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Star Wars is clearly a cultural phenomenon, especially recently with the push the new movies have gained since LucasFilm was purchased by Disney. However, for the most part, the Star Wars stories tend to trod relatively safe adventure territory. So the political direction that writer Jason Aaron takes Star Wars #21 is practically shocking in that light. It’s a very bold choice by Aaron, giving the issue a great amount of edge and I would imagine controversy to some. Still, Star Wars #21 does not feel sensationalized. We also get to see the Rebel Alliance from a very different point of view.
Aaron takes a fresh approach in Star Wars #21 by telling the story from the standpoint of a Stormtrooper commander. The issue follows a squadron of SCAR Troopers (Special Commando Advance Recon) as they investigate a Rebel outpost. Contrasting to what we usually see from the Stormtroopers in Star Wars properties, these troops are very effective. The small team wipes out most of the Rebel group, who were waiting to ambush them. Meanwhile, Sergeant Kreel (who Aaron introduced in an undercover role as Gamesmaster earlier in the series) also tells the story of how he came to be a Stormtrooper and why he takes such pride in it. He also shows how he views the Rebels and from his perspective, you can almost see why he feels this way.
Aaron succeeds by taking the everyman angle to the Empire’s side. Not only is the choice to show a competent bunch of Stormtroopers refreshing, he demonstrates why Kreel views the Rebels with disgust. He was rescued from a form of slavery by the Empire, so he views them as synonymous with his freedom. Kreel has a great deal of loyalty and pride in the Empire. Although we followed a Stormtrooper (Finn’s character) in The Force Awakens, it’s quite different here. We see Finn as a good character who has been brainwashed and is courageous for breaking free of the Empire’s control. That’s not the case in this issue. Kreel acts with free choice, not as a doubting pawn.
Showing the story from the Empire’s point of view is not what’s so radical about Star Wars #21. It’s how Aaron shows the Rebels. Kreel flat out calls the Rebels terrorists. To him, the Rebels are the ones who ambushed and killed his comrades. This issue really puts the “war” in Star Wars and shows that the Rebels are actually killing people in combat. It also broaches a delicate issue – what exactly is a terrorist? Is the Rebel Alliance blowing up an Empire military base (albeit one called the “Death Star”) an act of heroism or terrorism (or somehow both)? The story also brings in current world situations into this story since the news sadly seems to be constantly discussing terrorism. Aaron isn’t defending all terrorism, but he is asking some difficult questions about whether some types of acts that those in power would call terrorism are actually heroic.
Artist Jorge Molina provides good work on this issue, although it definitely has a slick look consistent with current Marvel Comics. That’s not a bad thing, and Molina does draw the action of the issue with skill. It’s not the most distinct-looking work. However, it works well for the issue. The cover of Star Wars #21 is done by David Aja, a recent winner of an Eisner Award (for Best Cover Artist). He demonstrates why he is so good at what he does. The layout and design of the cover is great. When you add in Aja’s precise pencils, the covers ends up one of the most interesting illustrations of Stormtroopers that I have seen in some time.
The issue itself doesn’t offer an especially memorable plot. However, Star Wars #21 is much more of a character study than a plot-based story. It is very effective. It’s hard to sympathize with Kreel but you can understand why – given his background – he would want to serve the Empire. Aaron, fresh off winning his own Eisner last week for “Best Writer,” gives an excellent demonstration of his skills in this issue. Aaron has explored a mix of fan service action moments and unexpected side stories in this series. Star Wars #21 is probably one of the more interesting issues in the series so far because of the issues it tackles.