Ever wondered why the Empire didn’t just build a second Death Star? Oh wait…they did!
Well, nevertheless, issues 51 and 52 of the classic Marvel comics seek to answer that question anyway. In their defence these were published before Return of the Jedi was released and the story is actually quite good and one of my favourites of the classic Marvel run.
It turns out that in between the Death Star and the Death Star II there was another super weapon that the Empire built that had the same destructive capabilities as the original Death Star named The Tarkin. It was named obviously after the famed Grand Moff who was in charge of the first Death Star the Empire had developed. If Krennic was around he would have been pissed I am sure.
The story opens with a derelict X-Wing being picked up by the Rebel Alliance. Clutched in the dead pilot’s hands was a data cylinder containing information on the Empire’s new weapon, The Tarkin, which was a smaller and more manoeuverable space station that used the original Death Star’s ionic cannon with the same planet destroying abilities.
Alarmed by this, General Rieekan recalls all of the important Rebel figures from their assignments to be briefed on this new weapon. Leia and Threepio are recalled from a mission to find a new Rebel base, Luke and Artoo are recalled from a spy mission that was getting botched anyway, and Lando and Chewie are recalled once again from their quest to find Han Solo. Those two can’t catch a break, can they?
Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Artoo, Threepio, and Chewbacca all volunteer on a dangerous mission to sneak aboard The Tarkin and sabotage it; but Lando wants to come too, but unfortunately for him the Rebellion looks at him in disfavour because of his actions on Bespin. For an organisation that values the input of smugglers and outlaws they are strangely unforgiving.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader is having problems of his own when some of his underlings think he has been Force choking too many people lately. After seeing him mind trick an officer into walking out an airlock (which is awesome by the way) a group of Imperial officers conspire to assassinate the Dark Lord because they are afraid if he lives much longer all their lives will be forfeit.
Elsewhere, Luke and company land on planet Hockaleg and steal worker uniforms as a disguise for sneaking aboard a shuttle to the Tarkin. On board their discretion gets compromised when they are stopped by stormtroopers after they attempt to enter a restricted area. A fight ensues and they manage to escape by splitting up. Chewie and the Droids make it to the station’s tractor beam generator and Chewbacca destroys it by throwing a stormtrooper at it causing it too explode. I don’t know about you; but I don’t think a computer that controls a tractor beam should be that volatile and explosive, but it seems to work all the same.
Leia makes it to the generator for the ionic cannon and there she reverses the polarity (or some equally unimportant techno-babble) so that the next time the Tarkin fires it will direct it’s ion laser upon itself rather than its intended target.
While Luke is wandering around hallway he runs into Darth Vader who is once again attempting to capture Luke and lure him to the Dark Side of the Force. From the station’s bridge one of the conspirators, Colonel Nord, decides that this is the perfect time to turn upon the Dark Lord. Using the control panel on the bridge he opens an airlock to suck Lord Vader into the depths of space. Vader with the strength of the Dark Side of the Force grips the sides of the hatchway and pushes his way back aboard the ship and shuts the airlock. Then Darth Vader speaks aloud, “I shall deal with you later, Colonel Nord.” and in the next panel we see Colonel Nord with an “Oh crap; I’m screwed!” expression on his face. This is by far one of the greatest moments in the entire classic Marvel run. I love it!
Luke and his friends escape the Tarkin in the shuttle, but they are intercepted by Vader in his Advanced TIE Fighter which he used in A New Hope. The shuttle is picked by the Millennium Falcon piloted by Lando who decided to disobey his orders to stay behind. Darth Vader tries to gain on them, but the Falcon dumps water from its tanks which in space freezes instantaneously into ice chunks which collide with Vader’s ship disabling it.
Colonel Nord trying to kill two birds with one ion laser decides to fire the Tarkin’s beam at the Falcon with Vader’s ship still in the way. But, thanks to Princess Leia’s sabotage the Tarkin destroys itself allowing the rebels to escape and Darth Vader gets to live to Force choke incompetent officers another day.
This is one of the best stories to come out of the Marvel run, but like all of them it has its imperfections. These are fairly minor,but the most major flaw is that the Empire actually was, in fact, developing another Death Star which makes me wonder where the Empire is getting the resources and funding to make all of these superweapons.
Dark Siders really love planet killing machines it seems. From the Death Star to the Tarkin to the Star Forge to the Sun Crusher; it seems if you are evil in the Star Wars Galaxy you are gonna have an itch to blow billions of people up with a super weapon.
Another minor flaw is that when Leia and Threepio are scouting for a rebel base they encounter some gundarks which attack them. Problem is these gundarks bear no resemblance to the ones we see in West End Games and The Clone Wars TV series. I believe some retcon was made years later to explain away the continuity error, but I am not far ahead in my own EU exploration myself yet to be aware of it.
What I do love about this story arc, though, is the idea that the Imperial officers are actively resenting the fact that Darth Vader is killing them when they fail him. In the movies they all shrink in awe of his power and they fear him, but we see no sign of them resenting it. But, here we see Imperials actually scheming to get rid of Vader so they can survive their mistakes. Throughout Star Wars history the Sith had a bad habit of responding poorly to failure leaving many of their minions loyal to them only through fear. Later in the EU we see Grand Admiral Thrawn and other non-Force-Sensitive Imperials take a more pragmatic approach to failure and a more critical attitude to how Vader and the Sith handled things.
And it honestly makes more sense that human beings would try to preserve their lives. After seeing through Captain Needa’s example that apologising is ineffectual in surviving a failure these men decided the only rational way to survive is to get rid of Vader. It fails, of course, and miserably; but I can see how such an attempt would realistically happen.
And Vader’s threat to Colonel Nord and Nord’s fearful “Oh crap” reaction is still one of the most bad ass Darth Vader moments in the entire EU.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Check in next time for Star Wars EU Reviews Supplemental: Why Star Wars Fan Art Should Be Taken Seriously.
I have been getting asked a lot lately by readers how to track down or where to find many of these Marvel issues. I am actually very pleased that my reviews are helping revive interest in the old Marvel series and so I decided that from now on I am going to post a link at the end of each of these reviews to resources where you can find and purchase collections of them. My best recommendation for finding this week’s reviewed issues is the Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…Volume 3 which collects issues 50-67 and the second annual of the classic Marvel run.
You can find it for sale at these sites here.