Sunday, 25 October 2015

Duel a Dark Lord!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part six)

This picture of Darth Vader and Luke fighting appears several times. Not only on the cover of The Empire Strikes Back Weekly #134, here it is again as the cover of Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago.... Volume Two.

... and again inside as the reprinted cover of the American Star Wars #44.

You can see why this picture would be used so much as it anticipates the fight we have been waiting for between the baddy and the hero. The entire plot of The Empire Strikes Back has been moving relentlessly towards this event, and this picture iconifies their struggle as one between evil and good by isolating them from the setting and placing them in an explosion of lines and lines and lines.

We can contrast that first picture with this one that accompanies the story so far. As the fight has not begun yet, it is also acting as a trailer for that scene, but here the background is more defined and we may recognise it as the carbon freezing room we saw in Betrayal at Bespin! The picture foreshadows, but the text gives nothing away - we have to read on to find out what happens.

With all the excitement about the upcoming laser blade fight, it could be easy to forget that there was a cliffhanger ending last time, which is resolved by Lando revealing that Han Solo is alive and has decided to have sleeps inside a box.

When Darth Vader decides to leave some of his mannys to guard Princess Leia and Chewbacca, Lando briefly stands up to him.
That wasn't our bargain! You said the Empire wouldn't interfere in--
I'm altering the bargain. Pray I don't alter it any further.

Darth Vader also uses the Force on Lando, but only for a moment. Perhaps it is this that finally pushes Lando over the edge into rebelling against Darth Vader, because while he goes off to fight Luke, the next we see of Lando...

...his mannys spring a trap on Darth Vader's mannys, capturing them and rescuing Chewbacca, Princess Leia and C3PO. They are too slow to rescue Han from the box, which Boba Fett has taken away in his spaceship, but more importantly Lando has teamed up with the goodys. There has been a second "duel" with "a dark lord" in this issue; Lando's duel of wits with Darth Vader.

The laser blade fight between Luke and Darth Vader is heavy with shadows, echoing the dark situation that Luke is in as he is losing.

Darth Vader cuts off Luke's paw.

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read the next bit if you don't already know that Darth Vader is Luke's father.

What a twist. Probably the most famous twist in any film ever made evar, and the same twist happens in the comic version. The precise wording of the dialogue is very slightly different:
Ben told me enough. He told me you killed my father!
No, Luke, I am your father.

As a cat made from socks, it is very difficult for me to empathise with Luke upon hearing this revelation. It think it would be roughly equivalent to Hoover telling me that it was really the Maker of Cats that made me.

Luke is surprised, and Darth Vader is hoping to capture him while he is surprised, but Luke still has the cleverness to foil Darth Vader's plan by jumping off while shouting

Luke falls out the bottom of Bespin and is heroically caught by Lando in the Millennium Falcon. They are chased by baddy spaceships, which appears to have been Darth Vader's backup plan.

The chase lasts until R2D2 turns the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive button back on and they escape from Darth Vader again.

The story is then wrapped up quickly in the last three panels, which shows Lando is now part of their team and is going to look for Han with Chewbacca. How much time they will actually spend looking for Han between now and Return of the Jedi is another matter, and may be somewhat similar to the amount of time Avon spent looking for Blake in season 3 of Blakes 7.

Next time I will begin looking at Star Wars comics that don't have film versions to compare them to, not many of which will come close to being as good as The Empire Strikes Back.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Betrayal at Bespin!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part five)

Look it's Lando! He clearly can't wait to be in the story as this is the "story so far" page where the text recaps the story so far but the picture shows us Lando and his friends* even though they have not been in it yet.

* One of whom is Sondergaard from Doctor Who.

Lando's first proper appearance within the story comes at the bottom of the second page after Han Solo has spent the first page giving us some of Lando's backstory.

Han waves hello to Lando but Lando is unfriendly at first, then in the next panel he reveals that he was just trolling Han and is friendly really. Given what follows, this is a clever subtle hint that Lando is a goody really.

All is not as well as it seems in Betrayal at Bespin! as we see when C3PO is lasered.

Lando has been forced to work for Darth Vader and to betray C3PO, Han, Chewbacca and Princess Leia. Han tries to shoot Darth Vader but it turns out Darth Vader is immune to pewpewpew guns and so they are captured.

Luke knows they have been captured because of the Force and he decides to go and rescue them, even though Yoda and Ben Kenobi try to persuade him not to.

Darth Vader has lied to Lando and so he begins to plot with Sondergaard how they can turn the tables on the baddys. But for now things look grim for our heroes.

As if reflecting the fact that we are now at the darkest part of the story the very artwork seems to get darker and moodier, with an increased use of shadows as backgrounds and in the faces of the characters.

