Omnibus: At War with the Empire: Volume 1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release date: March 9, 2011
Designed to gather novel-sized stories and material never before collected, the Star Wars Omnibus Collections are perfect for any fan looking to find a long, cohesive story. With an average of 400 pages in each release, Dark Horse has provided an economical way for readers to experience stories from all the different Star Wars eras.
Omnibus: At War with the Empire Volume 1 takes place before, during and slightly after the events of A New Hope, and collects roughly the first half of the Star Wars: Empire comic series. These stories focus on the classic struggle between the Rebellion and the Empire in its early days, with a decidedly Imperial perspective at times.
This collection opens with Betrayal, a story that is rather unique in that it is entirely devoted to the Imperials. It is also a very different story than the kind usually told through the comic book medium, forgoing the usual swashbuckling adventures and action sequences, instead centering on an Imperial conspiracy to overthrow Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. As is the case with storylines that revolve around conspiracies, Betrayal is a story of shifting alliances and boils down to a very intricate political game of cat and mouse. The story can get complicated, especially since the narrative does not hold the hand of its readers. It requires close attention to be paid, but the payoff is well worth the concentration. There is a bit of a subplot with Darth Vader hunting a lone Jedi, complete with a surprise film character cameo and a twist ending, but the bulk of Betrayal is telling the story of an Imperial… betrayal.
Emperor Palpatine is written extremely well in this story, and is every bit the calculating and thorough character that the Expanded Universe has often portrayed him as. Darth Vader, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag in terms of characterization. When he appears in public, he is the menacing character who captured the imagination of countless fans in the opening moments of A New Hope. He is a brilliant tactician, and he shows no mercy. But when he is in private audience with Palpatine, his character devolves to a whiny character that is unsure of his abilities. Taking place just weeks before A New Hope, I didn’t think this aspect of characterization was appropriate. Thankfully, the story balances this with flashbacks of Vader’s life as Anakin Skywalker, and these flashbacks are poignant and masterfully written. This is a story that attempts to reconcile Anakin’s prequel character from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones with the Darth Vader of A New Hope, and while it is far from perfect, it does show that the writers are eager to explore this relatively new aspect of his character. There is also an attempt to showcase stormtroopers as clones, and while the portrayal makes them out to be more like robotic drones than as individuals, it works for the purposes of the story.
In terms of artwork, Betrayal is stunning. It is truly a beautiful story to experience, and it makes the space sequences and the assassination attempts much more visceral. The original characters also look really great too, which helps when one realizes that they don’t have much in terms of characterization. Grand Moff Trachta and Gauer can completely command the attention of a reader just by appearing in a single panel, which makes up for the fact that the story focuses more on their plan to overthrow Imperial rule and the complex backstabbing than any deep reasoning for becoming involved in what must ultimately be a failed plot.
Most fans will approach Betrayal with a certain amount of skepticism, as the final outcome of the story is known right at the start. But surprisingly, it does not stop the story from completely engaging the reader. Right from the beginning, it provides a thrilling and fantastic atmosphere that never lets up until the final page is turned. Betrayal is the perfect story to open this collection, and it is simply a great experience for any fan.
Princess … Warrior:
Princess … Warrior is a deceptively named story that serves to show readers just why we never actually see Princess Leia engage in any actual acts of diplomacy and civil service. That’s because it would be extremely boring. That’s the main flaw with this story, that it cannot decide if it is driven by plot or characters. There is a basic plot involving Leia’s attempts to help a group of Rebels that starts out strong enough, but it fizzles out with no real conclusion. Darth Vader is also thrown into the story, seemingly at random, as he serves no overall purpose. The artwork, on the other hand, is very good. When the action commands the pages, readers will be sucked in with little thought to the story at hand.
In terms of characterization, though, Leia is extremely true to her film portrayal. Although Leia does not act as a titular warrior, we do see how death affects her and influences her decisions with regards to the Rebel cause. It would make for an interesting insight into Leia’s character, if not for the fact that Leia is so outrageously anti-war in this story that it becomes hard to reconcile the characterization with the Leia seen in the films. Princess … Warrior has little to offer fans aside from the realization that pre-A New Hope Princess Leia just was not a commanding or interesting character.
