This year marks the 40th anniversary since the release of the original STAR WARS film on May 25th, 1977. This month, writers at ComicsVerse will be bringing you our insights on all things STAR WARS as we look at where the series has been and where it will take us next in the galaxy far, far away…

The Star Wars films can be considered the launching point for nerdom’s current popularity. During its initial release on May 25, 1977, moviegoers flocked to its realistic science fiction visuals and compelling storylines. No matter their walk of life, most fans of the original films left with the dreaded Vader on the brain. His thick, asthmatic speech and powerful manipulation of the mystical Force cemented him in pop culture history. As the films continued, the viewer could only watch as his ruthlessness increased. Darth Vader became the king of popular culture with one oft-misquoted line.

“No, I am your father.”

With his sudden change of heart at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI, viewers were left wanting more. This desire led to an entire prequel trilogy following the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Fans of the series constructed hundreds of comics and novels about some of the missing years in the films. Between THE PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES alone, nearly ten years pass in canon. In that time, relationships are built, and lives are lost, but the viewer was left out of the loop.

Star Wars: Darth Vader

After Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilms and the entire Star Wars franchise, they replaced this former canon with newly accessible media. Among the cartoons, films, and novels being released, Marvel dipped its toes into developing the Star Wars canon. These new comics devote themselves to exploring those missing years between films.

CLICK: The Cryptic End to THE LAST JEDI Analyzed

New writers have dug into Vader’s character and provided several groundbreaking insights into how far Vader truly fell in his search for power. More importantly, they show us that there is hope for the Dark Lord of the Sith. A scared, young slave boy still lives beneath all that black armor. These New Canon insights from the comics have made this largely two-dimensional villain relevant again while focusing on deepening this iconic character’s story.

Darth Vader: Power and Ruthlessness

Star Wars: Darth Vader

The end scene of STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE gives fans a rare scene of Vader in true form. With wild abandon, he tears apart a group of Rebel officers with the Force and a lightsaber. At this moment, the viewer gets to see how much of a threat Vader really is. Due to visual and technical limitations, the original movies could not depict the full power of this Sith leader. They were forced to limit themselves to brief lightsaber duels and even briefer moments of Vader Force Choking his opponents.

Comics have no limitations outside of the writer’s own imagination. The STAR WARS series give us a glimpse of an unstoppable force. In one moment from STAR WARS #3, we see Vader ripping a rogue AT-AT to pieces with the Force.

Outside of this great power, Vader has lost all inhibition. He acts in whatever capacity he so desires and on any emotion he so wishes. After an attack on Jabba the Hutt’s cohort in DARTH VADER #1, Vader takes a detour from his next meeting. Without warning, he slaughters an entire village of Sand People. While a reference to the prequel films, the rage, and despair over his mother’s death caused Anakin’s original attack. This new instance was purposeful, a hunt with no remorse. Also, STAR WARS Vol. 1 sees him snapping his own soldier’s neck for seeing Vader without his helmet. In these moments, we see the man willing and capable of destroying Alderaan.

A Lack of Omnipotence

Star Wars: Darth Vader Jabba the Hutt

In the underrated mini-series OBI-WAN & ANAKIN, a brief encounter reveals to us that Anakin Skywalker struggled in his training. While talented with a lightsaber, Anakin struggled to grasp abilities like the famous “Jedi Mind Trick.” Anakin and Obi-Wan, stranded on an alien planet, have to defend themselves from genetically modified monstrosities. The need to feed solely drives these creatures, so Obi-Wan instructs Anakin to “feel the Force flowing through them.” He hopes to end the conflict by altering their intentions peacefully. Anakin attempts the ability but fails, resorting to killing the monsters instead.

We then learn that this was not the first time. In a flashback to the Jedi temple, we see Anakin attempting the ability on an alien rhino. He says,

“I’m sorry, Master. I can’t find a way to calm it. All I feel is its rage. It wants to get out. To crush. Gore. Kill.”

