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A graphic novel by Welles Hartley, Paul Alden, and Jeremy Barlow (2004, Dark Horse Comics)
Empire comics #13-14 and 16-19
Set immediately after Star Wars: A New Hope

An Imperial stormtrooper and officer rise above their basic skills in combat, Vader makes an emergency landing, and is the target for assassination.



Read on September 16th, 2016  
    These stories are interesting in that they show how the Empire inspired loyalty in terms of the rule-followers. Even though there are hints that the Empire is evil, the people in charge of the military units try their best to do the right thing, from their point of view. That means people who break the law, rise up against the Empire, are wrong -the thought is that they should seek justice using diplomatic means. But these same commanders are able to ignore the fact that diplomatic means are not available, and that the Empire is taking their resources without recompense or just methods. In the end, the Imperials win, but at an enormous cost, and I'm not sure the commander is disillusioned.  



Read on March 13th, 2006  
    I find it interesting that out of the four stories in this book, the two that I enjoyed dealt with characters that I have never known, and will likely never see again. The two Darth Vader stories were completely superfluous. The artwork, however, was thoroughly enjoyable all the way through, which is something that I do not often find.

What Sin Loyalty? tells the story of a stormtrooper, TK-622, who has become a personal bodyguard and friend of an Imperial officer. He protects Commander Akobi on Raltiir, where the Rebel Alliance is strong and sabotages Imperial efforts, after which they are transferred to the Death Star. Akobi is from Raltiir, and he begins to wonder if there isn't something wrong with the Empire. I like the way both of these characters start to think about what they are doing, wondering if the insurgents are right, after all, rather than just obeying orders. In the end, it doesn't matter, because Akobi is killed by a haywire probe droid, and TK-622 dies when the Death Star explodes. Of all the stories in this volume, I liked the artwork here best. It was dark and gritty, with lots of detail and shadows everywhere. I would have preferred, however, fewer narrative "personal reflections".

The second story, The Savage Heart, is very, very odd, and barely worth reading. Apparently Darth Vader, after regaining control of his TIE fighter when the Death Star was destroyed, makes an emergency crash landing on a remote Imperial outpost, manned by three people. Vader confronts a pack of wild and savage animals, who award him with respect and leadership of the pack when he kills the lead animal. In return, he becomes savage for a moment, helping them to kill some very large prey, and then lets them feed on the inept and incompetent Imperials stationed at the outpost. He takes the shuttle sitting on the launch pad back to Imperial space. I had to laugh out loud to see Vader sitting in front of a campfire. The artwork was much, much simpler than usual in this story, but it still had a gritty feel, as there were no absolute colors: everything had some sort of texture.

My favorite story in this volume was the longest, To the Last Man. I find that reading many of these short "tales" is wearying, and I much prefer to see a long story like Darklighter, over a collection of shorter stories. However, this one was three times the length of the single stories, which allowed it to have much more depth and a more lasting impression. Although there is a plot to the story, it is the characters who drive it. The interaction between Lieutenant Sunber and Captain Gage shows a typical hierarchal competition, with the one on top being condescending toward the one below. Gage never learns his lesson, but it is Sunber who will advance through the ranks by impressing his superiors. He sees the warning signs early, he commands the respect of his troops by joining in their labors (although we don't see any reactions from the stormtroopers to see that they appreciate this), and he can come up with strategy on the spot. His general sees his leadership qualities when they come across a destroyed garrison in the cliffs and grasslands of Maridun, home of the Amanin (one of whom can be seen in Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi). While Gage and the other officers play politics and then panic when faced by an overwhelming enemy force, Sunber actually saves some of his men. The Amanin are impressed by the fighting and survival of the Imperials by the end, and negotiate a deal. The twist to this story is that the General dies, so Sunber's field promotions to Commander go unrecorded, and Gage will do nothing to help him, either. So back to Lieutenant! The artwork was much more standard in this story, but it gave very good descriptions of everything, without any stylistic weirdness. It was easy to see what was going on, and the characters were recognizable. I also really liked the way the Amanin traveled, curling themselves into rings and rolling across the grasslands.

Target: Vader is mostly forgettable except for the artwork. When Vader comes to an information smuggler, who appears to be Bothan, a group of Falleen decide to take revenge on him for what he did to their planet years ago, the same revenge that Xizor tried to take out on him in Shadows of the Empire. Of course, they fail, and are all killed. The cool parts of this story stem from Vader's line that all he can do is run from his past when confronted by it. Apparently the Falleen massacre brings up bad memories, as does the young girl he is offered as comfort, who comes from Naboo, and looks somewhat like a certain other native of that planet. Aside from looking at her massive cleavage on a small body, how did anybody expect that Vader would react to being offered any woman? Apparently they think that he can take the armor off. The artwork in this story was very well done, with lots of shadows and highlights. There are really only close-up drawings of characters here, so the backgrounds are very neutral.

A collection of four stories, the ones about the Imperials rising beyond their "programming" are the ones that inspired me most. Out-thinking the enemy, and questioning their places in the giant machine of the Empire, when they do good stuff with the answers and solutions, is something that I really enjoy reading about. Put that together with great art in all of the stories, and I can almost forget about the Vader stories.


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