Retro Review: Star Wars Tales #1 (September 1999)

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In honor of Star Wars Day, Retro Review is off into a galaxy far, far away.  (For best results, turn your font yellow, and read with your computer screen tilted to about a 30-degree angle.)  The Star Wars Expanded Universe may no longer be officially canon to Lucasfilm/Disney, but that doesn’t mean WE ever have to let it go!  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Star Wars Tales #1 awaits!


StarWarsTales1CoverSTAR WARS TALES #1
Writer: Jim Woodring/Timothy Zahn/Ron Marz/Peter David
Penciler: Robert Teranishi/Igor Kordey/Claudio Castellini/Martin Egeland
Inker: Robert Teranishi/Igor Kordey/Claudio Castellini/Howard shum
Colorist: Christ Chuckry/Keith Wood/Guy Major/Harold MacKinnon
Letterer: Michael Taylor/Vickie Williams
Editor: Peet Janes
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $4.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00

Previously in Star Wars Tales:  Regular listeners of our Top 5 podcast might recall a recent episode (Top 5 Practical Sci-Fi or Fantasy Items That Are NOT Weapons) wherein I spoke of my admiration for the concept of the astromech droid, and how I really wanted to have one of my own, at which point Rodrigo blew my mind by mentioning the secret history of R5-D4, the red droid that Owen and Luke reject in the first part of ‘Star Wars’.  (You may remember him in the background as we first encounter Mark Hamill’s nasal whining: “Uncle Oweeeennnn! This Artooo unit has a baaaad motivatorrrrr!”)  That tale and more are on tap here in the galaxy far, far away, but we kick things off with the tale featuring the central characters of 1999′s ‘Phantom Menace’, Qui-Gon Jinn and his young squire, Obi-Wan Kenobi…

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Full disclosure: I hate the term ‘padawan.’  I understand that it’s Star Wars canon and such, but it’s such a precious, cutesy term, and one that I very much dislike, and thus won’t be using here.  That said, young Obi-Wan is an impetuous lad, and in his attempt to woo the strange creature out of the trees, fails to realize that it’s a giant, carnivorous beastie that wants to eat him.  Fortunately, he keeps his wits about him, using a large branch to bust the creature square in the mouth, and racing back to his Jedi Master for backup…

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However, no matter how much I hate ‘padawan’, ‘squollyhawk’ is ever so much worse.  Bygones…  Regardless of taxonomy, it’s clear why this story was given the lead slot in the issue, featuring as it does the heroic leads of the much-hyped Episode I, and while the actual plot is a meandering bit of nothing, it’s a nice showcase of Qui-Gon’s wisdom and perspicacity of character…

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And yes, it’s a Star Wars property, so there has to be tragic foreshadowing in play.  The Jedi make their way across a jungle planet, searching for a new place to camp, driven by the unseen hand of The Force, which leads them to an odd (and extremely unnerving) altar to a Silan, a creature composed of pure Dark Side stuffs.

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Artistically, this story is pretty amazing in terms of the likenesses, with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon always looking like Neeson and MacGregor, but seldom falling back on the stiff posing that sometimes comes with a licensed property featuring real actors likenesses.  The two Jedi climb into the Silan’s lair, and are immediately attacked for their troubles, busting out the lightsabers and killing the Silan in its shell… or tentacles…  or something.  Tried for Shakespearean there, and it came apart.  After killing the creature, Kenobi finds himself filled with regret, and asks what lesson he should have learned from its demise.

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Based on release dates, Episode I would have been in theaters approximately mid-May ’99, while this comic, street-dated September, would probably have been on sale mid-Juneish, which means that this story was likely the first time many Warsians (I actually don’t know what Star Wars fans are called) would have been able to see Qui-Gon in action.  (I can tell you from experience, he was already on their pizza boxes and Pepsi cans, but still, that’s not really much of an introduction.)  I actually find myself enjoying this first story, even though it’s all character work and dialogue, and can easily hear the actors speaking the lines, which makes for a decent reading experience.  And then, we get to the Mara Jade story…

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Mara Jade, the snarky Imperial assassin-slash-Luke’s-soulmate, is one of the characters I’m most troubled by in all of the Expanded Universe.  On the one hand, the galaxy far, far away definitely needs more strong female characters, of which she definitely is one.  On the other hand, she can easily take a turn from “cool, sarcastic warrior trying to redeem herself from previous mistakes” to “Black Hole Sue.”  Luckily, creator Timothy Zahn is on board for this story, which keeps Mara centered, but unfortunately makes for a wordy, wordy chunk of story in which nothing much happens.  Things are looking up with our next short story, as Darth Vader is summoned back to Coruscant by his master, Emporer Palpatine, to discuss the matter of the last few missing Jedi…

