Monday, January 21, 2013

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Jedi Council: Acts of War

Jedi Council: Acts of War  

Acts of War was a four part miniseries released from June to September, 2000. The trade paperback was released in 2001, and it has since been collected in 2009's Rise of the Sith omnibus. 

                Jedi Council: Acts of War shows the wise and harmonious members of the Jedi Order let loose in absolutely chaotic fashion in a book that pulls no punches and wastes little time with pretense. This could almost be considered a tie in to Jedi Power Battles, a video game released to promote the Phantom Menace and featuring many of the characters with a role in this book. Like that game, this comic focuses less on the diplomatic and knowledgeable side of the Jedi Order and more on their ability to carve things up with their iconic sabers. Channeling the best in superhero team up books, Acts of War paints the Jedi as a near invulnerable tidal wave of unmitigated power and never attempts to establish a credible threat. Despite the weak story and bad antagonists, this is a fun book that gives us plenty of memorable moments for all but the Council's meekest members.
                This book doesn't have much in the way of plot, but it goes something like this. A team of twelve Jedi travel to the Yinchorri system to investigate the warlike locals and their rapidly expanding military force. In this book, investigation is more akin to "kill everything that moves" and it isn't long before our Jedi, dispersed to three different planets in the Yinchorri system to hunt for the enemy command post, are up to their necks in bad guys. Meanwhile on Coruscant, the less mobile Council members (Yoda, Yaddle, Yarael Poof, etc.) provide intelligence support, lobby for Republic intervention, and fight off an attack of their own. There aren't any real twists and the meta-plot is lacking, this really is an extended series of battle scenes with very little tension or importance. The outcome is never even close to being in doubt, the criticality of the Jedi's mission is suspect, and the final battle is laughably anti-climactic. It's a fun book, but not exactly a good one.
                There are two main things a book like this must do to be successful. The first is to provide us with an enemy that can actually stand up to the might of twelve incredibly powerful beings. Acts of War gives us a very uninspired attempt in this department, giving the Yinchorri the usual tricks (immunity to mind control, cortosis gauntlets that will short circuit lightsabers) but it doesn't give them the kind of intelligence or true ability that you would need to take on Jedi like Mace Windu or Qui-Gon Jinn. As a result, the Jedi do most of their fighting with one hand behind their backs: they don't use any of their offensive force powers until nearly the very end of the book, when they all start using telekinesis because the author finally wrote them into a hole too big for them to climb out of by simply using their sabers or doing something clever. We do get an enjoyable dynamic among the villains with Darth Sidious acting as the instigator of the Yinchorri menace and using famed Devaronian ne'er-do-well Vilmarh Grahrk as his man on the ground, but neither of them actually fight or really make plans outside of ensuring that the Jedi can't trace the Yinchorri menace back to them.
                The second thing that Acts of War has to accomplish is crafting a team that works well together and highlights each of its members to enough of a degree that they feel like important pieces of the puzzle instead of cannon fodder or filler. This is particularly a challenge because most of these people have little established personality or history outside of what we briefly saw of them in The Phantom Menace. Doing something like this from scratch is quite difficult, but surprisingly well handled in this book. By dividing the Jedi into three combat groups, we get to focus a little more on each individual character instead of just watching them carve mercilessly through the Yinchorri. The relationship between Plo Koon and Micah Giiett is really enjoyable and helps liven up their otherwise dull group. Plo in particular is probably the most intriguing character in the entire book. The second team is probably the most forgettable. Adi Gallia is a decent enough character, but she is supported by the most invisible of all the Council members and two totally dull new characters. The final team consists of all three A-list characters: Mace Windu, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan. It's interesting to note that this book really doesn't focus on this group the most or try to tell this story through the lens of any of these characters. It is a very balanced book that gives screen time to all of the Council Jedi reasonably equally (except poor Eeth Koth) and in doing so fulfills its goal of fleshing out the group of mysterious beings featured ever so briefly in the prequel movies. In addition to these characters, there are a few people that are fairly obvious red shirts due to their lack of face time in the movies and lack of status on the Jedi Council. They are handled well enough, but ultimately could have been scrapped altogether without losing a whole lot. One exception is K'kruhk, a character with a few memorable scenes here that would go on to be an unkillable constant in the Dark Horse line, eventually appearing in The Clone Wars, Dark Times, and Legacy. 
                Acts of War has reasonably effective art, possessing a cartoonish style that would feel a bit out of place on most Star Wars books but fitting the lighter tone and low stakes of this particular book. Everything is very colorful and there is a tasteful sense of kinetic style for the all important action scenes. Weaker elements would be the uninspired design of the Yinchorri themselves and their worlds, although the gas planet was pretty cool. The faces also look very similar, particularly the eyes. While this isn't a problem for some of the characters like Plo Koon or K'kruhk, people like Qui-Gon, Mace, Obi-Wan, and the more humanoid council members have very similar facial features outside of their defining characteristics (Mace's pigmentation and lack of hair, Qui-Gon's beard, and so on.) Obi-Wan in particular looks really bad for most of this book and bears almost no resemblance to Ewan McGregor's portrayal of the character. There's also a really goofy Sidious expression where he seems to be just a little too pleased with himself.  
Obi-Wan is allegedly on the far right.
                An amusing side note of the artwork in this book are the lightsaber colors: instead of the blue and green sabers that have been the typical fare of the Jedi, this comic came out at a time when the colors were less uniform and as a result many of the Jedi in this book have colors contrary to what they would normally use. Micah uses a pair of yellow sabers, Adi Gallia has a blood red crystal, and Plo Koon wields an orange blade. This is a neat anachronism, as the many different saber colors give their users a bit more personality and help to spice up the action scenes by giving us a bit more variety to behold. On the other hand, Mace Windu does not yet have his signature purple saber, instead using a boring old blue one. Since this was released some time before Attack of the Clones, Yoda is not shown to have a saber, instead holding on to his cane during the scene where the Yinchorri invade the Jedi temple.
                Acts of War isn't the greatest Star Wars book ever, giving us forgettable antagonists and a plot that leans too heavily on style over substance, but it does do a great job of showing us more of the prequel era Jedi, while also giving us a bit of characterization for some of them. If the Jedi during the various Council scenes never caught your eye, this book's narrow focus and single minded intent won't be for you, but fans who've always wanted to see those mysterious characters in action will probably enjoy this book.
Final Score

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