01 October 2013

Review: Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Volume 2

Comic trade paperback, 462 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1994-2001)
Acquired April 2008
Read September 2013
Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Volume 2

Scripts: Tom Veitch and Kevin J. Anderson
Art: Tony Akins, Denis Rodier, Chris Gossett, Mike Barreiro, Jordi Ensign, David Carrasco Jr., Mark G. Heike, Bill Black, David Jacob Beckett, and Andrew Pepoy
Colors: Suzanne Bourdages, Pamela Rambo, and Dave Nestelle
Letters: Willie Schubert

"The Freedon Nadd Uprising" unites the two strands of Tales of the Jedi, bringing Ulic Qel-Droma into contact with Nomi Sunrider for the first time. This later becomes a Great Romance, but it never really convinces as such because they barely interact.

From there, it's into giant events with "Dark Lords of the Sith" and "The Sith War." My main takeaway from this is that Veitch and Anderson just do not get the Dark Side of the Force. They seem to see it solely as an external force of Evil that acts upon our heroes. I don't understand why Ulic falls. I mean, I really do not get it. He decides he wants to join the Krath and take them out from within... but at what point does he become Evil? He leaves the Jedi, next we see him, he is Evil. But what is he actually doing that is Evil? I think he's commanding the Krath military, but it should or could even be possible to do that without falling to the Dark Side. Most of what he does is glossed over, and I think that really undermines the effect of the story of Ulic's fall.

My favorite fall to the Dark Side in Star Wars is one that never actually happens. In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has Luke Skywalker backed into a corner.  "Join me." It seems like a sane, reasonable action for Luke. But taking it would be the act of a coward, and thus an action for the Dark Side. Only by jumping into the unknown, choosing suicide over surrender, does Luke maintain his ties to the Light. But I always imagine that moment of cowardice that could have happened. With his whole world broken down, his friends captured, the truth revealed, his hand severed, who could blame Luke if he joined Darth Vader? Any good fall has a backed-into-a-corner moment like that, I think, if just metaphorically. Ulic has no such moment-- one minute he's good, the next he's Evil.

It gets worse from there, as Ulic's fall is mostly carried out through external forces-- first, the Krath give him "Sith poisons," which apparently make you Evil (Veitch often seems to think the Force is just standard fantasy-type magic), and then the spirit of Marka Ragnos appears and just turns him into a Dark Lord of the Sith. This whole thing completely lacks any feeling of character or choice-- so what's the point of it all then? Falling to the Dark Side is only a meaningful story if the character chooses it. (Also, the moment when Nomi leaves Ulic behind with the Krath is morally reprehensible. If he has chosen Evil and is unwilling to come, then it's not just "his choice"-- if he helps the Krath maintain their control over the Empress Teta System, then it's a choice that leads to the destruction of millions of innocent lives! Take the guy out while you have a chance!)

Oddly, Exar Kun, then, has a slightly more effective "fall" than Ulic, as he does have that moment of choice in the Sith Temple on Yavin 4. Unfortunately, though, he's been depicted as Evil all along, so the effect is undermined. And too many of the Sith minions are just controlled via magic.

All of this is to say that "Dark Lords of the Sith" and "The Sith War" are a lot of big flash, with epic battles and such, but with little actual meaning. There are lots of Jedi here-- too many, and mostly we care about them because of the earlier stories. Which means I basically only cared about Nomi, Oss, and Thon.

Surprisingly, given all this, Kevin J. Anderson and Chris Gossett pull it out of the bag at the end with "Redemption." Set ten years after the end of the Great Sith War, the story is about many things, all of them tragic-- Nomi's inability to connect with her own daughter after all the tragedy she's seen, Vima's inability to see what it really means to be a Jedi, Ulic's inability to find peace and solace now that he's been stripped of the Force, Tott Doneeta and Sylvar's inability to leave the war behind. It's heartbreaking stuff, drawn to perfection by Gossett, and with a tragic, elegiac tone throughout.

My favorite bit was a small one, just a shared look between Tott and Sylvar that brought home the tragedy of their lives. At one point, they were young Jedi Knights, ready to conquer evil and right wrongs and all that jazz. Now, only ten years later, they're walking wounded, people who've seen too much and who became old before their time, and with no one to understand them. "Will you go with me?" Sylvar asks Tott, as she decides to burn out her rage in a ritual hunt, Tott the only man who can possibly understand her pain. "I would be honored," says Tott grimly, his very visible scarring a reminder that he can never be who he was again.

It ends in tragedy, of course, but the best kind of tragedy-- the kind that indicates rebirth and hope and the potential for real change. It's a shame that nothing's been done with these characters since Tales of the Jedi ended in 2001, but as long as I can imagine the epic adventures of Vima Sunrider, Jedi Knight, perhaps we're better off that way.

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