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Aaaah, dangit.  MORE Mara Jade?  Still, her appearance here is actually kind of fun, as The Emperor’s fist and his Blade immediately clash, disliking one another on sight.  Their rivalry is intensified when Jade reveals the name of the Jedi she has a lead on: The Dark Woman, legendary Jedi Master, and one that Vader wants to personally destroy.  Mara and Vader squabble for a moment about who should be given the task of bringing in such an auspicious fugitive, and it looks like she’s about to get force-choked out when The Emperor steps in…

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Foreshadowing: Your key to quality literature.  Although, given that the foreshadowing is of a plot point that was revealed a quarter-century earlier, I’m not sure whether it counts or not.  Vader tracks The Dark Woman to her lair, and they engage in some very well-written jabs at one another, using the last specimen of a rare flower as metaphor for the end of the Jedi and the rise of the Empire.  When Vader tells her that weaker species will always be supplanted by stronger ones, she reminds him that certain fauna seem frail, but are hardier than they would seem…

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Aaaand, what a terrible cliff-hanger!  I actually don’t own issue #2 (after Rodrigo mentioned this one on Top 5, I was lucky enough to find it languishing in a longbox at work, as if awaiting my arrival), so I only know how the story plays out thanks to the wonderful Wookieepedia, but knowing that Vader survives until the end of ‘Return Of The Jedi’, you figure he doesn’t lose the battle.  As for the final story in this issue, the one that drove me into the back issue bin to begin with, we find ourselves on Tattooine in the days before ‘A New Hope’, as Obi-Wan Kenobi wanders the deserts and hives of scum and villainy, occasionally feeling a distant connection to The Force.  The one thing he never thought to consider was a small droid server in the lair of Jabba The Hutt.

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Given their time-travel stunts, it’s not surprising to see Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot hanging around Jabba’s palace in the ‘long, long ago’, but I’m not sure what the deal with Bender is, there.  Also, it’s good to see that Boba Fett has always been a clumsy dork, clearly the result of clone degeneration.  Training his Force-powers in secret, little Skippy is able to break his restraining bolts, and use a time-honored Jedi gimmick to escape…

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For those who wonder, this story is written by snark-master general Peter David, and is full of lovely little bits of Star Wars lore, as well as general science fiction ephemera (such as a cameo by Robot B-9 from ‘Lost In Space’.)  Skippy wanders the deserts until his systems threaten to fail, then allows himself to be taken “captive” by the scrounging Jawas, who clean his servos and charge his batteries.  Traveling with the caravan, Skippy the Jedi Droid finally comes face-to-face with his epic destiny…

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Being a droid of destiny, Skippy is one of the few able to recognize that his timeline is constantly in flux, as if under constant revision by some bearded godlike overlord, but that something larger than even the Empire is occurring, some eddies in the continuum of the force and this is his couch, making it clear that SOMETHING is about to happen.  Then came the morning where two men came to the Jawa caravan seeking droids.  Skippy felt that the younger one was strong with The Force, and used his powers to nudge the older one into choosing to buy him from the Jawas, realizing that he and the young man would make an unstoppable team, and unseat the Emperor and his armored lackey…

…and then, the Living Force spoke to him, as it had to Qui-Gon years before and/or in the first story of this issue.

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Skippy The Jedi Droid had come face to face with his destiny, and stood on the precipice of fate.  What would he do?  What could he do?

No, these questions are meaningless, the only one that mattered to the little droid: What would any noble Jedi do?

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Snff…  Though he is gone now, one with The Force, Skippy’s heroic sacrifice is known to we few, the Faithful Spoilerites, we who can carry the tale of his bravery on to new generations.  Plus, since most of this story actually appears on-screen in the official Lucasfilm movies, it’s still canon if we want it to be!  HOORAY!  When you balance out the strengths of the issue (the entire final chapter, the lovely character bits with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Mara Jade’s rivalry with Vader), it’s a fun read that doesn’t precisely require an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars, but if you have one, it rewards you for that knowledge, and the art, while varied and dissimilar, is always professional and occasionally excellent.  In short, Star Wars Tales #1 is a decent anthology issue, pulling together strands of the greater tapestry in new (and partially hilarious) ways, giving the readers a chance to delve deeper into unexpected parts of the Star Wars galaxy, and making the dive worth your time, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s a fun exercise, perfect for celebrating Star Wars Day in style, and reminding Major Spoilers EIC Stephen to stop being so mean to his iPhone…