This week marks the start of a brand new Star Wars mini-series from comic writer Robbie Thompson called Star Wars: Target Vader. I could guess what you’re probably thinking. Another Vader series? Seriously? After the somewhat abysmal Dark Visions mini-series that just recently wrapped, I was thinking the same thing myself. But thankfully, despite his name appearing in the title, the Sith Lord seems to be more of a MacGuffin in this series than anything. Although he still assumes his typical villainous role, this story is not really about him, but rather a character that was recently introduced in Thompson’s last mini-series, Han Solo: Imperial Cadet. Read on for the full review. Spoilers ahead…
I should say rather that the main character of this book, Beilert Valance, was re-introduced into Star Wars, as the character first appeared in the sixteenth issue of the original Star Wars comic series back in 1978. I was not familiar with the character previously, as I had only ever read a few issues from the old Marvel series, but a little research on Wookieepedia told me enough about the character to get excited about his now official inclusion in the Star Wars canon. Sure, he’s a little campy, but most of the comics of that era were served with a healthy helping of cheese, so that is to be expected. At his core though, he’s a cool anti-hero, and I think it’s great that Marvel and Lucasfilm have brought him into view once again, staying true to the character while at the same time adapting him to fit in to the modern era of comic storytelling.
Valance was recently featured in the Han Solo: Imperial Cadet mini-series, where he was a TIE-pilot in training and a rival to Han Solo during their time together at the imperial academy on Carida. An unfortunate accident left Valance alive but broken, and after being rescued by Han against the orders of their commanding officer, he was stripped of his flight privileges and denied the replacement of his damaged eye and leg. This bit of backstory is important to understand his cyborg appearance in this mini-series and his possible motivations for being so willing to jump at the chance to hunt down Darth Vader, the face of the Empire that had left him for dead and discarded him like trash.
This issue begins with Vader doing his usual Vader thing as he shakes down some low-level thugs for information about his own target, and in typical Vader fashion, leaving none alive to tell the tale. The Emperor has set his apprentice on the trail of a mysterious clandestine organization known as “The Hidden Hand”, and Vader’s job is to hunt them down and crush them as per usual. Even though there are many syndicates that regularly operate outside of imperial law, the Emperor has turned many a blind eye to these types of organizations in the past, but The Hidden Hand has become a real threat to his rule, forcing him to take matters into his own hands (or at least the black-gloved hands of his most trusted enforcer).
The Hidden Hand has been apparently selling weapons to the Rebellion, which is why the Emperor is so set against them, but unfortunately for the galactic dictator, no one seems to know anything about who’s behind the organization or how to reach them. Basically, you don’t find The Hidden Hand – they find you. But if anyone can track them down, the Emperor knows he’s got the right man on the job. The Hidden Hand has a long reach, however, and when a spy in the imperial palace overhears the Emperor’s plan to eradicate the Hand with extreme prejudice, the plot to take Vader out of the picture is set in motion.
Meanwhile, in level 1313 in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant, Beilert Valance is having a drink in a local tavern when one of his rivals shows up to settle a score. Since leaving the Empire, Valance has finally received his cybernetic replacement parts (making a few upgrades in the process) and joined the Bounty Hunter’s Guild. With an ever increasing mountain of debt, he has taken to stealing other hunters’ bounties in recent days, and fellow bounty hunter Xonr – from whom he stole five bounties – has come for revenge. But unknown to Xonr, it was Valance himself that alerted the bounty hunter to his presence in the tavern, all as a ploy to completely eliminate his rivals in one swoop. He may have broken the Bounty Hunter’s code, but the code doesn’t apply to the dead, and he makes quick work of making sure all the hunters he stole bounties from fall into that category.
