Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Retro Marvel: Star Wars #48

The idea that the Galactic Empire did not have complete control of the galaxy was only cursorily mentioned in the movies.  It was understood that as one went further from the "bright center of the universe" towards the Outer Rim Territories that Imperial presence waned, but, as was seen in the original movie, the Empire was able to muster substantial force to occupy planets far removed from the core worlds if necessary.  The first Han Solo novel in the Expanded Universe introduced the Corporate Sector Authority which oversaw a large number of star systems autonomous from the Galactic Empire.  But even the Corporate Sector Authority was located in the Outer Rim Territories.  Marvel went one step further in exploring the reach of the Empire by introducing a planet called Aargau, a major banking center of the galaxy.  Aargau is able to operate outside the purview of the Galactic Empire with "the technical superiority of it's armed forces."  In a nutshell, Aargau is neutral Switzerland in a Nazi occupied Europe.  And like Switzerland, Aargau has it's fair share of political intrigue, as the story in Star Wars #48 shows.

The Third Law is a tale that brings Princess Leia and Darth Vader face-to-face as political opponents.  Leia travels to Aargau with Viscount Tardi, C-3P0, and R2-D2 to secure a loan for a squadron of X-Wing Fighters.  Tardi "alone of the entire Rebel Alliance possess the stature in intergalactic finance as well as the ceremonial skill that is essential to complete a major transaction with the Bank of Aargau."  In customs, the entourage is told the 3 primary laws of Aargau:

On Aargau these crimes are punishable by immediate execution:

1. The unlawful removal of precious metals.
2. The unlawful possession of weapons by non-citizens.
(Conversely, it is unlawful for citizens to be unarmed.)
3. Willfully conspiring to defraud, discredit or deceive the bank of Aargau.

As the group finishes passing through the lax customs for entry, Darth Vader arrives with three assassins.  During the story, each assassin makes an attempt to kill Viscount Tardi which provide the bulk of the action in the story.  Each fails however and Vader asks for a meeting with Leia and Tardi at an old spaceport which Leia anticipated and agrees to.  At the meeting, Vader reveals:

Darth Vader: I have obeyed my Emperor's orders.  I have walked the razor's edge in the diplomatic snakepit.  But the time for subtlety is past!  My primary mission is to stop the loan!  You know that I can destroy you as easily as I lift my finger!  I have no wish to tread on the Emperor's delicate diplomatic toes, but if I am forced to do so, I shall.

Vader, clearly agitated with the diplomatic charade, strikes down Tardi with his lightsaber.  Leia pulls out a laser pistol and takes a shot at Vader which he easily deflects.  It turns out both have smuggled weapons into Aargau in their diplomatic pouches.  The rest of the pages are exposition between Leia and Vader.  Leia reveals that Tardi is actually a droid replacement for the real Tardi who died months earlier and the loan has already been approved with the crown jewels of Alderaan as collateral.  Leia needed Vader to kill the Tardi droid to cover up the evidence as "Tardi" would be scanned for precious metals when leaving the planet.  Vader reveals his real object was stealing the crown jewels of Alderaan.  Of course, between the two of them, they managed to break all 3 primary laws!

Star Wars #48a - Marvel Comics, U.S. (June 1981)
Star Wars #48b - Marvel Comics, U.S. (June 1981)
The cover and interior artwork ends Carmine Infantino's run on the Star Wars title.  (He did not work on issue #16, 17, 38 or The Empire Strikes Back adaptation in #39-44, but did the artwork on all the others going back to issue #11.)  Carmine will return to provide artwork on Star Wars #53, 54 and Annual #2.  The cover for Star Wars #48 shows Leia shooting at Darth Vader right after he cuts down Viscount Tardi.

Admittedly, the story is wonky.  Both Princess Leia and Darth Vader act out of character, especially when considering their interplay in the prior movies.  Still, it is a nice change of pace for the era and offers an early glimpse into the political intrigue tales that dominate the prequel era.

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