Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost

Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost 

The third installment in the long running Crimson Empire series was released monthly from late 2011 to early 2012. The trade paperback releases on September 19th, 2012.

                Crimson Empire III is much like its predecessor in several important ways. It focuses on a threat to the sanctity of the new Empire, Kanos' attempts to find himself in the galaxy, and Sinn's efforts to decipher her feelings for Kanos and serve the New Rebellion. We are introduced to yet another aspiring Imperial warlord with a diabolical plan or two to bring both the Republic and the Empire to their knees. Crimson Empire III is better than either of its preceding stories, finally managing to strike a delicate balance between an action heavy kill fest and utterly bland political thriller.
                Former Imperial Guardsman Kir Kanos has turned to bounty hunting since the events of the second story, but of course he doesn't manage to stay out of the Empire's affairs for very long. Almost immediately he finds himself embroiled in yet another conflict with a power mad Imperial warlord, this time a former assassin named Devian and his underling Vota. Kanos must once again walk the fine line between selling out his loyalty to the long deceased Emperor Palpatine and allowing a crazed and bloodthirsty schemer to assume power in the new governing body of the Imperial Remnant.
                Complicating things is the appearance of Mirith Sinn, now serving as the personal bodyguard of Leia Organa Solo, now Chief of State of the New Republic. Mirith begins to question her commitment to Leia and undergoes a crisis of allegiance that finds her prepared to resign her post. Also, the heroes of the New Republic get a substantial amount of face time as Han laments his role as an important General, Leia strives to keep the fragile new government together, and Luke shows up to belittle everyone. There is something here for everyone, but the standout is of course the dynamics of the new Imperial power structure and Kanos' role in the ongoing struggle. His involvement plays out through more collusion with the Republic and tenuous romancing with Mirith, and several bold moves that lead to awe inspiring action scenes.
                Crimson Empire III is a fantastic adventure to close out the arcs of both Mirith and Kanos, and luckily they are handled quite gracefully in this book. Kir's struggle with loyalty to the Empire, personal integrity, and passion for Mirith leads to a character that is as compelling as ever, while in this book Mirith's development is much the same. The relationship between the characters has always been far-fetched, but it works reasonably well here and is actually used to further the development of each of them, so I have no issue with it.
                As far as the many existing characters and their appearances here, most come off very well. Han's brief scenes as a General for the New Republic were very cool and captured an often overlooked portion of the characters history, touching on his desire to do good and his longing to be with his family in a very poignant way. Leia plays the most crucial role as leader of the New Republic, and as such she is portrayed as being a firm leader and unwaveringly loyal to those under her watch. While her skills are never put to the test here, this is a good book to showcase Leia's leadership qualities in a background role.  Pellaeon as the leader of the Imperial Remnant is another thing that we don't see much of that was quite enjoyable. He is definitely of the gentlemanly type and his appearance showed him to be nearly as clever as his mentor Thrawn.  Chewie and Boba Fett show up for about six panels combined so there isn't much to analyze there, but nothing out of character occurs for either of them.
                Only two characters registered totally misguided roles. Luke, who gets a dire warning from deranged hermit Vima-Da-Boda, shows up on Coruscant to question Kanos' credibility and challenge Leia on pretty much everything. He comes across as extremely hostile and unbalanced despite being a seasoned Jedi Master by this point, and worst of all his appearance contributes nothing to the plot. The three Solo children are basically interchangeable for the purposes of their one scene in this book, which would have been a pleasant look into the everyday lives of the Solos if not for the horrific artwork during this sequence. This scene was what I kept coming back to when thinking about the art for this book, and considering how bad it was, that isn't a good thing at all. 
Leia and Han's deformed children.
                If you can look past the all too often terrible work on facial features, you will find a nicely drawn and vibrantly colored book with some very creative action sequences that make little to no use of light sabers or force powers. The worst among the faces are clearly the Solo children. They have enormous, disproportionate heads and crazed smiles, coming across more as frightening imps than innocent youths. Devian, the primary antagonist, and his henchman Vota don't fare much better. Both have highly exaggerated and stereotypical looks, and Devian's face looks awful during a dining scene with Kanos. For the most part, everyone else is at least presentable, although there are occasional slip ups drawing Mirith, Leia, and Han too. The cross eyed, blank expressions these characters are sometimes drawn with takes the reader out of any scene where this pops up, and considering that even the best and most consistent features are nothing to go crazy about (Kanos never suffers from this, nor does Luke for what it is worth,) this is definitely a book that is more enjoyable when the focus is on blistering action and dramatic landscapes.
Melee weapons that aren't lightsabers and a The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly homage? I'm in!
                Speaking of the action, it truly is fantastic in this book. Everything except the obligatory final duel and a sequence where Devian apes off of Vader's appearance in Crimson Empire I is either a shootout or a fleet engagement. The art team uses perspective and positioning to create a wonderful sense of energy behind every such scene that more than makes up for the lack of melee heroics. This book features some of the best gunplay in the entire line of Star Wars comics, and I particularly enjoyed every moment where Kanos is dual wielding blasters (and the first person perspective shots, and when Kanos uses his staff at the very onset of the book, and so on.)
I don't remember Grans having green skin, but this guy (and most other aliens in this book) is rendered so well that I don't even care.
                The rest of the art in this comic is great as well. The New Republic era is mostly uncharted territory for the comics, so fans of the various ships, uniforms, and buildings described in the books but rarely pictured in illustrations will love this book. We get to look inside the senate building, a Republic starship, and Leia's chambers that have been mentioned in several books. Additionally we get to see the characters aged just a bit, and plenty of cool asides like new uniform designs for palace security and an awesome pair of glasses for Mirith Sinn. The vibrant colors also help the various alien characters come to life as well, something bolstered by the fact that the artist seemingly had very little trouble crafting them. Aliens don't play a huge role in this, with the most prominent one being a Gungan senator who shows up for just a handful of panels, but they often fill in backgrounds quite nicely. Expect to see familiar faces, Rodians, Grans and Klatoonians, done exceptionally well for the purposes of this book.
                Crimson Empire III is a major improvement over the second edition of this series and a fitting end for the series, if that is indeed what is in the cards. Juggling the various sub plots with more finesse than before, and featuring largely great artwork hindered only by some perplexing facial expressions, Empire Lost is a fantastic read for fans of the first two books and readers looking for a big story chock full of iconic characters.
Final Score

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