Canon Comic Review: Star Wars “The Ashes of Jedha” Arc (Issues #38-43)

Star Wars Ashes of Jedha Arc Review

– SPOILER DISCUSSION –

Kieron’s Gillen’s opening arc for the flagship Star Wars title, The Ashes of Jedha (issues #38-43) is the subject of the Manor’s first in a new series of arc reviews!

After thirty eight issues, Jason Aaron steps aside from his role as writer on Star Wars. I was/am a big fan of Jason Aaron’s work. Aside from one major misstep (the “Yoda’s Secret War” arc), I thought Aaron crafted a great anthology for our heroes, filled with exciting adventures, fresh faces, and fun locales. Each arc contributed to a wider narrative, yet each arc could stand on their own. The series focused on Luke’s Jedi research, on the growing rebellion (and some of its new enemies after Yavin), while expanding the side cast of the main three. Sana Starros may not be the best new character introduced in the comics (of course, Doctor Chelli Aphra holds that position!) but she has proven her worth in the canon, becoming a vital member of the crew and the stories at large. (In fact, it was depressing that she didn’t play a role in this arc!) All of that being said, it was time for new blood on the series. The series never regained the momentum it lost in “Yoda’s Secret War,” and as wild and fun as “Out Among the Stars” was at times, a new direction was needed.

Thankfully, Kieron Gillen, who is familiar with the Star Wars galaxy, answered the call and took up the mantle as writer on the series. He was the second author in the Marvel Star Wars universe with the premiere of Darth Vader. The series wrapped up after 25 issues, after which Gillen wrote Doctor Aphra. Neither of those series have the same feel as Star Wars, but Gillen proved that he could handle the main three in the two crossovers, Vader Down and The Screaming Citadel. Now, Kieron Gillen is making his much celebrated debut to the flagship series! He is joined by Darth Vader alum Salvador Larroca on art, guided by the same editorial team of Jordan D White and Heather Antos, with letters by Clayton Cowles and colors by Guru-eFX.

Kieron seems poised to push the series in this needed new direction with a deft grasp of the characters, a grand vision for a new narrative, and an ability to tie together many pieces of media with ease. First, Gillen is pushing the series forward in a different direction than it was moving in before. Rather than continue to focus on Luke’s Jedi training, which was already brushing up a little too closely to The Empire Strikes Back, Gillen is focusing instead on the growing rebellion – and the disaster that pushes them to seek out Hoth as a new base while on the run. So, the Rebels first move? Seek out whichever Partisans survived the Death Star’s attack on Jedha and supply them with resources to defend themselves and strike the Empire. We saw in Rogue One that the Partisans were wont to team up with the Alliance. After the destruction of the Death Star, the groups have cooled a bit, looking to find some sort of middle-ground partnership. The only thing standing in the way of a successful partnership? The Empire has new mining toys with which they can strip Jedha of the remaining kyber crystals thanks to Queen Trios!

via Marvel/Lucasfilm

Fans of the first Darth Vader series remember Queen Trios as the puppet ruler of Shu-Torun from the first Annual and issues 16-19. After Darth Vader killed the King of Shu-Torun on the charges of instigating rebellion, Vader installed Trios as queen to ensure their compliance with the Empire’s wishes. Even more brutally, he offered her a piece of the recently destroyed Alderaan to show the price of disobedience. Unfortunately (for Vader), this only pushed Trios away, and she has been actively undermining the Empire since. She feigns sincerity with General Kanchar, offering the Empire the best of her mining toys at their disposal. Leia sends Chewbacca on a side mission to find secret plans for the Empire’s new weapon. Chewbacca is successful in this mission only because Trios allows him to be. She covertly lets the plans fall into his hands so that the Rebels can strike back on Jedha As excited as I was to see Trios brought back as a villain, I am way more excited to see her brought back as an anti-hero! If there was nothing else to be excited about in the series, this would have been enough.

Thankfully, there is plenty of other characters to be excited about as well. Gillen shows a competency with writing both his own characters and established movie characters. Both Luke and Leia come face to face with Rogue One in different, but extremely poignant ways. First Luke, empathetic as he is, struggles with the weight of Rogue One’s sacrifice. Working with the Partisans, he comes to terms with the sacrifice Jyn made for him that he would get his chance to take a shot at the Death Star’s ultimate weakness. Because of this, he absorbs a lot of the grief and the anger of the Partisans. All of these negative emotions well up in Luke, causing him to lash out against the Empire. Alongside acolyte Chulco Gi, Luke encounters the Cult of the Isopter. This cult worships death, keeping them on the brink of the dark side. Chulco is overtaken by the darkness and goes mad. Luke is forced to kill him, leaving a valuable lesson about the dark side and its dangerous effects on your sanity.

On the other hand, Leia deals with the weight of Bail’s final mission statement to her. In it, he impresses upon her the enormous weight of reaching General Ben Kenobi on Tatooine, which she internalizes to mean that her constant working is paramount to the Rebellion’s survival. Leia continues to bear the incredible burden of that final mission, letting it dominate everything she does. This creates friction between Leia and Luke, causing her to yell at him for “abandoning” the Rebellion in order to focus on Jedi training instead. As out of character as this felt for Leia, I do think this growing tension between the twins will create interesting stories in the long run. I’m excited to see more of the ways that Leia has internalized her last mission. I am also curious to see if Gillen will pick up threads he dropped in The Screaming Citadel as Triple-Zero says, point blank, that he believes Leia uses people for her own goals. If Leia yelling at Luke was out of place here, it may serve as a fascinating foundation for further character growth.

