Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Published: 1997
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Terry Dodson, Kevin Nowlan, Ellie DeVille, Pamela Rambo, Kilian Plunkett (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 149 Pages

Review:

Dark Force Rising is the second chapter in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. It’s kind of like his Empire Strikes Back, as it builds off of what he established in Heir to the Empire and pushes things forward before the big crescendo that is The Last Command.

It’s really cool revisiting these stories and in comic book form for the first time. I love all the plot threads in this tale, especially in this chapter. I forgot how awesome the plot where Leia, Chewie and Threepio go to the Noghri homeworld was, as well as the team ups of Han and Lando, as well as Luke and Mara. Everything here is just a lot of fun. Plus, you get to see Thrawn up the ante on how sinister he can get.

I also forgot how much I liked the characters of Gilad Pellaeon and Talon Karrde, two men far from the New Republic side but, through this story, find ways into the former Rebellion, where they become strong leaders going forward.

A big part of the story here also deals with politics. There is a plant in the New Republic that is working to disrupt and distract them while Thrawn moves in against them, squeezing his fist of power around the fledgling government. I would point to how politics are handled and presented here, as a better use of political storytelling than what everyone complains about with The Phantom Menace, which had a convoluted political narrative that made most people want to hit their heads against the theater chair in front of them.

The art in this was solid and I liked it better than the work in Heir to the Empire. Also, the lettering was much more legible, as the writing style of the letters in the previous chapter had stylized “H”s that looked like stylized “U”s, which slowed you down as you read.

I like this act in the trilogy better than the previous one but just slightly. Things start to feel more real with this chapter, the ante is upped and you truly start to see why Thrawn is such a formidable foe for the heroes and maybe more so than any other Grand Admiral in the history of the Galactic Empire.

In all honesty, it’s just a delight to revisit these stories, as Disney has pretty much created a new canon that I don’t want anything to do with. This is and will always be my official canon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire Trilogy, The Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

Published: 1995-1996
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Fred Blanchard, Olivier Vatine, Mathieu Lauffray (covers)
Based on:  Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 150 Pages

Review:

Heir to the Empire is the first story in what has come to be known as The Thrawn Trilogy. It was also the first story to follow the events of Return of the Jedi. This was the first true sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy and it was so good that it really spawned what became the Expanded Universe or EU. However, it was originally released as a novel along with it’s two followups: Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. This comic book adaptation came a few years later and this is the first time I have read these stories in this medium.

I have to say, this is a great adaptation. Sure, it lacks the details of the novel but everything you need to know is really here and it represents Zahn’s story well.

It also has a great art style that has actually aged well but now has a more pulpy vibe to it than it would have had in 1995.

The story picks up five years after the destruction of the second Death Star over Endor and the death of Emperor Palpatine. We discover that the big victory wasn’t the end of the conflict, as there are segments of the galaxy still ruled by factions of the Galactic Empire. It doesn’t matter that the Rebel Alliance evolved into the New Republic, there is still work to be done and wars to fight.

This story is really important and significant because it was the debut of two major characters that would have a massive impact on Star Wars canon before Disney bought the franchise and threw the EU away. Those characters are Luke’s would be wife Mara Jade and the powerful Chiss and new leader of the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Luckily, Thrawn has been made a character in Disney’s new canon. However, Mara Jade still doesn’t exist in the Disney-verse.

Since this is the first part of a trilogy, there isn’t a real resolution. We do get an exciting battle at the end and the story itself is also engaging and does a good job of building tension between Luke and Mara as well as just about everyone and Thrawn.

This is just such a great Star Wars tale and certainly better than any of the films that Disney has put out. This is one example of why the EU will always be what I perceive as canon, as opposed to whatever the franchise’s new owner says.

And reading this now, makes me remember how I felt about Star Wars when there were just three movies and still not a lot of books and comics.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire Trilogy, The Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire – Evolution

Published: 1998
Written by: Steve Perry
Art by: Ron Randall, Duncan Fegredo
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 123 Pages

Review:

Out of the Shadows of the Empire trilogy of comics, this is my least favorite. However, it is more of a direct sequel to the original Shadows of the Empire than Mara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand.

The story primarily follows Guri, who was the sexy android assassin that worked for Prince Xizor. You also get to meet another cunning Falleen, out to bring the Black Sun organization back to galactic prominence. This Falleen warlord is actually Xizor’s niece, Savan.

