A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

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A Review of Darth Vader #24 – The End is Near

TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #24Darth Vader #24, 2016, cover, Salvador Larroca
AUTHOR: 
Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The penultimate issue of Star Wars: Darth Vader invites Salvador Larroca to do something he does too much of for my taste: Draw stills from the movies. But in his defense, if there was ever an issue to do that, it’s this one.

The cybernetics in Darth Vader’s suit have been shut down by Cylo-V. His respirator having (presumably) been deactivated, Vader’s life flashes before him. His mind takes him back to Mustafar, and questions arise. What if Obi-Wan had killed him? What would Anakin Skywalker think of Darth Vader? What if he were to simply surrender and die…?

I’m a sucker for issues where Vader reminisces and agonizes about the events of the prequels. So I couldn’t help but be sucked in when Vader imagined an alternate Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan throws the amputee Anakin into the lava, and the man in the black suit emerges. From there, we go into pure fan service as we get an Anakin vs. Vader lightsaber fight. Larrocca gives us a striking near-full page shot of Anakin, and while brief, the fight is a thrill. Particularly poignant is the moment where Skywalker yells “I hate you!” at his future self. Less poignant, however, is the moment where Vader says he’s well-versed in killing children.

Darth Vader #24, 2016, PadmeWe then go into many a Star Wars fan’s worst nightmare: A Padme scene. Kieron Gillen keeps this one pretty simple, though. Anakin’s dead wife represents the temptation of surrender. A temptation I’d have thought would be greater. That relationship longed for depth and substance. But boy did Anakin love Padme. If the implication here is that they can be together in death, you’d think he’d just give in.

But Vader’s choice here is powerful, and telling as to just how far into the darkness he’s gone. Instead of going with his wife, Vader summons his anger and hatred to will himself into a comeback. To their credit, Gillen, Larroca, and the Darth Vader team made me believe Anakin Skywalker was dead.

HIs rendering of movie stills notwithstanding, Larroca does deliver some great imagery with Vader. Early the issue, as the dark lord is motionless and vulnerable, we get a shot of Cylo with his hand on Vader’s helmet. Someone being able to lay a hand on him like that is…unsettling. It’s certainly not something we’re used to seeing. Also, In the Mustafar sequence we see Darth Vader emerge from the lava like a black phoenix. Lightsaber in hand, of course.

This story also sets the stage for a confrontation in our final issue between Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra, which is what the ending should be. I maintain this series doesn’t have to end. For obvious reasons, a Darth Vader book will always have an audience. But 25 issues is a good run, and it’ll be good to see Gillen and Larroca finish what they started.

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Talking Star Wars: The Darth Vader/Snoke Theory, Sith Lord Mufasa

Supreme Leader SnokeBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

1. The Darth Vader/Supreme Leader Snoke Theory

Man, people are really grasping at straws with some of these theories about The Force Awakens. I guess it’s natural, considering we know so little. But jeez…

The latest wild theory making the rounds is that Supreme Leader Snoke is somehow Anakin Skywalker, mostly based on the visual similarities between Snoke and Anakin when the mask came off in Return of the Jedi.

Frankly, this makes even less sense than the idea that Rey is somehow Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter. Granted, the folks at Disney are obviously taking the franchise away from where George Lucas intended it to go. But bringing Darth Vader back as the big bad in this new trilogy completely undoes Anakin’s character arc, which took six movies to complete. Yes, Anakin fell to the dark side. But he was redeemed. Having him turn to the dark side, then turn back, only to fall again is not only redundant, but frankly stupid. What’s more, Anakin died, remember?

Star Wars: Dark Empire, Palpatine, Cam KennedyFrankly, I think it’s more likely Snoke is somehow connected to Palpatine. But even that’s a stretch. Much like with Rey, I’m hoping Snoke isn’t connected to any previous character, and is simply a new threat to the galaxy. We’ve know that a Church of the Force exists, right? Lor San Tekka is affiliated with them. Who’s to say a similar church couldn’t exist for the dark side? Theoretically, Snoke could have discovered his own Force abilities, become scholar on the Jedi, the Sith, etc., and started such a church himself.

As for the scars, I always like the notion that characters who tapped into the dark side so extensively, like Palpatine, saw their flesh deteriorate as a result. Some of you might be familiar with Dark Empire, a comic book series released by Dark Horse in 1991. The prequels weren’t a thing yet, so it obviously hadn’t been established that Palpatine’s face had been scarred the way it was. In Dark Empire, writer Tom Veitch wrote that because of the great power he wieded, Palpatine’s body would decay more rapidly. As such, his spirit would inhabit numerous clones to gain eternal life. I’m not suggesting the same is true for Snoke. But I love the idea that one’s body pays the price for all that evil.

In any event, answers will come in time. The wait may be excruciating at certain points, but the answers will come.

Star Wars Rebels, Darth Vader, Kanan2. Sith Lord Mufasa

All this excitement over The Force Awakens has finally prompted me to check out Star Wars Rebels. I haven’t been disappointed. I’m not quite caught up yet. I just watched the episode where Vader faces off against Kanan and Ezra. Which brings me to something that needs to be said about James Earl Jones reprising his role.

Like all of us, I love James Earl Jones. He’s an amazing, iconic performer. If there’s one person you want voicing Darth Vader, it’s him. I’m not trying to dump on Mr. Jones, here…

But is there any way we can get him to toughen Vader’s voice up again?

Maybe that’s just not the headspace Mr. Jones is in these days. But listening to him as Darth Vader in 2015 sounds like Mufasa pretending to be a bad guy. At any moment, I practically expect him to start talking about “the great circle of life.” In this episode, Karan and Ezra are talking about all the hate and fear they can sense. But this character doesn’t sound hateful or menacing. That’s a problem.

Darth Vader, don't make me destroy youFour yours truly, the most intimidating line Darth Vader has in the entire Star Wars saga is in the moments leading up to the “I am your father” reveal. It’s simply: “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.” Mr. Jones has a growl in his voice that’s absolutely bone chilling. If we can get a fraction of that intensity into these Rebels performances, I’ll be a happy man.

Because let’s face it, nobody wants Sith Lord Mufasa.

Image 1 from starwars.wikia.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com. Image 3 from starwarsrebels.wikia.com. Image 4 from vestalmorons.wordpress.com.

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A Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 Review – The Lost Years

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1TITLE: Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Marco Checchetto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not necessarily surprised Marvel chose Obi-Wan & Anakin as their latest Star Wars miniseries. What’s rather curious though, is the time in which it’s set. This story comes to us just a few years after The Phantom Menace, so they’re not tapping in to any of that Clone Wars stuff. There’s a definite downside to that, but the upside might just be worth it.

When we open the issue, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (now presumably about 12) crash land on the planet Carnelian IV. Master and apprentice are responding to a distress signal requesting Jedi aid. But Carnelian IV is a world that was thought to be dead. What exactly have our heroes wandered into…?

While Obi-Wan & Anakin may not have a lot of the stuff that made The Clone Wars or portions of the prequels fun. But it does have the potential to provide. something the prequels sorely lacked: Character depth.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin, lightsaberOur opening crawl tells us that both characters have begun to “question their roles in the destiny of The Force.” We later learn that Anakin has apparently talked to Obi-Wan about leaving the Jedi Order. This subject has been touched on, both in Attack of the Clones and the Revenge of the Sith novelization. But this is the first time I’ve seen the subject brought up when Anakin is this young. It’s also the first time I’ve seen it used without any sort of connection to Anakin and Padme’s relationship. That enriches the concept, from where I’m sitting. It shows us Anakin actually has conviction, and his morality doesn’t completely revolve around Padme.

So what would prompt Anakin to abandon his Jedi training at such a young age? If what we see in this issue is any indication, it’s because he’s dissatisfied with the way the Republic and the Jedi Order function. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it also has something to do with his mother. He was obviously still thinking about her in Attack of the Clones.

