At its core, Star Wars is a story of good and evil. The bad guys are disfigured, wear black, and have red laser swords, the good guys are pretty, wear brown, and have blue and green laser swords. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been plenty of Star Wars stories from the perspective of the villains, including the previous volume of Darth Vader. This new story, following the rise of the dark lord, does more than trace the steps of evil- it completely flips the morality of the Star Wars universe around.
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inked by Cam Smith
Colored by David Curiel
Vader sets his sights on a Jedi who’s avoided Order 66? A Jedi Master who’s long lived in seclusion? A Jedi more powerful than any Vader has faced before? Rated T
To enjoy Star Wars stories, you have to accept that you’re going to get answers to questions you may not have really cared about. You judge those stories on how interesting that answer is. How did Princess Leia get the Death Star plans? You don’t need to know to enjoy A New Hope, but Rogue One was still a good time. Likewise, this arc of Darth Vader asks how the cybernetic death machine got his red lightsaber.
In the new Star Wars continuity, it has been revealed that Sith turn lightsabers red by torturing the Kyber crystals inside of them. Soule has added to that mythology: it is a Sith rite of passage to find a Jedi, kill them, take their saber, and make it yours. The Emperor killed most of the Jedi, so Vader is going after one of the few who remain.
Where the book messed with my head was how much I found myself rooting for Vader. The issue was a simple story of our (evil) protagonist climbing a mountain and overcoming traps and obstacles to face his Jedi opponent. It’s a story that works in kung-fu movies and superhero comics alike, and I found it really, really easy to root for Vader. The fact that Soule puts him through the ringer, really kicks Vader’s ass in a way I’ve never really seen before, made the dark lord even more sympathetic to me.
But… Vader is doing all of this to kill a good guy, steal his blade, and “make the crystal bleed,” right? That’s where the narrative simplicity comes into play. You want to see Vader overcome each obstacle, because it’s cool to see him struggle and overcome. Soule’s issue had me constantly questioning my support of this unrepentant murderer.
In a comic where the protagonist faces a series of battles and challenges, you can bet the art is super important. I’m a fan of Salvador Larroca (who did art on the previous Darth Vader volume), but Giuseppe Camuncoli and company blow him away. While they don’t match Larroca’s realistic, painterly quality, they more then make up for it with kinetic madness.
This comic moves! When Jedi Master Infil’a throws objects around with the Force, you can see the different weights and velocities of the different objects. Vader’s crashing ship isn’t a freeze frame a of cool Sith Infiltrator. It’s blurred by the tremendous speed of a spaceship hurtling towards the ground. Soule’s script gives Camuncoli the chance to draw torrents of water, and Vader mutilating some space birds. All of it is drawn with palpable gravity, speed, and impact.
And that says nothing about the colors. Darth Vader himself is a sort of monochromatic that is hard to express in pencils and inks, but David Curiel and Cam Smith do one of the best color jobs I’ve ever seen. They win the MVP awards for this comic. Vader is made of different blacks, but more than that, the light reflects off of his armor is amazing ways. His helmet is one color, but the light shines off it with a strange beauty, and is instantly evocative of the costume from the films. It actually looks more realistic than the mostly CGI immolation scene from Revenge of the Sith. Like everything else in this comic, Vader’s armor has a realistic physicality to it, despite being a cartoon.
The same attention to light is given to screens and lightsabers, and all the elements of a Star Wars story. The aesthetics are top notch across the board. Maybe the exception is Soule’s Star Wars names, which tend sillier than I typically like. If you’ve got Poe Dameron on one side, and Elan Sleazebaggano on the other, these names are solidly in the middle, some where between Borsk Fey’lya and Sio Bibble.Continued below
So the writing is well executed, the art is fabulous, is this a perfect comic? Well… it feels a bit light. It’s the middle installment of a simple story, so it’s over very quickly. It never feels like it has a lot to say in and of itself, but rather is the middle act of a story that deepens our understanding of a beloved (and reviled) character. If the premise of learning a minute detail of Darth Vader’s life doesn’t appeal to you, this book probably won’t make you a convert. If you want to be tempted towards the Dark Side, you’ll find a lot to love.
Final Verdict: 8.2 – Darth Vader gets knocked around in a simple but phenomenally drawn story.