride with a lot of twists, and I don't want to ruin any of them for you. Go, check it out, and may the Force be with you.