Comic Review: Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago, Volume 5

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago, Volume 5
Story by Jo Duffy, Archie Goodwin, Ann Nocenti, Randy Stradley
Pencils by Bart Blevins, Sal Buscema, Jaan Duursema, Ron Frenz, Bob McLeod, Cynthia Martin, Tom Palmer, Tony Salmons, Al Williamson
Inks by Sam de la Rosa, Steve Leialoha, Art Nichols, Tom Palmer, Whilce Portacio, Ken Steacy, Bob Wiacek, Al Williamson
Colors by J. Ferriter, Daina Graziunus, Michael Higgins, Elaine Lee, Glynis Oliver, Petra Scotese, Bob Sharen, M. Wrightson
Cover Art by Cynthia Martin, Art Nichols, Petra Scotese
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: February 26, 2012
Cover Price: $24.99

Lumiya, Dark Lady of the Sith! The Nagai! Zeltrons!

Does that make me seem too overexcited for this review?

Well then, go to buggery if it does, because my, oh, my, Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago, Volume 5 is an extraordinary trip down memory lane for those of us Star Wars fans old enough to remember the closing era of the Marvel Star Wars.

The fifth part of the A Long Time Ago Omnibus reprints the final series of issues originally released by Marvel Comics – from Issue #86 August 1984 to Issue #107 September 1986. The collection represents the closing period of Marvel’s Star Wars publication, in a post Return Of The Jedi era as the Expanded Universe (as it was during that time) would begin to wane. It would not be until 5 years later when Timothy Zahn would release Heir To The Empire, his first episode of The Thrawn Trilogy, that enthusiasm would return to the Expanded Universe with a new level of enthusiasm from fans old and new.

However, for those of us who are the older fans, before this time, our expanded deviations into Star Wars were relatively limited. We had a few novels, but nothing compared to the voluminous amount we have on hand at the present time. Outside of this, we had the Marvel series – a monthly escape into that galaxy far, far away.

I can remember fan reflections on the Marvel series during the 1990s being somewhat on the negative side of things. The quality of the new generation of EU material was superior, and most certainly more mature in certain characteristics – so the reflections of the Marvel series was that it was perceived as very juvenile and, at times, embarrassing to remember. With characters such as the giant green bunny Jaxxon, and creatures such as the Hoojibs, these criticisms are not completely unfounded – but should be remembered as elements that were common in many science fiction tales across multiple forms of media during the 1980’s.

I consider myself among those who used to have certain elitist views when reflecting on the Marvel series – until now that I have revisited it. Aside from this Star Wars omnibus being a wonderful journey into nostalgia, and recalling the tales from my youth; I was surprised to rediscover the solid quality of most of the series. It would seem our grown up perception of child-friendly elements, like the Hoojibs, has tainted and eclipsed our recollection of the plot quality. This is not dissimilar to the manner in which some criticize Star Wars Episode I because of Jar Jar.

A Long Time Ago Omnibus 5 carries us into the Star Wars galaxy during the events immediately following the film Return of the Jedi and the novel The Truce At Bakura. It follows the directions taken by the remaining Rebel Alliance before they could pronounce themselves the New Republic, laying foundation for what would eventually become the new direction of the Galaxy.

Largely basing themselves from the forest moon of Endor, the Rebels unite with ambassadors and representatives from numerous worlds to form The Alliance Of Free Planets, created with the goal of eventually recapturing Coruscant (though this is not mentioned in the comic, it is a part of the overarching goal), reinstating a new Republic, and bringing freedom to the rest of the galaxy by taking out or limiting the capacities of the Imperial Remnant.

Complementing the leadership (Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar) of the new Alliance are our Original Trilogy heroes. Luke Skywalker is training a small group of specialist recruits for the new Alliance – mostly in combat standings and in ethical terms; he refuses to begin training any of them in the use of the Force in the fear he would make the same mistakes Obi-Wan Kenobi made. Skywalker brings this up regularly to his recruits, who involve of some new regular faces including water-breathing Kiro and the Zeltron known as Dani.

Han Solo persists in working for the Alliance, constantly with Wookiee companion Chewbacca and often (almost always) finding themselves in trouble – usually with Lando Calrissian at their side, still assisting our heroes in the days before he reverts to (later legitimate) business ventures. All the while Solo is developing his relationship with Princess Leia, who continues to assist Mothma and Ackbar in the transition from Alliance to Republic, while also coming to terms (slowly) with the fact her father was actually Anakin/Vader.

The overarching plot, however, is not without its difficulties facing the heroes. The new baddie is a Dark Lady of the Sith named Lumiya. Formerly known as Shira Brie, an Imperial spy who infiltrated the Rebellion targeting Skywalker, she was eventually cybernetically augmented and healed by Darth Vader. More machine now than human, Vader took an interest in Brie, renaming her Lumiya, and taking her on as a secret apprentice in a form similar to that of Starkiller from The Force Unleashed series.

