Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca was one of Marvel’s first releases after the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. The comic deals with the aftermath of the Death Star’s destruction, leaving Vader to bear the brunt of the Emperor’s dissatisfaction. Stripped of resources and tightly monitored, Vader seeks a way to obtain his own resources, leading him to an encounter with one Doctor Aphra, but also discovering some unpleasant truths.
The first of them being that the Emperor was planning to replace him ever since Mustafar.
The person supplying potential replacements is Cylo, a cybernetically enhanced doctor. He has been developing similar individuals who, without the use of the Force, could replace Vader in the Emperor’s service. The genetically modified Astarte twins, a Trandoshan cyborg incapable of feeling pain, an Imperial scientist whose enhanced cerebellum can control droids, and a Grievous-inspired Mon Calamari cyborg complete his freak show.
When the Emperor demands a demonstration, Cylo announces a battle to death between his creations and Vader. Before Vader can claim his first kill, the Trandoshan is dispatched by Morit Astarte. He claims it is better do get rid of the “new” model first. The combat is stopped by the Emperor who tells all involved that he needs only one of them. They must not kill each other or at least ensure that he never finds out.
The Emperor is pleased that Vader showed initiative and sought his own strength. But when Vader says that Cylo’s creations are abominations, Palpatine berates him saying that he himself is a cyborg after his failure on Mustafar. Vader is angry that the Emperor has had plans to replace him ever since then. Palpatine tells him that the dark side is strength. He will be defeated or he will defeat them, but either way, he must continue proving himself.
Angry, Vader returns to the ship where Aphra informs him that Boba Fett wants to report about his search for the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star. The pilot managed to escape, but Boba Fett still has something to give Vader – his name.
That name brings back some memories for Vader, both good and bad: the time Padmé told Anakin about her pregnancy and the time when Palpatine convinced him that he killed his own wife in rage.
Needless to say, Vader is incensed. The sheer force (ha!) of his anger is enough to crack the window designed to withstand the ravages of space.
He contacts the Emperor who can sense his rage. Palpatine thinks that this is still about Cylo and his cyborgs. He additionally baits Vader hoping for some reaction. But, his apprentice has learned to curb his emotions somewhat. While he promises he would not fail Palpatine, his final words to the Emperor are ominous. Palpatine doesn’t know it yet, but this is beginning of the end for him.
Afterwards, Vader loses himself in the memories of both Padmé and Luke (don’t forget, they have met face to face before The Empire Strikes Back in the new canon). As his rage wreaks havoc on his star destroyer, he promises that Luke and the Empire will be his.
Even after the principle that “everything is connected” was introduced to the Star Wars narrative, the influence of non-movie material on it remains relatively minimal. Excluding the new characters which have found success with the fans, such as Aphra (introduced in this comic), what influence this material has is more likely to address past events rather than having actual bearing on future stories. However, as this issue proves, that impact can be rather significant.
This issue shows us the first major crack in the unity between Palpatine and Vader which goes beyond the apprentice wanting to challenge his master. Vader might have accepted the dark side, but the core of who he was remains. He had to trust Palpatine or accept that he was deceived. In this issue, this is exactly what happens: “And I understand us precisely.” The revelation of Luke‘s identity makes Vader even more determined to find him. Unknowingly to the Dark Lord of the Sith, these are his first steps towards redemption, because reaching for Luke means reaching for the light.
It is very difficult to show Vader’s emotions on the page and different authors are doing it differently, some through writing, some through more expressive art (Camuncoli, for example). But, Vader’s personality is all in Gillen’s writing. You can actually hear James Earl Jones’ voice while reading. Somehow, Gillen makes the character authentic, while pushing his development further. I was never particularly fond of Larroca’s art, he is certainly an acquired taste, but I feel that his hyper-realistic style suits Cylo’s scientific experiments. Together, this duo has created one of the most exciting issues in the early days of the new canon and even managed to put some events of The Empire Strikes Back in new context. If all we can hope for from this interconnectivity is enriching the movies, that in itself is plenty.
It has been a few years since this issue was published. Both the issue and this comic run are worth revisiting and pretty much global quarantine might be a good opportunity for it. Until another blast from the past,
THIS ISSUE GETS 9/10 STARS