Star Wars: A Long Time Ago Vol. 2 – Dark Encounters

Dark EncountersOrder this bookStory: As Luke struggles to recover from his momentary encounter with the mind of Darth Vader, Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids try to fight and maneuver their way off the Wheel. Their escape from the gambling station is not the end of their troubles – Han still has matters to settle with Jabba, Leia tries to expand the Rebellion to other worlds, and the cyborg bounty hunter Valance is still on Luke’s trail. Throughout the adventures, the Rebel heroes often run up against the agenda of the Tagge family, led by a ruthless baron whose desire for the Emperor’s favor, and for vengeance against Vader, drive him to enact more and more elaborate schemes to crush the Rebellion once and for all. But the Dark Lord is no stranger to scheming, and he has plans for both the Tagge family and young Skywalker.

Review: Dave: Unlike the first volume, I do have some first hand memories of the stories in this collection – at one point in my youth, I had two or three of the issues that dealt with Tagge’s storm corridor through the Yavin gas giant. I remember liking them quite a bit as a kid, and they still hold up pretty well. Now that I read them as part of the bigger tapestry of the ongoing Tagge feud, I’m even more impressed.

One thing I do wish is that that unfolding saga could have led into the events of The Empire Strikes Back a little better. Now, I don’t really know how much lead time Goodwin had to work with, or how much he knew about the overall storyline of the film when he was writing these issues. So I’m not assigning blame here – it’s just something I find a little disappointing. The characters and settings all seem frozen about five minutes after the end of the first movie – Luke’s still wearing his farm boy outfit, the Rebels are still on Yavin, and so on. Outside of a tacked on epilogue that undoes Goodwin’s earlier resolution of the Jabba bounty issue, there’s not much here bringing us to the next stage of the story. And having Luke and Vader face off face to face right before the movie adaptation is supposed to start just strikes me as a bad idea all around.

Earl: Where the whole Tagge family saga is concerned, that’s really the defining characteristic of Archie Goodwin’s “reign” as the editor and head writer of the Star Wars comic, and it goes a long, long way toward making the whole thing truly feel like Star Wars. Though there are some well-worn cliches and archetypes woven into the Tagge plotline, one could argue the same of Star Wars as a whole, so it fits nicely. Again, I too remember many of these issues from my childhood, especially – for some reason I can’t put a finger on – “A Princess Alone.” I don’t know why I remember that one particularly, but it was literally the first one I went looking for when I cracked the cover open.

I can also see where things could have been drawn toward The Empire Strikes Back more logically, which really lends credence to my theory that Lucasfilm was keeping everything under the tightest possible wraps at the time. The nearest we get to a straight line between the Marvel “between-movie” comics and the second film is the issue in which Han’s antagonism with Jabba – seen here as a yellow-skinned cousin of a Cantina creature – heats up and he winds up with a bigger price on his head even after paying Jabba off. That was a case where it seemed like a straight line was being drawn. But other than that? Nada. Though it could also be argued that the open-ended conclusions of the two comics leading up to Empire leave some wiggle room for things like Ord Mantell and establishing Echo Base on Hoth.

Then again, there’s a lot more wiggle room between the first two movies than there is between Empire and Jedi; Han’s capture and the revelation of Vader’s identity set up at least two very specific “missions” that make any diversions that take place between them look a bit frivolous; as the early post-movie comics demonstrated, after the original Star Wars, the characters and situations could’ve gone anywhere. For all we knew, the Empire had been defeated!

Dave: I read an interview with Goodwin where he talks about getting to look at the scripts and photo reference material at some point, although it was after principal photography was done. He says he wasn’t particularly happy with how they made the series dovetail with the movie, either. (He also echoes a comment that I think you’ve made from time to time – that the comic artists had a tendency to exaggerate Leia’s proportions just a little bit.) That Jabba epilogue is supposed to be Ord Mantell, I’m pretty sure – one of who knows how many recountings of that episode. Including at least two written by Goodwin! Just goes to show you can’t get too wrapped up in continuity.

