01/02/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Titan Books/Dark Horse. 464 page graphic novel. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84576-472-2.
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
Graphic novels set in the 'Star Wars' universe can be very accessible because the characters and their motives have been so thoroughly fleshed out in the movies. The writer doesn't need to spend much time explaining the motives of people like Darth Vader or Princess Leia because they're so well known. By the same token, readers will be perfectly familiar with all the key locations, spaceships and battles. But not all 'Star Wars' stories take place in the few dozen years between 'The Phantom Menace' and 'Return of the Jedi'. The books set in the so-called 'Expanded Universe' contain stories set across thousands of years of 'Star Wars' history and the 'Tales Of The Jedi' stories in particular are set about four-thousand years before the events we see in the films.
Because they take place in an alien and unfamiliar environment, the authors need to create characters and crises that hold the attention of the reader while providing them with enough information to understand what's going on. In this regard the 'Tales Of The Jedi, Volume 2' is a bit of a mixed bag, containing some stories that stand up perfectly well as exciting works of fiction, but others that seem to be a jumbled mess of explosions and aliens with unpronounceable names.
This 464 page omnibus edition contains four stories, 'The Freedon Nadd Uprising', 'Dark Lords of the Sith', 'The Sith War' and 'Redemption', first published between 1994 and 1998. Writing honours are split between Tom Veitch and Kevin J Anderson, sometimes writing alone, but in the case of the 'Dark Lords Of The Sith', writing together. Each story is self-contained, but taken together outline some of the skirmishes between the Jedi and their Sith opponents. None of them really has much of a 'Star Wars' feel in the sense that none of the locations or spaceships resemble those in the movies and only a few alien species (apart from the humans, of course) look much like the ones we've seen in the films. The exception to this is the final book, 'Redemption' that features the Twi'lek race to quite a major degree. It's also the only book that contains buildings and ships that have a genuinely 'Star Wars' look and feel to them, in particular thanks to key scenes being set on the fourth moon of Yavin, the world that would later home the secret Rebel base featured in 'Star Wars'.
On the whole, 'Star Wars' stories don't have much variation: they're generally fairly juvenile in terms of plot and character development and work more by keeping up a brisk pace in lightsabre battles and exploding spaceships than anything more subtle. For the most part these stories are no exception. The opening story, 'The Freedon Nadd Uprising', is a case in point, starting off with giant killer robots and explosions, and ending with a lightsabre battle. It's a lightweight, formulaic story that doesn't really challenge the reader to do anything more than keep turning the pages.
'Redemption' is a much richer tale, featuring a Jedi protagonist named Ulic Qel-Droma who turns to the Dark Side but then repents, spending the next few years in exile. Eventually, he is able to redeem himself and returns to the Force. If this story sounds familiar, that is probably not unintentional and in other 'Star Wars' works Ulic has been portrayed as something of a prototype or warning for both Anakin Skywalker and his son, Luke. So while this isn't Proust, 'Redemption' works at multiple levels, including as a historical echo of the more familiar 'Star Wars' universe we've seen on the big screen.
The quality of the artwork is very variable. The first two stories exhibit a rather dated style that doesn't really have much of 'Star Wars' feel. Take away the lightsabres and they could pretty much any Science Fiction comic book from around about the late 70s onwards. The next story, 'The Sith War' is quite a bit better, but it's the last tale in the book, 'Redemption', that contains by far the best and most modern artwork.
In terms of value, these 'Omnibus' volumes are hard to be beat, with almost five hundred pages of storytelling. It's a shame that the quality of the stories and the artwork is so variable, but hardcore 'Star Wars' probably won't mind all that much. For them, this is a great book to take on long journeys. More casual fans of the films will certainly enjoy 'Redemption' but will likely find the other books rather less rewarding.
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