This also picks up with Luke, Leia, Lando and Han Solo, as he is no longer frozen in carbonite in this chapter. The events take place after Return of the Jedi where the original Shadows of the Empire took place before.

This tale was severely lacking in Boba Fett and Dash Rendar. I guess it’s assumed that Boba Fett was being digested by the Sarlacc Pit and Dash only shows up in a cameo at the very end.

This was written by Steve Perry, who wrote Shadows of the Empire, but it lacked the level of excitement and just wasn’t as engaging or interesting. This puts a lot of focus on Guri but she just wasn’t that cool of a character in Shadows of the Empire. In fact, she’d be pretty forgettable in the big scheme of things if she wasn’t made such a big part of this story. And with Xizor dead, we didn’t need another Falleen that was just wedged in to milk the Xizor thing, especially when she wouldn’t go on to have any real engagement with the Expanded Universe beyond this story.

Ultimately, this is a decent Star Wars comic for its era but it lacks the things that made many ’90s Dark Horse stories great but it also is at least enjoyable enough not to be a waste of time. But there isn’t much here that holds any real weight outside of this story. And frankly, you can read Shadows of the Empire without ever needing to pick this up for more story or context.

This was probably just a cash grab, if I’m being honest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s, most notably: Shadows of the EmpireMara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand and The Thrawn Trilogy.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Mara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand

Published: 1998-1999
Written by: Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Jan Duursema, John Ostrander
Art by: Carlos Ezquerra, Kilian Plunkett
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 141 Pages

Review:

This six issue series is the middle part of the Shadows of the Empire trilogy. It is wedged between Shadows of the Empire and Shadows of the Empire – Evolution in the Shadows of the Empire Omnibus.

This takes place after Shadows. In fact, the first third of the story takes place alongside the events of Return of the Jedi. Mara Jade is in Jabba’s Palace when Luke Skywalker arrives and she also witnesses the death of her master at the hands of Luke and his father, Darth Vader. She then must carry out the Emperor’s revenge mission and kill Luke herself.

However, the rest of the story shows Mara get captured and imprisoned by Ysanne Isard, one of the best EU characters from the era, go on to get revenge on some other characters and pretty much just fill in the blanks between Return of the Jedi and where she is once she appears in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where she does finally encounter Luke. That all comes in the Zahn stories later though but this was a solid setup for that moment and since Zahn was one of the writers of this comic series, he painted the picture that he intended for Mara Jade.

At the time that this was published, Mara Jade was really popular with fans because of her first appearance in those Zahn novels (and later comic adaptations). This book served to flesh out her backstory and to strengthen her character. Jade would eventually marry Skywalker and become one of the most powerful Jedis in Star Wars lore. Although, none of that matters now because Disney erased this continuity to give us terrible bullshit like The Last Jedi.

Anyway, for old school fans of the EU, which is still my canon, this is a pivotal chapter in the franchise post-Original Trilogy.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s, most notably: Shadows of the Empire, Shadows of the Empire – Evolution and The Thrawn Trilogy.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Published: May 7th, 1996 – October 1st, 1996
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Kilian Plunkett, Hugh Fleming, John Nadeau
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 158 Pages

Review:

Shadows of the Empire was a massive multimedia event in 1996. There was a novel, this comic series, a super popular video game, action figures and even a soundtrack. It was the biggest Star Wars event outside of the movies themselves and it was used to get the public hyped for the special editions of the Original Trilogy, which came out a year later. This also probably helped generate momentum as George Lucas went into production on 1999’s The Phantom Menace.

I haven’t read this story in comic book or novel form in at least ten years. Being that I have been dealing with a sense of Star Wars fatigue, at least in regards to Disney’s mismanagement of the property, I didn’t want the candle to fully burn out. I decided to go back and reconnect with the stories I loved the most from the past, as the Expanded Universe will always be the canon I choose to accept. I invested too much time and money into it and even if there are some terrible installments in the massive Expanded Universe, there are still great stories like this one that I will always be able to go back to and enjoy.

I forgot how much I loved this. The art was really good for the time. Also, the writers did a nice job of filling in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which is when this takes place. It’s kind of like Episode V.5.

We get to see Luke experiment with the Force, which just adds some depth to how his powers evolved between the two films. We also get to see him use the green lightsaber for the very first time, as he thinks about how difficult the process of building it was.

Additionally, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and a large portion of this epic tale revolves around Boba Fett transporting Han from Bespin to Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine. Fett faces a lot of challenges and ends up in an all out war with all the other famous bounty hunters, as they want to claim the prize that is Han Solo. This was actually my favorite plot in this large story, as it served to really develop Fett as a character and truly shows why he is the “best of the best” because in the movies, he went out like a bitch.

