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Comics Watch: Marvel's 'Vader' Begins With a 'Star Wars' Shocker

The new comic book may change how the original trilogy is contextualized.
Marvel Entertainment/ Raffaele Ienco
The new comic book may change how the original trilogy is contextualized.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.

Four words changed everything a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away: “I am your father.” Star Wars: Darth Vader No. 1 picks up immediately after that moment, with Vader feeling the pain of his son’s betrayal to serve by his side and rule the galaxy. Written by Greg Pak with art by Raffaele Ienco, Darth Vader is the second title in Marvel’s relaunched Star Wars series, which takes place immediately after The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and before Return of the Jedi (1983), and establishes the stories within this timeline as canon for the first time since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. With the films serving as bookends, Pak is able to freely move within that space and provide new context to familiar events and add new twists to the narrative. And this opening issue features a very big twist.

Pak and Ienco don’t shy away from the prequels, as Vader’s past experiences as Anakin Skywalker provide the emotional anchor for the series opening. Not only does the reliance of Episodes I-III further emphasize the importance of these stories in canon, and the softened fan reception towards them over the recent years, but it’s the first time we’ve gotten to see the events of those films directly influence Vader’s actions after his reveal to Luke that he is his father. We learn that this is information that is recent to Vader as well. Images of Luke mix with memories of Padme in the book, as Vader reckons with his current hatred and past love. His mission becomes an effort to hunt down those who were responsible from hiding Luke from him, and raised him to be, in Vader’s mind, “weak.”

Vader’s new resolve takes him to Tatooine and the home of Cleigg Lars, and the spot of Anakin's mother’s gravesite. Pak, rightfully, makes Vader a man of few words, and the realism of Ienco’s artwork does a lot in terms of Vader’s characterization’s through body language. But what’s most interesting is how we see Vader’s actions play out as a result of his memory, adding layers to the character we don’t see in the Original Trilogy. He’s not necessarily softened, but he does become a more well-rounded character and less of a concrete vision of evil, something previous Vader comic writers Kieron Gillen and Charles Soule also explored. Panels depicting Vader’s memories are stacked on top of each other, and images overlap, like Luke falling down the shaft on Bespin becoming Padme falling down that shaft. In other words, the past cannot be killed, and the dead do in fact speak. But this occurs in more than simply a thematic way. The dead actually do speak. Vader’s mission leads him to a secret location where he encounters none of other than Padme Amidala, older, armed and dangerous.

How is this possible? No doubt this will be the central mystery of Pak’s opening arc, and possibly the series. Taken at face value, Padme’s return changes everything. Was her death we saw in Revenge of the Sith (2005) just a cover-up? Why is she hiding? Does she know her children survived? And what happens to her in the year between Empire and Jedi? Vader believes he killed Padme, thanks to the Emperor, and he did, indirectly. So of course this reveal is going to have major ramifications for him. But it’s also worth remembering that the entire issue has played with Vader’s memory, his psyche, which is not that of a well man. It’s possible this returned Padme is an illusion. Or what’s more, it’s possible that it is one of her handmaidens, given Padme’s penchant for using decoys. But there’s also another possibility, that could further expand the Star Wars Universe across all forms of media.

Cloning was often discussed in coverage of The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker, and we’re back at it again here. What if this Padme is a clone? We realize that cloning can’t be the answer behind every great Star Wars mystery, but it’s fascinating that this technological development simply stalled after the end of the Clone Wars. Palpatine clearly didn’t forget about the technology as it allowed him to masquerade as Snoke and create a new body for himself prior to the events of The Rise of Skywalker. If the Empire had such methods, isn’t it possible that the Rebels did too, considering how much surviving Jedi Obi-Wan and Yoda knew about the cloning practices on Kamino? It’s expected that answers will come in further issues, but it’s also worth noting that the final season of The Clone Wars lands on Disney+ later this month, and a shot of Anakin talking to a visibly pregnant Padme during the trailer suggests that at least some of the episodes will take place during Revenge of the Sith, opening a small window in time for new plotline for the former Queen to be opened.

With the Skywalker Saga now concluded, writers and artists have the perfect opportunity to answer lingering questions and fill in gaps within the mythology. While the seeds of the High Republic have been laid in other books, and point to an entirely new era of Star Wars mythos yet to be explored, the Skywalker Saga still remains a fascinating era, filled with details and mysteries we still don’t know. Darth Vader appears to be at the forefront of those mysteries, making it a must read for Star Wars fans.

  • Richard Newby
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