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I've probably mentioned it before, but I am a HUGE Star Wars fan. As a matter of fact, it was Star Wars that got me into comic collecting in the first place! Bear with me a moment while I tell the tale.
I was but a lad when the original Star Wars movie roared into theaters like nothing else that had ever come before (or since). It may make me sound a bit old, but you sort of had to be there to understand the full impact Star Wars had when it first came out. To call it a nationwide phenomena is underselling it.
But to make a long story (sort of) short, when Star Wars finally came to the small Utah town I was living in, they were giving away the first issue of the Marvel comics adaptation to kids 12 and under along with your ticket. I had read comics before (mostly random Batman and Justice League comics), but that Star Wars comic was the first time I ever felt I HAD to get the rest of the story!
That chunky Chaykin art! That overblown dialogue where every! Sentence! Ended! With! An Exclamation point! I LOVED that there were little scenes in that comic that weren't in the movie. And guess what. . .I STILL have that very issue! It's pretty battered, but I wouldn't sell it for a million bucks (Okay. . .MAYBE for a million, but I'd have to think about it for a few minutes).
Yeah, I loved the first Star Wars movie, but that ONE comic book some stranger gave me in a movie theater started me on a lifetime love of the stories and art to be found in the four-color floppies that is just as strong this very day as it ever was!
So I'm a big Star Wars fan, to say the least. But as big of a fan as I am, I still have to be honest and admit that Star Wars comics have been a bit hit or miss through the years. Don't get me wrong. . .there have been some great stories, but I'd be tellin' you false if I didn't say that there have also been some REALLY bad Star Wars comic stories (Off the top of my head, I'm looking straight at YOU Dark Empire II
But enough of that. Let's turn our attention to why we're here.
The comics at hand are a fairly recent offering from Marvel that takes a sort of unusual look at Star Wars by giving us a story focusing not on the Skywalker family saga or the heroic Jedi Warriors of times past. Instead, the heroes of THIS story are the villains of all the rest! That's right, this series features the skilled and deadly ace pilots of (Dun-Dun-DUNN) The Empire.
Can there be a good Star Wars story without flashing lightsabers and plucky rebels? Let's find out!
STAR WARS: TIE FIGHTER
The Shadow Falls, Part 1
SCRIPT: Jody Houser
ART: Roge Antonio & Michael Dowling (backup)
COVER: Giuseppe Camuncoli
This is the sort of cover that pretty much tells you what to expect inside. A very nicely-painted, almost photo-realistic, close up portrait of an Imperial Tie Fighter pilot moving in on his target while a battle rages around him. It's simple, but effective. It makes me want to get right inside. . .so let's do it!
We begin the story shortly after the battle of Hoth as an elite Imperial Tie Interceptor Squadron called "Shadow Wing" finish destroying the pilots of a hidden Rebel base as the Empire sweeps the galaxy searching for the scattered remnants of the Rebellion.
Upon returning to their base on the Star Destroyer "Pursuer", we are introduced to the ace pilots of Shadow Wing: Teso Broosh. . .The squad leader. A veteran commander with a bad reputation for surviving battles where everyone else is killed. Ganem Kahi. . .7th generation fighter pilot with a proud family military tradition going back to before the Clone Wars. Known for always getting the job done. Zin Graw. . .compassionate and caring. The "Mama Bear" of the squad. She's in a "don't ask - don't tell" relationship with Ganem. Jeela Brebtin. . .Focused, cold, lethal. She's a killer without remorse. And finally, Lyttan Dree. . .a hard-charging professional who plays as hard as he works.
Before Shadow Wing can enjoy much down time, they are summoned before their Commander, Colonel Nuress, and given a new mission. . .escort duty for the Imperial Cruiser Summit as it heads for the Kudo System to render possible aid to the Star Destroyer Celerity, which has reported hyperdrive issues preventing it from a scheduled rendezvous with the rest of the Imperial fleet in the sector.
Despite Commander Broosh's protests that escort duty is hardly a good use for an elite interceptor squad, Shadow Wing is quickly under way and on their new mission. Upon arrival in the Kudo System and finding the Celerity, the Summit is unable to communicate with the Star Destroyer. Someone is jamming transmissions.
