The Kessel Read is a semi-regular column that looks at a selection of current Star Wars comics.
This week, Marvel answers two of the biggest questions lingering in the minds of fans after their 39th viewing of The Force Awakens: why did C3PO have a distractingly red arm, and what sort of mischief did Poe Dameron get into before flying his x-wing into the hearts of millions? Plus, Darth Vader reminds everyone why he always leads the tango.
Though somewhat misleadingly titled as a #1 issue, this standalone story is a one-shot aimed at explaining a little more of the famous droid’s exploits before TFA. As his constant counterpart R2-D2 is still locked down in low-power mode, C-3PO is forced to adventure with a new set of droid comrades. The comic opens with the crash of an escape pod (C-3PO has terrible luck with those) and the surviving droids setting out across a hostile planet. In tow is their hostage, OMRI, another droid with important information on where the First Order is holding Admiral Ackbar.
The droids proceed in what must be the slowest walk across the strange surface, encountering some fairly creepy spiders, gigantic wasps, and acid rain. Without spoiling too much, not everyone can keep up, and the droids begin to question their chances of survival, and of saving Ackbar. While the action is somewhat predictable, the real meat of the comic comes from the conversations between OMRI and C-3PO. Being protocol droids, they are more aware of the larger scale of the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance. OMRI wastes no time pointing out that, as droids, their memories are often wiped, and for all they know they could have all served the First Order, or the Empire, before this adventure. It’s an interesting look at beings who can only show morality when it’s programmed into them.
Even more interesting, C-3PO remarks to OMRI that he may not remember entirely everything he has done, but that he does see ‘flashes’ occasionally, some of which are fairly recognizable to Star Wars fans. His response is to simply push those memories away in service of his master, while OMRI constantly probes at them, seeking more of an understanding of his purpose. Dispersed with the gorgeously-colored action sequences, the two droids delve farther into what it means to be at odds, and to exist. When the story reaches its inevitable conclusion (and the mysterious crimson limb is revealed) a lot of depth has been added to the golden droid, making that missing limb much more than a simple plot hook.
Poe Dameron #1
It’s fairly well known by now that Poe was written out of the script near the beginning of The Force Awakens, only to be later added back in at the request of portraying actor Oscar Isaac. Now just as beloved as Rey and Fin, Poe stars in his own monthly comic, detailing his adventures with the First Order leading up to that titular landing on Jakku.
The first issue wastes no time reminding readers why Poe is considered the best pilot in the galaxy, tossing him into a winding cavern filled with explosive traps and the requisite ‘slowly closing blast doors’. Obviously, Poe makes it through, and encounters a group of hermits worshipping a device they believe will one day save the universe. Things devolve from there, and the story leaves off at a cliffhanger signaling that events are only getting worse for our heroes.
For a #1, this comic does exactly what it set out to do: establish the characters, set up a history, and move the story forward a tiny bit. Unfortunately, it all feels rather short, and even the addition of a cute, Bill Watterson style BB-8 adventure leaves the issue feeling like it belongs more at a Free Comic Book Day event, and not a $4.99 price tag. Hopefully, the pace will pick up now that the formalities are out of the way, and shuffle Poe to the top of the pack.
Darth Vader #19
Hands down, Darth Vader continues to be the best of the Star Wars offerings from Marvel. The latest issue ties up Vader’s involvement with the subterranean war on Shu-Torun, aided by his delightfully homicidal droids. The opening speech, delivered by the bloodthirsty Triple Zero, is as close to Futurama’s Bender as a Star Wars droid can get. There’s no pause in the action though, as the fight between Vader and the Twins, Morit and Aolin, reaches a conclusion that proves once again, fighting over lava is just not a great idea in the Star Wars universe. The culmination of their attempt on Vader’s life is interesting, however, and puts the Sith in a slightly ironic position.
Tying the arc together neatly, Queen Trios gets the chance to shine, fully transforming from a quieter diplomat to the sort of ruthless leader Vader can appreciate. In fact, her final exchange with Vader is some of the most well-written dialogue in the entire series, and one line in particular about ‘youths experiencing power’ is pitch perfect. With stellar art backing up the writing, this is a fitting end to the storyline, and easily sets up the next arc with a solid, shocking, and somewhat inevitable reveal. Darth Vader, both the comic and the character, show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.