We also see friction between the Emperor and Vader and the seeds of Vader’s betrayal against his master are planted. This plot thread also brings Prince Xizor into the picture, as he is a professional adversary to Vader and sort of a lapdog for the Emperor.

Other things of note are that we get to see how Leia gets the Boushh disguise, how heroic Lando actually is and we meet Dash Rendar, who would go on to be the most popular Star Wars character of the ’90s that wasn’t featured in a film.

Reading this now, brought me back to where my head was at in 1996, when I was still obsessed over everything Star Wars. Back before I was a jaded prick and had immense love for these characters and this universe. It was awesome feeling like that about Star Wars again.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s. The Dark Horse stuff was so damn enjoyable before Disney bought the franchise and killed the Expanded Universe.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Release Date: May 10th, 2018 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Powell, John Williams (original Han Solo and Star Wars themes)
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Warwick Davis, Linda Hunt (voice), Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Sam Witwer (voice)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I hate you.” – Lando Calrissian, “I know.” – Han Solo

*Warning: there will be spoilers… and probably some ranting!

At one point, Star Wars was the biggest pop culture thing in my life. Over the years, a lot has changed: ownership of the franchise, the fan base and most importantly, the canon. I’m told that decades worth of novels and comic books on my shelves are irrelevant now. I would have been able to adjust to that if the new additions to Star Wars were better than the stories given to us by dozens (if not hundreds) of authors that have been enriching the mythos for over 40 years. But so far, Disney has done nothing but drop the ball. Granted, I did like Rogue One but that’s just one film out of the four that Disney has done and I still have my fair share of issues with it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a bad film but it isn’t a very good one either. Frankly, other than a few sequences, it was kind of boring and unexciting. But then there were the politics in it, which is something I usually stay away from talking about but if this film is going to beat its audience over the head with its fucking nonsense, just as the other Disney Star Wars films have, I have to speak up.

When Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas, most people were ecstatic. People were espousing things like, “Finally, George Lucas is gone, we can forget about those terrible prequels!” and “Disney will fix the franchise!” Yeah, they fixed it, alright. If by “fix” you mean “neuter”.

Kathleen Kennedy and Disney have already run this franchise into the ground and it happened a lot quicker than I thought it would. Their first attempt at Star Wars isn’t even three years old yet but based off of the audience’s response to this film and its incredibly lackluster opening weekend, I think that the public’s opinion is abundantly clear.

There is already Star Wars fatigue and it came so damn quickly. Had these movies been great or at least, very good, people would still be enthused. And if Disney wasn’t milking the franchise to piggyback off of known characters like Han Solo, Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi for their spinoff films, maybe they could actually move the franchise forward.

In regards to the movie Solo, as this is a review of it, let me talk about the positives.

First of all, I really liked the train robbery sequence. That was the highlight of the film and one of the best, if not the best sequence in the Disney Star Wars films. It was creatively done, well thought out, well executed and just a good time.

Second, I liked the tone of the film. The atmosphere was dark and brooding, which enhanced the story, the peril the characters found themselves in and the life they were living, which is one of crime… even if Solo is considered to be a hero.

I also liked Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. There are certain moments in the film where Glover is talking and you literally hear Billy Dee Williams’ voice. He definitely prepped for this role and really studied Billy Dee Williams. He is kind of the antithesis to Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo but I’ll get to his performance in a minute.

I thought that Paul Bettany as the villain was a strong positive. He didn’t have the sort of weight that a traditional Star Wars movie villain should have but he nailed the part, hands down. But I’ll get into the villain problem in a minute, as well.

The other big highlight of the film was the conclusion. I liked the Darth Maul cameo and am genuinely interested in what it means for Star Wars going forward but I hope it is to tie into the Obi-Wan movie and not a sequel to this film, which they should not make. I also liked the reveal of who the Marauders were and that whole sequence on the beach between them, Beckett, Solo, Chewie and Qi’ra.

I thought that the pace of the film and its progression were good, even if a lot of the stuff wasn’t as interesting as the filmmakers probably thought it was.

But on to the negatives.

