I wasn’t planning to write this post. I’m normally not one for single issue reviews or reflections. But when I read Darth Vader #24 on Wednesday I did something I’ve never done with a comic…I immediately flipped to the front to read it again. And since then, the story’s been bouncing around in my head. I can’t stop thinking about it. So I figured I’d write about it. Don’t worry, if you haven’t read it, there’s spoiler protection. And if you have (or are wild enough not to care about spoilers), I’ll reflect with detail on why the specifics of the issue are so important to me too.
I’ve written before of my struggles with the new Disney Canon. While there are stories I have loved and a select, powerful few that I’d hold up with the best the Expanded Universe, often I find myself frustrated by continuity issues or (more troubling) stories that seem to be manufactured simply to sell the story. (I know! Capitalism! Aaah!!) I certainly don’t blame Disney for taking advantage of a property like Star Wars. And of course there were EU stories that didn’t seem to be as important or necessary as the others to me too. But as a longtime Star Wars fan I love these characters and this world. It’s only natural that, being a fan for well over twenty years, I’d start to feel a little protective of these characters :). As my friend Hannah remarked in a conversation we recently had about Star Wars, when you love these characters and this world for so long Luke, Han, and Leia become like family.
As every fan of Star Wars, I have my hopes and expectations about the Disney Canon and what I’d love to see and where I’d love for the story to go. In that vein, Darth Vader #24 was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had with the Disney Canon! Every beat of the story rang authentically of Star Wars. It was emotionally charged, relevant, and also rich in mythic importance. It wasn’t just a fun or exciting story…it was one that understands at its most fundamental level what mythology is and what it needs to do – both in regard to the myth of Star Wars and how Star Wars serves as a modern myth for our culture. It was exactly what I wanted…even though I never could have imagined it before. My deepest thanks go out to Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca for this majestic issue.
For me (and, again, as art is subjective I can only ever speak for me), this has been one of the absolute best issues in the Darth Vader series. It’s raised not just the series but my understanding of Darth Vader specifically and my experience of the Star Wars Saga as a whole to a brilliant new level. So, if you’re looking for a recommendation of some sort (and you can probably guess this by this point), I think you should read this!
Okay, for those of you who haven’t read the issue yet and don’t want any spoilers, thank you for reading this piece but now’s the time to jump away. See, below this paragraph is a BIG picture of Darth Vader. And below that I’ll start talking about the specifics of the issue’s plot and why I found it so, so important and beautiful. I just want to make sure everyone’s warned and we go into this aware. Okay? How are you feeling? Those of you who don’t want spoilers…click away now. I respect you! I’m one of you (hence this crazy filler paragraph). But those who’ve read the issue or live your lives with more reckless courage than I could ever muster in being able to live with spoilers, take a deep breath and scroll on down.
The issue opens with Cylo V, one of the designers of Vader’s cybernetic body, having frozen Darth Vader in place. Cylo V has been Vader’s main antagonist through the series as he’s been revealed as the man who’s been building potential replacements of Vader for the Emperor for twenty years Unable to continue his attack against Cylo V, Vader is lost in his mind. His reflections take him back to Mustafar and the emotional journey he began when he first pledged himself to the Emperor and his teachings.
Since the Prequel Trilogy, this is exactly the sort of story I’ve been craving. Gillen bridges the gap in an emotional sense from the boy Anakin Skywalker, who grows into a troubled young man and eventually falls to the Dark Side, with the mechanical monster Darth Vader, who hunted our heroes through the Original Trilogy.
While on the Mustafar landscape conjured in his mind, all of the ghosts of Vader’s past return to haunt him. He faces off once more against his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man he once was in young Anakin Skywalker, and the love of his life Padmé Amidala. Each step along the way, Vader strikes his foes (and the emotional reality they represent) down with cold efficiency.
In creating this narrative, Gillen reinforces the terrifying villain Darth Vader was when we first meet him in the Original Trilogy while still honoring the confused and emotional man Anakin Skywalker was in the Prequel Trilogy. Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi again…reinforcing his total rejection of the Jedi and their ways. Darth Vader duels with Anakin Skywalker, dismissing him as a child and killing him without emotion…reaffirming his identity as a Dark Lord of the Sith. Most powerful of all, Padmé returns to beg Anakin to turn from the Dark Side once more…Vader flatly refuses. Given the emotional terrain the series has covered since its inception, this rejection of Padmé is important. There is no apparent struggle in his rejection of Padmé either making it a moment of even greater significance.