Shadow Wing takes flight to investigate the silent starship and suddenly the Summit is blasted by an ion cannon from the Celerity! The surprise attack renders the cruiser helpless while a wave of Tie Fighters from the Star Destroyer launches to intercept Shadow Wing!
To be continued. . .
In a short backup story, we see that there's more to Zin Graw than meets the eye as she covertly contacts an unknown person and prepares to transmit information to them. Dun-Dun-DUNNN!
BONUS: There's also a short text excerpt from the Star Wars novel this comic ties into, Alphabet Squadron. It's set before this series and tells how a former member of Shadow Wing managed to fake her death and defect to the Rebellion. It's not bad and does a pretty good job of making me want to read the whole book.
An outstanding first issue! Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, this is some good hard military science fiction! There's no Jedi Knights, no Galaxy-Spanning epic tales of the dark and light sides of the Force clashing, there's no heroes. This is a tale of a close-knit team of professional pilots doing their duty, following orders, and falling into a trap. The characters are interesting and their relationships, both conflicting and complimenting, are fitted together quite nicely.
It's a sort of strange Star Wars story without any real heroes to root for. Commander Broosh lays it out there for the reader in a conversation with Lyttan Dree when he says that the Empire considers even their best pilots expendable and the most they can hope for is to survive the next mission, and then the one after that. It's strange for a Star Wars story, but interesting. . .even compelling reading. This isn't a story of brave heroes and dastardly villains, it's a military tale of duty and survival.
As far as the art goes. . .
The artist on this series was a perfect pick! Complimenting the "No Heroes" hard-edged military tone of the story, the art is likewise hard-edged and detailed, with thick outlines, interesting cinematic angles, and heavy inking. The art style lends itself especially to action scenes, which almost seem to move across the page. . .but the artist also brings life to the characters in more static scenes with some really good work on facial expressions. This is one great-looking comic!
Overall, we have a great start to this series with a first issue that delivers in every way that it should. It introduces the characters, background, and initial conflict naturally and with a minimum of exposition. It tells an interesting story in a familiar setting, but from an unusual viewpoint and with characters I want to get to know more about. It makes me want to see what happens next. What more could anyone want from a first issue?
The Shadow Falls, Part 2
SCRIPT: Jody Houser
ART: Roge Antonio & Josh Cassara (backup)
COVER: Tommy Lee Edwards
Tommy Lee Edwards! One of my favorite artists giving me a SWEET Star Wars cover! I love the unusual composition of this cover. The colors are great. There's a very nice sense of motion. There's nothing I don't like about this cover! It's the kind of cover that makes me want to buy a comic without knowing anything about what's inside.
Continuing directly from the first issue, elite Tie Interceptor squadron "Shadow Wing" find themselves being ambushed by the Tie fighters of the Celerity, a Star Destroyer they came to render aid to.
As the outnumbered Shadow Wing fights for their lives, the commander of their cruiser transport tries to escape, despite commands to surrender from the Celerity. After the cruiser is destroyed by the Star Destroyer, Commander Broosh realizes the hopelessness of the situation and surrenders his squad.
On the planet below, Shadow Wing are disarmed by stormtroopers and taken before their commander, Admiral Gratloe. He informs them that he and his forces haven't joined the Rebellion, but aren't part of the Empire any longer, either. He has taken control of the Kudo system's mining operations and plans on sitting out the remainder of the war.
Shadow Wing is offered a place in Gratloe's operation. The squadron rejects the offer, but Commander Broosh seems to show interest. Later, he reveals his interest in Gratloe's offer is a ruse to buy time and he intends to somehow carry out the mission they came to Kudo for. . .to recover the Star Destroyer Celerity.
Jeela reveals a hidden weapon and Shadow Wing kill their guards, arm themselves, and escape captivity. . .determined to finish their mission and reclaim what belongs to the Empire, or die trying.
To be continued. . .
In a short backup story, Lyttan Dree talks to his brother, Tamu, who is stationed on an Imperial Medical Frigate. They fondly recall their days in the Imperial Academy (Lyttan and Tamu were both characters in the "Han Solo: Imperial Cadet mini-series") and share rumors of a huge upcoming operation that are slowly spreading through Imperial forces (Luring the Rebel fleet into a trap using the second Death Star as seen in Return of The Jedi).
