Review by Jamie McNeil
Darth Vader is one of the most distinctive and iconic of movie villains, whether you are a die-hard fan of the Star Wars franchise or have a passing familiarity. With a large cult following of his own, and a number of quotable lines, it makes perfect commercial sense to give the original Dark Lord of the Sith his own series. Would you dare re-imagine the series without Vader?
With Jason Aaron writing the main Star Wars series in the build up to the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, Star Wars: Darth Vader was placed in the very capable hands of Kieron Gillen. Vader is the first volume, penned by Gillen and illustrated by Salvador Larocca. In chronological terms the events here take place right after the destruction of the Death Star in film A New Hope, and nineteen years after the events in Revenge of the Sith.
Emperor Palpatine has placed responsibility for the loss of his Death Star firmly on Vader. Needing to make amends to restore his influence with Palpatine, Vader still has his own agenda: tracking down the force-sensitive pilot that brought down the Death Star. To make sure he behaves, Vader is watched closely by the Emperor and Grand General Tagge, but that doesn’t stop him from recruiting rogue archaeologist Doctor Aphra to his cause. Her speciality is droids, specifically the kind that maim and kill, her own personal droids Triple-Zero (protocol droid with a taste for torture) and BT-1 (a psychopathic assassin droid) rounding off the team. Add a well known bounty hunter and Vader is ready to succeed his master and be the true Lord of the Sith.
Vader ties up the details between the first two films, filling in the back story of Vader’s search for Luke. Kieron Gillen does a good job of packaging it, adding a good blend of fan favourites with new and sure to be iconic characters of his own. Throw in a few flashbacks and a few touches to reassure fans the franchise is in the good hands of fellow devotees, and it is a fun and winning combination.
Artist Salvador Larroca’s work employs clean lines and bright colours to enhance a tense and exciting mood. The surrounding environment and the droids are well rendered, the human and alien characters both visually attractive, although the humans sometimes lack the facial expressions the emotional context requires. However, thanks to the background detail and excellent colouring by Edgar Delgado, you always know exactly what the intended mood is. Gillen inserts deliberate pauses in Vader’s speech to help convey Vader’s feelings since the mask would make it otherwise tricky. Larocca isn’t afraid to create epic scenes splashed over two pages but rarely does, so it surprises and delights when it occurs. The only downside is that some art slides down that ever spiteful central gutter and the battle scenes are not always easy to follow.
Vader is a good tale that respects the old Star Wars canon, but further introduces a compelling series of new events and characters that will also delight. Gillen appears to be enjoying himself immensely, and Larroca’s style suits the material.