This Star Wars article contains spoilers.
When Marvel announced its lineup of Star Wars comics at the end of 2014, many were surprised that one of the monthly series in the initial roll out would focus on Darth Vader. After all, how the heck could a character that is almost completely devoid of human emotion be a point of view protagonist for a comic book series? But thanks to the brilliant creative team of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, Marvel’s Darth Vader was a rousing success. It became one of the most critically successful and fan beloved books in Marvel’s monthly output.
The premise of the series is simple: after the destruction of the first Death Star, Vader is disgraced in the eyes of the Emperor. Gillen and Larroca’s story focuses on Vader building himself back up to the galactic level threat fans witness in The Empire Strikes Back. Along the way, the creative team adds some truly startling characters to the Star Wars mythos while providing layers upon layers of intrigue and betrayal in the galaxy far, far away. Now that Marvel’s Darth Vader has come to an end and the Dark Lord of the Sith has made his big screen return in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, let us look back at some of the moments that made this villain-driven adventure one of the greatest sci-fi comics ever published.
Darth Vader #1
It was a Kenner fan’s dream come true, Jabba’s wretched hive of bounty hunters and aliens confronted by Darth Vader himself – the whole intergalactic tableau lovingly and breathtakingly rendered by Salvador Larroca. The very first Jabba and Vader confrontation not only was visually awesome, it also was paced to match action for action Luke Skywalker’s first meeting with the corpulent crime lord in Return of the Jedi. Where Luke Force pushes two of Jabba’s Gammorean Guards aside, Vader simply slaughters the two porcine sentries. Where Luke uses the Jedi mind trick to get past Bib Fortuna, Vader just gives the major domo a fierce glare that frightens Jabba’s servant into obedience.
After the Dark Lord completes his twisted reflection of his son’s journey through Jabba’s palace, Vader makes his demands of Jabba, takes out a regiment of Jabba’s best men, and then Force chokes the Hutt into submission. It was a killer way to open Marvel’s Darth Vader series.
Revenge – Forever
Darth Vader #1
Darth Vader #1 was such an amazing debut issue that it makes our great Vader moments list twice. At the end of the premiere issue, Vader hires Boba Fett to find the Rebel who blew up the Death Star. Vader gives Fett his marching orders and then goes back to the business at hand – slaughtering Sand People. This stunning Marvel moment revealed there is still a thirst for vengeance that burns in Darth Vader’s cybernetic body. Since he is already on Tatooine to meet with Jabba, Vader hunts down a tribe of Sand People and slaughters them. This is an absolute perfect denouement for Marvel’s first issue, as it connects Vader to the prequels and it also serves as a potent reminder of the anger that forever pumps through Vader’s cold heart.
Imperial Glass Ceiling
Darth Vader #2
One of the central conflicts in Darth Vaderis that Emperor Palpatine blames his apprentice for the destruction of the first Death Star. As punishment for his failure at the Battle of Yavin, the Emperor puts Vader under the command of General Tagge, who first appeared in A New Hope. In Darth Vader #2, Tagge assigns an Imperial toady named Oon-Ai to report on Vader’s actions. Oon-Ai takes every opportunity to disrespect Vader and remind the Sith of his demotion.
When Vader embarks on a mission to take on a cadre of space pirates that stole some Imperial goods, Vader takes it upon himself to hack into the pirates’ computer and learn how they knew when and where to attack Imperial cargo vessels. After Vader destroys the pirates, he arrives back at Tagge’s ship with Oon-Ai’s corpse. Vader claims he discovered that Oon-Ai was a pirate agent and a traitor. Whether this is true or not is never revealed, but Vader got to get rid of Tagge’s yapping lapdog and send a message to the general that, despite being demoted, the Sith Lord is still an ever present threat.
Darth Vader #3
Darth Vader #3 introduced fans to arguably the most important Star Wars character created by Marvel Comics – the outlaw archeologist Dr. Aphra and her two murderous droids, 0-0-0 and BT-1. We’ll get to the droids in a bit, but when fans first met Aphra in #3, it was clear that Gillen and Larroca’s new character was an anti-Indiana Jones: an archeologist that steals from museums for her own profit.
In her first encounter with Vader, Aphra is in the middle of stealing the personality matrix of 0-0-0 from a museum because she needs the psycho protocol droid to activate the equally twisted BT-1. She is so cunning and brilliant that Vader recruits the doctor to be part of an elite team of undercover operatives designed to do his bidding. Aphra becomes the point of view character of the title after her introduction and a popular anti-hero in her own right. But it’s in #3 where fans get to witness Aphra do her best Henry Jones Jr. impression, as she busts into a museum vessel and avoids all sorts of deadly traps to steal her prize and become one of the most fascinating and multi-layered Star Wars comic book characters of all time.
