What They Say:
Imperial power is at its height. With Palpatine on the throne and his chief enforcer, Darth Vader, leading fleets of Star Destroyers and legions of stormtroopers across the galaxy, the Empire is an unstoppable force for order and peace. But not every political problem requires military might; not every negotiation depends on a show of force. Sometimes all diplomacy needs to succeed is the right man, in the right place, with the willingness to get the job done. No matter what it takes. Collects Star Wars: Agent of the Empire—Iron Eclipse #1–#5.
The Review: (please note that content portions of review may contain spoilers)
When the original Star Wars film hit the silver screen audiences were drawn to the show of power that was on display in the form of the Emperor’s enforcer, the black clad Darth Vader, as well as their fearsome war machines packed with an overwhelming number of Stormtroopers in their intimidating armor. But as anyone who watched the film carefully could tell, one of the more important aspects to the film was the impact of spies, either the unseen ones who stole the plans to the super weapon Death Star or the one who sold out the heroes as they attempted to make it to the Millennium Falcon and get off Tatooine, that stealthily helped shape the course of events.
These underappreciated elements serve to show off one of the lesser acknowledged realities of running a giant political mass like an empire as while incredibly intimidating large demonstrations of strength can intimidate just by their existence they aren’t always the most optimal way of dealing with every situation that may come up. When these showy displays aren’t ideal it helps to have a small group, or perhaps a single individual, who can enter into areas and obtain information that may otherwise provoke hostilities or even cause the target to get away, particularly if the goal needing to be met is one that may be politically touchy due to various situations.
To fill this need the Empire has created the Imperial Intelligence department which employs some of the most creative beings regardless of race in the Empire to create weapons and other support gear to equip some specially chosen and very skilled agents who will often enter into treacherous areas with little- if any- support and have to complete their mission under the knowledge that if discovered the Empire will deny all knowledge of their activities.
The story introduces Jahan Cross as he is sitting in the office of a Commander of one of the Empire’s research station waiting for the offices owner to return. When challenged by the man Cross claims to be a member of the Diplomatic Corp but this falls apart almost instantly when his robot companion In-ga 44 reveals that she has found proof that the Commander has been engaging in illegal activity of selling off droids to a third party. Despite Cross’ attempts to bring the man in peacefully evens spin out of control leaving the Commander dead and Cross dealing with a displeased supervisor as dead men can’t be probed for information and even worse the death will provide headaches as the man, while corrupt, was very well connected.
Cross did manage to gather enough information however to find out that the Commander was dealing with someone in the Corporate Sector, an area of space where the Empire’s influence is thin which manages to slightly tap down his superior’s anger as Cross details his findings. Things aren’t going to get any better though for the office as the info seems to point to the very powerful and wealth Stark family whose history during the Clone Wars was dubious and even though reports have stated that the patriarch who gained the notoriety has passed it seems that someone connected to him has initiated some sort of plan, though all that the Intelligence agency has managed to gather is the code name “Iron Eclipse” which underscores the need for further investigation. With little to go on beyond these basics Cross will have to gather some supplies and gadgets before heading out with only the robot In-ga 44 to get to the bottom of the mystery but there may be little that the technology and research development team can equip him with to see him through this assignment. Is Cross going to be up to the task when some powerful and shadowy forces have made him as a threat to their plans and move to eliminate him and prove a match for all his skills, luck and unlikely connections when he discovers a sinister plot that could over throw not just the Empire but challenge the entire galaxy as well?
Probably the most efficient way to sum up this book is to come right out and state the obvious- it is every bit an homage to the James Bond series with its secret agent lead who relies on his wits and luck when gadgets and charm fail to get him the outcome he desires as Cross manages to come face to face with a plot that might very well have been crafted (with some modifications) for the debonair British agent. Rather than drawing on any single Bond story or interpretation of the character that have come up over the decades though the story borrows more from many of the staples of the best series with their larger than life villains, explosive chases and curvaceous women just waiting to be wooed by this attractive, charismatic and rather witty man who is as capable of handling a boorish and unwelcome suitor in a social circle as he is handling a vehicle straight into the line of fire. In addition to these very classic traits some of the ideas from the modern update sneak in at times with its lead who has the ability to occasionally be very cold to those he is using while also being a bit of a bane to his superiors as he has a tendency to be a bit splashier in his antics than most would assume from a “secret” agent.
