Omnibus: Early Victories
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release date: October 21, 2008
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: Early Victories takes place between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and collects Shadow Stalker, Tales from Mos Eisley, River of Chaos (all never before collected!), Vader’s Quest and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Though all worked on by different writers and artists, these stories all focus on the fledgling Rebellion as it works to capitalize on the momentum caused by destroying the Death Star.
Vader’s Quest tells a story that is actually very important in the Star Wars mythos. Although never revealed onscreen in the films, Darth Vader does eventually learn of the existence of his son, Luke Skywalker. This is that story, which literally opens with the dramatic reveal. As one can easily imagine, the titular quest involves Vader’s attempt to apprehend Luke.
Despite its placement as the first story in this omnibus, Vader’s Quest is definitely not for all ages. The story often seems bipolar, as if it cannot decide between a mood that is dark and gritty, and a mood that is more lighthearted and in line with the tone found in the films. Unfortunately, it really hurts the story to have mature scenes and poignant character deaths on one page, and juvenile humor on the next. The artwork is pretty decent, and is certainly nothing to scoff at. It isn’t the best art found in the Expanded Universe, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The story should capture the attention of readers from start to finish, but only barely so.
The clear highlight of Vader’s Quest is Darth Vader. Published before The Phantom Menace hit movie theaters and redefined Darth Vader’s character, it is astounding just how perfect Vader is in this story. Readers may not get any internalization, but the artwork makes it easy to imagine what Vader is thinking at any given point. An early scene with Darth Vader in an aviary may even give fans goosebumps. Some of the best moments in this story are found through narration and dialogue, particularly when Vader interacts with a masterfully written Palpatine. Fans of the two Sith should walk away from this story very pleased, as should fans of stormtroopers. In a rare turn of events, stormtroopers are very menacing in this story.
The other three storylines, however, are simply not as good. It’s clear that Vader’s Quest was conceived with the Darth Vader storyline, but every other plot seems like the disjointed filler material that it ultimately is. They all wrap up far too quickly, and despite a few good twists, the overall outcome is very predictable. Luke Skywalker ends up on another quest to save a princess, and the plot quickly becomes boring and tired. Luke’s portrayal is very well, though he does seem a bit too mature. There is also the subplot of a washed up starfighter pilot, Jal. Although his story is initially interesting, as he was in the sickbay while Luke piloted his X-Wing and destroyed the Death Star, Jal’s unappealing appearance and constant whining make him an extremely unsympathetic character. The last subplot involves a character named Mala Mala, who is given virtually no introduction to the reader. Although her story kicks off to a good start, it quickly falls off the radar before ending abruptly in the epilogue. Even when the last page is turned, readers will have no idea who Mala Mala is or what makes her so important.
Vader’s Quest solves the mystery of an oft-overlooked plot point in Star Wars, but as far as Expanded Universe stories go, this story will ultimately be a rather forgettable experience for many.
River of Chaos:
River of Chaos is, in many ways, exactly what this omnibus collection embraces: an early Rebellion victory. Unfortunately, a dull plot kills any value that this story has in the Expanded Universe. On the planet M’haeli, humans and H’drachi (prophetic bipedal camels) live in fear of a corrupt Imperial governor. Yes, everything alien in this story has at least one apostrophe for absolutely no reason. There isn’t much explanation behind the plot, which keeps the story from reaching any sense of urgency. In fact, River of Chaos does not really have much of a plot. It is a soap opera, complete with over-the-top melodrama and characters that fall in love and change their loyalties in the span of mere pages. It’s a shame, because the Rebellion plot shows strong potential as the story begins. Instead, it takes a backseat to the love story of Mora and Ranulf, a completely predictable story surrounding the two dreadfully perfect and otherwise boring protagonists that never deviates from all the tired twists that readers have come to expect. There is an attempted subplot with the H’drachi that seemed intriguing at the start, but it was quickly dropped. In addition to being very boring, the H’drachi are able to predict the future by utilizing what is called “time-stream.” Sadly, none of this is ever explained or discussed in any great detail.
Still, River of Chaos is not entirely bad. Although the art looks a little dated, it is actually quite nice. The characters are particularly well drawn, and the action is always simple to follow. Being heavy with dialogue at times, though, it can be hard to follow the text bubbles in appropriate order. As far as elements of Star Wars that make an appearance, River of Chaos is surprisingly sparse in this regard. Princess Leia is the only film character to appear in the story, and her role is small. What are really showcased, though, are different stormtroopers, TIE fighters and assorted Imperial vehicles. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the standout character of the story. Glott, a Gotal bounty hunter, emerges as a fantastic character. Quickly established as a credible villain, the only regret readers will have with him is that he is introduced so late in the overall story.
As far as stories go, River of Chaos is exactly the kind of story that should be unacceptable to Star Wars fans. It lacks quality, and perhaps just as important, it lacks a sense of purpose. When it comes to embracing the feel of Star Wars, River of Chaos completely misses the mark.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye:
Whether you’ve read the novel or not, there’s no doubt that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is simply a great story that deserves to be told in the visual medium. Set on the mysterious Circarpous V, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia find themselves stranded and racing to find a rare Kaiburr crystal that augments Force abilities. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper plot without Darth Vader right on their heels while C-3P0 and R2-D2 continue their classic background banter. Unlike the other stories in the omnibus, this is really the only story where the film characters take center stage. Although Darth Vader’s entrance occurs late in the story, he’s still quite the villain. Readers may also be pleased to know that a ghostly Obi-Wan Kenobi appears as he mentors Luke in a few short sequences. But as this takes place before The Empire Strikes Back, some may cringe when they realize that there is a fair amount of sexual tension between Luke and Leia throughout the story.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is host to some really great artwork, complete with menacing characters, hulking alien creatures and buff humans. That said, the story does skip over some of the more graphic portions of the novel, which brings up a strong point: at the end of the day, this is simply an adaptation of a novel. The overall plot is fairly rushed, especially the ending. Much of the plot, particularly pertaining to the Kaiburr crystal, is glossed over and confusing. Even the new characters, though memorable in the book, get only a fraction of the story to resonate with readers.
Still, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a great read. Whether you are coming to the story fresh or as a veteran of the novel, there’s plenty here to enjoy. It’s got almost all of the best film characters (no Han!), and a strong, if weird, storyline. This is definitely one of the strongest entry in this collection.
Shadow Stalker, originally published as a one-shot comic, stars Wrenga Jixton. Unless you’re a diehard fan of the Shadows of the Empire comic (his only other appearance in the Expanded Universe), chances are that you’ve never heard of him. But that doesn’t stop him from being a great character and the focal point of this short (but sweet!) story.
Unlike the other entries in this omnibus, Shadow Stalker is a story of stealth and spy games. Jix is an agent of Darth Vader, the only film character that appears in this story. Despite his short time in the story, though, Vader is extremely memorable. He’s very much a menacing figure, though perhaps a bit too casual in dealing with Jix for my taste. As is customary for stories of stealth, Shadow Stalker gets quite complicated as the plot progresses, although it manages to wrap things up at the end.
In terms of artwork, Shadow Stalker has probably the best art in the entire collection. There are some great character models and the attention to detail is superb. If it does have one flaw, though, it is that the panels either have no dialogue or entirely too much. For a reader, it can be off-putting when the text bubbles seem to take up more space than the artwork.
For an Imperial perspective, Shadow Stalker is sublime. It has all the classic Star Wars elements, with more than a few nods to Shadows of the Empire that knowledgeable fans will catch and enjoy. This is a highly recommended story.
Tales from Mos Eisley:
The omnibus is closed with Tales from Mos Eisley, a one-shot that collects three short stories. Similar in concept to the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina anthology, the execution could not be more different. To be blunt, this is simply a bad comic. It’s completely forgettable. Even worse, there is no reason that this collection should have been called Tales from Mos Eisley. Sure, all three stories start in the cantina. But all three involve one of the characters telling a story that ends up being set on a far more exotic planet.
There’s no real point in discussing each story separately. They are all very short, and chances are that you’ve seen the stories told before. In essence, this is a Star Wars version of old episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. There’s nothing original here, and nothing that warrants the Star Wars title. Don’t expect much in the way of artwork either, as this short story has the worst artwork in the collection. Ultimately, this was the wrong choice to close out the omnibus. There is no reason that this should have been collected in a collection of Early Victories, and it feels shoehorned in.
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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