With various comic books I’ve been trying to keep up with, I wasn’t managing to keep up month-to-month with the Star Wars title: instead I waited to read a bunch of them in bulk.
And Star Wars #50 – 55 (or ‘Hope Dies’) is actually, I think, something better read all at once like that instead of in stages.
And, my God, what a damn good sequence of comic books this is.
This is one of the best runs of Star Wars comics I’ve read. The story, the theme, the poetic flourish underlying everything, the visual presentation: it’s all superb.
At the core of it is the way this book really gets us into the development of the Rebel Alliance at this crucial point in the timeline, as well as the treachery and uncertainty every step of the way.
In Star Wars #50, we find the entirety of the new Rebel fleet gathered in one location, with most of the alliance’s leadership also present to celebrate the development of this alliance and firepower to fight the empire. However, one key figure – Queen Trios of Shu-Torun – is a traitor, who has tipped off the imperials to the fleet’s location.
Vader showing up with his Star Destroyers – and the revelation that this whole thing has been a trap – is stunning, both in terms of storytelling and in terms of how it is visually and dynamically presented. We can really feel the Rebels’ desperation, as well as Vader’s cold, heartless satisfaction.
Visually, the way Vader is depicted in a lot of these scenes against a red background is really striking: and his calm sentiments as he watches rebel cruisers being destroyed (“hope dies”) is kind of chilling.
There are, as ever, good details here too: having Hera from the Rebels TV show as one of the key commanders, for example.
This is utterly top-draw stuff here: dramatic, tense, beautifully illustrated and coloured. Kieron Gillen’s writing is absolutely perfect and Salvador Larocca’s art is sublime: I mean, this really is perfection all the way.
We then, in Star Wars #51, go back a little to see Trios and Shu-Torun to see the events that led to her betrayal of the rebels. We learn that Vader in fact set this whole trap up from the beginning: going to Trios on Shu-Torun and coercing her into drawing the Rebels into the trap. Trios’s horror when Vader arrives is palpable: and Vader’s ‘gift’ to her of a fragment of Alderaan is pretty brutal – intended as a reminder of what would happen if she doesn’t cooperate.
We then cut back to the present, with Leia and others trying to stop Trios escaping. What I like about this is that Trios isn’t presented as an out-and-out villain: she’s doing what she has to to safeguard her planet. She is, in fact, like an alternate version of Leia: what Leia didn’t do to save Alderaan, Trios is doing to save Shu-Torun. That conversation between the two of them, where this is expressed, is really interesting.
Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon jumping out of lightspeed and right into the think of things, just as the Rebels’ hope is lost, might be an obvious rehash of A New Hope – but it’s damn fun anyway. And Vader getting into his Tie-Interceptor when he realises it’s the Falcon is one of those things you might question the logic of, but you can’t resist anyway, because it’s just so cool.
Clearly, Vader is still holding a grudge from the Death Star battle.
Threepio and Artoo also get worked into the action, which is great – as the droids sometimes get overlooked in these stories. And, among various easter eggs, we get to see the origins of ‘Rogue Squadron’ when Luke and Wedge lead a squad of X-Wings out into the fight and decide to name their call-sign after Jyn Erso.
As the action goes on, we get a bunch of novelty-value elements: like Han donning Rebel pilot gear and going out in an X-Wing (or Artoo being apparently unhappy about having Han in there instead of Luke) and Leia flying a Tie-Fighter.
These are fun elements. The entire battle, which spans three or four books, is stunning to watch unfold from panel to panel: sublimely drawn and coloured, really rich in tone and detail.
This really, really feels like Star Wars. And watching all these beloved characters – Leia, Han, Luke, Ackbar, Mothma, Vader – all trying to navigate this crisis is compulsive reading.
On the other hand, I question the likelihood of Leia and her squad being able to get aboard the Executor to steal the codes: as well as the likelihood that Leia could simply impersonate Queen Trios (because, apparently, Stormtroopers don’t know the difference between one royal and another). I mean, ok, I guess it could work: but it feels a little like a convenient plot device.
That said, that was the only thing I had a little trouble with. Everything else here – from the sprawling, epic battle in space, to Leia’s mission on the Executor, to Vader’s pursuit of the Millenium Falcon – is all great and so much fun.
Vader’s cutting through the door and slaughtering Admiral Draven’s squad as Leia just about escapes on her stolen Tie-Fighter is an unashamed re-run of the Vader scene at the end of Rogue One: but I’m not sure how else this sequence could’ve really been written.
The end game is that some 90% of the Rebel fleet and its leadership is wiped out in Vader’s attack: the survivors who manage to escape make it their plan to disperse across the galaxy. The last of these to escape consists of Leia, Luke and Han (and Artoo and Threepio, of course), who wind up separated from Chewie and the Falcon and with no idea where they are or how to reach them.
The late scene of Leia, Luke and co hiding out on some random world, while a hologram of Mon Mothma explains to them the state of affairs – and the Rebellion’s need to be dispersed in different locations until the time is right – feels like the perfect epilogue to this story.
This entire story (‘Hope Dies’) essentially bridges the space between A New Hope and Rogue One on one hand and between those and the Empire Strikes Back on the other. We now have such a vivid, strong sense of what was going in that period of time – and ‘Hope Dies’ is absolutely essential reading for all Star Wars fans.