The Empire strikes all over the galaxy - Can Han Solo find a place to hide on Coruscant? Can Leia and her wingmates survive an Imperial ambush? The action heats up in Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood, this week's sole Star Wars comic release.

The story heats up in Issue #4 of Star Wars, written by Brian Wood, with art by Carlos D'Anda and colors by Gabe Eltaeb (profile on DarkHorse.com). There's action all around for Han & Chewie, Leia and her squadron, and even Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Luke realizes that the disembodied voice of his old mentor, Ben Kenobi, isn't just heard by him alone. And the droids and Mon Mothma do some off-the-books stuff!

Summary: Realizing that he'll never get into open space over Coruscant, Han Solo drives the Falcon into Coruscant's depths, while Chewie bowcasters a few TIEs. Back at the Rebel Fleet, Mon Mothma pulls rank to approve the launch of Leia's squadron, which split up to scout out three worlds as potential bases, while Threepio and Artoo hack the Rebel computers to plant false mission information to ferret out the spy. Grounded from this mission, Luke hears a message from Obi-wan, warning that Leia is important, and is shocked when Prithee overhears. Beginning their scouting runs at the jungle world Pybus, Leia and Wedge come under fire by a Star Destroyer, and with an Interdictor blocking their exit, they are forced to engage the overwhelming numbers of TIE Interceptors to get to the capital ships. Darth Vader, assigned to motivate the construction of the new Death Star, retires one of the admirals, and finds a bold ally, Birra Seah, a systems designer from Kuat, who is willing to stand up to the Dark Lord if she can be put in charge of the construction oversight. Back at Pybus, Tess rejoins Leia and Wedge in their suicide run against the Empire's forces, while at the fleet, Luke decides to disobey orders and hop into his X-Wing.

Review: While the past few issues have been introducing the new characters, and spend some time getting into the head of Leia, this issue starts to pick up the pace with some action. Leia's elite team goes on its first mission to simultaneously find a site for the new rebel base and root out the spy in their midst. Han & Chewie continue their escape from a deal gone bad on Coruscant, and Vader decides that using his lightsaber works better than Force choking as a motivational tool. Lots of explosions to go around! And who's that still tracking the Falcon? Boba Fett? And Mon Mothma steals a scene similar to James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer in The Hunt for Red October.

For a series that was meant to be a fresh start so that new readers can dive in without knowing any EU, there's some great references - both the Coruscant police and Solo's intended hiding hole draw in the underworld from the 1313 project, as also seen in The Clone Wars. I loved seeing the back and forth between Chewie and Han, especially as they have a disagreement on the best way to solve the problem of avoiding capture. Also for those familiar with the EU is the name of Leia's group: Gray Flight (which works on the front as a group that exists in shadow), but also links to Gray Squadron, the group that would later become Wraith Squadron, founded by Wedge, made of commando/pilots. (There's also a Gray Squadron from Return of the Jedi, made of mostly Y-Wings and B-Wings). But enough EU links. Brian Wood throws our heroes into more action, and gives Vader something to actually think about: who is this woman from Kuat willing to risk her neck to speak the truth? But really, Vader's glad someone else wants to be in charge of the Death Star, because Skywalker is on his mind. And with Prithee overhearing Ben's spirit talking to Luke, that has to give both her and Luke some pause - though Luke rushes off against orders, presumably to go after Leia, turning Prithee into a grumpy cat. Was Artoo doing Luke's work when he accompanied Threepio to alter some files? Hmmm... Good stuff all around with the story!

While the actions heats up, we still get a chance to get into the minds of some of our characters - we get an unusual insight into Mon Mothma as she overrides Gray Flight's launch, and a bit into Wedge and Leia as they come up with a plan on the fly after their first plan (run to ground) doesn't pan out.

The art has some amazing stuff as well - Carlos D'Anda continues to deliver some fantastic panels. The topdown view of the Imperial conference room when Birra Seah steps up (while the Imperial officers of rank all cringe in terror as one of their number ends up holey), sets a great shot, framing around a lot of dialogue. Vader unmasked in his meditation chamber is seriously menacing. And Artoo and Threepio get a full page. I'm not entirely sold on this view of C-3PO, but the full page panel fits well (Threepio's head looks a little off - more of a skull? - when we see him confront Luke later). Chewie has some fun action shots as the chase down into the underworld begins. And we get some great pilots in cockpits shots, especially with the head-on view, ready for battle, in the last panel. And cutting together four different scenes into one page: Leia in the cockpit, Luke and Threepio in the hangar, Slave I in the undercity, and Mon Mothma staring out at the fleet. A great scene pairing.

Alex Ross brings us a poster-worthy cover with Leia, defiant, in front of Darth Vader with a great mix of hot and cold.

Thumbs-up!

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