Warning: SPOILERS for Darth Vader #18
If Star Wars fans have ever wondered why Darth Vader takes orders from Grand Moff Tarkin, the comic books have finally explained it. And as usual for these canon expansions, the answer is more badass and than anyone dared to hope.
These days it's easy to forget that when he was first introduced, Vader was seen as the attack dog "at the end of Tarkin's leash," only later revealed to be the Emperor's right hand man, and his fellow ruler of the galaxy as Sith Apprentice. So... why would such a powerful warrior answer to the orders and disapproval of a non-Force user like Tarkin?
The answer comes in Darth Vader #18 - when Tarkin proved himself the only man smart enough to hunt Vader... and win.
The comic story continues from the early days of Vader's career post-Jedi (and Tarkin's rise to the top of the Empire leadership). Previously, Vader had assisted Tarkin in capturing King Lee-Char of the Mon Cala at the Moff's request, knowing that a favor would be offered to him in returns. A favor that Issue #16 drops into once it's already begun.
Just Vader, Tarkin, and the officer's top agents on a deserted world... granting the request to hunt him. Apparently, no matter how many of them Vader kills in the process.
It's an entertaining story from Charles Soule and Guiseppe Camuncoli and, like some of their best before, offers new glimpses into the mythology and origin of Darth Vader. In the process, delivering fans new details on the Sith's abilities, limitations, and ambitions. And whether Vader made his request out of a secret desire to actually be killed, kill, or get used to his new Force abilities (and cybernetic physiology), Tarkin was obliged to do his part. And use the deaths of so many of his recruited trackers - murdered in unspeakable ways - to his advantage, as well.
The story is the kind of highlight reel Vader fans aren't used to, which was a major reason why seeing Vader's lightsaber skills at the end of Rogue One left so many speechless. The comic delivers on almost the same level, showing Vader's limited invulnerability to fire, an ability to breathe without his iconic respirator (or survive without breathing at all?), and his rage when his lightsaber is actually stolen from him. And, of course, the rage he shows when he finally steals it back.
But it's Tarkin who is carrying out his own mission at every turn, sizing up his potential enemy or, assuming he survives this favor, his potential ally. The most important detail being the distance at which Vader can actually choke or kill a target. A distance Tarkin does his best to keep to as he flees from Vader, the only surviving member of his team. Flees until he collapses, awaiting his own death at the Smith's Force powers.
Or so Vader thinks.
The twist comes when Tarkin reveals his plan hasn't failed at all. He has engineered this turn of events - including, presumably, the slaughter of his own men to draw Vader out - to have the Emperor's new apprentice follow him out into the harshest, deadliest patch of the planet's barren landscape. A location where lightning will seek out the tallest metal target it can find. Darth Vader may have The Force, but that doesn't tell him when he's truly been outsmarted.
Tarkin is gracious as he stands over Vader's charred, smoking body, calling in a shuttle to take them both off-planet and see Vader gets medical attention. But the words catch in his throat as Vader, even burned and bloodied, reaches out with The Force to show he hasn't been defeated just yet. An angry, arrogant Vader would kill him just to prove his own supremacy. But Vader yields when Tarkin has also dropped beside him.
Perhaps it's acknowledgement that Tarkin earned his respect by besting him. Or perhaps Vader realizes that such a tactician could be a strong ally against those already plotting to separate him from the Emperor. Either way, it seems Vader and Tarkin leave this encounter on a trajectory towards their future partnership.
With Darth Vader realizing that his anger, and his hatred can sometimes blind him to a larger threat only Tarkin can decipher. Following his orders makes perfect sense.
Darth Vader#18 is available now from Marvel Comics.