The Short, Happy Life of Roons Sewell:
The Short, Happy Life of Roons Sewell is about is disappointing as stories come. If the title doesn’t hint the content of this story eloquently enough, the story blatantly tells us in the opening page that Roons Sewell is dead. There is plenty of pomp and gravitas surrounding this fact, as the story is told through what is supposedly a tearjerker eulogy delivered by General Jan Dodonna just prior to the Battle of Yavin. But without knowing anything about Roons Sewell, the story falls flat. It is almost entirely told through narration, sometimes by an omniscient narrator and sometimes by Dodonna. As one can imagine, it is hard to separate the two voices as the story progresses. The artwork found in this story is decent, and suffers a bit from an overall lack of detail in action sequences.
The problem with The Short, Happy Life of Roons Sewell is simply that it has no point. Although celebrated in the narrative as a hero that was so loved that his death had the possibility to paralyze the Rebel fighters on Yavin 4, Sewell is completely unlikeable as Dodonna takes readers from his early childhood to his moment of death. Not only is the character unlikeable, it becomes hard to empathize with him as he becomes more deranged and unhinged as the story progresses. It all culminates in a truly puzzling ending, that will likely leave the reader feeling… well, nothing. There is no emotion to be found here, which is very disappointing for a story that is clearly crafted to evoke an emotional response from its readers.
What Sin Loyalty?:
What Sin Loyalty? is a return to the Imperial perspective, a short story told from the point of view of a stormtrooper. It tells an interesting tale of loyalties and, despite occasional lapses into unnecessary pontification regarding the role of the Empire and Rebellion as forces of good and evil, remains an excellent story from start to finish and contains a mystery that draws the narrative forward without seeming forced. The artwork is very good, though this particular style makes it appear blurry to the average eye. Taking place concurrent with A New Hope, the ending is particularly poignant and almost guarantees that the story will stick with the reader long after its end.
The Savage Heart:
The Savage Heart is, first and foremost, short. Although a single comic book issue, the extreme lack of dialogue and narration carry the story along at a breakneck speed and ends far too fast. This story tells the story of what happened to Darth Vader and his TIE Fighter following the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope. If it were not for the overly serious tone, it would have been better to simply title this story: Darth Vader’s Bad Day. Despite the brevity of the story, though, there is enough time to showcase Darth Vader literally becoming a pack leader of wild dogs. It is both outrageous and completely believable in terms of the story being told. Still, The Savage Heart has its fair share of ugliness. Not only does it contain a morbid ending that is completely out of sync with the tone of the rest of the story, but the artwork is among the ugliest in the entire collection.
A Little Piece of Home:
Unlike the earlier Leia-centric story, A Little Piece of Home actually showcases Princess Leia’s warrior side. The story takes place just after A New Hope, with the Rebellion in search of a new base. Leia takes it upon herself to attempt to secure a new moon as the next base, and it just so happens to be owned by some old Alderaanian acquaintances. Of course, it wouldn’t be a story worth telling unless an old boyfriend was thrown into the mix too. It is both completely expected and utterly annoying that the only stories told of Princess Leia in this period are either of her as a diplomat, or using her to tell a romantic story. The story’s artwork is passable, never seeming able to transcend the written material.
The moon Leia visits is owned by two brothers, Raal and Heeth. Raal, is the old boyfriend, and is unrelenting in his flirtations. As is the unspoken rule when one character is sappy and extremely positive, Heeth is the angry and bitter character that blames the destruction of Alderaan on Leia and the Rebellion. The plot seems to echo these unbalanced brothers, never really deciding if it wants to tell a story about Leia attempting to obtain use of the moon for the Rebellion or a story about Leia and Raal stranded on an alien game preserve. Large parts of the story are rather pedestrian and predictable, but the ending is much stronger than the reader will likely anticipate.
Target: Vader is a short story that centers on Darth Vader. As the title suggests, he finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. The story is well-written, and it is a shame that it ends so quickly. Darth Vader is very similar to his film counterpart, but with subtle references that utilize the prequel trilogy events to make his character even more dynamic and interesting. These moments are particularly well done, especially since the narrative does not beat the reader over the head with each reference. The plot does not present anything new to Expanded Universe fans, but newcomers will likely enjoy the small look into the sordid past of Darth Vader. The cast is also quite diverse, with Jib Kopatha, a Bothan information broker, and a group of Falleens giving off quite a commanding presence. The real star of Target: Vader, though, is the artwork. Brian Ching’s artwork is some of the most impressive to ever grace the Expanded Universe, and this story is no exception.
