Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Darth Vader 1 originally released February 11th, 2015.
Taylor: When I was in second grade the fire department came to my school to give us a demonstration about what to do in a fire. The coolest part about this, aside from getting out of class, was that they brought a trailer with a fake house that simulated what it would be like to be in a house that was ablaze. During the lecture before we went in, they said we should know never to fear a firefighter in this or any other house. They continued, saying that a lot of kids get scared of fire fighters in full garb because they sound and look like Darth Vader given their oxygen tanks and mask. I distinctly remember this because it made so much sense. Darth Vader was serious business and I could see why kids might be scared of a fire fighter that resembled him. But can you imagine this line working on kids today? With the passage of time (and prequels) the myth of Vader has faded, and so too has his fearsome facade. Issue 1 of Marvel’s Darth Vader has me wondering, will he ever get that fearsomeness back?
Darth Vader has fucked up. Not only did he let the Rebels blow up the Death Star, but he was indirectly responsible for its destruction because he let Luke and his posse escape the space station on purpose. Needless to say, this displeases the Emperor, so he sends Vader on the menial task of finishing Imperial business with the Hutts (from Star Wars 1 and 2). While on Tatooine, Vader contacts Boba Fett to track down Luke and a new, mysterious Imperial agent.
The opening of this issue left me cold. I feared that I would have to echo all of the same reservations I had about Star Wars 1 and it’s lack of originality and occasional pandering. The reason the intro fails to capture my interest is that the idea of Vader once again returning to Tatooine borders on parody. We’ve always been told that Tatooine is a backwater outer-rim planet, unworthy of any attention of the central core planets which make up the empire. Yet here we are again at this hive of scum and villainy, in the presence of no less formidable a man than Darth Vader, the killer of all the Jedi. The staging of this opening on Tatooine just doesn’t hold water. Either the importance of this planet needs to be acknowledged or writers need to find or create a more interesting locale to stage their stories. Sure, the planet is recognizable but by no means should a writer let that fact supplant previously established Star Wars narrative.
Even though that desert of an opening left me parched, the story does become more juicy once we change mono-climated planets. On Coruscant, the capitol planet/city, Vader meets the emperor after his failed dealings on Cymoon 1. The emperor takes this opportunity to lay into Vader about all of his recent failures. Of particular interest is his acknowledgment of how the destruction of the Death Star alters the Empire’s political power.
This is the type of detail we never get from the original trilogy and it I love seeing writer Kieron Gillen include it here. Essentially, this is exactly what I want from this series — to fill in the spaces between the scenes from Episodes 4,5, and 6. In the movies, we never consider the ramifications the destruction of the Death Star has for the Imperials. Here, however, we get some vital details about how it affected our antagonists. Not only is this entertaining, but it helps explain how a ragtag group of humans, fish-people, and the only black man in the universe took down an empire made up of multiple solar systems.
This filling-in of detail also helps us to better understand the relationship between Vader and Palpatine. After being lambasted by his boss, Vader is unsurprisingly coy about everything that happened on Cymoon 1. In a brilliant two pages, artist Salvador Larroca sums up Vader’s feeling about Luke in eight sparesly dialogued panels.
This stood out to me for two reasons. First, it’s incredible how Larroca presents essentially all of Vader’s interactions with Luke up to this point in two pages. We get all the highlights and nothing we don’t need. Tellingly, Larroca correctly assumes that anyone reading this title is familiar enough with the movies and the Star Wars comic that they only need the most important of refreshers. Also, I love how he presents all of these scenes from new angles, which renders them in a new light, from the viewpoint of Vader as opposed to Luke.
I also like this scene because it deepens our understanding of how the Emperor and Vader interact. We see that the emperor treats Vader clearly as an inferior and as a tool to be used. Again, this explains much of what we see happen in Return of the Jedi. It shows us why Vader would turn against the emperor once Luke shows up. True, he wanted to protect his son, but perhaps in the back of his head he was also was sick of being treated like a pawn as well.
Drew, what do you think? Do you enjoy seeing the scenes between the scenes? What do you think about the new imperial spy (is it Cyborg-Greedo?). And what about Black Krranstan? He and Boba Fett are like the anti Han and Chewie. Is that lame or the best?
Drew: I’m gonna go with lame. Accepting that Wookies are important, recurring players in the Star Wars narrative is just as hard to swallow as Tatooine is for you. I’ve expressed my boredom with what I think is the overuse of images and character designs from the movies in the new Star Wars series, and the opening of this issue made me a bit nervous about how that very same problem.
This is cribbed almost directly from Return of the Jedi. In theory, this should strengthen the parallels between Vader and Luke Skywalker, who, in Jedi, so dramatically arrives at Jabba’s palace in black, force-choking guards and otherwise seeming kind of Vader-like. Only, Vader isn’t acting quite so Vader-like. Rather than force-choking the guards (which is decidedly his signature method of killing those who displease him), he kills them with his lightsaber, then brandishes that same lightsaber in order to be taken to Jabba. All of which robs Vader of his imposing presence and cheapens the rarified coolness of the lightsaber.
First, the imposing presence: Vader is acting as the tip of the world-destroying spear that is the Empire. I appreciate that they don’t have as firm a grip on the outer rim planets, especially without the Death Star, but they still have more than enough firepower to deal with Jabba, not to mention the authority to kill with impunity. Vader should be walking in with assured confidence, his stature and distinctive respirator being the only thing he needs to scare his way into the palace, but instead, his only power comes from having a weapon in his hand. I mean, geez, even C-3PO was able to talk his way into Jabba’s palace, and that dude is a total loser.
Moreover, I just don’t believe Vader would use his lightsaber so indiscriminately. Not that he wouldn’t kill and threaten these folks, mind, just that he wouldn’t do it with his lightsaber. Think back to the original trilogy. Vader kills a LOT of people, but only one of them with a lightsaber. Indeed, he only brandishes his weapon once per episode, reserving it for the climactic duels in each film. Again, I think that speaks to just how intimidating he is — everyone is terrified of him, but not because he’s holding a weapon.
But I agree with Taylor that the issue picks up once we leave Tatooine (though I’m honestly not sure why Gillen felt the need to play with the chronology — an affect never used in the movies). I’m particularly enamored of the “Nothing to trouble you with, master” line that Taylor included, especially given that the bits of the story he’s omitting stretch back to A New Hope.
That Vader, in the wake of his failure with the Death Star, would hesitate to mention that Obi Wan Kenobi was still alive — effectively reminding the Emperor of his last biggest failure — is an interesting character choice. Is Vader just covering his own ass, or do these secret thoughts and feelings represent the first cracks in his facade? I really like the idea that the trust issues between these two started with little white lies, as though this were a sad drama about the dissolution of their relationship.
I also like this sequence for the way it codifies the events of the new Star Wars series. It sounds silly to say, but that story being corroborated as history here goes a long way to pushing those events into the back of my mind, where they swim right alongside the original trilogy. It’s all context for this series, which is an incredibly smart choice.
Marvel’s Star Wars arm continues to be a mixed bag for me, but I think I’m starting to warm up to them. It’s clear that a big piece of the narrative here is how Vader learns who Luke is, and a Vader-focused title seems like the best way to explore that. That he has to run his investigation on the DL is an interesting — and unexpected — twist, but I can’t wait to see how Gillen handles it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?