Darth Vader against the ropes? How’s the Dark Lord going to get out of this mess?

DARTH VADER #11 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Joe Caramagna

Adjutant Thanoth is closing in on his targets, which means he’s close to finding out he’s searching for Darth Vader! Rather than give up his search for Luke Skywalker, however, Darth Vader doubles down and comes the closest yet to being found out by the Empire! How will he keep the Empire off his scent? Will it cost Doctor Aphra her life?

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I have to confess to a mistake. Last time around, I criticized DARTH VADER for dragging its story onward, for asking us to invest in a story the ending of which we already know. The source of this problem, I stated, was that by #10, Darth Vader still didn’t know that Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star. That was flat-out incorrect. Maybe it’s the fact that Doctor Aphra mentions Luke so casually in this that my brain finally clicked the pieces into place (or just remembered that they were in place to begin with), but, regardless, I was wrong. As of DARTH VADER #11, Darth Vader not only knows that Luke Skywalker was the one who blew up the Death Star, but he also knows that Luke is his son.

That’s a horse of a different color.

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I could turn around and blame the writing for not being clear, or the story not being compelling enough to hold my attention, let alone my memory, but the reality is, I’m reviewing this thing, so it’s my responsibility to, y’know, know what happens.

That said, things have kind of turned on their ear. Darth Vader, strong, intimidating, unflappable Darth Vader is now dealing with the knowledge that not only does he have a son, but that his son was essentially responsible for his current fate. To make matters worse, the course Luke and Vader’s actions set Vader upon now have Vader, for all intents and purposes, being hunted by the Empire.

This is juicy.

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READ: JUMP FORWARD IN TIME FROM DARTH VADER TO SHATTERED EMPIRE! READ OUR REVIEW HERE!

The story of DARTH VADER is not only more meaningful because of it, but it also projects into THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK a little bit. It doesn’t alter the story, of course, but it does add a layer to the reveal of the film. It no longer comes out of nowhere. Additionally, DARTH VADER makes an interesting point about narrative and narratives, especially as they exist in the world. They don’t exist in a vacuum, and anyone with a vested interested in popular culture probably knows that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. This entire comic book could not exist without that knowledge. It takes place before the events of the movie, but is created in a world after everyone has seen it.

Okay, that’s what prequels are, I know, but that the entire plot is based upon knowledge that is structurally revealed in the film–it’s interesting.

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Regardless, the issue doesn’t buckle under those stakes. There’s still fun to be had–which is surprising considering the title is DARTH VADER. Doctor Aphra remains one of the best things to come out of Marvel’s Star Wars comics, and this issue is yet another demonstration of that. Furthermore, one of the unspoken joys of all of Marvel’s Star Wars comics is the expansion of the world–visiting new systems, new cities, and meeting new characters. This issue’s coolest example is the Spire: a space station/city suspended above a perpetual and violent storm in space. That plays a part in the plot later on, but just in general, that’s a pretty cool idea. It was mentioned last in DARTH VADER #9, but now we arrive, and it’s pretty damn cool.

The art is still fine–not as effective as last issue, and suffers a bit more this time around from its tenuous relationship with anatomical proportions and general character design consistency, but it’s still vibrant and buoyant enough to keep things moving along. The inclination with a character like Darth Vader might be to go dark, but the title’s resistance to that (maybe a managerial decision to make it more accessible and four-quadrant friendly) is a good thing.

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It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Given the upcoming “Vader Down” crossover event, you can assume it doesn’t go well, but the pieces are there for it to be executed well, for Vader’s… Downness… to be arrived at organically and compellingly. Thanoth doesn’t yet know he’s chasing Vader (presumably), but he’s putting the screws to him just the same. That, in turn, puts a strain on Vader’s relationship with Doctor Aphra–revealing that their bond is a lot more developed and affecting than initially I realized. Darth Vader’s sweating (not literally–can he even do that?), and his back is against the wall. You might balk at the idea of making Darth Vader vulnerable, but it pays off here, and it’s worth seeing where it goes. Onward to #12!

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