Han suspects that Lando is really a baddy and they fight, but we know that Lando is just too scared to help Han against the real baddys because he is not brave like Scary Cat who, if he had been there, would have helped Han by going "RAR!" to Darth Vader and Darth Vader would have run away.

Darth Vader decides to put Han into "carbon freezing" and Lando looks very scared, a great use of a picture inset within the larger picture to give us a close-up of Lando's face.

It is as though Lando has only just realised for the first time just how much of a baddy Darth Vader is and how much SERIOUS BUSINESS the situation has become.

Han, Princess Leia and Chewbacca remain defiant in the face of Han being frozen and maybe even killed by carbon freezing. This is one of the best scenes in the film version of The Empire Strikes Back and that means it is one of the best scenes in any film evar, but here it is subtly different.

Princess Leia admits she loves Han, but Han doesn't say "I know" in response. Instead he says
I'll be back.

And he's right, Han will be back in Return of the Jedi. But this is the last we will see of him in the Star Wars comics, except for flashbacks and other stories-within-stories, until then. This is a brilliant move - there is now a Han-shaped hole in the comics, and Lando has to be the one to try and fill that hole.

C3PO wonders if Han has survived, and then we get an insight into Lando's thoughts:
And no one at the scene knows better what a big "if" that is than Lando Calrissian...
... who winces in sorrow at how far the price of success has taken him.

At the same time he is again shrouded in shadows and darkness.

The last panel of Betrayal at Bespin! shows Luke arriving to try and rescue his friends, offering some hope to the reader after the preceding few pages. But The Empire Strikes Back still has twists (and one very, very famous twist in particular) left in store for its final chapter...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

To be a Jedi!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part four)

The story so far on the first page segues into hinting at what is yet to happen.
Now, strange new dangers loom... both for him and his friends.

Luke meets Yoda, who offers to help him look for Yoda. Meanwhile C3PO, Han, Chewbacca and Princess Leia are hiding from Darth Vader inside the Space Glove Puppet.

Princess Leia and Han decide to have kiffs instead of doing work to repair the Millennium Falcon, which is very catlike of them.

In space we get our first glimpse of the Evil Emperor, who is for now just a shadowy figure talking to Darth Vader. We see Darth Vader come up with his plan,
He will join us, my master--
-- or die!
but we all know how badly that turns out for him.

Luke learns who Yoda is when Ben Kenobi talks to him through the Force.

Alec Guinness only has a couple of lines of dialogue here as Ben Kenobi. He is very underused in the part in The Empire Strikes Back.

Alec Guinness loved being in Star Wars, so he was understandably disappointed when he got the script for The Empire Strikes Back and saw how little Ben Kenobi had to do in it. He asked George Lucas if there were any other parts he could play, and even showed him the film Kind Hearts and Coronets on video to prove he could play several different roles within the same film.

Sadly for Alec Guinness, George Lucas had already cast all of the other parts, but Alec Guinness remained hopeful and still turned up for every day of the filming just in case they were able to use him, even if it was just for something simple like a voiceover saying "Use the Force, Luke."

Then one day it turned out that the actor who was supposed to play the Space Glove Puppet as it tries to eat the model of the Millennium Falcon couldn't make it, so Alec Guinness stepped in and saved the day (well, the day's filming) by playing the Space Glove Puppet in its only scene.

Having done this, Alec Guinness asked George Lucas if the Space Glove Puppet could appear again later in the film, perhaps - he suggested - at the end it could attack Darth Vader's spaceship and so provide a distraction for the Millennium Falcon to escape? George Lucas said no.

Three years later when George Lucas asked Alec Guinness back to play Ben Kenobi in Return of the Jedi, Alec Guinness asked if he could also play the Space Glove Puppet again. In the intervening time, he had worked on an elaborate backstory and motivation for the Space Glove Puppet, which he now regarded as being as much 'his character' as Ben Kenobi.

Sadly for Alec Guinness, the backstory he had devised contradicted the backstory George Lucas had already written for the Space Glove Puppet. Following this, George Lucas was firm that there would be no additional opportunities for Alec Guinness to play Ben Kenobi, the Space Glove Puppet or, indeed, any other character in any more Star Wars films.

They parted on bad terms and Alec Guinness remained bitter about Star Wars for many years afterwards.

Han Solo works out that they are inside a Space Glove Puppet and the Millennium Falcon escapes from its mouth in the nick of time, a very exciting sequence and crucial to the plot because it means that they have to go back into space to be chased by Darth Vader's spaceships again.

Luke has a training montage with Yoda.

Darth Vader brings in bounty hunters to help him. Curiously, Darth Vader's dialogue suggests that they are all working together, while the film gave me the impression that the bounty hunters worked individually:
You and your band are highly regarded in your particular trade, Boba Fett... do not disappoint me.

There's something familiar about some of that space rubbish...