He Has Ways of Making You Talk
Darth Vader #4
Early on in Darth Vader, the Dark Lord met a man with a cybernetic eye, a man who was clearly in cahoots with Palpatine. In Vader #4, Vader captures this man in order to find out what the Emperor’s plans are for Vader now that he’s been disgraced. Vader hands the stranger over to 0-0-0. This was one of Larroca’s greatest artistic achievements of the series, as the master artist crafted some shadowy pages showing 0-0-0 going to work on the captive – one Doctor Cylo. Cylo would prove to be an important antagonist later, but those Larroca images of a droid that looked almost exactly like the innocent and child friendly C-3PO committing bodily atrocity to a sentient being were truly artistically profane.
Darth Vader #6
It was Vader’s darkest hour. He’d discovered that Palpatine had charged the mysterious Doctor Cylo with building warrior replacements for the disgraced Vader. At this moment, Vader learned that he was expendable. With this knowledge, Vader returns to his ship and Doctor Aphra. There, Boba Fett is waiting for him. As we covered, Vader charged Fett with finding out the identity of the Rebel pilot that took out the Death Star – and Fett succeeded.
Fett says a single word: “Skywalker.” (The Fett-Skywalker confrontation appeared in Jason Aaron’s excellent main Star Wars title.) This moment of revelation is one that fans have always dreamed of: the moment Vader finds out that his son- Anakin Skywalker’s son – is alive. Vader stands terrifyingly still and, in a moment of pure dramatic perfection, begins to crack the viewport of his ship with the Force. Vader is cold and stoic, but the cracks speak to the storm of emotions going on inside, as he recalls Padme and his last days as Anakin Skywalker. Perfection.
The Family Business
Darth Vader #9
Once Vader secures the services of Aphra, Triple-Zero, and Beetee, the Dark Lord sends them on some very important missions. On one mission, the trio must locate the whereabouts of one Commodex Tahn, a nondescript man of very little galactic importance. Aphra pays off an information broker to find Tahn. It all seems pretty by the books until 0-0-0 asks why Vader is interested in such a nobody. Aphra shruggs and tells 0-0-0 that she has no idea why Vader would want to contact a simple mortician – from Naboo. This simple description sends shockwaves through the galaxy, as one issue later, Aphra, Triple-Zero, and Beetee force poor Tahn to tell them everything about Padme’s hidden pregnancy.
All Too Easy
Darth Vader #12
During the second act of Darth Vader, the Sith Lord’s first mission is to hunt down and destroy a famous Rebel fighter squadron known as the Plasma Devils. The Devils are a distraction to Vader, as he is more concerned with discovering Palpatine’s plans and finding the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. So when Vader finally tracks down the elite group of pilots, he wants to defeat them as quickly as possible. When the Imperials arrive, the Plasma Devils begin to escape in their Y-Wings, which prompts Vader to take down the ships – with his lightsaber. Fans have witnessed so many great dog fights in the Star Wars saga, but in this issue, fans bore witness to the power of the Dark Side unleashed as Vader proves that even heavily armed starfighters are insignificant when compared to the power of the Force. It’s a quick and decisive dogfight – and Vader doesn’t even have a ship. He just has his red blade and a need to dispatch the Rebels fast and clean.
Darth Vader #13
During the awesome “Vader Down” crossover between Darth Vader and Star Wars, the hunt for Luke Skywalker brings Vader to the planet Vrogas Vas. When Vader arrives on the planet, the dogfight between father and son that began during the Battle of Yavin is renewed, as Luke takes on Vader – X-wing to TIE fighter.
Luke is overmatched but flies straight into Vader’s ship causing the Dark Lord to crash. On the ground, Vader is greeted by a large battalion of heavily armed Rebels. The Rebels demand Vader put down his saber. Before they can blink, Vader uses the Force to pull the pins off the Rebels’ grenades. Vader then takes out a squadron of speeders before renewing the hunt for his son. This moment of pure domination speaks to the absolute awesome military might that Vader single handedly wields.
A Daughter’s Sacrifice
Darth Vader #14
During “Vader Down,” Darth Vader has a dramatic confrontation with Princess Leia. This is the first time the two have met since the destruction of Alderaan, and Leia is obsessed with making Vader pay for the death of her people. Of course, we knowreaders know that this is also an ironic battle between father and daughter. Vader showes his might during “Vader Down,” but Leia’s will is just as strong.
In an awesome display of selflessness, Leia orders a squadron of Y-Wings to drop their ordinance on her position. She knows that this will lead to her own annihilation, but will also bring about the death of Darth Vader. Leia is willing to sacrifice her own life to make sure the evil scourge of Vader is wiped from the galaxy. Of course, Leia and Vader survive, but this moment stands as a testament to the tenacity of two members of the Skywalker bloodline.
Darth Vader #18-19
Given Jedi-like enhancements in the labs of Cylo, Morit and Aiolin are twins that fancy themselves a new generation of technologically created Jedi, as they serve at Vader’s side throughout most of the series. Aolin, in particular, desires Vader’s training. Of course, since these enhanced twins were created by Cylo, Vader never fully trusts them.
