When Darth Vader writer Kieron Gillen joined Marvel’s main Star Wars title, many perhaps would’ve expected a continuation of the themes he had explored there. But over the course of his run alongside artists Salvador Larroca and Angel Unzueta - which concluded with last week’s Star Wars #67 - a far more interesting exploration emerged of an altogether different Star Wars story.
As it turns out, yes, Gillen’s story arcs did pick up on some elements he’d laid out in his work on Vader. Over 30 issues, Star Wars followed up on the world of Sho-Torun and its Queen, Trios (first visited in that series as a threatened subject of the Empire for Vader to intimidate), here shown as a potential ally to the Rebellion before being revealed as a secret double agent, creating strife for Leia after the Princess put her faith in her fellow royal and found it wanting.
But its most interesting storytelling occurred in the sidelines of that long arc, as Gillen examined the legacies of an addition to the Star Wars franchise we’ve still not really had the chance to explore all that much: Rogue One.
From Jedha-post-Death Star to weaving Jyn Erso’s sacrifice into the naming of a fan favourite X-Wing squadron, Gillen has presented a series of interesting insights into the legacy Gareth Edwards’ film left behind beyond its immediate and direct connection to the opening events of A New Hope.
While the climax of Rogue One represented a passed beacon, here, the movie becomes more of a shadow cast in the post-ANH setting of the Star Wars comic. Jyn’s mission and sacrifice represented hope, yes, but what of the destruction left behind to achieve that hope?
What of Saw Gerrera and his partisans?
Although a few stories since have dabbled into the idea behind the Partisans, a group of Rebels too rebellious even for the Rebel Alliance, like their appearances in, say, Star Wars Rebels, they were to bridge the gap between the Saw we, err, saw in Clone Wars, and the one that would be embodied by Forest Whitaker by the time of Rogue One.
Little Star Wars material has examined what was left behind after Gerrera perished during the Jedha test-firing yet, beyond its impact on Jyn herself in the film, but Gillen’s comic has shone a light on the Partisans in a post-Saw world, and raised some interesting parallels between our lightbound heroes and their much murkier world of guerrilla warfare.
Unsurprisingly, the ravaging of Jedha has left Saw’s Partisans rudderless, spiritually and literally now that their leader has gone - with Benthic Two-Tubes, the alien Tognath briefly seen in Rogue One and, chronologically speaking, before that in the events of Solo, taking Saw’s duty and doggedly leading the Partisans down an even more extreme path.
Without the spark of hope to balance the fire of vengeance Saw had, and a very visible event to justify extreme methods in Jedha literally cracking apart at the seams, Benthic’s commitment to “the Dream” has become just that. The “Save the Rebellion” aspect of that, which Saw enshrined even when he had turned his back from the larger organisation, is gone. Now the dream is all there is, to be saved no matter the cost.
Initially, our heroes - especially Princess Leia - brush off Benthic’s dogged extremism, but admit they see hints of its value in an attempt to find common ground. After all, at this point in the series they have just committed a pretty major guerrilla act of their own in the destruction of the Death Star. Our heroes have now witnessed first hand that bloodshed on a grander level has made the Alliance an authority to be reckoned with on a galactic scale, instead of dismissed as they were by the countless Moffs around Tarkin’s table aboard the battle station.
In reaching out to the Partisans for their current missions, there is almost an allure to Benthic’s way of thinking. Now that war between the Rebels and the Empire is truly unfolding on a larger scale, there is a cost in violence and action worth paying to preserve “the dream” above all.
As the arc progresses, and Leia and her friends find themselves on the back foot thanks to Trios’ turncoat actions - directly leading to the scattering of the newly-acquired, Mon Calamari-bolstered Rebel Fleet - and in turn, Benthic’s ideas become all the more appealing.
The costly mistake of trusting Trios sends Leia on a path of vengeance that feels dangerously out of character for her, even as she justifies going after Shu-Torun and Trios personally as a viable target for the Rebellion in general (as scattered as it is).
It is only in the climax of that arc in the final issues, where Benthic tries to go too far, that Leia really pulls herself back from the brink. When the Rebels and Partisans assault Shu-Torun, Benthic defies Leia’s orders, planting bombs that would destroy the mining world in its entirety. In his eyes, it’s a price worth paying: a planet for a planet, just as Shu-Torun and the Empire had mined the ashes of Jedha.
In the process, she makes the case to Benthic to draw himself back too, even as he draws parallels between Jedha, Alderaan, and Shu-Torun. If the Empire must insist on taking world after world so destructively, why can’t the Alliance respond in turn? Why can’t these guerrilla fighters stoke fear among those loyal to the Empire just as the Empire stokes fear among those harbouring Rebel sympathies? Fear, Benthic argues.
Fear is what will keep the Empire in line. It’s a moment that Leia pounces on, offering a parallel of her own to the Tognath that finally breaks the impasse between them: fear was Tarkin’s doctrine, and all it got him was death by hubris. And if the Partisans follow that path, the dream they so furiously fight to protect will die too.
It’s only enough to convince the guerrillas to fall back from their plan to destroy Shu-Torun and its entire population with it, with Benthic leaving Leia, Han, and Luke behind at the arcs’ end - the promise of there always being a war out there the Alliance won’t always want to fight as it protects its lofty ideals.
There is no easy, happy reunion between the two sects of Rebels; there’s still a tension that can’t be resolved in a single debate. But in examining the Partisans like this, Gillen, Larroca, and Unzueta’s time on the Star Wars ongoing added a textural nuance to the Rebellion beyond their more classical good-and-evil structure in the film saga - something the mainline movies have only recently made dalliances with in the Rebel’s successor organisation, the Resistance, during Poe’s arc during The Last Jedi.
Interestingly, in the final moments of Gillen’s time with Benthic, the writer draws upon another movie besides Rogue One: the character’s cameo appearance as a member of Enfys Nest’s Cloud Riders in Solo, a time when Benthic did fight on the side of the angels.
It falls to Han to make the parallel this time rather than Leia, but it provides hope that one day the man might find himself drawn to those ideals once more:
We’ll have to wait and see what becomes of him in future stories, but for now, it’s interesting that a major part of Gillen, Larroca, and Unzueta’s legacy on the Star Wars series will have been to help flesh out this little-explored branch of a Rebellion we’ve been reading about for years.