This series continues to deliver some very solid military sci-fi as Shadow Wing find themselves the prisoner of a rogue Imperial officer and rejecting his offer of an easy way out of the war. It's not exactly "Apocalypse Now", but I like the angle of Admiral Grotloe just getting tired of the war and deciding to carve out a little piece of the galaxy for himself and those loyal to him.
I like that Gratloe isn't an Imperial defector to the Rebellion. That's the easy way out for most Star Wars Empire-focused stories, and I'm glad it's not the motivation here. If it were, I probably wouldn't be enjoying this story so much because the "Imperial Defector" story path is an extremely well-worn one.
I also like how Shadow Wing are shown as loyal military professionals. From Broosh surrendering rather than die needlessly, to their united front rejection of Gratloe's offer, to their use of teamwork and the scant resources at hand to make their escape and continue their mission. They are written as acting in the manner of a well-trained, practiced unit that knows what the intentions of each other are, often without speaking. This rings true to how things tend to become in close-knit military units, from my experience in the Marine Corps.
The art maintains the same gritty, military, "no heroes" style as the story. I really like how the artist manages to make a story set in an Imperial scenario of drab gray ships and equally-drab military uniforms pop with color and excitement.
Overall, the second issue keeps the story going strong as Shadow Wing are taken out of their starfighter element and forced to rely on their close military bond to work together on the ground as a unit and somehow continue their mission. It's writing like this that makes me want to jump right into the next issue. This isn't just a good Star Wars story, it's a good story period.
The Shadow Falls, Part 3
SCRIPT: Jody Houser
ART: Roge Antonio & Geraldo Borges (backup)
COVER: Tommy Lee Edwards
I don't like this one as much as I did the cover for Issue #2, but it's still Star Wars by Tommy Lee Edwards, so I'll take it anyway. It has great color and detail, but just doesn't have the eye-catching composition and sense of motion of his previous cover.
Continuing from last issue, Shadow Wing have escaped captivity and are fighting their way toward their ships, determined to somehow finish their mission of reclaiming the Star Destroyer Celerity.
Commander Broosh manages to convince the commander of the base's stormtrooper garrison to step away from Admiral Gratloe's criminal plan and do his duty to the Empire by unlocking the access codes on Shadow Wing's Interceptors. During the negotiations, Broosh learns that Gratloe has a mysterious buyer for the stolen Star Destroyer that is on the way to pick the ship up.
Once Shadow Wing is in the air and on route to the Celerity, they discover that a battle is raging on the Star Destroyer between Imperial loyalists and Gratloe's conspirators. As Commander Broosh comes up with a plan, Gratloe's buyers suddenly appear from hyperspace. . .escorted by a large group of rebel starfighters!
Lyttan Dree is immediately killed in the initial exchange of fire as Shadow Wing desperately speeds to the Star Destroyer. Before they can make it, Zin Graw is also taken out by the attacking X-Wings.
Finally, aboard the Celerity, Broosh learns that the Imperial loyalists have gained the upper hand and he commands the Star Destroyer jump to hyperspace and rendezvous with the Imperial fleet.
To Be Continued. . .
In a short backup, we see Broosh being given command of Shadow Wing six months previously. He initially declines, but eventually he's convinced that his doubts about being responsible for the lives of his squad are the reason why he was chosen for the job. He finally accepts, promising to keep them alive.
In a totally unexpected turn of events, two of the main characters are killed in one issue! Not only that, but Lyttan Dree is killed in the middle of a sentence. . .driving home the random nature of death in combat.
Dree was actually one of the more fleshed-out characters in this series, with his past established in the "Han Solo: Imperial Cadet" mini-series, as well as having one of the short backup flashback stories (more like vignettes) in this series devoted to him. I was actually shocked and surprised that he was killed in such a random and offhand manner.
But in keeping with the gritty military nature of the story, Broosh keeps his team together and functioning as their comrades are killed in front of them. It's just some really good hard military science fiction writing.