On a mission to end a civil war on the Imperial mining planet of Shu-Torun, Morit and Aiolin choose to show their hand at a critical part of a decisive battle. Vader is ready. He was expecting a betrayal the entire mission and coldly raises his lightsaber to fend off the twins attack. It is Vader’s cool demeanor and lack of emotion that makes this moment so majestic, as the two faux Jedi take on the Force’s Chosen One.
The only issue is that, even if the twins should defeat Vader, Palpatine only needs one apprentice – not a pair. So as the battle continues, Morit betrays his sister and shovs her into a lava put. The familiar sight of a body being burnt by volcanic fire does not phase Vader, who he retrieves Aiolin’s dying body to find out everything about the twins’ plan. It is a stunning betrayal layered upon another betrayal, as Gillen brings some Game of Thrones-level intrigue to the Star Wars galaxy.
Oh, No – A Rancor!
Darth Vader #21-22
All Star Wars fans remember Luke’s fateful encounter with the Rancor deep within Jabba’s dungeons, but Darth Vader proved that anything the son can do, the father can do better. As the series windw, Vader is on the hunt for Doctor Cylo. The Sith has dispatched all but one of Cylo’s creations – the weapons laden female scientist known as Voidgazer. All of Cylo’s other minions tried to use their own powers and fighting prowess to take down Vader, but Voidgazer has a more powerful and reliable weapon: science. She uses her scientific acumen to create a fearsome weapon that is part organic, part machine.
Earlier on in the series, Vader defeated a similar creation, a Trandoshan killing machine, rather easily. But this time, Voidgazer ups the ante by bringing to life a cyborg Rancor! Luke had to fight an unenhanced Rancor, an impressive feat to be sure, but Vader has to fight a robotic beast enhanced with pain repressors and stimulants, a nightmare creature of profane science. But Vader endures, and in a moment that speak volumes about Vader’s will to win, with one precise lightsaber strike, Vader severs the Rancor’s brain link with its cybernetics. Like a fine surgeon, Vader defeats the Rancor with precise, cold efficiency – and then turns his attention to Voidgazer…
Duel of the Fates
Darth Vader #23
As Vader draws ever closer to Cylo, the Dark Lord has to face down the wannabe Jedi Morit – the murderous twin is all that’s left standing between Vader and his prey. This duel goes down in a very unlikely place, too. Vader and Mrit use their magnetic boots to duel on the surface of the Star Destroyer Executor – you know, Vader’s capital ship from The Empire Strikes Back. Morit is no match for Vader and is dispatched with ease, but it’s the unlikely awesomeness of the battlefield that makes this duel so memorable. You could almost hear the John Williams score pumping as Morit and Vader duel, and it’s all gloriously presented by Gillen and Larroca.
More Machine Than Man?
Darth Vader #24
As the Darth Vader series builds to a close, the war between the evil traitorous scientist Cylo and the Dark Lord of a Sith hits a dramatic crescendo. In issue #24, aboard Vader’s capital ship Executor, Cylo manages to shut down Vader’s cybernetic suit and forces Vader to do the unthinkable – kneel. Other than in Return of the Jedi, this is the only other time fans witness Vader in a vulnerable position because, after all, it’s the iconic black suit that keeps Vader alive.
Well, Vader’s body might have been paralyzed thanks to Cylo, but the Sith’s mind is dangerously active. While Cylo forces Vader to his knees, Vader’s mind flashes back to Mustafar, the planet where Vader was dismembered and immolated in Revenge of the Sith. Vader mentally replays the battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and in this mental recreation, Vader is victorious. Then something truly amazing occurs on this mental plane, as Vader confronts the heroic figure of none other than Anakin Skywalker.
The two duel on the volcano planet and the black clad Sith triumphs over the heroic Jedi, wiping out any last bit of humanity in Vader’s consciousness. The former Anakin Skywalker is then forced to endure the reenactment of his wife Padme Amadala’s suffering at Vader’s own choking hand. This act of pure brutality breaks Cylo’s control over Vader. A stunned Cylo watches as Vader proves that the Dark Lord is neither man nor machine. Vader is the Force, and as the black clad warrior regains control, Cylo can only look on in horror as the inevitable flash of a red lightsaber shows the galaxy why it’s a bad idea to ever confront Darth Vader.
Jedi Mind Trick
Star Wars: Darth Vader #25
But the Cylo that was killed in issue #24 was just a clone. In the final issue of Darth Vader, the Dark Lord has a climactic battle with his rival, the real Cylo. For the entirety of the series, Cylo used biological ships to tool around the galaxy. Part mechanical, part sentient, these ships were giant tortured beasts forced to serve as space craft. The pathetic creatures lead to Cylo’s ironic demise when Vader uses the old Jedi mind trick to control the biological brains of Cylo’s capital ship and fly it into a sun. Even with all the tech at his fingertips, even with an armada of cybernetic space monsters, and with his scientific genius, Cylo is systemically eradicated by Vader, efficiently and decisively. And with this ultimate victory, the curtain closes on a series that will be celebrated by Star Wars fans for many years to come.