It is tough to appreciate a short read like Alone Together. Narrated by a young mechanic, Deena Shan, she offers her insight into a quick adventure she has with Han, Leia and Chewbacca. The narration is actually pretty cute, and it really captures her character well. The problem, though, is that this is simply another story of attempted romance. Not only does Deena pine for Han constantly, referring to him as a “real man,” but her character frequently has pink hearts floating over her head so that there is absolutely no mistaking that she is smitten with the dashing smuggler. There is an attempted rivalry between Deena and Leia, but it is quickly apparent that the rivalry is one-sided, as it should be. Ultimately, this is a really forgettable story with the thinnest of thin plots. To make matters worse, the artwork is extremely subpar.
Idiot’s Array has a lot of good to offer, even if the initial reaction to the story is likely to dismiss it outright. This is an ugly comic, and there’s no getting around that fact. Luckily, the story switches artists halfway through (as this is a two-part comic), and there is a noticeable leap in quality. The art is not leagues better, but the characters at least look like their film counterparts.
This is a Han Solo tale, involving a fairly routine smuggling run gone wrong. Han is the clear highlight of the story, and is portrayed so perfectly that I could imagine Harrison Ford delivering the actual lines. That said, there isn’t much to be said for this fairly standard story. As seems to be a prerequisite for all Han Solo stories, the smuggler rekindles some passion with an old flame and finds himself on the wrong end of a torture session. It is so disappointing that writers seem so unable to do little else aside from mimic what fans have already seen in the films. Sheel Odala, Han’s former lover, might as well have been Lando Calrissian, as she delivers some of his film lines verbatim and plays the role perfectly. But it all has a feeling of “been there, done that.” Jib Kopatha, the Bothan information broker from Target: Vader returns, and would have been a welcomed addition if not for the fact that he plays such a small role.
Idiot’s Array is an odd case of great characterization beleaguered by a poor storyline and even more horrendous artwork. But buried beneath the surface details, there is a gem to be found that some fans will really enjoy.
The Price of Power:
The Price of Power is a story without a real central character. Darth Vader commands the majority of the story, as he travels to Tiss’sharl, a planet of velociraptor-like aliens. As ridiculously corny as it sounds, the aliens do look really great. In fact, the artwork for this issue is quite good and allows for some great moments, like with an un-helmeted Vader. The story, though, is rather weak. The creatures of Tiss’sharl have an extremely odd political system that relies heavily on assassinations, something that the reader is likely to grow tired of by the end of this omnibus collection.
This was a poor issue to end the omnibus collection with. There is a short scene with Darth Vader and mercenaries that seems extremely difficult to understand. This is because the mercenaries are referencing events from “General” Skywalker, a two-part comic that was published before this issue. While there is little doubt that this story will likely be included in At War with the Empire: Volume 2, it makes little sense to put out two volumes that do not tell a completely chronological story. In addition, The Price of Power is a direct lead-in to In the Shadows of Their Fathers, a five-part comic that involves a showdown between on Jabiim between the Rebellion and the Empire. Truly, this story seems to exist for one purpose: to show how Darth Vader tracks the Rebels to Jabiim. It seems unlikely that At War with the Empire: Volume 2 will open with the continuation of this story, and it is equally unlikely that readers will remember this otherwise forgettable story by the time that they do read In the Shadows of Their Fathers.
Make no mistake; the purchase of a Dark Horse omnibus collection should only ever come down to the content that is inside of it. In terms of format, the omnibus is unparalleled. It’s a sturdy paperback that is slightly smaller than a hardback novel. It’s very portable, with enough pages (averaging around 400 pages per omnibus) to make it feel like you’re really getting the maximum value for your hard-earned money. This isn’t a skinny, flimsy trade paperback. This is truly a graphic novel. Our omnibus reviews are meant only to inform potential readers of the content they will be experiencing in any given graphic novel, and to guide readers to the content that they will enjoy the most.
Reviewed by Chris Carey
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