Overall, this chapter of the story illustrates that the writer isn't afraid to show the deadly consequences of combat. The two deaths in this issue are random and genuinely surprising, which is definitely a change of pace from your average Star Wars heroes being fully protected by their shiny "plot armor" as they rush through a hail of blaster fire. The writer takes a big chance in killing off two of the best characters on the team, but it definitely pays off.
The Shadow Falls, Part 4
SCRIPT: Jody Houser
ART: Roge Antonio & Ig Guara (backup)
COVER: Tommy Lee Edwards
Edwards gets some Rebel ships in on this one! I really like the unusual angles of the A-Wing, Y-Wing, and especially that beautifully-detailed B-Wing! The contrast between the high-flying Rebels in the blue sky above and the crashed and burning Imperial ship below really gives this cover a very nice color punch.
At the Imperial Flight Academy, we are introduced to two cadets, Rac Syrmo and Bansu Ro. Both are cocky, competitive, and at the top of their class. They are pulled from a training exercise to be informed that the Empire has decided to assign the entire Academy class early. Their first assignment is as replacements for pilots recently lost in the 204th Interceptor Squadron. . .Shadow Wing.
Shifting back to Shadow Wing aboard their base, the Imperial Star Destroyer Pursuer. The squadron is given some shocking news upon their return from their mission in the Kudo system. . .their deceased comrade, Zin Graw, has been discovered to have been transmitting information to the Rebellion as part of a sort of "Underground Railroad" for Imperial defectors.
Zin's lover, Ganem, doesn't believe it, but Commander Broosh realizes from her past behavior that it's the truth and blames himself. Fortunately for the Empire, Zin's betrayal has left behind information of use. . .the location of a mobile secret Rebel base used to rendezvous with defectors. Shadow Wing is tasked with providing fire support for Imperial bombers during a planned attack on the base.
En route to their new assignment Shadow Wing's replacement pilots arrive. The veterans of the squad are shocked to find that their unit is being assigned cadets. Commander Broosh does his best to try and get them up to speed before their first real mission, but the task seems overwhelming.
To be continued. . .
In a short backup story, we join Ganem on Coruscant shortly after his graduation from the Academy spending an afternoon with his Grandmother, a former fighter pilot for the Republic. They discuss the long and proud military tradition of their family. . .Ganem is the seventh generation of fighter pilots. . .and how even though things change over time, their family fights for the people, not the government.
Hmmmm. . .interesting. It seems a bit strange to be introducing new characters and new storylines in the fourth issue of a five-issue series. It's still very well written and backed up by some consistently good artwork, but there's something that feels a little bit off. Not to get ahead of myself, but looking at the oddly-abrupt ending in the next issue, I wonder if this was originally supposed to be an ongoing series. . .or maybe a six issue mini-series. I'll get into that a bit more down below.
In any case, this issue serves mainly to introduce new characters, Shadow Wing's new assignment, and some conflict within Shadow Wing itself as they are divided over the news of their fallen team member's betrayal of the Empire. There's not much action to be found in this issue, but between the good military writing and the artist's solid facial work, this dialogue-heavy issue still delivers.
The backup story in this one is probably the best of the series, with Ganem and his grandmother talking about how Republics and Empires rise and fall, but the average person remains the same. It's a really nice little macro view of the Star Wars "universe".
Overall, this one has a strange feel to it because it's introducing new characters, conflict, and storylines in the fourth issue of a five-issue series. That said, it's still some very solid military science fiction backed up with some very nice art , both of which show that there doesn't have to be a lot of action to tell a good war story.
AND FINALLY. . .
The Shadow Falls, Part 5
SCRIPT: Jody Houser
ART: Roge Antonio & Juan Gedeon (backup)
COVER: Tommy Lee Edwards
WOW! For the final issue, Tommy Lee Edwards pulls out all the stops for some explosive battle action! I like the giant Star Destroyer looming in the background a lot, but it's the brilliant colors with the smaller ships silhouetted against them that really sells this outstanding battle scene.