The BBC SFX mannys must have been flattered that George Lucas wanted to use the Andromedan fleet from Star One. Right up until they saw what he wanted it for.

Han decides to go and visit
Lando Calrissian. Gambler, con-artist, all-around scoundrel... your kind of guy, princess.

And ours. Purr.

Hooray! Lando is the best character in Star Wars and we will finally meet him in the next chapter.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Look Around You

... and you will see noms!

Mouses are for pounces!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Imperial Pursuit!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part three)

Again there is a the story so far on the first page of the new chapter. The picture shows the Millennium Falcon in space, which is hinting at something that hasn't happened yet, like the title sequence of Mission: Impossible.

Luke is still trying to escape from the cliffhanger situation he was left in last time. Because the AT-AT is so slow he has to wait ages so that he can escape at the last possible second.

A minimal amount of suspense is created by only telling us what one of the two objects that Luke takes with him is. Luke could use the harpoon gun to bring down the AT-AT in the same way it was used to do so back in Battleground Hoth!, but to keep things interesting he instead decides to use it to climb up on the AT-AT.

The second object is revealed to be "a concussion charge" and it blows the AT-AT up by way of a chain reaction caused by Luke putting the charge in the exhaust port. Instead of having to use the Force, Luke uses his "laser blade" (three objects... I'll come in again).

C3PO, Han, Chewbacca and Princess Leia escape into space on the Millennium Falcon, just before Darth Vader arrives. He says
I want that ship!
and it reminds us cats of the way that Servalan wants the Liberator in Blakes 7.

The Millennium Falcon is chased by the baddys but Han tricks them into crashing into each other. If only Tarrant had had the budget to do that!

With more baddys chasing them they try to escape by flying into an "asteroid field." C3PO says "the probability of successfully navigating such an obstacle is approximately 2,467 to 1!"
Sadly, Han does not reply (as he does in the film) with
"Never tell me the odds."
and he instead says
Hang on, sweetheart... We're gonna' do some flyin'!
which is much less cool. But C3PO tells him different odds in the film anyway.

The scene changes to Darth Vader's spaceship, where Admiral OzzelPiett visits Darth Vader in his room and "half-glimpses" Darth Vader without his trademark helmet on.

This is one of the most atmospheric and intriguing panels in the comic, with the indistinct figure sillo silhou sillhouhoe in shadow adding to the mystery and menace of Darth Vader. We, like Piett, only "half-glimpse" him.

Concealing the faces of baddys who normally wear masks or helmets even when they don't have their masks or helmets on is a staple of Marvel comics, and has also been used for Doctor Doom, Destro, and probably some other characters whose names don't begin with "D".

The Millennium Falcon flies into the giant cave where the Space Glove Puppet lives, although they won't find out about it until the next chapter.

I am convinced that if you look really closely then you can just make out the Space Glove Puppet in that panel, hidden in the darkness.

Luke and R2D2 arrive on Dagobah to look for Yoda. It is not really a cliffhanger, as we can see Yoda waiting for them.

I don't think we're supposed to know it's Yoda yet, but I do.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Battleground Hoth!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part two)

The story so far is given for us on the first page.

After C3PO and R2D2 have trapped the "ice creatures" in a room and put a warning notice on the door, the scene changes to Luke who has been playing the Phantom of the Opera in Hoth's West End.

Luke and Princess Leia are about to kiff when C3PO and R2D2 interrupt them. Princess Leia decides to recruit some of the "ice creatures" to the rebellion.

After Han and Chewbacca also come in to visit Luke in his dressing room, Princess Leia kiffs Luke and says
I guess neither of you understands everything about women...
Do you?!

I think this is supposed to be a comedic punchline to this scene, but I guess I don't understand everything about mannys...
Do I?!

The scene changes to space, where Darth Vader's spaceships have arrived. Admiral Ozzel is keen to get on with the main plot.

My suspicions from part one are confirmed as Darth Vader kills Admiral Ozzel and it is the manny who looks like Kenneth Colley that goes

The rebels start to escape from Hoth and it becomes a battleground of goodys vs baddys. The next few pages are summed up by the British Empire Strikes Back comic in a black & white recap called Walk on the Wild Side !:

Walk on the Wild Side ! is apparently chapter VI, continuing the grand old tradition of confusing Star Wars numberings.

The character of Dack is introduced, only to be killed off 5 pages later. The baddys are winning when Luke comes up with a clever plan to use "the Force" "harpoons and tow cables" to trip up the legs of the AT-ATs.

It's super effective.

As we reach the end of part two we need a cliffhanger, so Luke gets shot down and General Veers decides to step on him. It's not the best cliffhanger ending, but poor General Veers has to work with what material he has been given.

There is some confusion as to what the next part will be called. The black & white comic wants to call it Death of a Dream!

While the colour version of that same page opts for Imperial Pursuit!