Princess Leia returns to Alderaan, and finds out that you can never go home again in Star Wars #9 by Brian Wood.
Issue #9 of the ongoing Star Wars series (DarkHorse.com profile) has to track the activity of several different characters all at once, so we get a mix of vignettes contininuing the storylines where we left off: Princess Leia boarding a derelict Clone Wars-era vessel in the asteroid field formerly known as Alderaan in an off-the-books mission, Chewbacca and the Falcon are on the run from Bossk, Luke and Wedge are sneaking around inside the Devastator, Birra Seah is monitoring their movements for Vader, Prithi is waiting for the lads to call for an exit, and Han and Perla square off against Slave I. Spoilers ahead!
Summary: Leia lands aboard the Audacity, and poses as Breha when she meets the fellow Alderaanian survivor who invited her aboard. The wealthy but grizzled man invites her in for tea and shows her his collection of Alderaanian stuff, mostly scoured from the black market. When he steps out for some biscuits, Leia discovers his true identity with the help of T4: he is Tag Rogaren, designer of the Death Star's superlaser, and overhearing, Rogaren admits to his role in building the Death Star. Yielding to the princess' blaster, Rogaren apologetically surrenders his trove and identifies his guest as Queen Breha's daughter, Princess Leia.
On Coruscant, Chewbacca manages to shake off Bossk by piloting the Millennium Falcon through the dense traffic lanes of the city, while Han calls in for some assistance. Perla's trash scow has crashed atop a Golan defense platform, and as Boba Fett exits Slave I to try to capture Han Solo alive, Perla sabotages the Golan, causing it to tip out of control, and she, Han, and the bounty hunter slide onto the top side of the waiting Falcon.
Aboard the Devastator, Wedge and Luke reach the computer core when they are ambushed. As Wedge tries to slice the network, Luke holds off the stormtroopers with his lightsaber, and some guidance from Ben Kenobi. Stealthily docked on the underside of the Star Destroyer, Prithi realizes she is running low on life support while waiting for Wedge and Luke to complete their mission. And as Birra Seah reports in to her real boss, Darth Vader, with news that Antilles and Skywalker are aboard the ship, Vader commands her to take Skywalker alive.
Review: And so bit by bit, the story for each character progresses. While the action side of the issue comes from both the Luke story and the Han story, the real meat of the issue is found in the Leia storyline - she comes across one of her countrymen, who turns out to be a wanted war criminal. While he didn't pull the trigger on his home world, he feels the guilt of his actions and is willing to be executed for his role in helping create the weapon that destroyed his entire planet. And so we get the questions for Leia, who came here mostly to grieve her lost world: what to do with this man, and what to do with his legacy of salvaged items?
Tag Rogaren fits well as a Star Wars name, by the way. Tag is already established as an in-universe name (from Tag and Bink comics, as well as being a clone nickname on The Clone Wars) and Rogaren almost seems like a contraction of Roganda Ismaren, the Alderaanian who served as an Emperor's Hand, later seen in Children of the Jedi.
The other little revelation in the story is in Darth Vader's musings to himself at Endor after he hangs up on Birra Seah. He feels that the construction of a second Death Star is a foolish endeavor as he knows what the ultimate power in the galaxy is - and the Emperor doesn't. Is he already plotting a break from his master? Plus we get a cool panel of a view of the Death Star II from inside his mask.
Brian Wood, who shied away from using R2-D2 early in the series, has no qualms about using Leia's T4 and Prithi's R5 as conversation partners, and it is neat to see T4 be more than just a sounding board for Leia's ideas, and puts forth ideas of its own, echoed in her replies: Leia takes her blaster with her aboard the Audacity with this line to her astromech: "Okay, okay. If only to calm you down."
The pursuit of Han and Chewbacca has been going on now for a few issues, and has switched from being aboard ships in space and on Coruscant, to now being at a personal level.. Perla gets some points for helping save Solo's skin again, by wrecking the platform they crashed on while Han distracts Boba. I'm hoping this chase wraps up soon - it seems to be dragging out in order to keep the some blaster-packed action going on in the past few issues. At least the Luke and Wedge plot seems to be advancing as the duo appear to be achieving their goal.
The art in this issue (Ryan Kelly with pencils, Dan Parsons with inks, Gabe Eltaeb with colors, Michael Heisler with lettering) gains the same opinion as it did in the previous issue (See my review of #8) - I liked the look of the female characters: Leia, Birra, Perla, Prithi, band the non-human-face characters, Chewie, the droids, Bossk, and Vader most of the time, but the guys look a little cartoony - like Mad Magazine style versions of those characters. The panels of Leia and Tag in his finely furnished "library" (both as they sit down to tea, and later as he sits, resigned, while Leia guards him with her blaster. And the final panel of his apology after he recognizes her as the princess, with his words echoing out from the ship into the rubble of the planet - very cool use of words and art. Also, a very cool head-on view of the Devastator when we first see it. And forming an interesting juxtaposition, the final full-page panel showing Prithi's ship on the underside of a Star Destroyer that pairs with the Audacity apology full-page panel: again that feeling of smallness made up by a good use of words and art.
Hugh Fleming's cover art of Leia drifting in space is great - we don't often see our pilots with their space helmets on - giving us more a bigger science fiction feel that sometimes we don't get in Star Wars.
Overall, I liked the Leia stuff and the Vader stuff, felt kinda meh on the Coruscant action, and was ok with the scenes around the Devastator - having Prithi starting to run low on life support adds more tension to their mission, and having Ben chime in is useful for explaining how Luke, still a novice with a lightsaber, is able to hold off a squad of troopers.