Friday, September 5, 2014

Recommended Reading for 9/5: Star Wars: Legacy Vol. 2

Two Wednesdays ago, the final Star Wars comic from Dark Horse was released. Fittingly enough, it was the final issue of the second volume of Star Wars: Legacy, the series set the farthest into the future of any Star Wars story, and the era that Dark Horse was the most responsible for defining. It was an appropriate ending for the Expanded Universe era that has defined so much of Star Wars for the past twenty plus years, the era that brought so many people into, or back into, the galaxy far, far away.

I admit, when a second volume of Star Wars: Legacy was announced, I was a bit worried. The first volume of Legacy, which was a much earlier recommended reading, is one of my favorite Star Wars stories of all time, following the adventures of Cade Skywalker, Luke's descendant, who struggles to find his place in a galaxy ruled by the Sith. The series was created by my favorite Star Wars comics creative team of all time, writer John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema, and while other artists drew an occasional issue, those two creators defined this entire sweeping era.

So, volume two was announced, and it's by two creators whose names I knew, but whose work I had never read, Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman. And I was torn. Yes, this is a spectacular era (one I even ran a few adventures of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG in, that's how much I love it). And they're creating their own characters, so it's not like it's continuing the adventures of the characters whose stories I felt Ostrander and Duursema really wrapped up. But still, there's always a chance it will fall flat. But I was excited when I picked up that first issue of the series, and was very, very pleased to see that this series was going to be a fitting successor to the original.

The protagonist of the second volume of Legacy is another descendant of the main characters of the classic trilogy, but a very different one. Cade Skywalker was a Jedi in hiding, a drug addict who was using to avoid visions from the Force and running from his destiny. Ania Solo takes much more after everyone's favorite rogue, her great great great grandfather, Han Solo. Not a Force user, Ania ran a junkyard out on the Galactic Rim, trying to keep her head down and make a mostly honest living, until stumbling across a lost lightsaber and droid leads her into the middle of the great galactic events that seem to dog Solos, no matter how hard they try to avoid them. So pretty soon, Ania, and a small group of her friends, are out having adventures, being threatened by all sorts of beings they would just rather be left alone by.

Ania is a great contrast to Cade Skywalker in that she is not a haunted, brooding character. Cade was a rogue as well, trying to live the life of a bounty hunter instead of fulfilling his destiny as a Jedi, but he was always feeling the pull of the Force. Ania is a rogue through and through; when problems come up, she gets her hands dirty and finds the quickest solution. She isn't a person who looks at the metaphysical, isn't someone who thinks she has a great destiny to be embraced or avoided; she just finds the way that gets her out of the most trouble and might help her turn a profit. That is not to say that she is just out for herself. Ania is a fiercely loyal friend, who puts her life on the line repeatedly to help those that she views as her true friends.

Those friends are the usual collection of ragtag Star Wars heroes and heroines. Sauk is a Mon Calamari, one of Admiral Ackbar's people, whose homeworld was made uninhabitable in the last Legacy series. Possibly even moreso than Ania, Sauk wants nothing to do with big galactic action; he just wants to be an engineer. But he and Ania are good friends, and he is as loyal to her as she is to him. AG-37 is an assassin droid, but one who has been operational for well over a century, and, while still an assassin droid, has a good side, one that is friendly and courteous. The final member of the main cast is Jao Assam, an Imperial Knight who isn't too good at listening to his superiors, and winds up working with Ania and company after he goes on an unsanctioned mission.

Friendship and loyalty is probably the most central theme in this volume of Legacy. Nearly every story comes down to one or more of these characters being in mortal peril and the others having to save them. Jao is drawn into Ania's orbit when he defies orders and goes in search of his missing master, Yalta Val. When Sauk hears that his people are starting to reclaim their homeworld, he falls into the hands of slavers, and the others rush to the rescue. When bounty hunters kidnap Ania, AG is nearly destroyed saving her life. And the final arc sees Ania and company working with the Empress Fel, the head of the re-formed and reformed Galactic Empire (and Ania's distant cousin) to retrieve Jao from the hands of the Sith. Loyalty to your friends is one of the core themes of Star Wars; it's the major reason why Han Solo comes back to save Luke at the end of the first movie, so it makes sense a series focusing on the spiritual and physical descendant of Han Solo would so strongly focus on it.