Even characters, pushed to the side plots because of space, shine in this opening arc. Han, separate from the Rogue One tie-ins, follows his own character arc, growing beyond the self-serving smuggler we knew from A New Hope. When Benthic Two-Tubes is taken out of commission, it is up to Han to destroy the Shu-Torun provided Leviathian. Han has to seriously grapple with his ability to lead an army or if he even has the desire to do so, something he faced earlier in The Screaming Citadel. While it may seem redundant, this is a serious issue for Han to wrestle with as he moves closer to becoming “General” Solo.

Kanchar, the series’ newest villain, may suffer the most from playing second-fiddle to the movie characters and Trios. Kanchar is a different type of officer: he does not summarily execute every officer for failure, but will do so when necessary. His cybernetic enhancements allow for him to swap out hands for weapons (a very Gillen trait, I think), which he avails himself of in his fight against Luke. Unfortunately their fight, at the climax of the arc, is quickly ended, which might earn it the more aptly title of “skirmish.” For a series so desperate for solid villains, I am curious about whether or not Kanchar will fill that role successfully.

Queen Trios’s inclusion in the series may prove to be a double edged sword for many readers. Her turn, in the context of this book alone, may seem quick and unearned. Readers of Darth Vader have already spent time with the character, familiar with her interactions with Vader and the “War” that ravaged her planet. I do wonder if this connectivity will continue in the future. For me, I love this interconnectivity and I think the series will thrive the longer Gillen utilizes it. For new readers, such interconnectivity may lose meaning. Whether or not that hampers their enjoyment of the series is something only time will tell.

Finally, the plotting of this arc suffered from trying to both set up its own story while serving as a foundation for the rest of Gillen’s run. As it stands, I applaud Gillen for his tenacity. Some introductory arcs can be slow in order to set up the series. That Gillen wanted to show the liberation of Jedha while setting up the future is admirable. As it stands, though, the pacing does suffer a little. The first three issues are slow, building up first the tension between the Rebels and the Partisans, and then the tension between the Partisans and the Empire. Each issue shows the Empire throwing a bigger threat at the Partisans than last issue, a continual back and forth one-upping each other. When the Leviathan arrives, it comes with less weight and gravitas than I imagined, and when it is destroyed within a two-issue stretch, its threat seems to be underutilized. But, this foundational arc was exciting, and it gives me hope that Gillen will use the best of the space allotted to him in each issue.

Unfortunately, there were setbacks that kept the arc from being perfect, despite the extremely well-done characterizations. I would be remiss to not mention the oft-critiqued, much maligned artwork on the series. In his previous reviews, Ryan had made note of how distracting the art could be. The art is photo referenced against the movies, with photo referenced faces being colored differently than the rest of the series. This discoloration seems to be part of the process, as it seems like the faces are colored before the rest of the art. Not only is the difference in coloring jarring, it is also jarring to be able to pick out which movie scene is referenced in the panel. The uncanny valley effect brought me out of the story far too many times when the illusion of the team on Jedha was broken with movie scenes transferred into the panel. The final page of the arc was a poignantly written scene, but the splash page of the Rebels cropped together from many different scenes undercut any emotional reaction I might’ve had. This is probably due to the faster release schedule of this book (at least two months featured two issues from this arc). If that schedule is behind these artistic choices, I would be satisfied to only get one issue a month. Heck, I’d even endure a hiatus to give the artists more time to work!

Other minor issues distracted me, but may not distract other readers as much. Frequently, Jedha is referred to as a planet in the crawl, which you can read in the included link. In the final issue of the arc, #43, Benthic even refers to it as a planet. The first panel of #43 incorrectly attributes a text bubble to Princess Leia, creating mildly humorous results. This issue was amended in the digital issue. I didn’t give Kanchar’s rank above because he is referred to as both commander and general (and his name is spelled as Kanchan once in issue #42). These issues don’t hamper the story entirely, but I do hope that the series slows its breakneck speed to give everyone the breathing room they need to do the excellent work we’ve seen before. (Unfortunately, solicitations don’t help belay these concerns, as this series will have two issues again in March.)

Really, The Ashes of Jedha was an extremely well-written opening salvo for an exciting start to Kieron Gillen’s run on this series. The arc succeeded in maybe its most important task: I am excited for the next issue to come out. Some Wednesdays, when the next issue of Star Wars was released, my mood would neither be better or worse because of it. I am excited to be excited for the series again, and I am eagerly anticipating the next issue!

Chris is the Sous Chef at the Mynock Manor. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisWerms, and of course, follow the Manor.

Movie Reviews:
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The Rise of the Sith: Darth Plagueis | Maul: Lockdown | Cloak of Deception | Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter | The Phantom Menace

The New Jedi Order Era: Scourge

Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi? 
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
Poe Dameron: Flight Log
Rebel Dossier
Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)
Darth Vader: Sith Lord (Backstories)
The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story
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Daring Adventures vol 1 | Daring Adventures vol 2 | Tales of Hope & Courage

Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War
The Force Awakens 1-2

LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06 

Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide