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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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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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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