The thought of this series taking another detour from the story of Jedi Dass Jennir and the crew of the Uhumele didn’t really strike me as a promising start for this story. Such detours haven’t worked out all that well for “B.P.R.D.” after all. Yet the more I read into this volume, the focus on Master K’Kruhuk and his band of Jedi refugees became steadily less of an issue. In fact, if this is the last we’ll be seeing of them in this series I can say that they all went out on a high note.
Some time has passed since K’Kruhuk saved his charges from pirates and they’ve been looking for a place to lie low in the face of the Galactic Empire’s ever expanding reach. Unfortunately, their ship winds up crash-landing on the planet of Arkinnea, a planet brutally victimized by the Sepratists’s droid armies during the Clone Wars. This has led them to taking a hostile view of all the refugees from the conflict as they’re herded into a giant camp before being shuttled off to settle in the wilderness of the “freelands.” That’s the fate K’Kruhk is prepared to accept until he’s reunited with the ever-mysterious blind Master Zao who informs his fellow Jedi that all is not as it seems on Arkinnea and that they need to leave as soon as possible.
There’s also a subplot about Darth Vader training Falco Sang, the assassin who tried to assassinate Jennir in the previous volume, that keeps the main plot ticking over while providing some amusement about how one deals with the training regimen of a Sith Lord. However, the focus on K’Kruhk, Zao, and their charges proves to be pretty engaging. Writer Randy Stradley’s dialogue is more functional than anything else and there’s certainly a lot in his script that’s predictable. Yet he has good instincts in regards to the actual development of the story.
Things proceed mainly as a wilderness adventure as our protagonists make their way to whatever safe haven the planet has to offer. Stradley does a good job of steadily raising the tension with the kids treating this as an adventure to have fun with at first, with the stakes raising substantially once it’s revealed what the Arkinnieans are really up to with the redistribution of the refugees. Though the focus splits after that point, between K’Kruhuk trying to draw attention away from his charges, Zao leading them through the wilderness, and a couple sympathetic Imperial officers trying to figure out what’s actually going on, there’s enough in each thread to hold the reader’s attention. K’Kruhuk gets some great scenes to showcase his mastery of the force and general badassness as a fighter. We get to see Zao being more than being an inscrutable Jedi Master of mysteeeeeeeriously indirect reasoning as he protects the kids from their pursuers and the local wildlife, while trying to make sure one of them doesn’t fall to the Dark Side. The business with the Imperial officers is also a nice touch as well, since it stands to reason that in the early days of the Empire there would be some officials who felt the way that these individuals do.
Nothing about the story is particularly exceptional, but the execution is sold enough and Stradley knows how to play against expectations in the right parts. The only real issue comes up in the last few pages when the writer tries to cram way too much into his epilogue. To be perfectly honest, the last three pages are completely superfluous to the overall narrative as about a decade passes between them with a significant plot point and some characters being subsumed in the process. You get the feeling that Stradley realized this would be his last go-round with these characters and wanted to put every little bit of story he had for them in here. It doesn’t really work, yet his misstep isn’t a fatal one.
Gabriel Guzman provides the art for this series and he does a pretty serviceable job. There’s an awkwardness to the way certain characters interact early on -- it’s in the eyes -- that’s smoothed out as the story goes on. He does prove to be pretty capable at effectively capturing the many alien and tech designs of the “Star Wars” universe. No, Guzman’s work isn’t up to the high standards that Doug Wheatley has set with this title; but let’s be honest, few artists are in that class at all. It does tell the story well and keeps things visually interesting.
Really, I think this is the best possible way that K’Kruhk’s story could have ended in this title. As “Dark Times” has had a very erratic publishing schedule in the past, the thought of any side-story interrupting Jennir’s was something to be greeted with more frustration than appreciation. Particularly since any such story was likely a stopgap to allow Wheatley to get back on schedule. Regardless of whether or not that was the case, “Fire Carrier” winds up being a worthy story in its own right and one that’s recommended to fans of this series. Particularly if you’re like me and thought that this wasn’t going to be worth your time.