Comics writer Michael Moreci, author of the impressive sci-fi/noir graphic series Roche Limit, among many other comics, makes his novel debut with Black Star Renegades. An unapologetic love-letter to Star Wars and a zippy adventure story, the book has tremendous fun honoring the great space operas of the past while augmenting them with a punk sensibility and his own breed of engaging characters.
Cade and Tristan Sura are brothers from a nowhere planet in the hind-end of space, important to no one who matters—until they come to the attention of Jorken, a Rai of the Well: legendary warriors and peacekeepers for generations (if you’re thinking Jedi, you’re not wrong). Soon, we see the brothers firmly established as Rai in their own rights, though not nearly on the same level: Tristan is admired by his fellow warriors, a master of the arts of his order and all-around cool guy; good at everything, still somehow likable. He’s also, many believe, The Paragon of prophecy, promised to arise in a time of greatest crisis to claim a legendary weapon called the Rokura.
That time seems to be upon us, as a burgeoning empire called Praxis, under the leadership of a politician and would-be warrior-queen named Ga Halle, is claiming territory and generally making its move throughout the galaxy. They’ve been playing it cool so far, expanding slowly but seemingly inexorably, trying not to ignite dissent. But it’s understood the threat of the Rokura is the only think keeping Praxis from seizing control. That’s why Tristan is so important: if he can capture and tame the weapon, Praxis can be halted. Freedom restored. Huzzah.
Cade, on the other hand, was brought to the Well largely as an adjunct to his brother. He’s an adequate warrior, and well-intentioned, but not much of a leader,and with a tendency toward ignoring the rules. In other words, he’s a little bit Luke Skywalker and a little bit Han Solo, generally happy to stand in his brother’s shadow. Naturally, that’s not what fate has in store for him: the critical mission to retrieve the Rokura goes horribly wrong, unexpectedly leaving Cade the guardian of the weapon’s legendary power. You see where this is leading.
The semi-sentient weapon almost kills Cade in protest, refusing to give up its secrets. Nevertheless, when Cade is discovered in possession of the staff, it’s presumed he is somehow the Paragon, and a growing mistrust of the Masters at the Well leads Cade to hide the truth. Soon, he’s hunted by both the Rai and the assassins of Praxis, on the run with his old frenemy Mig, a ruthless robot named 4-Qel, and a tough fighter squadron leader named Kira Sen.
It would be easy to dismiss this all as simple Star Wars pastiche, but wisely, Moreci makes no effort to hide his inspirations. What could have been a marketing ploy becomes a mission statement—and that’s where the fun begins. The book remixes the galaxy far, far away with wild abandon, but he also goes deeper than mere references. Cade’s outsider status makes him a more interesting hero: he’s decidedly not the chosen one, and doesn’t aspire to be. Still, he’s asked to step up. Ga Halle is as cunning and ruthless as you’d expect the leader of an evil empire to be, but she’s got a surprising backstory (though not surprising in that way) and seems genuinely motivated to bring order and an enforced peace to the galaxy. She’s not power mad, but demands ultimate power only in service of her (in her mind) very reasonable goals. She’s seen the ugliness of division and disunity (what some might call freedom) firsthand, and she’ll bring harmony no matter how many bodies she has to step over. Her methods aren’t entirely unknown to us in our own galaxy: Praxis is turning up the heat so slowly, the frog doesn’t know to leave the pot, surrendering liberty as much out of creeping disinterest as in deference to fear.
In serving this ode to the most popular sci-fi saga ever, Moreci honors the stuff that inspired George Lucas in the first place: specifically, decades of space opera in a classic mold, and the indelible arc of the hero’s jouney. Planet-hopping space warriors, sword fights, sassy pilots, robot pals—it’s all here, with a light touch but enough substance to keep things from getting too silly, and a twisty-turny plot that fuels a flawlessly energetic pace. Moreci’s enthusiasm is infectious, making Black Star Renegades a romp that nods to the classics but doesn’t forget to be its own wonderful thing.