Review: Star Wars #9-Operation Starlight: The Ancient Relic

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Jan Bazaldua

Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel

Synopsis: The heroic Rebel Alliance is scattered and on the run from the evil Galactic Empire after losing the Battle of Hoth.

But the Empire’s cunning Commander Zahra has broken Rebel security codes and will stop at nothing to crush the Rebellion once and for all.

Princess Leia attempts to rally her friends before all hope is lost….

Warning Spoilers Below:

Star Wars #9 continues after the events from the battle in last issue where although the Rebel Alliance sent the ruthless Commander Zahra and the Empire packing, they are not out of the woods yet. Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and the Rebels start commencing Operation Starlight which is the mission to unite all the remaining Rebel cells. However, the Imperials have cracked the Rebellion’s secret encryption codes which leaves them vulnerable if they decide to communicate the other surviving cells.  Luckily for the Rebels, everyone’s favorite golden protocol droid C-3PO comes up with an idea to solve their dilemma. Threepio tells the Rebels of an ancient droid that can speak a forgotten language called Trawak which could help replace the previous codes. However, the protocol droid tells the Rebels that the droid is located in a museum in the heart of the Empire: Coruscant.  Leia tasks Des Dameron (Poe Dameron’s father) and his Pathfinders to fly to Coruscant, with the help of a reluctant Lando Calrissian and his friend/droid Lobot, and steal the droid. And who better to help pull off a heist than the former Baron Administrator of Cloud City?

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

When I read this issue, I felt that it was an issue that placed the focus on Lando, Lobot, Des, and the Pathfinders. And since this issue is the commencement of Operation Starlight, Soule decided to place a heist as the first mission for the ragtag rebels.  When I read this issue, I wondered how the Millennium Falcon was able to slip through Coruscant. Sure, even though the Falcon is indeed a smuggler ship, isn’t Darth Vader still in search of that ship? And if so, wouldn’t that put the Pathfinders in some danger? After all, Vader is still searching for Luke, especially after revealing that he is his father.

I was surprised by the pace of this issue in which the Pathfinders were able to easily steal the ancient droid from the Imperial Museum. Lando and the Panthfinders are able to infiltrate the Imperial Museum and break into the curator’s office without getting spotted. However, the curator sentences one of the Panthfinders, Needle, a Quermian to death for protesting a work of art native to his species. Needle’s protest was used to distract the curator and his guards while Dameron and fellow Pathfinde Frell sneak into the curator’s office to steal the droid.  However, the issue is thrown a swerve that shows while the mission was completed, the ancient droid has malfunctioned due to a corrupted memory bank. Des questions Threepio on what they are going to do but droid responds that he does not know.

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

One of the things that I enjoyed about the comic was that it shifted the focus on other characters. Des Dameron and his Pathfinders were portrayed as brave and capable soldiers of the Rebellion. We also see more of Lando Calrissian and his slow road to becoming an eventual official member of the Rebellion though he does not know that yet.  

The curator was a filler character that was flamboyant. The unnamed curator sat on a chair with legs which I felt was a call back to the prequel trilogy in which Palpatine’s hologram projector walked on legs. He also had a monocle and a Victorian Era moustache that I feel symbolizes the Empire’s wealth, power, and rather growing complacency which probably explains why the Rebels were able to slip past a world that the Empire was supposed to have on lockdown.

The one thing I wanted to see is the psychological effect that Zahra had on Leai after their scuffle. In the last issue, Zahra has taken residence in Leia’s mind after almost killing her. However, in this issue, Leia seemed unfazed, probably due to focusing on gathering the remaining Rebel cells. We will see Leai questioning her confidence in the next issue? And will the Imperial firebrand Zahra be thorn at her side as Operation Starlight continues?

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

Speaking of Imperials, I liked that this story took place on Coruscant which was another call back to the prequels and a reminder that the planet is the center of galactic power in Star Wars. But the Rebels sneaking in the giant city-wide with very little effort made the setting of the Republic-turned Imperial world appear weak.  Like Frell, I was expecting this to be more of a challenge with the Imperials, granted the guards were not stormtroopers and they were guarding a museum. And I have to remember that Needle sacrificed himself to help his comrades steal a droid that was malfunctioning. But it would have also been cool to see how the Millennium Falcon slipped through Coruscant with Vader knowing about the YT-1300 freighter.

Overall, I am enjoying Soules run on Star Wars and I am excited to see what the Operation Starlight arc brings.

Star Wars #9 is out now and can be purchased at your local comic book store.

Review-Star Wars #8-The Will of Tarkin: Prey

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Ramon Rosanas

Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Warning Spoilers Ahead:

Star Wars #8 continues the Will of Tarkin arc that began on issue #7. Imperial Commander Zahra is on a mission to kill Princess Leia and crush the Rebel Alliance which is still reeling from the defeat at Hoth. We learn from the last issue that Zahra had a mentor-like relationship with the ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin. We also learn that Zahra is taking part in this mission to avenge Tarkin and to get back at the Rebels for taking away her opportunity to redeem herself to her mentor.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

At the beginning of the comic, we are taken to several flashback panels where Darth Vader, via hologram, tasks Zahra with hunting down the Rebels. The former Anakin Skywalker refused to take part in the mission as ordered by Emperor Palptine since he is still fixated on his personal mission to find his son Luke Skywalker after the duel on Cloud City.

We are taken to the present where the Fourth and Seventh Rebel Fleets have the Imperials trapped in a pincer maneuver. However, Zahra plans on boarding the battleship ship Leia is on and kill the princess. Zahra is able to successfully board Leia’s ship and easily kill the Rebel Troopers try to contain her. Zahra hacks into the comm systems and threatens to destroy the ship from within unless she confronts Leia.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Leia and Zahra come face to face as the ship’s interior is darkened. The Imperial Commander relates to Leia as she mentions that they are both orphans. Zahra mentions how her parents were killed by rebel terrorist and she joined the Empire to save little girls from the same experience she went through. She also mentions that Tarkin mentored and made her who she is. While talking with Leia, Zahra swiftly injures the princess with a sword that resembles a kitana. Then the Imperial commander blames Leia for orchestrating the attack on the Death Star which led to Tarkin dying “thinking that she was a failure” and that the Rebels took away her opportunity to redeem herself.  Zahra concludes that the only thing she can do is avenge her mentor but Luke, with the new yellow-bladed lightsaber he acquired from the previous issue comes in the nick of time to save the day. The Imperial escapes along with the retreating Imperial fleet.

During a Rebel briefing and while recovering from her wounds, Leia tells Luke that she saw something in Zahra’s eyes that told her that the Imperial wanted to hurt her and feel her pain. Leia concludes that Zahra was expressing darkness and hated.  

The comic ends with Zahra, in pure ruthless Tarkin fashion, boasting how Leia bleeding from her sword was a good day for her. She tells her lieutenant that she won’t stop going after Leia and vows to use her blade to finally kill her. She also boasts that she planted seeds of fear in Leia’s head so that she would be unable to galvanize the Rebel Alliance.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Charles Soule’s writing continues to remind me that he knows how to write Star Wars. His notable work on Darth Vader in 2017, which explored Vader’s early days in the Empire and running the Inquistorious, was an enjoyable run.

The art done by Ramon Rosanas and Rachelle Rosenberg in this issue was also reeked of Star Wars. There were some favorite panels in the comic which included Vader recruiting Zahra to hunt down the Rebel Fleet, the Splash that showed Wedge Antilles leading a squadron of Rebel Star Fighters, and Leia’s showdown with Zahra.  The meeting between Vader and Zahra reminded me a lot of the prequel films in which the holograms were used frequently. Even in holographic form, Vader looks intimidating. The starfighter scene was just a reminder that the Rebel Alliance is always ready to fight even against seemingly insurmountable odds. The scene between Leia and Zahra parallels Luke and Vader’s duel in the carbon freezing chamber with the light vs dark themes and shadows being used.

However, the one thing I scratched my head on was why Soule added Luke into the scene between Leia and Zahra. I felt that this was Leia and Zahra’s fight, even though Luke too was responsible for blowing up the Death Star and killing Tarkin. I guess Luke was added probably to make this scene a teaser to the real fight between Leia and Zahra. In my opinion, however, Princess Leia is capable of taking care of herself and probably would have put up fight against the passionate Imperial. Luke probably would have come after Leia and Zahra exchanging blows against each other with the latter surviving but not without having injuries. It would have further planted more seeds of doubt in Leia and to start changing her perspective on her tactics against the Empire.

