Here ends the Valance trilogy. And it is a good ending. The Hunter and The Return of the Hunter ranged from lacklustre to modestly decent stories which set up the third act, Dark Encounter, which is the best of the three. If you are unfamiliar with those issues or need some memory jogging I recommend reading my reviews of issues 16 and 27.
Valance’s hatred of robots is not mentioned at all here so I assume he has overcome it. But he is still hard at work in the bounty hunting trade and his current trail had led him to planet Centares. Valance and Darth Vader are both racing to find a rebel deserter named Tyler Lucian who fled Yavin IV when the Death Star arrived. Vader is seeking Lucian hoping to learn the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star and Valance is seeking him hoping to prevent this. Lucian is tracked down to Rubyflame Lake simultaneously by Vader and Valance where Lucian hides inside a Guest Tower while the two hunters fight over their quarry. Rubyflame Lake was a former resort on Centares until the Empire tapped into the lake for industrial purposes leaving the water a highly corrosive and deadly acid.
Just before the fight begins we are treated to a brief interlude where on Yavin we see Artoo finally repaired and General Dodonna tells Luke that Princess Leia left on a mission by herself. This will play into the next issue.
The story then cuts back to the duel between Darth Vader and Valance. The Hunter tells the Dark Lord that throughout his life as a cyborg he loathed himself until he met Luke and his droid companion. Seeing Luke with Threepio convinced Valance that it was not impossible for someone like him with robot parts to be looked at as a friend rather than a freak. The admiration he now has for Luke and his rebellion is what compelled him to hunt down Tyler Lucian and keep Vader from finding him. A task he is willing to die for. Unfortunately, Vader proves to be the more powerful opponent and Valance is defeated; falling into the acid lake where he meets his end. Seeing this Tyler Lucian leaps from his hiding place into the same lake leaving Vader frustrated and angry at yet another failure to learn the identity of the person who destroyed the Death Star.
As I said in my intro this was a good finale to the Valance story arc. The Classic Marvel series is definitely picking up some steam and moving forward from the campiness that marred its early days.
Like in The Hunter we see very little of the integral characters in this issue, but this time the story is bearable and there are no Jaxxons or Amaizas to affect our enjoyment.
In a way the Valance trilogy perfectly symbolises the evolution of the Star Wars EU comics. The first issue was campy and not very good, the second was decent and showed signs of improvement, and the third was excellent. And it is nice to see more Darth Vader in these comics who sometimes goes long periods not making any appearances in the series.
Check in next time for my review of Classic Marvel #30 A Princess Alone; and may the Force be with you.
Before the Encyclopedia Browns in my audience correct my spelling I must protest in my defence that I made no mistake in writing Hut instead of Hutt. We hardcore fans all know it’s Jabba the Hutt, not Jabba the Hut. And I know this as well as the next fan. However, the writers of the Classic Marvel Star Wars comics apparently did not. So for the sake of accuracy in representing this issue I have retained the erroneous spellings used throughout issue 28 of the Classic Marvel series.
The story takes place immediately after Han and Chewie left The Wheel in the Millennium Falcon. They are attacked by an Imperial Star Destroyer and as usual Han Solo’s reaction is to jump into hyperspace. Unfortunately, after making point 5 past light speed the ship – famed for making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs – stalls on the two smugglers. Han quickly realises that the repairs conducted on the ship at The Wheel were inadequate and makes an emergency landing in a cave on planet Orleon make some last minute fixes.
Orleon to Han and Chewie’s dismay turns out to be a favourite hideout for none other than Jabba the Hut himself! (And, yes, like in the Marvel comic adaptation of the film Jabba is still a yellow walrus man in an orange suit.) Jabba, delighted, though surprised, immediately orders his men to kill Han and the Wookiee. With no alternative but to remain in hiding Han Solo and Chewbacca stay in the cave defending themselves against blaster fire while finishing the needed repairs. One of Jabba’s less intelligent goons suggests using proton grenades, but Jabba refuses since that could risk damaging the Millennium Falcon which he covets for himself.
Much of the blaster fire between Jabba’s thugs and Han and Chewie results in destroying large portions of the cave creating leaks from which a hive of insects begin to come to out. Han recognises these creatures instantaneously as stone mites which were a bio-engineered species created during the Clone Wars that secreted a strong acid that could eat through a planet’s mineral resources. And soon several of Jabba’s men stupidly decide to disobey the employer known for owning a rancor pit just in case someone displeases him and throw proton grenades in the cave anyway. The resultant explosion unleashes more of the stone mites which attack Jabba’s men who flee back to their master’s ship The Voidraker and Han and Chewie head back to their ship which is now crawling with the bugs.
