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Graphic Novel Review – Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1

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Darth Vader Vol.1 “Vader” written by Kieron Gillen illustrated by Salvador Larroca

Vader Cover

The original Dark Lord of the Sith stars in his first ongoing series! Ever since Darth Vader’s first on-screen appearance, he has become one of pop culture’s most popular villains. Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE into his own solo adventures – showing the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side! But when a Dark Lord needs help, who can he turn to? As Vader pursues a very personal vengeance against the Rebels and investigates the Emperor’s secret machinations, he clashes with weapons scavenger Aphra and deadly Battle Droids, and returns to Geonosis to build an army. But some very powerful people don’t want him to learn the truths he seeks! Guest-starring Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and more!

 

I’m a hard, old, bitter curmudgeon. Sometimes, anyway. I was a Star Wars fan club member back when Bantha Tracks was still printing exclusive news about Revenge of the Jedi. There’s been so much new expanded universe stuff since then that it all sort of blurs together. And I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for it.

When the new Star Wars comic was announced the only interesting thing about it was that John Cassaday was the artist. We didn’t even consider picking up Darth Vader or Princess Leia. A year’s gone by, now. Things have changed.

One thing, really. We read The Wicked + The Divine. Usually when I like something a lot I reread it over and over again. Then I enter into the broader conversation in some way. I’m okay for a little while. And then I become Galactus.

So that’s why I picked up “Vader.” I’m on a binge. The thing is, it’s great. I mean, I’d heard that. There’s a good chance you’ve heard that. Anyway, it’s true.

Darth Vader comes at the character from surprisingly varied vectors. It opens with some straightforward action. Vader is implacable and indomitable. The philosophical difference between the dark side and the light is clearly illustrated. This is the Vader you expect, that you secretly want from the broader narrative.

From there it skips back a beat, to an audience with the Emperor; a dressing down for the catastrophe of A New Hope. Vader, as the sole survivor, shoulders the singular responsibility. You can almost hear minor chords in the background as the comic begins to do the work episodes one through three were meant for and largely failed to accomplish. The first stirrings of sympathy for the Sith Lord.

Subordinated to an Imperial Grand General, suspicious of his master, and investigating the mysterious rebel youth who destroyed the Empire’s ultimate weapon, Vader negotiates a web of intrigues. Gillen ties this new interstitial story strongly to both the original trilogy and the prequels. The references are both strong and subtle. And they’re enabled largely due to Salvador Larocca’s attention to detail.

Scenes from each of the films are redrawn and juxtaposed, reframed and recast. There’s an extended sequence remixed from Raiders of the Lost Ark and rehabilitating the droideka that introduces the first of Vader’s new allies. I hesitate to spoil things, of course, but the supporting cast is a large part of the draw. Amoral Aphra is rule 63’s perfect answer to Indiana Jones. Triple Zero is Anthony Daniels’ HK-47, a sociopathic C-3PO. And BT-1 is, adorably, astromech Wolverine.

Two droids and a self possessed young woman. Narrative and structural parallels. From Tatooine to Geonosis, Darth Vader gets it. It’s of the Star Wars universe and among the fans. This is the dirge of Anakin Skywalker.

And it’s got space whales.

Recommended for fans of Farscape, Knights of the Old Republic, and “Bad Romance.”

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