After the fall of the Empire and the destruction of the Death Star at Endor, Lumiya was free to pursue her Sith agenda without the constraints of Vader or Imperial doctrine. She allied herself with loyal Stormtroopers and the aggressive armed force of the Nagai, a species taking the opportunity to expand their power now that the Empire has fallen.

The Marvel story arc presented in this Omnibus follows these events, as the Nagai led by Lumiya begin to take on the Alliance Of Free Planets; while a darker and uncaring threat awaits both sides later in the story.

Lumiya’s launch into the Marvel story is a significant one. While based from a previous character, she is essentially a “Female Vader,” a new nemesis for Luke Skywalker; but the creation of the character would have larger ramifications on the Expanded Universe at large years later, eventually leading to the fall of Jacen Solo to the dark side to become Darth Caedus. But that’s another story for another time.

Lumiya decides to wield a lightwhip as opposed to a Sith Lightsaber. I believe this is the first time the weapon is introduced in a Star Wars publication, and the battles between her and Luke in the Omnibus are still as impressive as they were the day they were released. Nobody had really ever considered such a formidable opponent for Luke, especially after facing his father and Palpatine; and the Marvel creative team was considerably successful in this respect.

The Zeltrons are also a wonderful introduction in this series – the pink/red-skinned individuals who can influence others with their positive and romantic and lustful emotions. The inclusion of Bahb, Jahn, Marruc, and Rahuhl in the series, however, is pandering to the popular music scene of the day and age – with the writers and artists essentially making Zeltron copies of Duran Duran to try and appeal to a changing audience. They do, however, take responsibility for perhaps the sexiest outfit ever worn by Leia – even more fantastical than her notorious Jabba Slave outfit:

The Nagai, alternatively, are the complete polar opposite of the Zeltrons. They are colorless and emotionless – remorseless and tactically intelligent. They take on an image comparable to that of the Goth scene of the era: all in black and gray garb, white and pale faces, and stereotypically depressing. They do make for an interesting enemy in the context of the story, and I was often reminded how much of a precursor to the Yuuzhan Vong they were, now that I revisit the tales with the benefit of hindsight and retrospective.

Generally, the story writing in these closing issues of Marvel’s Star Wars era is of a very good standard. They do have some strength, though some individual self-contained adventures do present some (now glaring) plot holes in various places. But largely, the experience is enjoyable, and the overarching plot does have some consolidation throughout.

Consolidation, that is, until the conclusion. Clearly the creative team on Marvel’s Star Wars series was heading towards something with a specific roadmap in mind. The executive decision to cancel the series clearly had a major impact on them, as chief writer Jo Duffy and artists Cynthia Martin, Whilce Portacio, and Elaine Lee struggled to come to some form of satisfying conclusion in the final issue.

The results of this are tremendously mixed in the last issue of the series. While the conclusion is fairly satisfying, the overall context feels rushed. It feels as if several issues have been skipped over. Penciller Cynthia Martin indulges in creating a shirtless Luke Skywalker for the installment, complete with 1980’s styled headband/bandanna, with long hair – creating almost a He-Man look for our young Jedi.

The look is a deviation for a single issue, though somewhat out of place for the character we have all come to love. The main enemies are underdeveloped, looking more like fat versions of The Incredible Hulk wearing Renaissance/Pirate garb, and come across as a gaudy and incapable enemy.

Certain issues aside from the final one also feel out of place. Attempting to capitalize on George Lucas‘ new focus on the Ewoks during the 1980s, and trying to market their own Star Comics imprint series of the Ewoks animated series comic adaptation, there are a couple of issues (one in particular called Small Wars), that turns the focus on the little Endor creatures. The result is a kid-friendly disaster that takes the reader completely out of the continuing story arc, and away from the rich, new characters introduced in the series.

Notwithstanding these retrospective criticisms, the collection in the Omnibus generally stands the test of time. It’s interesting looking at the credits of those issues too – well known and well respected names in the current Star Wars comics, such as Randy Stradley and Jan Duursema, cut their teeth on several of these (more memorable) installments, so it’s worth seeing where they have come from. There is also the surprise of the inclusion of some work from Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, both famous for their work on the Star Wars comic strip intended for newspaper publications.

The artwork is also unforgettable in these issues. Tony Salmon‘s, Tom Palmer‘s, and Cynthia Martin’s designs of the Nagai are so significantly striking that it has influenced the manner in which the creatures are rendered today in modern publications of the Star Wars EU. The coloring is bright, and the inking up to the regular Marvel benchmarks of the day and age.

On the whole, Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago Volume 5 is a delightful look back at what Star Wars was before its popularity somewhat declined during the late ’80s. It’s still enjoyable, and it is still fun – and its wonderful revisiting Lumiya, especially after her major role in the Legacy Of The Force novel series. While the book isn’t without its criticisms and downfalls, by and large it’s still entertaining, and possibly something hardcore fans of the Expanded Universe would love to check out. Casual Star Wars fans might appreciate a peep at it, though I think your average comic book fan might want to pass on this one. This is most definitely one for the Star Wars fans. And if this was on 4chan, then “I nostalgia’d, I lost.”

Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5

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