Aboard the Falcon Han uses the ship’s de-icing system to heat the outer hull and kill the stone mites, but the ship begins to overheat fast leaving him with no choice but to turn it off. Plan B, however, proves more effective which involved blasting the roof of the cave and taking off at the same time. Leaving insects and crime lords behind the famed spice freighter makes it back to space repaired and fully functional. There they find Jabba’s ship laying dormant just as they receive a message from the Hut begging for permission to come aboard. Apparently, one of his more incompetent help (which narrows nothing down) brought several stone mites aboard which killed everyone accept Jabba and now were in the process of devouring the Voidraker from the inside out. Seeing a profitable opportunity Han grants Jabba safety aboard the Millennium Falcon on the condition that he cancels their debt and the prices on their heads and that he even adds a monetary bonus for their trouble. Jabba enraged, but with no other options accepts.
This issue, of course, poses a few obvious problems. For one thing the debt Han Solo owes Jabba is reneged in this issue which cannot possibly remain in effect for the events soon to follow in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Thankfully, this is no real contradiction because in a later issue it gets resolved. You will either have to wait for my review or read the classic issues yourself, but for now let’s suffice it say that Han Solo will find himself in debt to Jabba once again.
The other problem is that Jabba is still does not look like a traditional Hutt. And sadly this gaping continuity error about his physical appearance is never explained. In the issues prior to Return of the Jedi he is a walrus and then suddenly he is a slug. His sudden transition, however, remains a mystery. There is no in-universe explanation that I know of made to resolve this. It will just have to remain one of those things a reader will have to ignore as he enjoys the Classic Marvel era of Star Wars comics. The writers did not know what a Hutt looked like before Return of the Jedi and that is best we can get for an explanation.
Overall this story is a quick read, with some nice, fun action and adventure to please fans. We’re still miles away from Timothy Zahn so aiming higher than that is not a realistic expectation.
Check in next time for my review of Classic Marvel #29 Dark Encounter
As the title of issue #27 implies this marks the return of Valance the robot-hating cyborg bounty hunter we first met in The Hunter. On the planet Junction, an Outer Rim world teeming with equipment suppliers outside of Imperial regulation, Valance is biding his time in his search for Luke and his two droids by collecting bounties on local scum and purchasing used droids for the sole purpose of blasting them. The seller of these hapless droids is one Skinker, an equipment supplier all too happy to make some quick credits even if he does not understand precisely why Valance’s prejudice against mechanicals is so strong that he needs to throw away good money to entertain himself destroying expensive equipment.
Meanwhile, Luke and Threepio are on a mission to scout the extent of the Imperial blockade in the Gordian Reach (see last review) and to pick up components on Junction to repair Artoo who was damaged in the last issue. Aside from a brief run in with an Imperial battle cruiser Luke easily and quickly arrives at Junction and gets the parts he needs. The only unfortunate snag is that he buys them at none other than Skinker’s who sells the parts gladly, but delays on delivery so he can report to Valance. Luke and Threepio match the description Valance gave of the two he has been hunting and Valance pays well.
The bigoted and insane bounty hunter arrives at the scene and is about to blast Luke and the protocol droid into oblivion when Luke deflects the blast with his lightsaber which is yellow for some reason (don’t ask me, I stopped giving a damn at this point) and the deflected blast damages Valance’s organic components revealing the cybernetic machinery underneath. The shock of the bounty hunter’s hypocrisy causes enough hesitation in Luke for Valance to take advantage of it and knock the farm boy from Tatooine on his ass with his powerful metal arm. But before he can destroy Luke with his blaster Threepio bravely and uncharacteristically steps in front of his master hoping to give Luke enough time to flee. The heroic, noble, and very human act disturbs Valance who begins to question his own prejudices against machines. A droid willing to sacrifice itself out of friendship for a human? Unheard of! In his moment of indecision the confused and frustrated bounty hunter tells the two friends to leave and Luke and Threepio do so gladly before he changes his mind. As they head back toward their ship Luke posits that this is not likely the last they shall see of Valance.
Return of the Hunter is another prime example of the Star Wars saga’s penchant for replacing the current trends of gritty realism and pessimistic character studies that were so popular in 1960’s and 1970’s cinema and literature with an almost childish optimism and archetypal look at heroism and noble adventurers. On the surface a more discerning and more jaded critic would probably point out the cliched and unrealistic absurdity of Valance’s transition from longtime robot-hating bigot to a reformed man rethinking his beliefs so quickly. However, we should remember that this is Star Wars. It is not Game of Thrones or The Godfather and these innocent little snippets of optimistic heroism and opportunities for evil to become good is a common theme in the saga. Yes, I know Valance becoming confused and letting Luke and Threepio go free is silly; but it is endearing in its own little way. It’s why we love Star Wars so much. It’s not a bloody epic of realism and intrigue; it’s an entertaining space opera that is for children as well as adults. That is why I can forgive Star Wars when it gives in to cliche and norms we have seen a thousand times over in myths, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and fairy tales. We don’t need complex, shades-of-grey, antiheroes all day do we?
So while this is not one of the greatest examples of writing in the Star Wars EU I don’t mind it much and I would gladly read this over novels about zombie Death Troopers any day of the week. Sometimes a good dose of camp and naivete is what we need from time to time.
Check in next time for my review of Classic Marvel #28 Whatever Happened to Jabba the Hutt?
