John’s top 40 ‘Star Wars’ comic book stories for the 40th anniversary: Nos. 30-21

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ontinuing the countdown of my top 40 “Star Wars” comic stories, here are Nos. 30-21:

30. “The Dynasty Trap” (“Jabba the Hutt” Issue 3, 1995, Jim Woodring, Art Wetherell) – All four “Jabba” one-shots are great, but this is the most gleefully insane, as Jabba crushes his enemies to a pulp with his bulk. Alternatively, he ejects them into space, watches them explode and says “Ha! I love to watch ’em pop!” But this isn’t visceral horror; this is the lighter side of dark comedy. Jabba blatantly slobbers on every panel as the artists purposely go over the top. Weirdly, a reader mostly roots for the Hutt because his rival crime lords are even worse.

29. The Shira Brie arc (Marvel “Star Wars” Issues 60-63, 1982, David Michelinie, Walt Simonson) — Although she was introduced in Issue 55, and although she’ll return in later comics and novels as Dark Lady of the Sith Lumiya, the heart of Shira’s arc is in Marvel Issues 60-63 (“Shira’s Story,” “Screams in the Void,” “Pariah!” and “The Mind Spider”). Luke learns that the flirtatious X-wing pilot is actually Darth Vader’s personal spy. He embarks on a one-track mission to expose Shira and clear his name, similar to what Ahsoka goes through at the end of Season 5 of “The Clone Wars.” It ends differently, though: Luke is thrilled to be reinstated by the Alliance military.

28. “Princess … Warrior” (“Empire” Issues 5-6, 2003, Randy Stradley, Davide Fabbri) — Stradley cleverly expands upon scenes written by Brian Daley for the “Star Wars” radio drama, specifically “Episode Two: Points of Origin,” as Princess Leia learns hard truths about the cruel necessity of sending troops into battle on Ralltiir. Fabbri – along with teammates Christian Dalla Vecchia (inks) and Digital Chameleon (colors) – is among my favorite “Star Wars” artists. He draws everyone with beauty or handsomeness without resorting to superhero-style sexualizing.

27. “In the Empire’s Service” (“X-Wing: Rogue Squadron” Issues 21-24, 1997, Michael A. Stackpole, John Nadeau) — For the first time in comics, we see the staple villain of Stackpole’s “X-Wing” novels, Ysanne Isard, portrayed in all her one-red-eye, one-blue-eye glory. Her pawns include TIE fighter ace Baron Soontir Fel, the most powerful tool of the Imperial forces. Like Pellaeon from the novels, Fel is one of those oddly moral and noble Imperials; he never underestimates his enemy’s abilities in battle and he never backs away from a mission where he can protect the lives of Imperial citizens. The final frame where Fel reveals that his wife is Syal Antilles, Wedge’s estranged sister, ranks among the best “Star Wars” cliffhangers.

26. “The Tyrant’s Fist” (“Purge” Issues 5-6, 2012-13, Alexander Freed; Marco Castiello and Andrea Chella) — The “Purge” series wraps with its best story, about how the Empire purges not just the Jedi as people but also the Jedi as an idea. This is an important point in the wider continuity, because by the time of the classic trilogy a mere 20 years down the road, the Force has become a figurative “ancient religion.” Rather than merely murdering the last Jedi on Vaklin – a planet that has long revered Jedi – Vader embarrasses him by exposing him to a toxin that makes him act foolish. Just as crucially, the Empire builds schools and offers citizens jobs. At the start of the tale, the local Imperials doubt they can crush the insurgency; by the end, half of the people are enthusiastic about the regime.

25. “Iron Eclipse” (“Agent of the Empire” Issues 1-5, 2011-12, John Ostrander, Stephane Roux) – Jahan Cross is unapologetically from the James Bond mold, but he translates well to the height of the Empire. He does off-the-books missions, reporting to head of Intelligence Armand Isard (from the “X-wing” novels) and crossing paths with Han and Chewbacca in the Corporate Sector. When Cross bonds with a femme fatale, he notes that she’d be great marriage material for someone. “But you’re not interested,” she says. “Well, I didn’t say that,” he quips, but of course we know he’ll have a new love interest in the next story.

24. “The Path to Nowhere” (“Dark Times” Issues 1-5, 2006-07, Randy Stradley, Douglas Wheatley) – Showing how Palpatine immediately begins ruling by blunt force, Stradley opens the aptly titled “Dark Times” with an incredibly grim storyline for our Nosaurian hero Bomo Greenbark, who learns that the guy who purchased his daughter at a slave market killed and ate her. The bonding of the makeshift family on the Uhumele is subtly shown by Wheatley: For example, some panels show the diminutive Ratty cautiously placing a hand on Bomo’s arm to try to comfort him.

23. “Darkness” (“Republic” Issues 32-35, 2001, John Ostrander, Jan Duursema) – At this point in the saga of our favorite amnesiac Jedis, Aayla Secura not only hates her Master Quinlan Vos’s guts for killing her uncle Pol Secura, but she demonstrates her loathing by reviving a dark sider from suspended animation on the prison world of Kiffex and serving as his apprentice. Ostrander expands on established lore in creative ways: Volfe Karrko is an Anzati ex-Jedi who commands an army of feral Anzati (a species introduced in the “Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina” book).

22. “Demon” (“Knights of the Old Republic” Issues 47-50, 2009-10, John Jackson Miller, Brian Ching) — The author’s meticulous plot crafting pays off in the final arc of the main “KOTOR” series, but he keeps personalities, relationships and funny moments at the fore. I had to laugh when – in a nod to the “Firefly” episode “Jaynestown” — we see giant stone statues of Gryph and Slyssk on Coruscant: “We, uh, saved half a battalion by accident,” when he and Slyssk escaped from Serroco, Gryph explains. The story of mysterious Mandalorian Rohlan Dyre is less comedic, as we learn he’s part of a tragic chain of events that leads to the final showdown with Demagol. The Zayne-Jarael kiss that concludes Issue 50 is a giggle-worthy bowtie on a consistently fun series.

21. “The Dreadnaughts of Rendili” (“Republic” Issues 69-71, 2004, John Ostrander, Jan Duursema) – This arc masterfully merges the stories of “Republic’s” four main characters – Quinlan, Aayla, Anakin and Obi-Wan. In an informal trial before the Jedi Council, Quinlan defends his undercover actions from preceding issues – a meatier version of the “Clone Wars” Season 5 arc where Ahsoka is framed for a crime. With Quin, we (and the Jedi Council) honestly don’t know if he’s good or bad. Quin himself asks, “Have I let the dark side take me?” Quin’s monologue is beautifully interspersed with scenes of Anakin fighting Ventress to her (presumed) death. As one Jedi presumably returns to the light, another Jedi descends into darkness, with a prescient Duursema drawing Anakin in his “Episode III” Evil Face, just minus the glowing yellow eyes.

Coming tomorrow: Nos. 20-11.

The rest of the top 40: (1-10) (11-20) (31-40)