Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha: Suddenly, the EU Gets Really Good

(Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha is a foolish attempt to examine the entirety of the now decanonized Star Wars Expanded Universe and quantify its assorted artistic merits. Read the introduction. Check out the archives.)

Redemption

SW14-3

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

Artist: Chris Gossett

Medium: Comic

Publication Date: July – November 1998

Timeline Placement: 3,986 BBY

Series: Tales of the Jedi

Ten years have passed since the Sith War, and still Ulic Qel-Droma can find no rest or respite from his demons. He’s hired a pilot named Hoggon to fly him from planet to planet, looking for a place where he can escape from his memories and live out the rest of his days in solitude. Hoggon takes him to the moon Yavin 4, its jungle ecosystem now recovered from Exar Kun’s fiery end. “You can get a real sense of history here,” Hoggon explains. “It gives me shivers to be here . . . I can almost feel the echoes . . .” Ulic stands amid the crumbling ruins and sees them as they were: Massassi firing from atop unbroken walls, Republic soldiers rushing past, smoke rising from the burning temples, bodies littering the streets. The ghost of his brother, left arm missing below the elbow, staring back at him.

“No . . . this won’t do,” says Ulic, wringing his hands. “This won’t do at all.”

On Exis Station, Nomi Sunrider has called a Great Jedi Convocation, the first gathering of all the galaxy’s Jedi since the end of the Sith War. Nomi’s daughter, Vima, now probably around thirteen or fourteen years old, greets the Triceratops Jedi Master Thon and the felinoid Cathar Jedi Sylvar as they arrive on the repurposed mining station. Vima is eager to show her old master around, but the Jedi are called away as Nomi brings the gathering to order and begins laying out her plans to restore the Republic to its antebellum glory.

Feeling left out, Vima Sunrider looks at the two holographic images on her mother’s desk: “My father Andur . . . killed when I was just a baby. And Ulic, my mother’s second great love . . . I think she resents him more for leaving us than for what he did during the war.” She asks her mother if they can work on her Jedi training now, but Nomi is too harried and overwrought from all she still has to do for the convocation. Vima packs a bag and runs away from home, determined to find someone who can teach her to be a Jedi . . .

I’m going to try to keep this a little vaguer than usual because this one’s really special. They should have called it Kevin J. Anderson: Redemption.

I won’t lie and say that Anderson suddenly became a genuinely talented writer. The script is easily the weakest part of this book, with some characters’ dialogue coming off as unwieldy or unnatural. But it’s also markedly better than the four KJA stories we’ve read so far, and the approximately 500 we’ve yet to get through. His typical juvenile, overly enthusiastic tone is completely absent, as are the unnecessarily descriptive textboxes that have littered this entire series. Instead of being told what the characters are thinking and feeling, the art is finally allowed to convey it wordlessly.

KJA’s writing style couldn’t have picked a better time to spontaneously mature, either, as Redemption is easily the most beautifully illustrated comic ever produced for the Star Wars brand. Christian Gossett’s art has always been the highlight of Tales of the Jedi (except in The Golden Age of the Sith #0, for some reason), but the art, writing, and coloring in this volume are so different and so much improved that it’s hard to believe it’s part of the same series.

Even the framing bears mentioning, like a cool, auteur-directed movie. When Ulic and Vima first see one another, it’s through a broken pane of glass. Ulic’s image looms large and jagged, reflecting both the way Vima sees him and his own spiritual state, while the crack running through Vima’s youthful features conveys the broken lens of memory through which Ulic views her and mistakes her for her mother (“I didn’t come all this way just to be reminded of your mother’s face,” he snarls).

When Ulic is buried in an avalanche and wishes he would die, all we see of him is an extreme close-up of his eye inside a torn and irregular panel, representing his broken point of view. Similar little touches and attention to detail permeate the comic.

Among them is the thematic pervasiveness of the title. Redemption is a common theme in the EU, with many characters following in the footsteps left by Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, but few other stories match the deftness with which it is portrayed in this book. Tales of the Jedi: Redemption is not just another simple black-and-white tale of a Jedi fallen to the dark side working his way back toward the light. It’s about something more human and less metaphysical D&D alignment than that.

The redemption sought and offered here is not overly concerned with making amends for accumulating an overabundance of dark side points; it’s redemption for a wasted life, for refusing to let go of an old pain, for blaming others so you don’t have to blame yourself. The dark side of the Force is not nearly so scary as the darkness we all carry within our own hearts. The title is about Nomi and Sylvar as much as it is about Ulic, and the common thread that leads them all down the path to redemption is a little girl who wants to be a Jedi.

The characters in this book sparkle with a life heretofore absent from the series. Sylvar was an unmemorably flat and uninteresting side character in the previous two volumes, but here she practically leaps off the page, wounded and dangerous and thankfully completely redesigned so instead of just being a creepy a lion in a bikini she’s actually pretty badass.

Vima says it all about Nomi in the line I quoted earlier: “I think she resents him more for leaving us than for what he did during the war.” Absolutely she does. It’s not very heroic, and probably not very politically correct, but it is very human. It doesn’t excuse what she did to Ulic at the end of The Sith War, but it’s good to see KJA eventually acknowledge Nomi’s actions for what they were, and see how that resentment has festered inside her for a decade, shaping her as a Jedi and as a mother.

