I care more about Leia now, Han was always the cool one, and I identified with Luke at the time, but it was Darth Vader that made Star Wars for me as a kid. And judging by Volkswagen commercial, it still is. (I love The Force Awakens and Kylo Ren, but he isn’t filling any Darth Vader shaped holes, to what I’m sure is his chagrin.) Even if Darth Vader doesn’t hold the same magic for me anymore, there is still a nostalgia, and he has become more interesting.
I’m not talking about his arc in the prequels (Episode II and III reviews here and here, respectively), but about the shift between Episode IV and The Empire Strikes Back. The Darth Vader of Episode IV is sure of himself, in control, and firmly within the Empire’s hierarchy, with Grand Moff Tarkin as a check. The Darth Vader of The Empire Strikes Back is unchecked and out of control, Force-choking subordinates like a madman. I guess losing the Death Star will do that to you. As volume 1 of this comic makes clear, the Emperor now has very serious doubts about Darth Vader’s suitability, and Sith no know loyalty (even to the idea of Sith).
So does volume 1 make good on that promise? Yes and No.
First off, the artwork is gorgeous. I mean every single frame. It’s also very realistic, very detailed artwork. Maybe a little too realistic. Much of the comic, especially the early parts, seem designed to show off and recreate characters and scenes from the movies.
The story has the same problem. Jabba and Boba Fett show up early. They have a role to play, but that role and the size of it probably have a lot to do with their popularity in fandom. Similarly, the Emperor shows up, as well as Luke and Padme in flashbacks, and, bizarrely, General Taggue (the sensible Imperial officer with a terrible haircut). There is also, regrettably, murderous versions of C-3PO and R2-D2.
The story works much better when it mixes familiar elements with new, as it increasingly does as the story progresses. There is the beautiful Dr. Aphara, a rogue archeologist specializing in lost weaponry. There is the malevolent Dr. Cylo-IV, a genetically modified cyborg in the Emperor’s employ. And we get organic bases and a “droid queen,” and humans and aliens “enhanced” to serve as weapons.
All of this comes together to create a very effective story arc that gets Darth Vader and leaves me wanting more (volume 2 came out this month, so I’ll be making a purchase soon). Newly on the outs after the Death Star disaster and given new motivation to break from the Emperor after killing Obi Wan and detecting Luke’s presence. He’s trying to make serious moves of his own while navigating court politics. And of course the Emperor always has his own designs.