Republic: Prelude to Rebellion
Prelude to Rebellion is a rather strange tale to headline a new monthly series looking to hook readers in to the world of Star Wars comic books, especially considering it came out right before the prequel mania hit. Time hasn't been especially kind to it, and with its many strange elements involving the culture of Cerea and the unusually slow pace and small scale, Prelude to Rebellion is certainly not something I'd recommend to people looking to get into Star Wars comics, especially when Dark Horse has so many incredible options out there. Instead, it is something for the hardcore fan, as its characterizations of Jedi Councilman Ki-Adi Mundi and Jabba's thug Ephant Mon (seen in Return of the Jedi) will intrigue those who are actually familiar with the characters, and as a historical artifact it is a very interesting read to look at the genesis of the Republic series and to marvel at just how far it progressed over time.
Prelude is essentially two books in one. The first, and more successful, portion of the book deals with rising tensions on Ki-Adi Mundi's homeworld of Cerea. The conservative, technologically disinclined older generation is clashing with the younger groups about the future of the planet. A Republic representative has arrived and is stirring up even more strife between the groups, and after a disastrous attempt at resolving the situation, Ki ends up igniting more controversy and causing his daughter to run away from home. He then begins a somewhat slow paced investigation, interviewing informants and witnesses and trying to figure out more about the shadowy conspiracy behind the trouble on Cerea. Along the way, he fights some punks and a few droids, and we learn a lot about the unique family dynamics and customs of Cerea. It turns out that Ki has several wives due to the disproportionate amount of female to male Cereans, and as a result the family scenes take a bit of an awkward twist. More bizarre is that there seems to be plenty of men in crowd shots and the like, and in fact they arguably outnumber the females, but I digress. This is a remarkably small scale story for a book that was the first arc in Dark Horse's new monthly that would lead up to and tie in to the prequel movies, so those who think that Star Wars is at its best during the many Jedi vs. Sith conflicts or when something like the Death Star is in play will probably be disappointed, but if you can appreciate smaller scale stories then Prelude will probably be of some interest to you.
The second part of the book is a more simplistic action story set over and on Tatooine. By this point, most of the intrigue in the book has been resolved and the focus shifts to a more action packed rescue story. Ephant Mon really comes into his own here and Ki does his best to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the vile gangster. Despite being a more conventional comic, this segment still has a few enjoyable moments. It does get to be a bit tedious though, after it becomes fairly apparent that nothing is going to even challenge Ki and the most interesting thing that is going to come out of this is how they set up the second arc. Here is where the story drags quite a bit, as we march towards the conclusion and the elusive finish line keeps inching further and further away. Ki boards a space ship infested with alien bugs to rescue his daughter, but then she is on Tatooine as a captive, and so on...this part could've been snipped quite a bit without losing much of anything.
Even though Prelude to the Rebellion doesn't have much consequence or a particularly interesting story, it does manage to get a number of things right. Ki and Ephant Mon are perfect examples of what the EU can bring to Star Wars in general. These characters, previously seen for just seconds in the films, are given actual personalities and histories here. Ki has quite the knack for dark, self-depreciating humor and seems to be a very unconventional Jedi Knight, if for no other reason than his family situation. Ephant on the other hand is far more clever than he initially appears and using such an obscure and odd looking character surely works in this book's favor. The rest of the characters are fairly bland and doomed to being forgotten, but in just giving us compelling portrayals for two background figures from the films, this book has done a decent job where characterization is concerned.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to Prelude's art team was the fact that the vast majority of characters are cone-headed aliens. By their very nature, they look somewhat ridiculous, and Ki's self depreciating sense of humor doesn't help when it comes to taking the Cereans seriously. Luckily the book actually does a pretty good job of making them seem like real people inhabiting a real world and not just a stupid punchline. There are some decent looking head gear designs for the men, and their world calls to mind Naboo with its simplistic beauty, abundant wildlife and elegant architecture. Female characters don't fare quite so well, with most of them sporting hair that covers the entire length of their head that then manages to look like the most radical beehive hairdo known to man. Full heads of hair just don't work with characters who have a cranium that extends half a meter above their eyes.
Besides salvaging one of the worst alien design concepts in Star Wars, the art is solid but nothing to get too excited about. There is some cool paneling, mixing up the composition quite a bit and using different frames to convey the tone of any given scene, but that would probably be the highlight. Depending on the intensity of the scene, the framing is either a very conventional box style construction or a slightly askew rectangular shape with very bold and dramatic trimming. Some of the really important scenes are even given different color bordering, like red. The attention paid to simply setting the scene helps make up for the otherwise mechanically sound but unchallenging artwork. Action scenes tend to be a bit bland, though of course it doesn't help that Ki isn't given many true challenges throughout the story. As with most Star Wars books, the starscapes and laser effects are enjoyable but not spectacular. There is hardly any effort put into most back ground scenes, with the sequences taking place in cities not having a lot of liveliness. At the same time, there isn't anything that is truly bad about this book's art. In terms of production quality it is perfectly acceptable given its release date and it has enough going for it to be a compliment to the book and not a distraction.
Prelude to Rebellion is a good way to introduce Ki-Adi-Mundi and his unique culture, but that's about it. The art is average, the story meanders a lot, and despite some very solid world building and a much appreciated role for longtime background character Ephant Mon, the first arc in the Republic ongoing is mediocre and non-essential, and can therefore safely be skipped.