A few story arcs back – if the reader remembers – Luke Skywalker was sent by the Rebel Alliance to seek out a new planet as a location for the Rebel base. With his failure to do so during the Drexel mission and the other events that kept him and his friends preoccupied the Rebel leaders were forced to remain for a longer period of time on Yavin 4 than was safe. And this becomes quickly apparent when Imperial TIE fighters begin to continually assault the Massassi Ruins where the base is located. While the Alliance, with aid from their best X-Wing pilots, are able to repel these continued attacks the raids have left much of the Rebel supplies depleted. This leaves conducting the simplest of repairs slow when not impossible.
Meanwhile, as these events transpire Luke, Princess Leia, and the two droids Artoo and Threepio are on Centares, a mid-rim world, to purchase a used starcraft from a dealer named Jorman Thoad. Luke is still searching for a potential new base in the Outer Rim and the minimally armed yacht they took from Senator Greyshade was obviously not safe enough to explore those territories. After the transaction is complete Jorman tells Luke and Leia that a mining explorer owned by the House of Tagge is headed toward the Gordian Reach (where Yavin is located) to end a spice strike happening on one of the worlds there. The dealer also tells them that that sector of space has been blockaded by the Empire until the spice operation is back on schedule.
Aboard their new ship Leia informs Luke that the Gordian Reach in fact has no spice operations which means the rumour about the strike is just a front for the actual reason the Empire is blockading the sector. She reasons that the Empire is trying to prevent word from spreading of the destruction of the Death Star by the Alliance and to wipe out the Rebel base in retaliation.
To get past the blockade Luke jumps into the same hyperspace tunnel as the Tagge mining explorer and rides the heels of its engines. Baron Tagge who commands the mining explorer hopes that if he succeeds in destroying the Rebel Base he will gain favour with the Emperor and replace him as his second-in-command instead of Darth Vader. Tagge hates Vader for an injury that the Dark Lord gave him with his lightsaber that left him blind aside from the use of a special pair of cybervision goggles. Much of his time is spent mastering lightsaber techniques to prepare for his next encounter with Vader.
While practising with his lightsaber one of the ship’s helmsmen detects Luke and Leia’s vessel following them in hyperspace. In an attempt to destroy them Tagge orders magnetic mines to be launched in their direction. After dropping out of hyperspace Luke uses the Force to focus and successfully destroys all of the mines before they damage the their ship. Fortunately they have already reached the Yavin System by this time where to Luke’s horror he discovers that the Empire has a base hidden beneath the gases of Yavin which is where all of the recent TIE Fighter attacks have been coming from. The station beneath the gas giant’s troposphere has a device that can artificially create cyclonic tunnels within the planet’s gases which the TIE’s can fly through without being damaged.
Before they can warn the Alliance, however, two scout ships attack them which severely damages their engines. Thankfully a reconnaissance patrol of X-Wing fighters saves them and destroys the scouts.
Back at the base the Rebel leaders theorise that the TIE fighters are using installed signalling devices that notify the hidden space station to create the cyclonic funnel. After discovering that one of the Imperial scout ships crashed on Yavin 4 undisintegrated Luke takes Artoo and an X-Wing to find it and retrieve the signalling device. Although they successfully retrieve it the Imperial pilot who survived the crash fires at them and severely damages Artoo. Luke is told back at the Massassi Ruins that Artoo could not be repaired because the necessary parts needed are unavailable due to the supply shortage. Embittered Luke volunteers to fly a commandeered TIE Fighter with the signalling device installed to reach the space station and shut down its funnel-creating mechanism. Such a mission has a low chance for survival and Luke knows this.
Luke uses the device and is permitted into the base by the station which mistakes him for one of the missing scout craft. There Luke finds the Imperial station to be a massive turbine that stirs up the planet’s gases creating artificial storms. With the stolen TIE Fighter he destroys the station and once again uses the Force to focus and guide his way out of Yavin’s gassy troposphere.
Meanwhile Baron Tagge escapes in his mining explorer and vows to do worse to Luke than whatever revenge he has in store for Darth Vader.
This is one of those stories that is neither real good, but not especially terrible either. The real purpose served by these two issues is to setup the Baron Tagge storyline which continues on later in the Classic Marvel run. The story itself is kinda weak and I feel compelled to ask why the Rebel Alliance had no contingency plan for fleeing Yavin 4 if their location was discovered. And with or without the Death Star the Imperial fleet is still a massive power not to be taken lightly and it really does not need to create a new station any time soon to deal with the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. It amazes me that the Empire has acted in such a lightweight fashion by allowing the Yavin 4 base to continue existing for even this short a period.
But I think these plot holes are of minimal concern as I had pointed out that the main purpose of this story was to set up a later, better one. This sadly leaves this story unskippable to fully enjoy the story of Baron Tagge and his personal vendetta against Darth Vader. While not being one of my favourites I can say that I have seen worse and do not feel too inclined to complain.
Check in next time for my review of #27: Return of the Hunter of the Classic Marvel run and may the Force be with you.
Star Wars Episode II – The Wrath of Kylo Ren