DARTH VADER #25 does show that Vader can use the ability to great effect. However, it is not clear before this issue whether Vader suppressed his ability or whether he simply couldn’t use it.

READ: Learn how increased stakes aided STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE.

Much of this lack of power seems to be based on emotionality and Vader’s conception of Sith life. In DARTH VADER #1, Vader says this just prior to using his Force Choke on Jabba the Hutt: “You called me a Jedi. You know nothing. Mind Tricks are not of the Dark Side.” Vader prefers to exert the full capabilities of his Dark Side abilities in his Enforcer role rather than stoop to Jedi powers.

Slow and Subtle Corruption

Obi Wan And Darth Vader

Throughout OBI-WAN & ANAKIN’s six issue run, the reader gets brief glimpses into Anakin’s own training in the Jedi Order. Anakin excels in his lightsaber training, but he is very much set apart from his fellow students. Anakin arrived at the Coruscant temple far later than the other students. As such, he fails regarding control of his emotions. He doesn’t have the conditioning that the other students do, and that makes him the center of their mockery.

In the prequel films, Anakin jumps from a nine-year-old child to a teenage Knight between movies. So much of what happens in that lost time frame is so important, especially considering these are Anakin’s formative years. His entire personality develops during this time period. It seems like wasted character development not to explore these young teenage years.

One issue that arises in the films because of this jump is Anakin’s relationship with Chancellor Palpatine. After Darth Maul’s death, we rejoin Anakin as he has befriended the Chancellor. It seems odd at this point that their relationship is deep enough for Anakin to kill Count Dooku on Palpatine’s behalf. Years of friendship and manipulation are assumed in that instance.

Assumptions do not make good storytelling, and the writers over at Marvel recognized this. OBI-WAN & ANAKIN allows us to experience those formative years in a way that wasn’t possible in the films. We see Anakin Skywalker suffering his fellow Padawans’ mockery, and we see Palpatine taking Anakin under his wing. The loyalty that develops between the pair all of a sudden makes sense. Palpatine takes on a brotherly role for the young man.

Obi Wan and Darth Vader

Given a sense of purpose

Throughout the miniseries, Palpatine brings Anakin into Coruscant’s Lower City, where the poor and the criminal element reside. He tells Anakin that he visits the Lower City to experience the lives of those his decisions affect. Anakin has grown wary of the Jedi order, disillusioned by their inactivity on other planets. This sojourn details how little of the outside world he gets to experience in the temple. He doesn’t get to stand beside those he and his master help. He fears that he stands above them.

During this conversation, Palpatine points out a Senator illegally gambling at one of the tables. He tells Anakin of the corruption in the Senate and how badly he wants to cut it out. At this moment, we witness the first illegal use of Anakin’s Force powers. He alters the roll of the Senator’s dice, bankrupting him. For the first time, Anakin gets to feel the rush of doing something worthwhile, standing up for the little guy. More assumptions can be made about the years following this event. The most important lesson, though, is that Palpatine spent many years of Anakin’s youth subtly manipulating him to the Dark Side.

Distrust of the Emperor

Darth Vader secret mission

The main storyline of DARTH VADER Vol. 1 focuses on the period between A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK after Luke destroyed the Death Star. During this time, Marvel defines Vader’s relationship with Emperor Palpatine as one of a mutual and growing distrust. The first meeting between the pair is full of biting remarks on Vader’s capabilities as a leader. Palpatine no longer feels confident in his apprentice and calls on Cylo IV. This geneticist has spent several years breaking the barriers between sentient DNA and Technology. For years, Palpatine has worked with Cylo IV to create the perfect technological soldier, one to surpass even his own apprentice.

READ: Franchises have taken over Hollywood. See what that means for you.

Even before this turn of events, Vader went out on missions of his own. The very first issue of DARTH VADER sees our dark protagonist hiring bounty hunter Boba Fett. His task is to find the force sensitive X-Wing Pilot (Luke Skywalker) who blew up the Death Star. Issue 2 has Vader falsifying information on and killing an Imperial officer ordered to keep tabs on him.

