Vader Down is comes to an explosive conclusion! If they can publish two at once, we can discuss two at once… or, you know, one immediately after the other. Today, Taylor and Patrick discuss Star Wars 14 and Darth Vader 15.
Star Wars 14
Patrick: Star Wars movies always build up to a final battle between the hero and the villain. Even when there’s a Second Death Star, or a Star Killer Base, or a Battle-Droid-controlling satellite to destroy, the most compelling action boils down to the most personal confrontation between people. That’s not to say that these confrontations are always satisfying: the fight between Yoda and Count Dooku at the end of Attack of the Clones is notoriously derided for being a pointless display of computer generated nonsense. I’d argue that Yoda could still flip around like a force-powered monkey if only the film had established a meaningful emotional rivalry between Yoda and Dooku. Lucas never bothers to explore their relationship at all, we’re meant to care about it just because we’re told one of them is evil and the other one is good. In stark contrast to that fight is the lightsaber duel from the end of Empire Strikes Back – Luke and Vader may not laser dance at each other for 20 minutes, but the reason they’re fighting matters to the audience. Both of these are “final battles,” but only one of them has the intended narrative effect. Interestingly, Star Wars 14 presents two of it’s own “final battles” — one well-rooted in relationships explored in this story, and the other based in that same kind of because-I-said-so logic.
The weaker of the two fights is the one teased on the cover. It’s Wookie vs. Wookie – Warrior Son of Kashyyyk Chewbacca vs. The Bounty Hunter Black Krssantan! The problem, of course, is that other than both of them being Wookies, we don’t really have any reason to give a shit about this fight. Literally, the only reason Krssantan is fighting them at all is because Dr. Aphra paid him to do it. Writer Jason Aaron knows that he’s got a weak confrontation on his hands, and has Han handily summarize the difficulty that Chewbacca is having, and offers a swift, easy solution all in one panel.
Artoo effortlessly delivers the antidote to Chewbacca and this title fight comes to a pretty hasty conclusion.
The other fight — between Darth Vader and his rival Karbin — is almost the exact opposite of this. Vader and Karbin lack the visual symmetry that Chewie and Krssantan do, and there’s also a less obvious divide between good and evil, so their fight makes for a less effective selling point for the issue. However, they have an actually ideological reason to be fighting each other. Karbin wants to score a military victory at Vader’s expense, and Vader wants to prove that he’s above anything as petty as military victories. Previous issues of Darth Vader have established the threat posed by the Emperor’s other potential acolytes, but this issue makes sure to re-express Vader’s point of view regarding the war with the rebellion. Leia tries to bait Vader, telling him that he’ll never win the war. Vader’s response is appropriately chilling.
What a great little bit of information Vader drops there – he could have called for reinforcements, but that’d rob him of the personal satisfaction of executing Luke and Leia. So when Karbin arrives and activates his four cyborg-arms, each with a lightsaber, the ensuing battle actually means something to the characters, and by extent, to the audience.
One other note before I pass things off to Taylor: I had previously noted how artist Mike Deodato had adopted the now-standard Star Wars Comics style of paneling, primarily relying on wide-screen paneling. The last two issues have been something of a departure from that, as Deodato fill frequently split the page vertically down the middle, or put sets of panels at odd angles to the page. He’s not doing anything revolutionary, but it certainly is different for the series. Taylor, do you have any thoughts as to how that effected your read of this issue?
But along a less heady line of questioning: which of these fights did you find yourself more invested in? And maybe it’s all build-up to the real-real final battle in the next issue? WAIT, hold it on that last question, we’ll talk about that issue in just a few minutes.
Taylor: I hadn’t really considered paneling until you mentioned it Patrick, but now that you have I can’t but see it as being a huge part of the issue! To that extent, it’s neat to view the tension between the two paneling styles in this issue and the way Deodato merges them. Take, for example, this series from the fight between Vader and Karbin.
The top two thirds of the page are Deodato’s panel styling while the bottom third is the Star Wars standard-wide. This mashup of styles is a wonderful compromise struck by Deodato and it’s super effective visual storytelling. The first four panels don’t have a whole lot of room to show action, so Deodato fills them with smaller like the swinging of a lightsaber or a glance in a different direction. The last panel, by comparison, is much bigger and reflected in that is a much bigger action – the pulling down of a statue.
Even though these panels are different and used for different actions, they come together wonderfully to make a whole, complete action scene. I’ve always been fond of wide panel shots and when I consider it, they seem super appropriate for a comic based on a movie. After all, the wide panel shot is almost the exact some ratio as a movie screen. But the smaller panels here don’t diminish the cinematic feel established by the wide shots. Instead they enhance it. They act as a sort of close up shot that better shows character emotion and minute movement.
As to the question about which showdown is better? I’ll have to take Vader and Karbin though this has nothing to do with panel layout. Simply put, Vader is on fire this issue. He’s dealing with so much shit coming at him from so many directions but he doesn’t back down from any of it. This is the Darth Vader I’ve always feared and respected. He’s powerful and doesn’t let anything get in his way. His battle with Karbin fun if for no other reason I get the sense that he’s angry and Karbin for showing up, yet excited to end him once and for all. In short, the hate if flowing through Vader in this issue and that’s when he’s at his most compelling.
