Marvel’s first issue of Star Wars hit last month with over a million in sales and nearly universal acclaim, but it was just the first in what will be a whole line of books set in the galaxy far, far away. The second ongoing series stars the The Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader, and is written by Kieron Gillen (Young Avengers) and drawn by artist Salvador Larroca (Uncanny X-Men). So does Darth Vader #1 hit the same heights as Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s series? Well…not quite, but it’s still pretty good, occasionally great even, and a decent start to a series that, at the very least, has the potential to be something unique: an ongoing series where your protagonist is unabashedly evil.
The issue opens with the familiar opening crawl — only this time it’s told from a more Imperial point of view: “It is a period of insurgence. Rebels spaceships have won their first shocking victory against the rightful reign of the Galactic Empire.” It sets the action immediately after the events of A New Hope, just like the regular ongoing series, and pretty much establishes the tone for the issue, which is showcasing familiar Star Wars moments, but with a twist. The story begins on Tatooine, outside of Jabba the Hutt’s palace. It’s early in the morning and a lone, caped figure walks into the palace, forcing his way past some green, pig-like guards and past Bib Fortuna, Jabba’s assistant, until he is in the presence of the big ugly slug itself. Sound familiar? It’s almost a moment-for-moment recreation of Luke Skywalker’s entrance into Jabba’s palace from Return of the Jedi. It’s even deliberately drawn to resemble that moment in the movie.
It turns out that Vader is on a special solo mission to see Jabba, under the auspices of coming as the Emperor’s “blunt weapon” (as he is referred to more than once) to use the Hutt’s crime family resources to help him answer a very specific question he has following the events of the first movie (as well as the events of the Jason Aaron/John Cassaday book, which this ties into). I won’t say just what that burning question is, or what he needs help with, but hardcore Star Wars fans should figure it out pretty quickly.
That opening scenario in Jabba’s palace, cool though it may be, is part of the problem with the issue. It has a Star Wars’ “greatest hits” vibe to it. While Jason Aaron’s new ongoing series feels like the unseen Star Wars movie — inspired by, but not riffing on any one movie — this feels like one we’ve already seen, just with scenes from the classic films played out in a different way. It gave me the same feeling that Star Trek Into Darkness did, when Kirk died instead of Spock in almost the same scenario as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That’s one of those fan-servicey things that’s always more cool on paper than in the actual execution.
The best parts of the issue are the flashbacks to Vader’s interactions with the Emperor on Coruscant in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star. Besides a skit on Robot Chicken, we’ve never been given a glimpse into just how that scenario played out, considering we know the Emperor isn’t as forgiving as Vader is. Darth Vader is the only survivor of the “greatest military disaster in the history of the Empire,” so there’s no way he escapes the Emperor’s wrath for a screw-up like that, especially when he’s the one who let the rebels get away with the Death Star plans in an attempt to track them to their hidden base. The best part is when Vader tries to share the blame for the loss of the Death Star with Grand Moff Tarkin and the other Imperial Admirals, and the Emperor says, “Look, I know it’s not all your fault, but those other guys are dead now, so I’m gonna take this all out on you. Because I’m evil.” (OK, I admit that might not be a direct quote from the comic, but it’s a good approximation of how that conversation went down.)
Kieron Gillen’s scripting is good, but much like the old Dark Horse comics, it feels like a story set within the Star Wars universe, and never quite feels like you’re watching one of the movies. Nevertheless, he captures the voices of the characters pretty accurately, and it’s fun to see the original trilogy’s three main villains share a comic like this. I also like Gillen’s added detail that the Emperor’s palace on Coruscant is on the site of the old Jedi Temple. You know, that place where he had Vader kill all those Jedi babies in Episode III. It’s an extra level of “ick”, and if that’s Kieron Gillen’s contribution, it’s genius (although I suppose it could have come from the Expanded Universe).
Salvador Larroca’s art in this issue is pretty great, although he does fall into the trap that happens to so many artist that work on licensed properties, which is to copy screencaps and just use those as source material for his panels; it usually comes off more as copying than being inspired by the material. There are panels with the Emperor and Bib Fortuna that might as well be screenshots from Return of the Jedi. But as usual, his attention to detail is amazing, and unlike some Star Wars comics in the past, the artwork is anything but lazy.
So what’s the final verdict? If you are only going to buy one Star Wars book from Marvel, then I would still make it Aaron and Cassaday’s book. But if you’re open to buying others, then you could do a lot worse than Gillen and Larroca’s Darth Vader. If Marvel manages to do as good a job with the upcoming Princess Leia book, then it’ll be safe to say that Star Wars is in good hands at Marvel once again.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos