Star Wars Tales #4
Cover: Kilian Plunkett
Editor: Dave Land, Scott Allie ("Spare Parts")
Reviewed by: JF Boivin (09/05/2005)
This issue was the victim of a printing error: instead of having an index page, the inside cover was printed twice. So there is no way to know the various artistic teams who worked on the stories unless one gets the corrected page as posted on Dark Horse's website (PDF) or published in the next issue (JPG). Also, editor Dave Land writes his first intro as a cartoon starring himself answering a reader's letter. There is a cool appearance by Jedi K'kruhk and artist Ramon Bachs (who also illustrated the cartoon) from the Jedi Council: Acts of War series that was published around the same time. Although it's not that funny, it is different than the usual written editorial.
"Moment of Doubt"
Story: Lovern Kindzierski
Pencils: Robert Teranishi
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Vickie Williams
Right after the Battle of Hoth, a bounty hunter named Awarru Tark arrives late for the meeting on the Star Destroyer Avenger. But he is not really interested in capturing Han Solo, but more in exacting revenge on the Sith Lord who was responsible for ravaging his home planet and killing his family.
This sequence takes place during between the bounty hunter scene and the Cloud City scene in The Empire Strikes Back, although in the movie the meeting with the hunters took place aboard the Executor and not the Avenger. The concept of the alien Stauz Czycz having some surgery to make him look more Human and assume the identity of Awarru Tark is cool. He also had a force-field generator implanted in him.
There are some weaknesses in the plot. Although I'm open to the idea of more bounty hunters coming to the meeting, why would Vader let one more come aboard after all the other ones are gone? After all, he hired more than enough already. Shouldn't he be a bit suspicious? Especially with all the families that he destroyed, he should expect that some of them are bound to have a surviving member who feels more like the Falleen than the Noghri. Right from the start, this ruined the rest of the story for me because it so not believable.
Most of the story is made up of a duel between the two. At one point of the battle, Czycz/Tark is able to "turn terror against its wielder" as Vader probes the alien's mind and discovers the total rage and fury inside, so much so that he almost dies from it. Although I kind of see what the writer was trying to do, it's very ambiguous and awkward. The hunter is so commited to kill Vader that he gave up his body, his mind and his life to accomplish it. In the end, Vader's hate is stronger than Czycz/Tark's. I think this is a bit of an abstract concept but it might work for some readers.
The writing is also weak at points, like when Lt. Ch'arb says to Czycz/Tark "it is my duty to follow orders and treat all guests with respect, no matter how worthless their aspect." Or when Czycz/Tark repeats "let's get down to our business" twice. And when Vader reflects about how he lost his humanity and his children, at a point when he didn't yet know he had a daughter. I always love a good Vader story, such as "Extinction" in issues #1-2, but unfortunately this one just doesn't do it for me.
I really liked Teranishi's work on "Life, Death, and the Living Force" in the first issue, and it is still as good here. Vader looks really impressive, and the Star Destroyer looks very realistic. But the Tark concept is a bit weak. He has some blades under his forearms (reminiscent of BloodRayne's blades) that are made of energy? But when he reveals his true face underneath his Human aspect, the insect mouth and tentacle-like hooked fingers make him look more like a creature that belongs in John Carpenter's The Thing (especially when Vader chops his head off). If that was the intention of making him look creepy, it is very effective. I guess the modifications and implants he had put on his body are pretty severe as he doesn't look anything like his original form, which has more of a five-eyes, insect face with Predator-like dreadlocks. An opponent worthy of fighting Vader, for sure. This is the closest to a creature sci-fi/horror feel that a Star Wars story ever had.
"A Death Star is Born"
Story: Kevin Rubio
Pencils: Lucas Marangon
Inks: Lucas Marangon
Colors: Dave Nestelle
Letters: Vickie Williams
Grand Moff Tarkin and his design team present the Death Star plans to the Emperor and Darth Vader, who has a few suggestions for improvements.
Of course, Kevin Rubio is known for his very funny short film TROOPS. In this, his first comic book story, he once again shows that he really has talent and knows his Star Wars stuff. He plays around a lot with the concept that the Emperor pretty much predicted all the problems they would later face in the movies, but it's all shown with such humor. I especially love the part where the Emperor asks Vader to watch his back when he'll walk the Death Star's halls in case someone might "sneak up behind me and throw me into one of these pits." I don't want to name all the jokes because it's a lot funnier if you read the actual story.
Rubio also did a good amount of research. There is a surprising amount of Expanded Universe lore in such a short story, with characters such as Bevel Lemelisk and Tol Sivron, and even Tarkin's slave Ackbar! It is surprising to see such little-known references put to the page. These references are from books such as West End Games' Death Star Technical Companion (when Lemelisk lists all the Death Star's weapons it's taken straight from that book) and Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy, among others. There is the constant power play between Tarkin and Vader, Tarkin's promotion to Grand Moff, and Ackbar listening in when Vader "suggests" the Death Star's name. All these things will make even the most knowledgeable fan smile.
Unfortunately, the story has fallen victim to circumstances; the revelation that the Death Star design already existed in Attack of the Clones pretty much contradicts it, and Bevel Lemelisk looks very different than he would end up looking in The New Essential Guide to Characters (which is based on his description from the aformentioned Technical Companion). Maybe it's a good thing it is not part of the cannon, so it can be enjoyed for what it is.
Marangon's art is just perfect for Rubio's type of humor. It's not all the time that an artist "gets" the author's ideas right, but here it seems like a match made in heaven. As fits the story, the panels contain a good amount of visual gags, like a statue of Big Boy, a shot of the Entreprise, the Yellow Submarine and the Millennium Falcon flying by, and lots of Mickey Mouse references. I'm sure these were suggested by Rubio, but Marangon nailed it exactly right. The expressions (which contribute a lot to the humor) are also perfect. I couldn't imagine Marangon illustrating a "serious" Star Wars story, but he's the right choice for this one.
Story: Mark Evanier, Sergio AragonÚs
Pencils: Sergio AragonÚs
Inks: Sergio AragonÚs
Colors: Tom Luth
Letters: Stan Sakai
Threepio and Artoo are captured by Jawas on Tatooine. When they discover that the scavengers are disassembling captured droids to seel them as spare parts, the two droids plan to escape from the Jawas' sandcrawler.
Having been a fan of Groo the Wanderer a while back, I am familiar with Evanier's and AragonÚs' work. Unfortunately, I don't think they have a complete grasp of the Star Wars galaxy. This story lacks the humor and wit of the team's previous works. Threepio's dialogue is uncharacteristic. I know it's pointless (much like the story) to try to fit this into the continuity, but since the two droids are captured together as opposed to separately like in A New Hope, and Threepio mentions Master Luke this could take place during one of Luke's many visits to Tatooine between movies. Or it could even take place before Return of the Jedi. But no one really cares anyway. The story is pretty humorless but not awful. It reminds me of those one-page jokes that can be found inside bubble gum wrappers. Fans of AragonÚs will likely love it. It's strange that a different editor was needed for this four-page story.
AragonÚs' art is a bit more realistic than usual, but not by much. Most comic book fans are familiar with his trademark style, so it's hard to judge. Personally, I really like seeing his portrayal of the two droids and the Jawas. And the coloring is also very appropriate. Too bad the story's quality doesn't match the art.
Story: Kilian Plunkett
Art: Kilian Plunkett
Colors: Dave Nestelle
Letters: Vickie Williams
An Imperial Darktrooper which ended up on Tatooine is still active after years of staying aboard a ship that crashed in the desert. Jabba the Hutt's swoop-riding thugs Big Gizz and Spiker, and their cowering friend Onoh, encounter a Jawa named Klepti B'ay who was trying to destroy the Darkrooper, which was found by his tribe and slaughtered most of them. However, the heavily armed and armored Darktrooper survives and the group have to defend themselves when it comes after them in the ruins of the old Mos Espa Arena.
The first page of the story retells the first cutscene of the Dark Forces game, with Vader overseeing General Mohc releasing Darktroopers on an unnamed planet to destroy a Rebel base. What follows for the next two pages shows what happened to Tak Base in the city of Talay, and the message that Mon Calamari Admiral Toka sends is the one Mon Mothma shows to Kyle five days later in the game. This message, along with some other clues, are what prompts the Alliance to investigate the existence of the Darktroopers and forms the storyline of the game. In "Sandblasted," Plunkett cleverly takes that scene as a basis and shows how one of the Darktroopers survived. It snuck aboard the Mon Calamari cruiser Grey Damsel, which escaped the destruction of Tak Base, and killed Captain Tak's entire crew. The ship then crashlanded on Tatooine and was later found by a passing Jawa sandcrawler.
I'm not too sure how much later the rest of the story takes place, but since Onoh is there it must take place sometime after The Jabba Tape, which Plunkett illustrated. He must really like the characters of Big Gizz and Spiker (who first appeared in the Shadows of the Empire comics, also illustrated by Plunkett) because he chose them to star in this story. Plunkett also added some elements from The Phantom Menace which was released the previous year. These include the Mos Espa Arena which is now in ruins, Podracer wrecks, and some DUM pit droids, who pick up the remains of the Darktrooper at the end of the story.
At 28 pages, this is the longest story of the four included in this issue. And it also my personal favorite as it includes elements from the Dark Forces game which I have fond memories of, and it features a Jawa in a significant speaking role and I just love Jawas. The fight sequence is really good as well, with the two dim-witted thugs and two diminutive aliens using whatever objects they can find against the Darktrooper and even managing some accidental teamwork. There is also an old IG97 battle droid that takes a part of the fight, but it feels a bit out of place. The Jawa becomes a part of the unlikely group, making way to further adventures (which sadly haven't been told yet.)
I am a huge fan of Kilian Plunkett's artwork, in the aformentioned Star Wars comics, as well as Aliens: Labyrinth and the DC Comics miniseries Trouble Magnet (which he co-created with Ryder Windham.) He has a very distinct style that I love. Of course, he basically created the designs for Big Gizz and Spiker, but the Jawa and the Darktrooper are also very well depicted. I don't really like the battle droid though, whose face strangely looks like a robotic version of Onoh. The cover Plunkett did is also amazing.
With two good stories out of four, one of which is non-cannon, this is the weakest issue so far and the first to be edited by Dave Land. This could be a coincidence or a sign of things to come.
Rating: 7.5 / 10 Recommended