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Marvel’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter comics are uncommonly good

A brave look at soldiering in a galaxy far, far away

The cover of Marvel’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter #2 shows Shadow Squadron arcing down through the frame. The style is reminiscent of British WWII-era propaganda. Tommy Lee Edwards/Marvel Comics
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The very best villains in the Star Wars films are faceless. That’s especially true of stromtroopers, who are lot more fun as anonymous characters with bad aim than sacks of flesh and blood with a family back home. Only on two occasions have Imperial grunts in the flesh evoked any emotion in me whatsoever. The first time it happened, it was an exquisite fan film which made the rounds in 2016. The second time it happened was this week, while catching up on Marvel’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter.

[Warning: What follows includes spoilers for the Star Wars: TIE Fighter comic series.]

Three pilots form Shadow Sqaudron bicker like an old married couple in a panel from Marvel’s TIE Fighter #4. “I’ve got your back, Ganem,” says Zin, while Jeela does not approve.
You just can’t tell one TIE pilot from the other. That’s a convention that Marvel’s TIE Fighter plays with at times throughout the series. At other times artist Rogê Antônio uses a clever cut-away to show who’s who among Shadow Squadron.
Jody Houser, Rogê Antônio, and Ig Guara/Marvel Comics

When Marvel announced the five-issue TIE Fighter series, I largely ignored it. Its other long-running Star Wars series, including Doctor Aphra, have been so much fun as of late that I wanted to slim down my pull list at the comic shop to focus on them. But neglecting this series was a mistake.

It’s penned by Eisner nominated writer Jody Houser, who somehow made the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comic adaptation leaps and bounds more appetizing than the film itself. She also managed to reign in Timothy Zahn’s meandering reboot of the Grand Admiral Thrawn character with a series of clear, concise comics. TIE Fighter just might be some of her best work yet.

A TIE pilot talking with his grandmother in Marvel’s TIE Fighter #4. “Fly well, Ganem. Fly true,” she says. “For the heart of the republic.” Then offers him a toast. He ignores her confusion. “And for those of use who no longer can,” she adds. Jody Houser, Rogê Antônio, and Ig Guara/Marvel Comics

The series stars five Imperial pilots; Teso Broosh, Ganem Kahi, Zin Graw, Jeela Brebtin, and Lyttan Dree. Together they make up Shadow Squadron, a newly-formed wing of highly capable combatants. But the storyline goes to great lengths to show that they are also human beings, imperfect creatures with hopes, ambitions, and families of their own back home.

Simply put, the comics are the first unblinking look at real soldiering that I’ve seen in the Star Wars canon.

My favorite part of each issue comes at the very end. After an abbreviated narrative, Houser lingers for a few pages on the backstory of just one of the pilots in Shadow Squadron. From these sections we learn of Teso Broosh’s unease at taking on the role of wing commander, and share in the nervous bravado of Lyttan Dree’s phone call with his brother, a medical corpsman in another combat sector far away.

The most touching vignette came with issue #4, which sees Ganem Kahi at home with his ailing grandmother, patiently reminding her for the umpteenth time that he’s fighting for the Empire, not the Republic.

What’s also unusual about the series is that it’s a tie-in (no pun intended) to the recently released novel, Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron. Our sister publication, The Verge — in addition to having an excellent collection of vintage Action Fleet toys — calls it “a thrilling examination of the cost of war.” That review, as much as this comic series, has me sold. Good thing it’s a trilogy.

The fifth and final issue of TIE Fighter hits comic shops on Aug. 21.

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