The culmination of Vol.1 sees Vader hiring Dr. Aphra to develop a droid army. With plans to assault Cylo’s fortress, Vader looks to bring his project (and life) to an end. When Palpatine arrives, he almost laughs at the events. The Emperor expects this sort of tension, and he states that the only reason he worked with Cylo in the first place was to act on the Sith credo of “power first.” If Darth Vader couldn’t even best a group of genetically enhanced individuals, what good would he be? While the movies show a relationship of pure fealty, Kieron Gillen’s run on DARTH VADER gives a glimpse at a relationship mired in distrust.

Vader or Skywalker?

Darth Vader

The final moments of RETURN OF THE JEDI see Darth Vader redeem himself to his own son and to the Jedi way by killing Emperor Palpatine. After three films attempting to corrupt Luke to the Dark Side and take over the galaxy in the name of the Empire, though, this change of heart feels a bit deus ex machina. It comes out of nowhere, even with the knowledge that Vader did it for his son.

Marvel attempted to remedy this with several moments that show that the Sith Lord buried Anakin Skywalker deep within. In a rather surreal short moment in DARTH VADER #4, Vader is working with Dr. Aphra to bring a murderous protocol droid (0-0-0) back online. To do so, Aphra claims she would need an hour to work on the droid’s personality drive and unlock it. The next two panels show Vader at the computer monitor and then walking away, job completed.

Aphra is surprised by how quickly Vader hacked his way into the personality drive, but the reader shouldn’t be. That was Anakin Skywalker’s passion. His technological prowess set him apart from all of the other slaves on Tatooine, and he enjoyed the work. The original trilogy never explores this aspect of Vader, but the fact that, in canon, he never lost those skills shows that Anakin still lives. This is accented by the fact that his personal spaceship is a replica of Padme Amedala’s cruiser from the prequels.

“I have a son.”

The biggest example of this, though, happens at the end of DARTH VADER #6. In STAR WARS #6, Boba Fett finally confronts Luke Skywalker in Obi-Wan’s former Tatooine home. After a prolonged and fantastic battle, Boba Fett returns to Vader with news of the boy’s name. While we get to see some of this moment in STAR WARS, it is expanded upon in DARTH VADER. Here, the Dark Lord loses control of his own Force powers.

With flashbacks to the prequel films, Vader says, “I have a son,” and the cruiser’s window cracks before him. In those flashes, Vader realizes the Emperor lied, telling him that Vader killed Padme and their unborn children. Vader spent 18 years believing all remnants of his past were destroyed. This loss of control signals that he not only has a purpose in claiming Luke for his battle against the Emperor. It also acts as a resurgence of Anakin Skywalker. It is no longer Darth Vader acting on his Sith creed but on a desire to be with his son.

Final Thoughts

The new Marvel canon has added so much relevance and intrigue to Darth Vader’s character. Most importantly, they did so without retconning the film moments that made fans fall in love with Vader in 1977. Keeping the comics isolated between the films gives creative teams the opportunity to develop a rich new history.

With a deeper focus on Palpatine’s relationship with Anakin Skywalker through the years, so many questions are immediately answered. In many ways, Palpatine comes even further into relevance than his apprentice. We finally get the chance to see how cruelly manipulative the man is, which only deepens their shared story arcs.

Now, what makes Darth Vader an interesting character is his inherent duality. Both the Light and the Dark sides constantly pull at his being. Had he not fallen to the ways of darkness, he had a great potential to become a powerful Jedi. Despite his failure to overcome his inner darkness and the corruption of the Emperor, he still had the strength to redeem himself for his son.

While he may be a space-faring Sith Lord, I think the writer’s tried to emphasize this duality. Darth Vader becomes an understandable being as well as a terrifying force of reckoning. I encourage fans of the series to pick up DARTH VADER Vol. 1, STAR WARS Vol. 1, and OBI-WAN & ANAKIN for a deeper look into one of my favorite villains in science fiction history.

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