With the release of Star War: The Force Awakens has come a lot of new fiction to the Star Wars universe. Regrettably, this resulted in a lot of the old expanded universe fiction being relegated to “Legends” status in the canon, but I’ve seen it as an opportunity to get deeper into the now more manageable canon of expanded fiction. One such series that saw release in early 2015 was Darth Vader, an ongoing monthly series by Marvel Comics, written by Kieron Gillen with art by Salvador Larroca.
The story takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. As the sole survivor, the brunt of the blame for the Death Star’s destruction has rested onto Darth Vader’s shoulders and he has fallen in the esteem of his master, the Emperor, as a result. Vader works toward discovering what the Emperor is plotting behind his back, while also seeking to learn the identity of the Force-gifted Rebel pilot he encountered outside the Death Star.
I wasn’t sure what to think of the story at first, as an ongoing featuring Darth Vader sounds like an easy cash-grab. I couldn’t help this wary, cynical approach, but I was interested in the character enough to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much this story really worked to expand upon the Star Wars storyline, rather than simply telling an ultimately inconsequential side-story. As the summary suggests, this series is filling in the gap between the films; specifically, how Vader learns that he even has a son, and how he finds himself in a position of greater power in Empire despite his failings in the first film.
A number of small but significant choices were made in telling a story from Vader’s perspective that helped to flesh out the otherwise monolithic villain, giving him more depth and making him somewhat sympathetic. Fortunately, the reputation he has garnered from the films is not sacrificed to do this. One key choice Gillen has openly said he made was the absence of narration boxes. We don’t get a look into exactly what Vader is thinking at any given time, maintaining an air of mystique to the character.
Another choice made was to tie a lot of his feelings to events from the prequel trilogy. Despite the negative stigma those films have, they are canon for better or worse, and this story picks key moments to help flesh out the pain Vader is still holding on to. Some of these moments are flashbacks, but they never linger too long, only lasting one or a few panels, supplementing the present moment in the story.
I especially appreciate how Vader is depicted visually, as conveying his emotions is difficult to pull off. Pauses, angles, and these brief flashes of memory are used very well to convey feeling without saying a word. Larroca does a good job of drawing the series in a style that reflects the look of the original films, avoiding the use of stylization such as we’ve seen in other series in the franchise like The Clone Wars. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with a stylized approach, I like the choice to stay visually consistent with the original trilogy.
Some new side characters are introduced the universe as well, particularly of note a rogue archaeologist named Aphra. Vader enlists her to help him gather resources for his personal machinations, which he does not trust Imperial assets for. Their relationship is intriguing so far, as she seems to have a lot of respect for Vader and sees working for him as an opportunity to do something meaningful with her life. He frightens her, but she still tries to probe and find things out about him too, which clashes well with his stoic personality. She has no illusions about the likelihood that he will kill her once she is no longer of use, either, but seems committed nonetheless. I’m interested to see if she will manage to inspire any humanity from Vader or if her explicitly discussed fate — brought up by her — will eventually come true.
The only elements I had mixed feelings about were the doppelgangers of R2-D2 and C-3P0, named BT-1 and 0-0-0 respectively. BT is a “blastomech” droid, an assassin droid prototype made to look like an astromech, and Triple-Zero is a protocol droid specializing in etiquette, protocol, and torture. While they do add some dark comedic relief, their presence is also a little too corny for me. Evil versions of iconic characters are a little too played out, but their presence as more background characters does help keep them from feeling completely out of place.
Vader, the title of this first volume, shows a lot of promise, especially by the close of the final issue. I am hopeful the series will continue to shed more light on the behind-the-scenes dealings of Darth Vader as he pursues his own ends while trying to maintain his status in the Empire. It has done a great job expanding upon circumstances and events in the original trilogy of films thus far. It was nothing mind-blowing, but it’s definitely got me hooked.