Of course, it’s not an accident that they made a point to focus in on Anakin’s lightsaber (shown above). We even get a flashback to “before,” and see a scene with him practicing with other students. How and if the lightsaber will play into the story, outside of Anakin simply using it, isn’t clear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets more special attention, given the role it played in The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1, Marco ChecchettoMarco Checchetto is no stranger to Star Wars, having drawn Shattered Empire. He and colorist Andres Mossa have a knack for creating gorgeous environments, vehicles, settings you very much believe could exist in this universe. The airships in this issue would have been cool even without the big crash (shown right). We don’t often see those kind of craft in Star Wars, and will hopefully see more before the story is over.

But Checchetto can run into trouble when it comes to people. It’s not that his figure work is bad. His characters just seem a bit lifeless on the page at times. They lack a certain energy, which in turn can rob the story of energy.

The success of Obi-Wan & Anakin relies heavily on what it can tell us about the relationship between these two characters that we didn’t know before. You know what else it relies heavily on? Us not seeing Jar Jar. We’re between Episodes I and II here, people. This is Jar Jar territory. We must be cautious…

Images from author’s collection. 

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Talking Star Wars: Rey Theories, Leo as Anakin, “White Slavers”

Rey, Star Wars: The Force AwakensBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens lay ahead. But seriously, you must have seen it by now.***

1. Rey Rumors. 

So now that The Force Awakens has been out for a little bit, we’re at the point where a lot of Star Wars fans are theorizing about the movie. Most rampantly about Rey’s family. Some people think she’s somehow Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter, others think she’s a Skywalker (which I imagine is more likely), etc.

Frankly, I’m hoping she’s just Rey. I think The Force Awakens gave us our fill of “I am your father” moments for this era with Kylo Ren and Han Solo. While it would give us a certain plot symmetry to have a Force-sensitive brother and sister at the center of this new trilogy, it’s a little too predictable, in a story many argue is already a little too derivative of the classic trilogy.

Also, the idea of the Skywalker family being (as The Verge recently put it) “the chosen people,” and any hero in the galaxy needing to be connected to them in some way waters things down. I’ve recently gotten acquainted with Star Wars Rebels, and one of the really cool things about that show is that none of the main heroes are connected to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, or any of the classic movie characters. They’re entirely new and independant.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey, BB-8That’s not to say Kylo Ren is less special because of his connection to Han and Leia. But it’s also important to establish that anyone is capable of being a hero, whether you’re an outlaw smuggler, a rogue stormtrooper, or a desert scavenger who has abilities far beyond her imagination. That idea is a lot of fun, and appropriate for this universe.

What’s more, the idea of Rey being Obi-Wan’s daughter is, at least at first glance, a little too convoluted for me. They’d have to go out of their way to explain how and why Obi-Wan had a child so late in his life. And it just seems like overkill. Han and Leia named their (presumably) only child Ben, as a tribute to Obi-Wan. That’s enough.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio as Anakin Skywalker. 

Shortlist got fans buzzing recently by digging up a 2010 interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, in which he revealed he met with George Lucas about playing Anakin Skywalker.

Leonardo Dicaprio, The Beach“I did have a meeting with George Lucas about that…” DiCaprio said. “I just didn’t feel ready to take that dive. At that point.”

Obviously, fate was on Leo’s side here. Hayden Christensen is not a bad actor, and he did the best he could. But was under George Lucas’ direction, saying lines George wrote. There was only so much he could have done. Leo (seen above in 2001’s The Beach, which shows us roughly how he could have looked as Anakin) would have been shackled, and as good as he is, his career likely would have suffered for it.

Still, given how Ewan McGregor was still able to charm as Obi-Wan, it’s interesting to think what Leo might have been able to work into Anakin.

3. George Lucas: “I sold [Star Wars] to the white slavers…”

Yeah, George said this in an interview with Charlie Rose. Even when you take it in the proper context, it’s not much better.

Lucas was talking to Rose about selling Lucasfilm, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, and his idea for Star Wars: Episode VII to Disney. Disney went their own way with the movie, which it seems has left George somewhat bitter. He talked about how his involvement in the new trilogy would ultimately muck things up, given the difference in directions, which led to the “white slavers” metaphor.

George Lucas, Mickey MouseI’m going to be as nice to George as I can, here. But that’s obviously an extremely crude thing to say about the people he ultimately chose to do  business with. Business, by the way, that made him $4 billion richer, and allowed him to make some vey generous donations to the world of education. It also allowed hi to spend some valuable time with his young daughter.

