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A graphic novel by John Ostrander, Haden Blackman, and Jan Duursema (2004, Dark Horse Comics)
Republic comics #55-59
21 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Anakin and other Padawans fight a losing retreat on a Separatist controlled world.



4 stars

Read on August 14th, 2004  
    Probably the best clone wars stories so far. They get the grittiness and despair of war, but also the relationships that develop. This is a very dark set of stories.

In Blood and Rain, we get our first glimpse at the new war machines of the Republic. The Separatists are using the same old droid armies, but they do not appear in this story. The Republic has new AT-AT walkers! The first generation certainly seems to have some flaws -several are destroyed very easily by the rebels. The artwork was awesome on the rain-covered Jabiim. Everything was dark and dismal, and the characters were drawn with just enough detail. The Padawan Aubrie was really cute, and the clone trooper Alpha stood out well against the backgrounds. The leader of the opposition, Alto Stratus, was particularly well drawn. He took over the Jabiimi government in a coup, allowing the Separatists to take control. Battle after battle goes poorly for the Jedi, who seem to be losing their concentration. One Jedi is stabbed in the back, while she is concentrating on another task. Others don't seem able to detect attacks coming at them. Anakin gets some good lines in this story, talking about preserving as much life as they can, and wondering why the Jedi aren't hailed as heroes. Obi-Wan wisely suggests that it is because there are many worlds where the Jedi have not visited in a single person's lifetime, and even when they do, they are only seen by a few. The Jedi are legends, and when they appear in the Clone Wars, they are usually the wielders of death. The conclusion of the story is a cliff-hanger, leaving us to wonder how Obi-Wan escaped the exploding AT-AT where he was rescuing clone troopers. We know he hasn't died, though everybody else believes it.

Thunder and Lightening takes us a little deeper into Anakin's growing darkness, and despair, mostly from the outside perspective. I love the fact that so many other characters get the spotlight in this story. Anakin is placed in a group of Padawans who have lost their masters, and he is the only one to survive! In fact, he is the only Jedi to survive the battle of Jabiim. I still think the Jedi are dying way too easily. In this story, for example, one Padawan is killed as he is going after the resistance leader, because Stratus pulls a gun on him at the last second. The same guy pulls a sword on another Padawan who comes to finish the job, again at the last second. This trick is overused in movies and TV, and I was disappointed to see it here, especially against Jedi, who should be able to see that kind of thing coming.

Anakin and the others hatch plan after plan to get try and get the convoy of supplies to their main base, which will be evacuated. The characters are all well developed, including one between Jedi lovers. I wonder how Anakin felt, if he sensed their open love. All of the female Jedi were drawn really, really cute! There is a shootout in a minefield where the Jedi get to show off some of their skills, getting more of them killed. The resistance has repulsor boots, which allow some of them to get away, including their leader.

The Separatists manage to land an armada during a short break in the rain (which was still depicted as a drizzle!), which prompts the Republic army to retreat. The Padawans hold off the army for a short while, managing to kill Stratus in the process. In a cool (or cruel?) twist of fate, Anakin gets a message from the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to lead the retreating troops off-planet. Palpatine obviously knows, through his ties with Dooku, that the separatists will kill everybody. He also has a special interest in Anakin, and wants him to leave. I wonder if he ordered the retreating gunship to be left alone...

We get special new droids, adapted to hunt Jedi and for warfare on muddy Jabiim. The kill some of the Jedi, but Anakin has no trouble defending against them. In the most poignant moment of the battle of Jabiim, Anakin has to make his first real command decision, judging the lives of the Jabiimi resistance against the war as a whole. He decides to leave the resistance fighters to fend for themselves, even to the point that he nearly Force-chokes one of them who threatens him. As the man said, Anakin just proved that Stratus was right about the Republic, that they come to further their own needs, then leave the locals to deal with the consequences. Still, he avoids unnecessary killing afterwards.

At the hospital in Republic controlled space, Anakin tries to help somebody by Force-pumping the heart, but causes more pain than anything else, and the person still dies. Anakin can only feel pain and loneliness, and nothing he does seems to be able to soothe him. In a cool tribute, the surviving Jedi release glowing insects into an eternal pillar that holds the names of the deceased Jedi. The pillar, of course, is glowing brighter every day. One of the names in the pillar is Oss Willum, from the Knights of the Old Republic series. I liked the ethereal way the pillar was drawn.

The third story in this book is called The Storm After the Storm, and deals with Anakin's losses, from Attack of the Clones to the Battle of Jabiim. The Republic is dealt another loss on yet another planet, and the army is pinned down by Separatist forces. Anakin and A'sharad Hett, the Tuskin Padawan found way back in Outlander, are separated from the rest of the army, and lose yet another Padawan to an ambush. The artwork was not quite as good as in the previous two stories, but was still pretty impressive. The artists were able to capture Anakin's turmoil as he confronted yet another apparently unsympathetic Tuskin, like the ones who captured and killed his mother. As they journey together back to the base, Hett learns of Anakin's killing spree, and removes his helmet to reveal that he is a human just like Anakin, not a true Tuskin, after all. Yet Anakin reveals to himself, at least, that he would do the same thing if confronted by the same situation again, even after all he has learned. Hett is a good counterpoint to Anakin, especially considering their common roots. His lectures are very Jedi-like, counselling patience and the honor of local customs, even when they are opposite to our own.

After watching a creature devour a Sarlacc, they lure it to the battle with the Separatists, which somehow ends abruptly. I didn't get the sense that the battle was even close to ending, but a small textbox tells us that they just had to mop up after their victory. We also get a taste of what's to come... Obi-Wan is revealed as a prisoner of Asajj Ventress, to be tortured or broken, two books from now!

In total, this set of stories was, I think, the best so far. Although it was dark, there was a lot of character development, and I loved the supporting cast. The artwork was great, showing lots of action and well-cast expressions. I am really enjoying this series, and wonder where they plan to build up to in the end.


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