Of course, when you're talking Star Wars, as much as you love the heroes, the franchise is famous for its villains. The list of great villains could go on forever: Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Maul, Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Yuuzhan Vong, and Darth Krayt are just a few. Bechko and Hardman introduce a new Sith in the first issue of the series who soon reveals himself to be Darth Wredd. The last Ostrander/Duursema issue of Legacy left the One Sith, the order that once ruled the galaxy, in shambles, its members hiding and waiting for their time to rise again. After the initial arc, Wredd begins hunting other Sith, and this leads to various questions about his motives. Is he trying to take out the competition? Or is he really not as evil as he seems. By the end of the series, when his history is revealed, you see he's a subtly drawn character, with interesting motivations unlike any other Sith we have seen before.

I also really enjoyed the lack of Jedi in this series; that's not to say I dislike Jedi, but it's interesting to see other types of Force users. Instead of Jedi, we spend a lot of time with Imperial Knights. A concept introduced in the previous Legacy series, Imperial Knight serve the Force by following the Emperor or Empress. The concept was well fleshed out, and we got to know some of the Knights very well in volume one, but this series shows even more stark contrasts between the two orders, and how much more strict the Imperial Knights are, as they are a military order in service of a government, after all. While this is shown at times to be a problem, this strict adherence to the rules set forth by the Empire, the Knights are never looked down on, never looked on as nothing more than  Force using Stormtroopers. They are an interesting variation on the classic theme of the Force using hero, and I like that we got to spend some time getting a spotlight on the concept and characters.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this series was how small the big stakes were. The classic trilogy is about the Galactic Civil War. The New Jedi Order is the story of the Yuuzhan Vong War. The first Legacy series is the battle between the One Sith and most of the other forces in the Galaxy. These are stories set around big characters, doing big things. Ania's story is really about her and her friends just trying to make it from one day to another. Even when they run into big events and big people, like Empresses and Imperial Knights, it's really just a distraction and a sideline to them trying to stay out of jail or make a few more credits. The story ends on a big note, on a massive final battle, but that was reserved for the climax. And, without spoiling too much, in the end, Ania doesn't choose to stay a part of that wider world. She goes back to her smaller, happier life.

Artist Gabriel Hardman, along with the other artists on this series, gave it a wonderfully grotty look. Star Wars has always had the feeling of a lived in universe, not a clean, pristine sci-fi world. Ania's ship is like the Millennium Falcon, nothing new about it, and she starts out as a junk dealer. Even on Coruscant, the galactic capital, the world isn't as shiny as it was after the war. It makes for a stark contrast to many other science fiction comics, and even other Star Wars comics, and it gave the series a unique feel.

And that's the end. I'm sure I'll be writing more about Star Wars in the future. We have the upcoming Marvel series, the new Star Wars: Rebels cartoon, plus the new movies and all the media that is going to spin out of them. But this really marks the end of an era. I loved the Star Wars movies a lot as a little kid, but fell out of that deep affection until I was 16 and read Heir to the Empire. From there it was all downhill. I now have all the Dark Horse comics (some in collection rather than single, but I have them all in some form), have read all the novels, and spent countless hours playing the various video games. I love Star Wars, always will, in any of its myriad forms. And I want to thank all the creators who have helped make it this wide, Expanded Universe. The Force will be with you, always.

Three trades of Star Wars: Legacy Vol. 2 are out currently: Prisoner of the Floating World, Outcasts of the Broken Ring, and Wanted: Ania Solo. The final volume, Empire of One, will be released in mid-October. All the single issues should be available from your better comic shops.

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