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Andy’s Read Pile: Star Wars, The Screaming Citadel

Andy Xmas Happy New Year’s Eve, Everybody! It’s your old buddy, Andy Larson, ready to deliver one final read pile review before closing the book on the comic reading for 2018. It’s been a year where I gotta say, thanks to Ghosts of the Stratosphere and the good work I do here to promote comics in the hearts on the 5 or 6 people that randomly end up on my page, I have read a decent amount of the funny books, and more importantly an eclectic mix of genres and characters in hopes of continuing my education of the medium.

Of course, all this month I’ve been trying to highlight some of the great Star Wars books that Marvel has been releasing recently especially in the wake of the fact that we were denied our holiday Star Wars film thanks again to the brain-trust at Disney that thought it was such a good idea to release Solo back in May, instead of saving it for everyone’s winter break. I mean it was super sad that the day after Christmas I couldn’t bundle all the kids in the car with the rest of my family and enjoy a pleasant afternoon basking in the light of the Millennium Falcon’s exhaust ports. Again, I still think that will go down as one of the biggest bone headed mistakes ever, but I digress.

Anywho, on last week’s read pile, I reviewed the first trade of the adventures of Doctor Aphra, a plucky little spitfire, who used to work for Darth Vader, but now travels the universe with her killer droids and pirate Wookie in search of the next greatest get rich quick scheme.

So much did I like that trade, that I immediately jumped into the next collection of her stories, which was near picture perfect for this blog as it just happened to be “The Screaming Citadel” story line written by a combination of Star Wars regular series author, Jason Aaron, and Doctor Aphra’s author, Kieron Gillen, which bring Aphra into a crossover story with the main Star Wars book and the characters we all know of Han, Luke, and Leia. So for both you reading at home and for myself as well, it’s time to put Aphra through her paces and see whether she can hang with the true “A” team players. Buckle up! We’re in for wild ride!


Synopsis:

Picking up the story right after the first trade of Doctor Aphra concludes, we find the ever shifty rogue archeologist still attempting to find someone that can reactivate the crystal containing the Eternal Rur, an AI version of a long dead former Jedi who was seeking the secrets of immortality.

She decides to settle on the Queen of Ktath’atn, who has evidently lived for of years because she’s in essence a hive mind vampire who feeds on the life force of her planetary subjects. However, she does have the necessary knowledge and once a year will grant an audience with lucky outsiders who bear extremely rare gifts.

So what does Aphra feel is the perfect gift for the gal who has everything? Well, one of the last remaining Jedi of course! Yep, after hooking up with dear old daddy in Darth Vader, now Aphra has her sights set on the younger model in Luke Skywalker. And Luke does agree to the plan willingly as he sees an opportunity to possibly get legit Jedi training from the Rur Crystal if it can be turned on.

This all ends up being a colossal blunder of judgment though as the two find themselves up to the knees in trouble as the Queen is definitely not a force to be underestimated given she’s controlled by the powerful alien parasite creature, which even the Empire outlawed for being too dangerous.

However, luckily Han, Leia, and the rest of Luke’s friends swoop in to help rescue the pair and combined with the help of Aphra’s murderous band of partners in crime, like Triple Zero and BEE TEE, they manage to buy Luke enough time to defeat the Queen using his incredible force abilities and in turn liberate the entire planet from her control.


Things I Liked:

It’s all about character development. More than anything the things I liked about this story was the progress made by some of our favorite Star Warriors in their personal quests to become even more fleshed out and interesting.

It starts really with giving us a fantastic showing by our series protagonist, Luke Skywalker. In his quest to expand his knowledge and capabilities as a Jedi, you can see the lengths that Luke is willing to go to including trusting a former associate of Darth Vader who wants his help to reactivate the AI of genocidal former Jedi by making a deal with a murderous Queen who feasts on her own subjects. I mean, talk about not exactly the greatest of schemes, but it also reinforces the fact that Luke is in some ways the ultimate rebel. Even more than Han Solo who seems to have mellowed out a bit since meeting Leia, Luke is young, brash, overconfident, but at the same time, extremely intuitive and willing to take risks even if his friends think it’s a terrible idea.

Also through his friendship with Aphra, we realize that he has the same ability to lead and build bridges as his sister does linking the Rebel Alliance to the most unlikely of friends and supporters and ultimately changing perceptions along the way just through his dynamic personality. It reminds me a lot of the way that his father Anakin Skywalker used to wheel and deal with the more shifty and morally gray types as a Republic General during the Clone Wars based on some of my favorite episodes of that cartoon series. He definitely takes after his old man for sure.

But most of all, you get a sense of how truly powerful Luke is in the Force…again. As if they haven’t beaten you over the head with it already, here’s Luke, mind and body enslaved to an alien parasite that even the Empire is afraid to touch because there’s no way to control it. On top of that, he’s got the essence of a thousand year old former Jedi master whispering in his ear about how he could use the alien to his advantage and bring order to the galaxy through the combination of his and its unique powers. And yet what does Luke do? He lets go. His control of the Force is so complete that he can expel both the alien and the old ass Jedi with just a snap of his fingers. These are beings and creatures that have killed or enslaved entire civilizations and he flushes them faster than a bad burrito on the next day. And in doing so, he starts a chain reaction that ultimately saves so many innocent lives.

Just like the Death Star shot, there are things only Luke is capable of accomplishing and in doing so, it sends shock waves throughout all of reality that ripple and ebb and wash over people and events in unexpected ways. This particular flexing of the old Force muscles might not be anything we haven’t seen before from this soon to be Jedi Master, but it’s another great example why in the end, you should never underestimate Luke Skywalker.

