'Star Wars' Comics 'Darth Vader' #1 Review: Marvel Gives Us Vader, But It’s Not Enough

darth vader star wars 1
A variant cover for Darth Vader #1, written by Keiron Gillen with art by Salvador Larroca. Marvel

Darth Vader #1 opens Marvel Comics’ second Star Wars comic series effectively, but also contains our first indications of the stress points that will diminish the Marvel Star Wars comic book series moving forward.

As an individual issue there’s a lot to like in Darth Vader #1, including a battle of minds between Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader, fun Emperor Palpatine business and a number of flapping black capes in front of Tatooine sunsets. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Darth Vader #1 is a bit of a mutated frog, presaging story defects that will keep the Marvel Star Wars comics from achieving greatness.

Darth Vader #1 Plot Synopsis

Darth Vader #1 opens on the Dark Lord barging into the palatial court of Jabba the Hutt. The opening is a good example of how sticking close to the Star Wars Original Trilogy can prove satisfying, even resonant, as Darth Vader busts down Jabba’s door with a zeal that plays like the evil mirror universe version of Luke Skywalker’s entrance in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Things drag a bit from there, with a Vader / Jabba tête-à-tête that feels more like retread than homage, as Vader sidesteps Jabba’s Rancor Pit and we are once again reminded of Jabba’s immunity to Jedi Mind Tricks. 

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Darth Vader standing before Jabba. Photo: Marvel

The rest of Darth Vader #1 is taken up with Emperor Palpatine lecturing Vader over both the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars and the loss of the manufacturing plant on Cymoon One in the pages of the Marvel ongoing series, Star Wars (Star Wars #2 also came out this month). Then it’s back to Tatooine so Darth Vader can hire a bounty hunter to go after Luke Skywalker, who Vader knows only as the destroyer of the Death Star and the bearer of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber.

There’s plenty of scifi stuff to look at, and Darth Vader #1 never feels like it betrays the Star Wars mythology (though the one or two callback lines per issue is staring to get tiresome), but there’s also the sense that not much is happening. Setting the Star Wars comics, Darth Vader #1 included, between the events of Star Wars and Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back means that only so much can be at stake. 

The Problem with Darth Vader

In Star Wars #1 and Star Wars #2 Jason Aaron has so far evaded that problem by keeping the action propulsive and deepening the enmity between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. But Darth Vader doesn’t have the same advantages and already feels like thumb-twiddling in its premiere issue, Darth Vader #1. Worse,  Darth Vader #1 sucks some of the air out of the Marvel Star Wars’ sails, by taking place after the events on Cymoon One. This positions Darth Vader #1 as a spoiler for the Star Wars comic series that actually is working. Sure, no one is under the impression that Darth Vader is going to die in the Rebel Alliance attack, but shouldn’t Marvel at least pretend there’s some tension in their slice of the Star Wars universe?

Remember that opening with Darth Vader facing off against Jabba the Hutt? Well, it lasts for 14 pages. 14 pages of Darth Vader #1 where nothing of any real importance happens. The encounter even ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger line, as Darth tells Jabba, “This what I need…” before cutting away to Coruscant. The answer to that cliffhanger is why Darth Vader is on Tatooine in the first place! Basically, Darth Vader #1 holds its own plot progression hostage and imagines this withholding to be suspense.

The Marvel Star Wars Universe Can Feel a Little Small

Again, there’s plenty to like in Darth Vader #1, including Darth Vader dispatching a mob of Tatooine scum with a couple wrist flicks (that said, comics are an inferior medium for delivering Star Wars lightsaber duels). It’s just impossible to escape the feeling that Marvel is filling in cracks with putty, all the while insisting that it’s building us a tree fort. 

Darth Vader #1 ends on a Tatooine mountaintop, as Darth Vader meets with Boba Fett (groan) and a heavy-duty Wookie named Black Krrsantan. Like with Jabba, the scene delivers little, essentially treating Darth Vader ordering other guys around as plot. Still, the final image of Darth Vader standing in the ruins of a Tusken Raider village, this time destroyed without remorse, is an arresting one. The grisly tableau is the perfect showcase for the mixed joys and frustrations of Marvel’s relaunched Star Wars comic line. We are presented Star Wars at its most pure and iconic, then told we’ll just have to wait for the movie if we really want to see it in motion.

There remains hope for the Marvel Darth Vader series, including some plot threads that could make subsequent issues of Darth Vader more substantive. The most promising is the lizard-eyed thug loafing around Palpatine’s office on Coruscant.  

This guy:

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Palpatine's new buddy. Photo: Marvel

My suspicions are that much of the ongoing Darth Vader plot will revolve around the mysterious agent’s mission (which Darth Vader is hiring Black Krrsantan to suss out), which may entail determining Luke Skywalker’s parentage. Further Darth Vader issues explaining both how Darth Vader discovers he has kids and what this does to his emotional state could prove a fruitful direction. 

But for now all we have is Darth Vader #1. It doesn’t feel like enough.

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