I imagine this is a really weird time for George. He doesn’t deserve all the credit he gets for “creating” Star Wars, it’s his baby. And now he has no influence on it anymore, and the franchise has been reinvigorated by its “step parents” of sorts. Make no mistake, people are much happier with The Force Awakens than they were with any of the prequels. What does that say about George, his contributions to his own creation over the last 15 years?

Sorry George, but I call sour grapes on this one.

Image 1 from techtimes.com. Image 2 from nydailynews.com. Images 3 and 4 from screencrush.com. 

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A Darth Vader Annual #1 Review – The Dark Lord Doesn’t Dance

Darth Vader Annual #1 (2015)TITLE: Darth Vader Annual #1
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Leinil Yu
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: December 16, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Leinil Yu drawing Star Wars? That’s definitely worth a look. This particular issue might not be worth paying five bucks for, but it’s at leas worth a look.

Darth Vader Annual #1 deviates from the ongoing Vader Down storyline to give us a peek into the Dark Lord’s work as a political enforcer of sorts. Vader is dispatched to the volcanic planet of Shu-torun to reinforce their governments cooperation in the production of valuable ores. Little does he know he’s walking into a trap. But is it even possible to get the jump on Darth Vader?

Having Leinil Yu work on Darth Vader was a legitimate drawing factor for this issue. But surprisingly, Yu’s renderings of the titular character tend to be either misproportioned or awkward. There’s a panel where Vader is talking about the Empire “always building” where the angle of the headpiece on his mask doesn’t work. There are also several shots where Vader’s head looks too small for his body (below). It’s not a consistent thing, but it does pull you out of the issue.

Darth Vader Annual #1, Leinil Yu, 2015Despite this flaw, Yu does pretty well otherwise. I’ve always liked the sketchy manner in which he draws faces. Vader spends the issue with a young woman named Trio, and he depicts her very well.

I also find his renderings of angry old men very amusing. There’s a scene where duke demands Vader dance with his daughter at a celebration. The piss and vinegar in his face as he’s looking at Darth damn Vader is awesome. Even more awesome? When Vader levitates him 20 feet in the air and drops him. He then accents the moment with a line tailor-made for a Schwarzenegger movie: “Do any others wish to be my partner?”

Gillen remains fantastic at incorporating a very appropriate dark humor into these stories. This is embodied in Triple-Zero and BT-1. They’re perfect evil versions of C-3PO and R2-D2, to the point where I can hear Threepio’s voice when I read Triple-Zero’s dialogue. The droids tag along with Vader on this little mission to serve as a surprise of sorts to the royal family on Shu-torun. They have a lot of great little one-liners in this book. I won’t spoil them for you. But I will say my favorite involves the term “mass heart attacks!”

One might say Gillen gives us a glimpse of Anakin Skywalker in this issue. As Vader gets to know Trio, he learns about her relationship with her father, and starts to see things in her that her father doesn’t. As such, Vader offers her a little praise, including telling her that her father should appreciate her. Mind you, it doesn’t exactly end well for one of them. But that moment is still notable, considering Vader’s mindset at this point in his life.

Darth Vader Annual #1, Leinil YuThis issue does a nice job of spotlighting the key element that makes this series work: Its inverted view of the Star Wars universe. It casts Darth Vader, arguably the main villain of the entire saga, as the protagonist. Not the hero, mind you. He’s the protagonist, meaning our main character working toward accomplishing something. As such, we find ourselves rooting for Darth Vader, even though he’s often trying to do something terrible. In this story, for instance, he’s trying to impose the Empire’s will on an entire planet. And he indeed does awful things in an attempt to accomplish that goal. But we find ourselves rooting for him, even if it’s just on a subconscious level.

I’ve said something to this effect before, but it bears repeating: Darth Vader has consistently offered us the best Star Wars content Marvel has put out since they regained the license. I’m not interested in seeing anyone but Kieron Gillen write this book anytime soon. And for that matter, I missed Salvador Larroca on this issue too. They’ve got a really good thing going with this series, and I keep wanting more.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Darth Vader #1 Review – He Doesn’t Like Sand…

385431TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #1
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PUBLISHER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: February 11, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 made me understand what it’s like to be a Sith Lord.