Ulic himself, the only real protagonist we’ve followed for any length of time since Xesh, is finally a compelling character as well. Free of the burden of being a well-intentioned idiot for the sake of the plot, Ulic is allowed to just be Ulic, and we to see him for all that that entails. Stripped of the Force, his friends, all his hope, and his Damoclean destiny, Ulic reads like an entirely different character.

Just from the way he’s drawn, the cant of his head and cast of his eyes, you can feel the weight of the albatross around his neck. When he tells Vima, “I no longer enjoy my memories . . . I have wandered too far, seen too much . . . I have the blood of enough children on my hands,” it doesn’t ring at all false or melodramatic. Unlike the cocksure, hotheaded, angst-ridden, and ultimately hollow young man as whom he came across in the rest of the series, this is a characterization with some real weight to it.

There’s a beautiful moment near the end of the book where Nomi goes looking for Vima and ends up coming face to face with Ulic for the first time in 10 years. They’re drawn in profile, facing one another with mostly blank expressions, but between them are two panels with close-ups of their eyes, and they contain all the sadness in the world. Without a single word, this look tells us everything we need to know about how these characters feel, all the lost time and wasted chances they see in one another in this moment.

Wait, am I still talking about a Star Wars comic?

The fact that Redemption is so much incongruously better than all the preceding volumes of its series is just one of the things that make me think readers would be better served by not even bothering with the other Tales of the Jedi comics and just skipping right to this one. Dark Lords of the Sith and The Sith War aren’t bad but tonally they don’t match their follow-up at all; the rest of the series, I feel, might actually weigh this volume down.

Tales of the Jedi in a single image.

Tales of the Jedi in a single image.

All the relevant information about these characters’ back stories and relationships is contained in the book’s opening crawl or conveyed through exposition. It’s set 10 years after the previous comics, making Redemption more of a coda to the main series than a direct continuation of an ongoing plot. It’s a pretty self-contained, standalone story, and I recommend it be experienced that way.

Regarding the passage of time, 10 years is a long time, but it’s not that long. Ulic and Nomi should probably still be in their early-to-mid-thirties, depending on how old they were supposed to be when we met them. The way that they’re drawn, however, they look at least 40, and Ulic could easily be in his fifties. Yeah, hard living and all that, but that was the excuse fans had to tell themselves when George Lucas compressed the gap between the original trilogy and the prequels, de-aging Old Ben Kenobi into a spry 57-year-old.

Details about the Great Sith War also don’t match up with what we saw previously. In The Sith War, no one from the Jedi or the Republic ever set foot on Yavin 4; they just stayed on their ships and cast Wall of Light from orbit. In Redemption, however, Ulic remembers ground combat taking place, with Republic soldiers fighting Massassi among the Sith temples. This scene also seems to imply that Ulic’s fatal duel with his brother took place on Yavin 4, when it actually happened on Ossus. Later lore would take its cue from this version, depicting a final battle between the Republic and Sith forces before Exar Kun killed himself.

A minor detail, but Ulic’s lightsaber blade is now yellow, when in Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon and The Freedon Nadd Uprising it was green, before becoming blue in Dark Lords of the Sith and The Sith War. The yellow blade is way cooler, though, so the hell with it.

More curious is the pendant that Ulic wears around his neck throughout Redemption. He frequently looks at it when deep in thought or lost in his memories, and freaks out when he almost loses it at one point. Weirdly, it’s drawn inconsistently, switching between a ring and a medallion between panels, sometimes even subsequent panels, but whatever it’s supposed to be, its importance to Ulic is clear.

Yet despite this, Ulic never speaks of it directly and we never learn its significance. It could have been something of Nomi’s, of Cay’s, of Master Arca’s, or perhaps a token of someone or something else entirely. Something of his mother’s, perhaps, or his early life before he became a Jedi? Something he picked up during his decade of soul-searching?

Its origin and meaning are known only to Ulic, and that’s actually a pretty cool withholding of unnecessary information; all that matters is that we know how Ulic feels about it. If you’ve just read the entire series, however, it feels a little strange that this thing is depicted as being so important despite coming out of nowhere.

Then there’s the matter of Ulic and Nomi’s romantic relationship. I get the feeling that Tom Veitch and/or KJA wanted it to be this epic, tragic love story, with two young lovers torn apart by a galactic war and the misguided decisions that caused it. What really happened though is that they kissed like once and then Ulic got into drugs and Nomi started PMSing really bad and set Ulic’s Force on fire.

Here, though, there is a real sense of something lost between them, a history whose squandering feels like it should matter. Forgetting about the strict guidelines of canon and continuity for a moment, Redemption feels like it would work best if set in a universe similar to Tales of the Jedi, but one in which those events didn’t happen exactly as depicted in the comics. There always was a good story embedded in there, it was just obscured by lackluster writing and weak structure.

If you ignore the rest of the series, you lose the good along with the bad, but it leaves the backstory up to your own imagination, and that may make for a stronger story than slavish adherence to the comics. In 1977, Star Wars dropped us into the plot in medias res, and fans spent the following two decades theorizing about the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire and Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. Then when we actually saw those things we couldn’t help but be let down. It’s true that Redemption was the end of Tales of the Jedi, not the beginning, but I think the same principles may apply. A good story always leaves you wanting more rather than knowing too much.

5/5 lightsabers. Legit art.

(Check out the Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha Archive for more meditations on obscure Star Wars lore.)

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