Overall, I am enjoying the Will of Tarkin arc as well as Soule’s run. I am looking forward to see how Zarha takes residence in Leia’s head rent free. Will Luke help her regain her confidence like he had regained his? And what is in store for the unbroken Rebel Fleet?

Star Wars #8 is out and can be purchase it at your local comicbook shop.

Review: John Walker: U.S. Agent #1

Writer: Christopher Priest

Penciler: Georges Jeanty

Inker: Karl Story

Colorist: Matt Milla

Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

Cover Artist: Marco Checchetto

Warning Contains Spoilers:

Christopher Priest’s (Black Panther, Deathstroke) John Walker: U.S.Agent #1 is a reminder that John Walker, the titular protagonist, may have carried the Captain America mantle but, he is no Steve Rogers.  And in this comic, the townspeople of Ephraim, West Virginia let that be known when they are interviewed about what had transpired when the super soldier arrived. The townspeople also talk about how a corporation called Virago was affecting the towns economy by usurping their coal mine and how the presence of U.S. Agent gave them false hope since he resembles Captain America.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

This is seen in the splash on page 5 where the townspeople are hurling insults at U.S.Agent and his new partner, Morrie (not Bucky), a Chinese-American agent with martial art skills.

John Walker is tasked with protecting Virago which was a front for S.H.I.E.L.D and the same organization that is sucking the town dry.

After meeting Morrie and stopping a bomber posing as a pizza guy, Walker comes across a little girl on a bicycle who gives him a message “Hope not ever to see Heaven…” which is a quote derived from Dante’s Inferno. The super soldier also has a flashback of a little girl we learn is his sister when he tells the girl to “beat it sis,” only to finish the quote by saying “I have come to lead you to the other shore.” It turns out that the little girl has a message from his handler which takes him and Morrie to Ephraim. After exchanging a couple dirty jokes on the way to the small town. Walker and Morrie are attacked by a group of masked assailants. The leader of this group is revealed to be John’s sister. Katie all grown up and armed with a pistol at the super soldier’s face.

Priest’s writing in this comic has a lot of dark humor. I have read some of his run on Deathstroke and the interactions between John and Morrie are very similar to Slade Wilson and Billy Wintergreen. And it Priest’s writing that is a reminder that this is not a Captain America story, this is a U.S.Agent story. John Walker is no Steve Rogers. He is a shoot ‘em up and hotheaded version of Cap and the type of soldier that Professor Erskine warned Colonel Phillips about. In several comics, U.S.Agent sometimes would come to blows with Captain America.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

To some readers, this is also a story about a small-town vs a giant corporation, which is also a government cover up. And to other readers, with the inclusion of Katie, it is a family or sibling rivalry story.

When I read this comic, several questions popped in my mind.  Why Ephraim of all places? Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. or the US Government, use a corporation as a covert front in a small mining town and take away the one thing that was helping the town thrive? There’s obviously more to the story here.

There were some funny moments in the comic. One notable moment was when Walker’s shield was destroyed when stopping the bomber’s car. Another was when Morrie outclassed him in hand-to-hand combat which reasserts that John Walker is not Steve Rogers. Priest, in a sense, almost makes U.S. Agent a parody of Captain America. Even a kid who Walker gives his shield to alludes this by saying that the weapon is a rip off.

The art done by Georges Jeanty frequently employs moment-to-moment and action-to-action sequences. This was notable in the panels showing U.S. Agent aiming his gun at every pizza delivery guy walking to his door step and in the panels showing him fighting Morrie.  The coloring done by Matt Milla helps to tell the story that this is U.S. Agent from the black and red uniform to his U.S. shield.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

As I write this, I can see how the story of a corporation going into a small town and taking away the jobs of small townspeople makes for an intriguing story. One of the former coal workers even admitted that he blew up Virago’s power plants which prompted the government to call Walker which make it appear that he is there to protect the interests of Virago and the government.  Obviously, we will see what is really going down in Ephraim in the next five issues.

John Walker U.S. Agent #1 is out now and can be bought at your local comic book store.