Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Star Wars: Empire vol.4

(2005) various writers and artists, Titan Books, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 1-84576-029-8

This is the fourth volume in theStar Wars: Empire series of trade paperback collections and it focusses on the character of feisty rebel leader Princess Leia. A selection of tales, that span the chronology of the Star Wars universe from just before 'A New Hope' to just before 'The Empire Strikes Back', follow Leia's development into the rebel leader seen in the films and attempt to 'fill in the gaps' somewhat. In terms of artwork there is little to complain about. The drawings are accurate and clear, vividly coloured and full of action. There is little in the way of experimentation as, since this is Star Wars, the conveying of the story is more important.

We begin just before 'A New Hope' with "Princess... Warrior", a substantial tale dealing with some big issues about war and leaders, though it runs the risk of sounding trite in the current international climate. As Princess Leia's rebel intentions are uncovered by an Imperial patrol she is forced to use violence in order to prevent word getting out. It is a good effort that attempts to make some bold statements about the 'necessity' of war. It is only a shame that the light-hearted nature of Star Wars means these statements are made somewhat tamely. "A Little Piece of Home" is the highlight of this collection, a longer story that sees Leia trying to convince an old boyfriend and his brother to allow a rebel hideout on their world. An accident leaves Leia and her ex trapped in the planet's jungle, a hunting ground filled with the surviving life of the obliterated Alderan, which leaves Leia to ponder both the good memories of her past and to contrast them with the darker side of the past. It is a well-written addition to the collection, with plenty of drama and strong characters to hold your interest. "Alone Together" takes the Alien cliché of 'monster stalking a semi-deserted ship' and combines it with a romantic plot about a young crewman with an attraction to Han Solo. The mix doesn't settle well, with the romance being too silly to bring any suspense to the story. The ending is cheesy, the action lacks any tension, and the Princess herself lacks any of the intensity she displays in the rest of the collection. The final story, "Breaking the Ice", is quite obviously taken from a Valentine's Day special. It is a character piece, which isn't usually a strong point of the Star Wars universe, but it is a quite successul attempt at showing some subtlety in the relationship between Leia and Han. This is a quite dark and understated story that relies on mood over action and brings the collection to a satisfying and contented close

These are some interesting stories that breathe a bit more life into a character that is easily overlooked in the Star Wars cast; one all too often poorly characterised (see "Alone Together"). As with most collections, a mixed bag sees some stories make intelligent use of the established background of the universe, though I have never been much interested in this 'expanded' background stuff. There is little here that would change my mind. The real fans will consume the new back-history of Leia with glee, but for anyone not really interested beyond the two trilogies of films, they'll find nothing special here.

Peter Thorley

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