Darth Vader 15
Taylor: Even though Vader is securely set in his dark side ways in Star Wars 14, Darth Vader 15 gives us a glimpse of what lies behind the mask. Patrick, you mentioned that the best Star Wars battles are those with an established relationship and I couldn’t agree more. In this issue we don’t get any new showdowns or battles to explore these relationships, we just get continuations of the battles from the previous issue. However, the fallout from these battles helps establish the motives behind the showdown between Luke and Vader in Empire Strikes Back.
After Luke is captured by Karbin’s troops it looks likes he’s finally going to be whisked off to the emperor. Vader, however, has other thoughts. In a quietly powerful scene he destroys the engines to the Imperil Shuttle Luke is on, essentially freeing him from his captors.
With so little narrative, I had trouble at first figuring out why Vader would do such a thing since ostensibly this is the very thing he’s been working toward. But then I remembered what happens in Vader’s fight with Luke on Bespin. He opts not to kill Luke and instead reveals his status as Luke’s father. Further, he asks Luke to join his side, overthrow the emperor and “rule the galaxy as father and son.” With this in mind, the above sequence snapped into clarity for me. Vader doesn’t want to go to the emperor, he wants Luke to go to him.
The purpose of this all is to establish motive for Vader in these pages and Episode V. Vader is clearly operating with his own best interests at heart – not the emperor’s. And who could blame him? He just killed another would-be usurper of his title which, in no small way, intimates that the emperor would just as soon throw Vader to the side when the next best Jedi comes around a.k.a. Luke. Vader’s no fool and he’s decided that rather than do the bidding of a man who would just as soon kill him, he better start looking out for his own. I have to give credit to Kieron Gillen and the other writers of this series event for how they’ve planned this out. Instead of trying to make something that rivals the original trilogy they’ve made something that’s enhanced. For someone who grew up with the original trilogy I don’t think I could have asked for anything better from this issue.
Patrick, even though I liked this aspect of the issue, there were some things I didn’t really enjoy such, as the way Karbin meets his fate. Did you think it kind of silly like I did? Or are there other parts you didn’t like so much? OR did you like it all?
Patrick: There’s part of Karbin’s death that I absolutely loved, but I think I see what you’re driving at. There’s always a little bit of tension between Star Wars’ light, poppy tone and the realities of Darth Vader’s methods. I think the movies generally circumvent that by having Vader choke more dudes to death than slicing them open, but the whole thing get stickier when we spend time with the guy out in the field. Think about this character for a second, and really let it sink in: he’s a mass-murdering masochist with a goddamn fire sword. Karbin’s death blow has to be off-panel, because, shit man, kids read this thing! Does that make the panel a little cheesy? Yeah, it kinda does, but I’m willing to concede to the cheese on this one.
Also, for as goofy as that robot hand reaching up for mercy is, there is some incredible storytelling going on here. First of all, look at the persistent, murderous glow of Vader’s lightsaber eeking out into the gutter. That’s so cool, and I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that technique before. In an issue where Vader crushes a ship’s engines with his mind, it’s Edgar Delgado’s contribution that makes him seem enormous.
But there’s also Vader’s impossibly cool response to Karbin’s question: “This isn’t just revenge for the Death Star. Is it? This is something else.” Vader responds with one of my favorite narrative choices: “You will never know.” I’ve long-supported the idea that questions are better than answers when it comes to fiction. Remember that list of “40 Unforgivable Plot Holes” in The Force Awakens? Like 90% of those “plot holes” should really be classified as “unanswered questions,” which are just excuses for the audience to project our own stories onto what we’re allowed to see on-screen. That’s actually one of the reasons readers might not be too keen on the idea of these Star Wars comics – they’re filling in blanks previously filled by our imaginations. But as Taylor points out, there’s still plenty of room for ambiguity, even as these comics populate those missing years between A New Hope and Empire with answers. The issue ends with Luke lamenting the fact that he’ll never be able to get back to this Jedi Temple to learn its secrets. Literally, his final worlds in the issue are “…and now I’ll never know.” Clearly, this tension between being able to explore these mysteries and gleefully withholding answers is on the minds of the creators.
I also like how well Larocca and Gillen are able to balance the old Star Wars characters with the Darth Vader characters they invented. We get to see some really compelling PTSD stuff for Leia, and we’ve talked about Vader’s awesome motivations in this issue, but this might just be Dr. Aphra’s finest hour. I mean, dig it: she actually rescues Darth Vader. It’s a testament to the character that Gillen and Larocca have created that I can’t wait to see what her fate will be in Rebel hands. Our relationship with her is so strong that I’m not even sure whether I want our heroes to be able to get any information out of her. And on the flip side of that, do I want to see her rescued by Vader? Or murdered by him to protect his secrets? It’s all so open, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Evidently, there were some non-Star Wars comics released this week. Click here to check out the other comics we wrote about this week!