I'm done trying to make excuses for ever more frequent posts about the Marvel Star Wars comics. The simple fact is I loved these things as a kid and, unlike a lot of stuff I liked back then, I think these actually hold up pretty well more than 30 years later. At the very least, they're incredibly inspirational to me as I turn my mind toward science fiction and space fantasy.
Which brings me to the Wheel:
The Wheel was basically Las Vegas in space, a pleasure station owned and operated by Senator Simon Greyshade, who seems to have stolen his wardrobe from Dr. Strange (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Greyshade isn't exactly a villain; he's more of an antagonist. In fact, looking back on him now, he comes across as a kind of Lando Calrissian figure -- a guy quite happy to keep raking in the credits until he gets in over his head in a bad deal with the Empire, a deal that puts him at odds with our heroes, until he finally finds the courage within himself to do the right thing.
Like Baron Tagge, what I find interesting about Greyshade is what his existence implies about the Empire. Marvel's vision of the Empire is far more corrupt than Evil, if that distinction makes any sense. Yes, there are plenty of evil men in the service of the Empire. Indeed, the Empire provides lots of scope for such men to give vent to their evil. But, mostly, the Empire is about the acquisition and maintenance of power by any means necessary. In such an environment, a giant casino in space -- complete with live gladiatorial games for prize money -- seems natural, indeed plausible, rather than goofy.
I have a hard time imagining a place like the Wheel in the official Star Wars universe, whose Empire is too monolithically evil, from its black magic-wielding Emperor down to its lowliest jackbooted minion. Don't misunderstand: I love the good versus evil vibe of the Star Wars movies and I certainly don't think what the setting needs is a lot of moral grayness. Still, I do think that, by making Darth Vader an exemplar of what the Empire is rather than a throwback, an aberration, used by it for its own purposes, a lot of dramatic possibilities are lost.
As I noted in my post about Tagge, I much prefer an Empire filled with plots within plots, where everyone of any ambition and influence is using every tool at his disposal to advance himself one step toward the top of the heap. From a roleplaying perspective, it's a really great set-up and provides plenty of scope for a multitude of campaigns where the PCs don't feel like second-stringers who aren't fighting the Empire "for real" since they're not staring down Vader or a bunch of dark side adepts personally sent by the Emperor to hunt them down. Space opera is supposed to be a wide open genre and on this the Marvel comics really delivered.