Understanding the love Anakin and Padmé shared in the Prequels, we can only imagine what emotions and memories have been swirling through Vader’s mind since he learned he has a son in Luke Skywalker. Some of these thoughts and emotions Gillen and Larroca have given us directly, others we’re left to imagine on our own. But this issue makes the definitive point that there is no vestige of Anakin left (at least as far as Darth Vader is concerned). He has made his choice. He is Darth Vader. So, when The Empire Strikes Back is under way, we see a Darth Vader who is as 100% evil and terrifying as he was when we all first saw the movie. He isn’t lost in his emotions. He isn’t conflicted. He wants to turn Luke to the Dark Side so he can do what a Sith does and topple the Emperor, take his place as master, and rule with his son by his side as his new apprentice. Anakin is dead. Darth Vader alone remains, as evidenced by his callously cutting off Luke’s hand in Cloud City.
This issue also makes what happens in Return Of The Jedi so much more powerful. When Darth Vader tells Luke, “That name no longer has any meaning for me,” he’s telling the complete truth. He’s not only rejected Anakin Skywalker for Darth Vader in Palpatine’s office on Coruscant and amidst the fires of Mustafar, but now he’s faced Anakin one last time in his mind – presuming to have killed that part of himself. In this issue, Darth Vader even proclaims in a dark and powerful moment, “Anakin is dead. I killed him.” Yet Luke has faith and that faith and his love for his father leads to an incredible resurrection moment. Darth Vader is transformed and Anakin Skywalker is redeemed when he kills Palpatine to save his son. Luke’s (and Padmé’s for that matter) faith in Anakin is validated. All of these moments, emotionally charged from the beginning, can carry a greater emotional weight as a result of Darth Vader #24. For me, that’s when a Star Wars story (be it the EU or the Disney Canon) is functioning at it’s highest potential.
Mythologically this also adds weight to the Hero’s Journey of Luke Skywalker as well as Anakin Skywalker – especially his descent into the abyss. We have another example of just how great a moment it was when Luke’s love achieves Anakin’s redemption and how powerful Anakin had to be to climb back out of the abyss he was in. It also adds an important layer to one of the larger mythological lessons Star Wars has always been teaching – no evil is so strong that it can’t be redeemed and transformed by love. Again, this issue makes clear that it is DARTH VADER who is in control. But, in the end, Darth Vader isn’t powerful enough to have the last word…no matter how strong the evil seems. There is SO MUCH more to the mythic, theological, and philosophical importance of this issue in regard to the Star Wars Saga and our experience of it that I haven’t even scratched the surface in a few short sentences in this paragraph. But I need to sit with it and reflect a lot more before I can give it the deconstruction it deserves. And this comic deserves to be considered with a great deal of contemplation and focus.
When I consider the Disney Canon – what I’ve loved, what I’ve liked, and what I’ve been disappointed by – I think this issue has been a turning point for me. Despite my on-again-off-again relationship with this title (and yes, for me it has its flaws, which is only natural), I think I can now say definitively that Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader series is my favorite piece of the new Disney Canon. This comic series has done exactly what the best Star Wars stories (at least those not created by George Lucas himself, you can’t compare to the myth-maker) do. Darth Vader is aware that Star Wars is more than simply a fantasy or sci-fi story. It is mythology and a myth has a greater role in our collective unconscious than simply being a fun story. Gillen and Larroca understand this and have presented a series that often works as mythology should. It also honors and reinforces all that comes in the films (because, you can’t disregard what George Lucas has created and be taken seriously as a Star Wars story can you?) while still adding new emotional and narrative layers to the characters. And perhaps most impressive of all, it’s a completely new story that manages to do all of this. This is the Disney Canon story I’ve been looking for.
I love and greatly respect you Darth Vader (as well as the brilliantly talented Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca who have given me this epic tale) and I can’t wait to see how you come to a close with the next issue. And thank you, from the bottom of my Star Wars-loving heart, for being the brightest star in the Disney Canon thus far!