Star Wars: Age of the Republic: Heroes & Star Wars: Age of the Republic: Villains – Marc Guggenheim, Jody Houser, Ethan Sacks, Paolo Villanelli, Cory Smith, Carlos Gomez, Luke Ross & Caspar Wijngaard (Marvel)

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They say that devil has all the best tunes and it’s no different in the Star Wars universe. The Dark Side has all the best characters. Given a choice between the monk like, puritan Jedi order of the prequel era and Darth Maul, Count Dooku, General Grievous, Jango Fett and Asajj Ventres I know which book I’m picking up first. Marvel’s recent run of one shots which focus on one particular protagonist from the Clone Wars under the banner of Age of the Republic are compiled in to two volumes splitting the good guys and the bad guys in to two short story collections. Picking up the Villains compendium first we kick off with Darth Maul tagging along with a roguish thief to sabotage a spice deal. Maul ain’t no “partner in crime” though and nobody lives as you’d imagine. Palpatine takes him off on a dark training exercise and again, nobody survives. Hardly a spoiler, as that is where most Maul missives end up. The Dark Side hangs heavy over this opening tale; all Sith myth and what have you. Darth Tyranus, he who set up the Clone Army deal, turns up pulling the strings in the background of a Jango Fett fable next. Young Boba’s involved too, though it appears that Jango is not averse to working with a crew. The fearsome figure Boba Fett becomes would, of course, never consider such a thing. And after their antics, you can probably see why.

Count Dooku is a great invention who, in the masterful hands of Christopher Lee, brought a gravitas to the role that few mere mortal actors could conceive of. Dooku turns on the statesman like charm in his tale and goes undercover, sort of, mixing with a tiger headed Jedi, that I’ll be honest, I found hard to take. Weird aliens are great but come on, a talking tiger? It’s not as bad as that talking bunny man from the original Marvel comics – one for the veterans there – but despite this being one of the strongest tales here, showcasing Dooku’s charming brand of treachery, there a ruddy talking tiger man. General Grievous was another fabulous addition to the long line of iconic bad guys of the galaxy and he finds himself on something of a voyage of self discovery, cavorting about in a booby trapped Jedi Temple of some sort. Asajj Ventress, just like Aura Sing, is a much under used villain in film and TV Star Wars, so her own short, sharp adventure here goes someway to redress the balance in the concluding chapter. Action all the way as she cuts a ferocious swathe through anyone who gets in her way and, wowzers, is she really protecting and inspiring a pair of sweet little sisters? Feminist messages in Star Wars? Sisters are doing it for themselves in a galaxy far, far away it would appear.

I’m totally sold on the short stories of Star Wars and have loved this sort of thing for ever and a day. Going back to those Tales from Jabba’s Palace and the Cantina Bantam books back in the 90s, the Tales series that pops up every now and gain … the short story format is perfect for an over populated galaxy of freaks and folks who come in and out of the main tale. Although these comics focused generally on the main players, they succeed in extending the galaxy even further and solidifying the character of those involved as dastardly and ruthless without the pantomime villain, over acting you sometimes get on the cinema screen … cough … General Hux … cough … Knowing what we know about each of these vile creations gives the tales a foreboding sense of menace, especially in the Maul and Dooku entries. The artwork is suitably dark and gritty, somewhat out of sorts with the bright and colourful feel of the films from where we get these characters, except for the Jango Fett fable which has the clean feel of Kamino running through it. The Villains collection is a fine addition to the Star Wars short story canon and just serves to make the baddies even badder. This of course, is a recommendation.

Making the wielders of the Light Side as entertaining is something of a challenge then and the second collection Heroes finds Qui-Gin Jinn rescuing a sort of elemental-esque tree Queen from death and deforestation, though she isn’t exactly blessed with diplomacy and showing appreciation for having her life saved is also not something she’s any good at. It’s all about understanding each other and using the Force to find balance. Or something. More lesson learning in the following Obi Wan and Anakin anecdote who face down a bunch of pirates by looking for peaceful solutions that avoid bloodshed. For that is the Jedi way is it not? Even Anakin – the teenage version now – smashes a few droids before freeing a band of enslaved workers and leaves them to fight their own fight. The diplomacy theme runs through this book and Padme is the don of diplomacy but also discovers on a distant planet opting for neutrality that diplomacy can also come in the form of a blaster. One of the stronger tales in this collection, Padme is equally adept with a blaster as she is in a room full of politicians. You can see where Leia gets it from. Upping the badass-ery amongst the galaxies great and good is Mace Windu, who is surely gonna give us some rucking and rumbling. Held hostage by a terrorist operating from deep within the caves of an Outer Rim backwater hiding behind an army of child soldiers, you could read this as a metaphor for certain goings on in the real world, or simply sit back and enjoy Windu kicking off. The main thrust that ties these tales together is a “what have we learnt today kids?” moralising conclusion, unlike the Villains piece where it’s more of a “who have we killed today?” plenary session.

As with Episodes I, II and III from where these stories are drawn, there is an uneven feel to proceedings, and although all the escapades are entertaining, it’s the Villains who win out and, as with their cinematic incarnations, the Villains who have all the best lines. The Jedi tales when collected together come across as far more austere and you can see why the young Anakin was tempted to look upon the pages of the other side. Marv Gadgie

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