What do you think of the wrap-up to the Valance storyline?

Earl: When the character of Valance was introduced, it seemed to be yet another of those elements that seemed destined to cleave to a certain archetype, but his final stand against Vader is, quite simply, one of the best pieces of non-filmed fiction I’ve ever seen anyone produce under the Star Wars banner – that tug-of-war with the Rebel defector in the middle. I may not have been happy with how the main characters were drawn or inked under Carmine Infantino’s watch, but the original characters – Orman Tagge, Silas Tagge, and especially Valance – were spot-on perfect. Maybe I was looking for too much resemblance to people whose appearance I knew where the regulars were concerned. But storywise…yeah. I loved where they took Valance, and actually, I really liked the whole running story thread of Vader seeking the identity of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Even in light of later continuity and revelations of family ties, his reaction when he does find out holds up well and doesn’t jump off-track.

Dave: I was disappointed by Valance’s change of heart – it was a little too pat for me, and the second time Threepio’s willingness to sacrifice himself moved an enemy to let Luke and company go. But Valance confronting Vader is one of those things that almost works out better once you’ve seen Empire and the other sequels, because you have two villains dependent on machines to live. And I’m not sure that was a given back in the 70s – I think Ralph McQuarrie’s original interpretation was that Vader’s outfit was a space suit more than a life support machine.

The Annual story where Luke meets up with those flying creatures, on the other hand, well, that might pose a continuity problem or two.

Earl: The “untold tale of Ben Kenobi at the height of the Jedi Knights” story might have a hard time fitting into the official record as well, but at the time, who knew?

Artwork-wise, I’m on the fence a bit. As much as I remembered the storyline of “A Princess Alone,” to give one example, I also remembered the wildly out-of-proportion character artwork. Infantino’s early Star Wars work was spectacular stuff, and he even made his somewhat angular style fit in, but in this volume, it’s almost too angular in places, which may be down to the inker – having also gotten volume 3, I’ve seen Infantino artwork that I’d describe as just beautiful. But the art in volume 2 I just can’t get into for the most part.

Dave: Princess Alone was definitely one of the stories that jump out at you in terms of the body types.

Something else that strikes me about these stories is how little time Luke spends in an X-Wing. Even if he does hop into a fighter, it’s as likely to be a Y-Wing or a stolen TIE. For all that Goodwin captured the spirit of Star Wars, I’d like to have seen more dogfighting and space battles.

I did find it interesting that he had the Force being used almost like telepathy, with Vader clouding people’s minds or creating illusions. Kind of an interesting approach.

Earl: Again, not completely out of line with established mythos, but here I think it’s a matter of degrees. The whole thing with Vader making Baron Tagge fight Luke, while clouding Luke’s mind and making him think he’s fighting Vader, is almost, almost a brilliant out for having a pre-Empire duel between Luke and Vader that doesn’t affect anything that came later. But then Goodwin had Luke bump into him for real a couple of times and that blew it. However much or however little Goodwin & co. knew about Empire, you’d think that the centerpiece of any Star Wars sequel would almost have to be Luke facing off against Vader – it seems like it would’ve been common storytelling sense to avoid that, unless you had a red herring such as the final duel with Tagge. Conversely, I really did not dig the conclusion of the Wheel storyline, in which Luke fights Vader “in his mind” with the spirit of Ben coaxing him onward. From a story standpoint, and from a dialogue standpoint, that was just about the biggest slice of pure cheese on display in Volume 2, for my money anyway.

Dave: Regardless of what Goodwin knew, by that point Lucasfilm certainly knew what was coming. I’m surprised they approved those scripts. And they let Alan Dean Foster write a duel between Luke and Vader in “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” too. Then again, they may have had other things on their mind. I didn’t mind the Wheel story nearly as much as I did the final confrontation with Baron Tagge. The “incapacitated hero fights to survive within his own mind” story is a bit of a standby, especially in science fiction, but it’s an archetype that works. And it keeps Vader and Luke sort of hovering at the edges of each other’s activity, allowing them to confront each other without coming face to face. I’m actually a bit surprised they didn’t bring the ghost of Ben back a little more often. That’s something clearly set up by the movies, and a means for Luke to advance in the ways of the Force a little bit. For biggest cheese, and weakest story point, I think I’d actually nominate all of Tagge’s wailing about his sister being the one pure uncorrupted thing in the entire family.

Earl: Yeah – the whole “Finish me NOW!” complete with red balloon lettering was a bit much. Then again, we had yet to see Mark Hamill wailing “Noooooooo!” in Empire – the comics were ahead of their time in setting the melodrama bar, perhaps. Now, we’ve dealt with Vader’s prowess with the Force, but what about that pesky kid of his? Again, we run into what Goodwin & co. did not know about the saga to come here, but Luke’s abilities with the Force – especially in the absence of training – seemed to grow almost too much in the comics. The “fighting a battle in his mind” thing I could allow for, but some of his swordsmanship and other abilities are so far along that you’d think he would’ve been a full Jedi by the time he ran into Yoda. There’s none of this “latent Force ability” from the first movie – he’s making a lot of use of it in the comics. Ironically, even though the prequel movies now leave virtually no room for it to have actually happened, the pre-trilogy Obi-Wan story “Silent Running” seems to demonstrate the closest guess as to what the later movies would show us where Force abilities are concerned…and it was still pretty wide of the mark.

Dave: Can’t say Luke’s Force abilities bugged me much. Like you say, part of that’s because holding the rest of the movies against these comics is just plain silly. But I actually liked the way that Goodwin played up the “let go of yourself and act on instinct” angle, and I can’t recall Luke using telekinesis, mind tricks, or any of the “more advanced” Force powers. As for swordsmanship – I don’t know that he fought anyone who was that substantial a test. We have no idea how good Tagge actually is with a saber to know if it’s unrealistic that Luke could beat him. And as Vader does say at the end of these stories, Luke is still a novice with a long way to go before he can go up against the bad guys. But I think everyone knows what happens when Luke tries to rush things along a bit.

Earl: He seems to get disarmed. Now, Luke and other wielders-of-lightsabers aside, what did you think of the Rebel Alliance’s – and perhaps Leia’s – role in these stories? Again, going back to “A Princess Alone,” I think that may be the element that draws me to that story – the thought that the Rebels are having to go cause trouble just to remind people they exist. But what about the strategically implausible move of staying at the Yavin IV base for so long? One would think that, with things like the Tagge blockade, not to mention the rest of the Empire breathing down their necks, Yavin would be a little too busy for the Rebels’ liking.

Dave: My sense is that staying on Yavin was a kind of stick-to-the-status-quo decision to avoid upsetting apple carts. The script justified it by saying that the Imperials were blockading Yavin rather than trying to destroy it because they didn’t want another major confrontation. As rationalizations go, it isn’t bad. (And my sense is that the blockade is why they stayed on Yavin – there was no way to evacuate without getting slagged.) I think I’m glad that overall, the comic steered clear of the galactic politics. I’m not sure the comics of the time could really address those topics well. Heck, there are folks who don’t think the current movies address those topics well. But that’s a can of worms for another time.

Year: 2002
Writers: Archie Goodwin, Mary Jo Duffy, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont
Pencillers: Carmine Infantino, Mike Vosburg, Michael Golden
Inkers: Gene Day, Bob Wiacek, Steve Leialoha, Terry Austin
Colorists: Glynis Wein, Petra Goldberg, Carl Gafford, Ben Sean, Nel Yomtov, Bob Sharen, George Roussos, Michael Golden
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Pages: 365