This isn’t the end of his mannerisms though as besides the material that was patterned after the famous spy the writer gives his lead character some traits that may actually turn some people off a bit toward Cross as he expresses some rather Empire accepted ideas at times, as seen in an interaction with one alien can be read in a rather antagonistic way should one chose (which would play into the idea from the franchise that the Empire was decidedly anti-nonhumans) and he has a coolness at times to the fate of at least one person that he uses which may also be a part of this mentality. Also giving off a bit of a hint toward the biases that Cross may carry is he often seems to express a sentiment toward the droid he is paired with that appears to be almost like one dealing with a tool, though again depending on how one reads a couple of scenes this may be more a façade than reality. Taken together these traits and possible interpretations add an interesting twist to the character which when combined with his belief more in the Empire as a tool to stave off chaos than some glorious greater good (which would likely be shattered by his work anyway given the people he is sent to investigate) makes him a being than is wedded to his personal ideals which may not always be the same as those of his employers.
The rub of the book largely comes from the same place as its positives in its very Bondish inspiration as the story is often feels dictated by trying to match the pace of one of the franchises pace in storytelling which makes some of the plot twists feel a little predictable in their timing and which often also leaves a sense that some events feel almost familiar as if one has seen parts of this story before. A good portion of this impression likely comes from just how the tale is built up from initial breadcrumbs to meeting many of the main players to events turning on the lead and this playing out of the tale has the possibility to divide readers sharply along the lines of those looking for a familiar in approach book set in a favorite universe verses those who’d rather see something different explored given the possibilities that the franchise provides. Throw in the appearance of a pair of very familiar faces and the book begins to walk a very fine line of creating a very specific type of audience for itself which may leave some potential fans feeling a bit cold while others embrace these slightly different looks at the characters.
Another aspect that stands out compared to many titles on the market lies in the somewhat throwback in nature compared to many titles these days approach to dialogue as the book doesn’t shy from having pages that have considerable amounts of exposition or banter present, something which many titles currently on the market seem to be adverse to as many seem prefer to try to keep this manner of storytelling to a minimum, particularly when compared to comics from the past. The artwork as well feels like a tip of the hat to a (slightly now) older style in that it doesn’t try for an ultra realistic approach but that it is comfortable with presenting its characters as a little less defined and almost cartoonish at times with backgrounds often carefully crafted to minimize the amount of detail needed for many of the scenes which for the most part works, though there are a couple of occasional panels where things don’t quite look right and which can draw the reader out of the story for a moment. Still the story is a refreshing addition to the Star Wars franchise with its rather strong protagonist and its fanciful if borrowed mechanics and is one that will likely entertain fans of Bond films as much as those Star Wars fans looking for a bit of non Jedi based action.
Star wars: Agent of the Empire adds a new wrinkle to the franchise that many have come to know and love by changing the focus of events from the larger Empire versus Republic dynamic or even from Jedi versus Sith or other ne’er-do-wells as it explores the world of the intelligence community that would exist in such a large structure and one man, Jahan Cross, who operates in a manner that brings to mind the greatest of secret agents. In his role Cross will find himself investigating people who are ostensibly on the same side as him as he looks for proof that their appearance of fidelity is merely a façade- of course such powerful and scary people will have a ton of ability to make his life very interesting as well as short so he will rely on every gadget he can get his hands on as well as his own luck and skill to survive long enough to root out the traitors to the cause. With its homage to the more famous spy novels as well as some sharp writing Agent of the Empire brings an exciting new element to the Star Wars franchise as well as offering the opportunity for fans who may like spy novels but are not quite sold much of the scope of the adventures in Star Wars as much to give the franchise a second go as they discover the depths that the Star Wars universe has to offer.