Having killed the other hunters, Valance heads back to his ship in the docking bay, but he soon realizes that he’s being followed and turns his blaster on the would be assailant. The being following him, however, is a Hidden Hand operative who offers Valance the chance at wiping out his debt for good with just one job. At first, Valance is not interested in the least. He makes it a personal rule to know exactly who he’s working for, and the enigmatic nature of The Hidden Hand makes following that rule impossible. When he learns that a team is being assembled for the mission, his decision to pass on the job is reinforced, given that he only works alone. But when the spy reveals the target, he has a sudden change of heart. All he has to do to clear his debt and become a free man once again is to kill Darth Vader. Simple enough, right?
Deciding to take the job, Valance asks to be introduced to the team that the Hand has assembled to track down the Emperor’s most lethal enforcer. His team would be made up of a Gamorrean tracker named Honnah, a sniper named Urrr’k, an Ardenian slicer named Chio Fain, a former Jedi-hunting droid called R9-19, and the notorious bounty hunter Dengar, with whom we learn Valance has a bit of a rocky history. Getting his issues with Dengar out of the way up front by placing a solid right hook to the side of the bounty hunter’s face, he then turns to R9-19 and blasts the droid into oblivion with his cybernetic hand that doubles as an energy weapon. Apparently, Valance has a third rule: he doesn’t work with droids. And when he reveals to the rest of them that the droid had been lying to them – that he was no Jedi killer – and that the Hutts had placed a tracker on him, his action is justified.
With the team assembled, the hunt begins, but unknown to Valance and his team of miscreants, Vader is also on a new hunt of his own. In his search for The Hidden Hand, the Sith Lord has somehow learned of the contract on his life, and now it’s a race to see which of them will get the upper hand. To cap the issue off, it is also revealed that the Hidden Hand is not just selling weapons to the Rebel Alliance but is directly associated with the Rebellion against the Empire.
This was a super fast read, and it was over before I knew it. It was so fast in fact that I immediately went back and read it again, which is something I don’t do with every comic I read. The pacing, coupled with the intriguing characters and the incorporation of some of my favorite Star Wars elements made this issue a great read and an interesting set up for the remainder of the mini-series. I was skeptical of another Vader series at first – but Mr. Thompson – you have my attention. I am very much looking forward to the next issue and seeing where this story goes. I’m curious to learn more about Valance, as he seems to be a very complex character under the surface. Hopefully, future issues will flesh out the depth of his character even more. I’m also curious about Dengar’s inclusion. I’m not exactly sure where this falls on the timeline, but I imagine it’s prior to The Empire Strikes Back.
In the movie, Dengar is one of the hunters recruited by Darth Vader to track down the Millennium Falcon, so either Vader is unaware of his part in the Rebel coup or Dengar does something later to impress the dark lord that ensures his survival and future employment. I also thought the concept of a seemingly criminal syndicate operating directly for the Rebellion to be quite intriguing. We’ve seen the darker side of the Rebellion lately, and this seems to take one more step in that direction, showing us that the line between light and dark is sometimes a little more blurred than we initially realized.
Of course, we already know Valance’s mission is doomed to fail, a by-product of knowing the end of Vader’s story beforehand, but the question is what happens to Valance and his team along the way. Will he go on to bigger and better things at the end of this series – perhaps even joining the Rebellion himself? Or will he simply be another tally mark on Darth Vader’s long list of victims, remaining only as a distant memory in the mind of Han Solo as he thinks about his time at the Carida Academy?
I guess we’ll have to wait to find out, but what matters now is that this is a great issue with a very promising set up. Thompson gives Star Wars fans what we’ve been missing for some time now. I imagine that this series strikes a similar chord to what would have been in George Lucas’ cancelled live action show Star Wars: Underworld or the Star Wars 1313 video game that never happened. Regarding the aesthetic of the book, taking a look at the screenshots in this review shows that the artwork in this issue from artists Marc Laming and Cris Bolson speaks for itself, and as with any comic book, was an integral part to the storytelling. Thompson and company are onto something here and I can’t wait to read more!
Star Wars: Target Vader is available now in a comic shop near you or online at Comixology. Happy reading comic fans!