Star Wars is either a masterpiece, a chipped modern classic, or a sad devotion to an ancient religion, depending on who you ask. No matter what your opinion, the cultural impact of the original trilogy is undeniable. So when creator George Lucas announced his intention to flesh out the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, fans were ecstatic... at least at first.
The prequel trilogy succeeded in both clarifying and muddying the classic mythology. Defenders and detractors alike can agree on one thing: Lucas' second trilogy had a few flaws. One of the most common critiques leveled at the films (we’re not going near Jar Jar) is its mishandling of Darth Vader, where Lucas turned the cinema's archetypal villain into the byproduct of a tepid soap opera. In particular, many take issue with Anakin's final transformation sequence into Vader, where the very Frankensteinian moment is (some would say) ruined by the villain's baleful howl.
Marvel's upcoming Star Wars comic, Darth Vader #1, revisits the villain's origins. Can it reclaim the oft-derided sequence, though, and give Vader a truly meaningful "birth"?
Episodes I-III attempted to present a viable reason for Darth Vader's fall – his rebelliousness against Jedi doctrines, his impetuous and emotional nature, and his authoritarian desire for order by way of imposing his own will. Lucas succeeded to some degree, but, nevertheless, many fans of the original trilogy were dissatisfied with the quintessential foe's rise to power. In particular, his turn from an upstanding if rebellious Jedi Knight (aside from a few dozen dead Tusken raiders, anyway) into a padawan-slaughtering, wife-killing psychopath.
One of the most contentious moments in the film arrives after Emperor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) has scooped up his apprentice's remains from Mustafar and deposited them in a new, mechanized body. Palpatine informs Vader that his young bride Padme, as well as his unborn children, are dead by his own hands. The up-and-coming Sith's reaction is certainly understandable, as he just accidentally killed his entire family, but for many fans, the agonized wail came across as too theatrical. Clearly, Lucas meant Anakin's scream to echo that of his son, Luke Skywalker, who dealt with his own pain upon learning the galaxy's worst menace was his father. But the impactful moment falls flat in Revenge, largely thanks to its imperfect execution, as well as Hayden Christensen's wishy-washy portrayal (not entirely his fault) of the elder Skywalker up until his reconstruction.
Marvel has decided to revisit this oft-derided moment in their latest Darth Vader ongoing comic, which threatens to give Vader back some of his dignity. Written by Charles Soule with art from Giuseppe Camuncoli, the series will replay Vader's transition and (hopefully) reclaim it from the Star Wars reel of shame. Marvel's Star Wars editor Jordan D. White explores the reach of their latest Vader book, explaining (via Newsarama) that the galaxy's biggest baddie will continue to tell his side of the story:
“With the all-new Darth Vader series, we will finally get the chance to witness iconic moments in the Star Wars galaxy through the lens of one of its most famous characters. With Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli at the helm, we are going to spotlight the construction of Vader’s red lightsaber, the fallout of Order 66, the beginnings of the Inquisitor program, the rise of an Empire, and many more sinister moments never seen before!”
In the preview (check out the full spread below), Soule and Camuncoli spin the not-so-classic scene from Revenge of the Sith in a different light. Their version actually comes across as visually stronger than the original to a degree, in particular by providing more insight into the dark Jedi's agony. The comic book deemphasizes Skywalker’s reconstruction into Vader, instead focusing on his rapidly dawning realization of the pain he's caused and his own betrayal. As emblematic as Lucas' Frankenstein parallel is, the homage actually undercuts its own emotional depth, accenting Vader's "rise" with Palpatine's reveal seeming more like a footnote ("by the way, you killed your wife”), rather than the emotional crux of the entire franchise thus far. Even though moviegoers are well-aware of the Emperor's twisted machinations, even his smug, baked-bean smirk seems too sedate under the circumstances, not that the scene requires hammy hand-wringing.
At the same time, Revenge has the disadvantage of being viewed from a third-person perspective, whereas Soule, alongside Camuncoli can rework the somewhat cheesy sequence in Darth Vader #1 through Vader's eyes and heart. Like Lucas, they keep the dialogue to a minimum, at first, transposing images of mechanization with flesh and blood moments, which creates a moving picture of Vader's emotional state. The Emperor’s positively gleeful expression also highlights the true depths of his malevolence: every step his apprentice takes towards misery is another string for the puppet master to tug at.
Viewing the "iconic" moment directly through Vader’s perspective also allows Soule to add an explosive twist to the sequence, as a wave of Vader's rage and anguish actually flings Sidious against the wall. Not present in the original scene, it's unclear whether this is a retcon or simply the way Vader views things. Palpatine seems genuinely overwhelmed by the raw power of his apprentice, and Soule uses this to construct the first power struggle in the newly minted master-apprentice relationship.
Instead of begrudgingly accepting Palpatine's explanation – and then cutting to him puppy-dogging behind the Emperor on the bridge of a star destroyer – Vader explodes at the Emperor, questioning his promise to save Padme, which is arguably what sealed his deal for joining Team Dark Side. Ever the manipulator, Sidious sidesteps his supposedly "miraculous" powers, urging his apprentice to use his wife’s death, channeling her "gift of pain" to complete his transition into an agent of evil.
Also, from what's presented in the preview, it appears that Soule ups the ante for the dastardly duo. Expanding upon the initial sequence, the conversation between them suggests that Vader really didn’t have as much say in his final conversion as audiences presumed. Everyone assumed that Vader, although clearly under Palpatine’s influence, made a final conscious decision to embrace the dark side. Soule's revision of his Sith origin adds a new, coercive wrinkle the dark lord's rebirth – something already explored to a degree in the recent, post-A New Hope series from Kieron Gillen. From how it looks, Marvel's version establishes Palpatine's dire threat to his apprentice much earlier on, which, so long as it doesn't override Vader's own complicity in his fall from grace, gives their relationship and eventual falling-out an extra layer.
In addition to tweaking (hopefully for the better) his transformation, the comic also promises to peel back the layers of Vader's role in the “Great Jedi Purge” – something once explored by a number of non-canon Star Wars Legends' comics Dark Horse, as well as several novels and video games. Star Wars: Rebels and other more recent comics have dealt with Vader’s genocidal quest, but much of the disturbing but fascinating story remains untold.
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Soule and company will also delve into the legacy of the Inquisitors – a group which dominated the first few seasons of Rebels and were a welcome addition to the galaxy's rich lore. While Vader’s rebirth and evolution should be the true highlight of his latest ongoing journey, giving readers more insight into the exemplary evildoer and further details into the fledgling Empire as it tightens its grip on the galaxy. Most importantly, it appears to give Emperor’s right-hand cybernetic man a chance redeem his somewhat cringe-worthy "origin" story.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 arrives June 7, 2017.
Source: Marvel, Newsarama