In addition, the other Skywalker sibling gets a really great showing as well in this story. I mean Leia is her usual take charge self working with the tools she’s been handed in what soon becomes apparent to be a very dire situation indeed. I mean she does comment that she’s picking up a lot of improvisational tactics from her time around Han, but nothing speaks volumes more than her unflinching use of the murder droids of Triple Zero and Bee Tee. I mean they never hide what they are and what they are capable of but Leia doesn’t seem to care. As its said in the story, you fight monsters with monsters and she’s willing to let Triple Zero stick a mind sucking parasite into a Wookie and turn him into a furry engine of terror.

But it’s also at the same time Leia starts learning about the way she’s treating those close to her. As Triple Zero applauds her for treating Luke and Han as useful pawns, she starts to realize that she might be too harsh on those that have been her staunchest supporters. Although some might see this as a softening of Leia making her more compassionate and feminine, I just see it as a leader realizing part of her role is empowering and supporting others. This helps Leia become a more balanced commander that we see in Empire Strikes Back.

However, the most growth we see is from Aphra herself. What can you say other than Skywalker men tend to bring the best out of her. Just like Vader gave her a sense of purpose and challenged her to think beyond her limits, Luke balances that by giving her true camaraderie and hope that even in a dangerous galaxy friends can still provide safety and a sense of stability. This seems to shatter her callous disregard for others and makes her start rethinking her life choices a bit.

I mean it’s not like a light switch like an evil James Bond babe making a full face turn because she’s still a schemer at heart. But you can start to see guilt, common decency, and humanity start to creep back into her every day interactions which gives me hope for the character development of this anti hero in future stories.


Things I Didn’t Like:

This story was touted by writer Jason Aaron as Star Wars meets Gothic Horror. But in my opinion, I’m not sure it really works. It’s like a strange melding of space vampires, Lovecraftian mind controlling creatures, and the standard space opera fare. However, just like eggs, bacon, and toast could be good if it was served on a plate, it’s not so appetizing when it’s thrown into a blender and served as a milkshake.

My point is that horror and sci-fi elements can work in combination with each other very well at times, but not always. I mean Star Wars has had horror type elements in it’s past, whether it’s the teeth filled maw of the Rancor or the tentacled terror known as  the Sarlac Pit, these things are supposed to scare us. If you really want to get serious, Darth Vader, the Emperor, and a space station that destroys ever lovin’ planets, are also pretty scary concepts for kids to deal with.

However, in this story, the notion of a blood thirsty Draculaesque space queen is actually somewhat hackneyed to say the least. It’s like something out of a Japanese Anime movie that’s been seen a dozen times right down to the overly stylish aristocratic get up she and her fellow vamps sport throughout.

But then, the entire basis around this form of the vampirism is actually chalked up to giant facehugger type cockroach bugs that control people’s minds and give them extraordinary powers and abilities?

And at one point, Han Solo becomes one of these vampires and through the power of his incredibly dominant personality eventually becomes the ruling force on the planet?

I just don’t know…

Something just seemed off about this whole thing.

I couldn’t put my finger on it other that the simple statement that I don’t think this stuff works within the Star Wars Universe. It’s both unoriginal and goofy to say the least.

That’s just my take.


Fun Facts:

We get to see a lot more of another Star Wars Extended Universe woman in this particular story in addition to Doctor Aphra. That would be the former “wife” of Han Solo, Sana Starros aka Solo. Now I use the term wife somewhat loosely as the marriage was part of her and Solo’s scam in order to pull off a robbery. However, after Solo made off with her cut of the robbery, Sana spend the next several years searching for her former “husband” which was not made easy by the fact that Han can be somewhat of a difficult guy to find if he doesn’t want to be.

Long story short, after Han started getting more and more involved in the Rebellion and especially sticking close to Leia, it became easier to find him and eventually Sana showed up to collect. Eventually though, like all rogues with a secret heart of gold, our heroes managed to convince Sana to give up the petty quest for revenge and start working for the Rebellion as well, which put her in the direct action of those adventures post New Hope.

In fact, its actually Sana who not only first clues in Doctor Aphra as to where she can find Luke, but then in turn tells Han and Leia where they are both going in hopes of attempting a rescue. This is mainly because of the pretty big bombshell leveled in this story that she and Aphra had somewhat of a romantic relationship at some point, one that ended poorly to the point that neither person can truly trust the other. In previous encounters between the two characters, it was related that they definitely had history with each other, however nothing like the level of intimacy that’s related here.

Previously, it had just been explained that Starros bore a grudge Aphra for betraying her, but it really didn’t go into great detail. As this story provides some additional puzzle pieces for both Sana and Aphra’s backstories, I for one thought it deepened both of their characterizations and would like to see more from the pairing in future in hopes of teasing even more tantalizing tidbits about their combined past.


Final Thoughts:

Going into this story, I had some pretty high hopes about seeing the possible results of an exciting dynamic female character like Doctor Aphra working side by side with some of my favorite heroes from my childhood. There have been some Star Wars Extended Universe characters that I just thought “fit” with the overall universe serving an important role in the overarching narrative of the struggle of the Rebellion vs. the Empire. Doctor Aphra is definitely one of them, so it made sense to get her more involved with the bigger stories that featured our Star Wars regulars.

But overall, this is pretty standard and largely forgettable Star Wars fare. That’s not to say that it’s bad or low quality, but it doesn’t really stand out either. This is especially true compared to some of the other story lines that Aaron/Gillen have written for these Star Wars series at Marvel. It’s a good enough story to keep your attention while the adventure is going on, but other than some decent character development for Leia and Aphra, not a lot really happens, and by the end things return largely to the status quo.

Again, having read other Aaron/Gillen Star Wars stories, I guess I just expected more and this time, they just came up short with this somewhat phoned in  attempt at telling a sci-fi vampire story in a galaxy far far away.

Andy’s Read Pile Grade: C


 

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