Continuing from last issue, we join Shadow Wing as they begin the attack on the mobile Rebel base used to rendezvous with Imperial defectors. Their new recruits struggle to keep up with Shadow Wing's veterans, and one of them (Rac Syrmo) is shaken when his inexperience leads to the destruction of one of the bombers they are supposed to be escorting.
During the battle, Ganem's connection with the deceased Zin Graw causes him to stray from the mission as he seeks personal revenge, but he is brought back from the brink of insubordination by the skilled leadership of Commander Broosh.
After the base is destroyed, Shadow Wing returns to their transport for debriefing, but their discussion of the events of the battle is cut short by a fleet-wide emergency announcement. . .the second Death Star has been destroyed by the Rebels and the Emperor is presumed dead!
Commander Broosh maintains his squad's composure while panic ensues around them. They are Imperial fighter pilots and THEIR command chain doesn't end with the Emperor. We end the story with Shadow Wing wondering what is next for them.
In a short backup story set a few days before Shadow Wing's attack on the Rebel base, Commander Broosh and Jeela Brebtin discuss how both of them have a bad reputation. His for surviving, hers for being cold and unapproachable. They bond over the shared fact that nobody likes either of them.
And so we come to the end of the comic book adventures of Shadow Wing. They're (sort of) continued in the "Alphabet Squadron" and "Shadow Fall" novels (the first two of a trilogy). But this review ain't about the novels, it's about these comics, so let's break it on down!
Truthfully, the ending of this series has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
It ends abruptly with the announcement of the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the Emperor when it seems like those are major events that need a little more exploration. . .not to mention the dangling story threads of one of the new recruits causing Imperial casualties through his overconfidence and lack of skill, as well as Ganem's growing instability over the death of his lover and the budding relationship between Commander Broosh and Jeela.
That's not to say this is a bad issue by any means. The story is well-written and engaging. The art remains consistently outstanding. This is still one fine piece of hard military science fiction. The problem here is that it feels incomplete and unsatisfying. There's too much meat left on the bone. Too many things left behind that aren't explored in the novels (which focus on other units of the 204th). The ending of this story is abrupt and not in keeping with the rest of the series.
In considering the ending of this series, I wonder if it actually IS complete. It feels to me like there should be one more issue. Five issues is sort of a strange number for a modern comic industry that tends to write for trade collections of six or twelve issues, as a general standard. I'm wondering if this series was supposed to be a six issue mini, or even an ongoing series.
It just seems strange that new characters, new relationships, new conflict, and new storylines are still being introduced in the fourth and even the last issue of a five-issue series. The strangely-abrupt ending (on an unresolved cliffhanger) just sort of taints my enjoyment of the series as a whole.
Overall, what we have here is a sort of strange and abrupt ending for the series that makes the whole thing feel incomplete. It's still a fine piece of hard military science fiction and very enjoyable to read, but introducing new conflicts and relationships in the final issue, and then ending on a cliffhanger, makes me wonder if there was supposed to be more to this.
I wondered when I started this review if a good Star Wars story could be told without flashing lightsabers and the powers of the force. The answer is yes. Of course, gritty military Star Wars comics HAVE been done before, with Dark Horse's "X-Wing: Rogue Squadron", but those stories focused on the Rebellion and gave us heroes to root for in their fight against the evil Empire.
Here, there are no heroes. There is no glory. This is a tale of military professionals relying on each other to get the job done. It's very well written, has interesting characters, and some really good art. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying. . .like the series is incomplete by at least one issue. . .but that doesn't take away from the fact that this just isn't a good Star Wars story, it's a good story period.
I'd go so far as to say that if you are NOT a fan of Star Wars, but enjoy military-style science fiction, then you'll probably enjoy this story as well. It does away with most of the standard Star Wars trappings and boils things down to a personal level that will be familiar to just about anyone who has ever served in the military. If you ARE a fan of Star Wars, then this is a great little story set in a familiar universe, but told in a little bit of a different way. Either way, I give Star Wars: Tie Fighter an official Longbox Junk gold seal of approval. Keep your eye out for it in the bargain bin and give it a try.
Up Next. . .
What happens when you mash up Zorro and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos?
Let's find out!
Zorro: Rise of The Old Gods 4 issue mini-series.
Be there or be square!