I like Alden Ehrenreich as an actor but I didn’t like him trying to play Han Solo. The character is so distinctly Harrison Ford and Ehrenreich tried to nail it but fell short. I thought his comedic timing was off, his mannerisms didn’t work and “the cool” felt forced. The thing is, he could have just been his own character and this film would have worked better. He didn’t have to be Han Solo, this could have been a Star Wars heist movie with all new characters, punctuated by its main player that was more of an homage to the Han Solo archetype and not Solo himself. This would have served Ehrenreich’s talents better and opened the door to a new thread in the grand Star Wars universe.

Next up is Emilia Clarke. I don’t know what it is about her but I just don’t like her. Granted, I’m probably the only person on Earth that can’t get into Game of Thrones but that’s also not just her fault, it’s that whole thing. Anyway, Clarke is just an incredibly one-dimensional and boring actress. She makes me feel absolutely nothing. She’s no different in this. Her character felt soulless and just made me yearn for her death and for Han to hurry up and go meet Leia.

Then there is the Woody Harrelson problem. For the record, I love Harrelson. I always have, ever since I was a young kid watching Cheers with my mum and granmum when it was still broadcasting. The problem with Harrelson is that he is such a distinct actor that it is sort of distracting in a film like Star Wars. All I ever see is Harrelson, which most of the time is a good thing, but in a Star Wars picture, it just pulls me out of the movie. I think that the original Star Wars films were so magical due to George Lucas finding the right kind of talent from a pool of unknown actors. He did use a few well-known actors but their parts were perfectly tailored and fit them. But really, we’re just talking about Peter Cushing, who was primarily a low budget horror actor, and Alec Guinness, who had a long filmography but was never as recognizable or as famous as Woody Harrelson has become.

Earlier I mentioned the villain problem about the movie, even though I praised Bettany’s performance. You see, his baddie here was just some low level crime boss. Okay, maybe he’s a high level crime boss but him being the big bad would have been like Return of the Jedi expanding the Jabba the Hutt stuff to two hours and cutting out the second and much bigger half of the film. The Jabba stuff is solid but a gangster is not the type of villain that really brings a high threat level in the Star Wars universe. Frankly, Solo felt like it should have happened in an episode of Clone Wars or Rebels and not on the big screen for over two hours.

The biggest blight on all of Star Wars history though has to be Lando’s droid Che Droidvera a.k.a. L3-37. The droid was a wisecracking feminist revolutionary because robots apparently have gender in Star Wars now and are fighting for equal rights or something. Basically, this was Disney’s attempts at bringing gender politics into a Star Wars film in a cutesy and funny way. It’s not that I’m against feminism or equal rights, but this was absolute retardation of the highest caliber. I don’t bitch and moan about SJWs because sometimes those bitching about SJWs can come off as terrible as SJWs themselves but Jesus Jeff Goldblum Christ, man! Is this what Star Wars is now? A political and social platform for Hollywood holier-than-thous to sneak their messages into mindless entertainment used for escapism? You know, escapism: where people want to escape the real world for two hours because of real world problems and issues?

Then again, we’re dealing with people whose only counterargument is to point and call those who disagree with them “racist woman hating alt-right Nazis.”

See what I’m saying, though? In a world where people espouse politics and aren’t even minutely rational about it, you sometimes need to escape. But when that escape is inundated with that same irrational political bullshit, you look for another form of escapism. Hence, why this movie isn’t the success that Disney was absolutely sure it would be.

People just didn’t have the interest in this movie like they did with the old school Star Wars films before it.

Reason being, The Last Jedi mostly sucked and it pushed its politics on the people. People responded by telling Solo to “go fuck itself” when they didn’t rush out and buy tickets opening weekend. In fact, this is the first Star Wars movie I didn’t see within the first few hours of its release. I waited over a week and really, that wasn’t even over politics it was over The Last Jedi just sucking as a whole, politics aside.

Last week, I started organizing and cataloging my comic book collection. I came across my massive collection of Star Wars Dark Horse stuff from the ’90s and ’00s. I flipped through a lot of them, re-familiarizing myself with the stories. It really just reinforced my sentiment that the Expanded Universe, that has been washed away with the Disney tide, was so much better than what we have now.

Those Clone Wars tales with Quinlan Vos and all that Knights of the Old Republic era stuff were great Star Wars stories. Jacen and Jaina Solo were infinitely better characters than Kylo Ren and Rey. Well, at least Disney kept Thrawn relevant but Mara Jade is bantha fodder.

Solo: A Star Wars Story just doesn’t work. But hey, at least I got to see Lando, even if it wasn’t Billy Dee Williams and it wasn’t in The Force Awakens where Lando and Han should have had a reunion.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.