Or at least, it gave me a pretty powerful glimpse into what it’s like to be Anakin Skywalker inside that black suit. To say the very least, it’s not fun.

Following the events of Star Wars #1 and 2, Vader must once again face The Emperor as a failure. Palpatine blames him for the destruction of the Death Star, and also for allowing the Rebels to escape on Cymoon. Now, to find Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance, Vader must ally himself with the likes of Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. Naturally, this brings him back to Tatooine, Anakin Skywalker’s home planet.

1508_darth_vader_1_artThe idea of Vader returning to Tatooine has been an intriguing one as far back as The Phantom Menace. But to my knowledge this is the first time we’ve actually seen it. It doesn’t disappoint, especially when we reach the end of the issue.

However, much like Jason Aaron and John Cassaday in Star Wars #1, this issue relies quite a bit on the nostalgia factor to draw readers in. But while Star Wars #1 picked both lines and certain imagery from the original trilogy, this issue plays with actual shots and sets from both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. The image of Darth Vader entering Jabba’s palace, dealing with the guards and Bib Fortuna, and then standing there amongst his cronies is obviously an alternate take on Luke’s entrance from Jedi. Later, Larroca essentially pencils screen caps from A New Hope to provide us with a flashback page. One can argue than in terms of relying on nostalgia appeal to cheaply hook readers in, Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is an even bigger offender than Star Wars #1.

So with that in mind, why is the former a good issue, while the latter is a bad one? For my money, it’s all in the way the issue was written.

54661fbff3030Darth Vader #1 draws you in with the notion that Vader will be journeying into Jabba’s lair, just as Luke will later do, using very specific images and shot from Jedi. But the real hook comes when Vader and Jabba start talking. Vader refuses to address Jabba by name, simply calling him “Hutt,” like he’s merely vermin. When Jabba tries to exercise his own power, Vader retaliates, at one point choking Jabba with the Force. Through this scene, we not only get a sense of how little regard Vader has for life, but how his hatred and anger are always with him. They are not a temporary state of being. They are his very existence.

We also get a scene with Palpatine, where we see that despite Vader’s ever-present anger, it still hasn’t brought him the power he seeks. He is still a servant of the Emperor. Or as Palpatine says: “A blunt instrument far better to be wielded than to wield.” He then places Vader under the thumb of one of the Imperial commanders we briefly saw in A New Hope (prompting one of those screen cap flashbacks), and deliberately hides the identity of a new ally. We later close on a familiar, yet ever so dramatic two-page spread.

darth-vader-1-easter-egg-chosen-one-122394Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is essentially a look at what Vader’s life is like in the aftermath of the original film. He is still a man that has lost everything but his hate and his lust for power, which he will presumably never have so long as he is under Palpatine’s influence. Thus, he takes that hate out on the terrified life forms around him. That’s the message we’re meant to take away from this issue. And it’s an important one about our main character. We got there using plenty of flash and flare from the original trilogy, but in this instance the end justified the means.

Star Wars #1, on the other hand, used that same nostalgia, flash, and flare as the destination. Cassaday’s art was fantastic, as always. But despite the cool escape story, which is very Star Wars, the issue lacked soul, and felt largely empty. That’s the difference between the Aaron/Cassaday issue, and the Gillen/Larroca issue.

img_20150212_181212I’m very interested to see how much the prequel material is acknowledged, not just in this book, but in all of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. The ending of this issue is a pretty heavy callback to Attack of the Clones. The Force Awakens gets closer every day, and the Disney/Lucasfilm strategy seems to be getting us to refocus on classic Star Wars stuff. This makes sense, as we’re getting ready for Luke, Leia, and Han to return. It also seems like they’re trying to gloss over the prequels, which also makes sense, given how poorly they were received by many. It’s something to keep an eye on as we move closer to December.

Star Wars: Darth Vader was one of the best single issues of a Star Wars series that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s definitely an issue worthy of its iconic title character.

Image 1 from popmatters.com. Image 2 from marvel.com. Image 3 from comicbook.com. Image 4 from page45.com.

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