Marvel’s last run of Darth Vader comics dug into the Sith Lord’s machinations and his attempt to earn back Emperor Palpatine’s esteem after his failure to protect the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Marvel’s latest ongoing Vader comic, written by Charles Soule (Daredevil) and illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli (Amazing Spider-Man), explores his truly formative era, beginning with a slight revamp of the dark lord’s rebirth – one which tweaks and adds depth to the infamous “Nooo!” scene from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Re-envisioning these iconic moments, Soule peels back further layers of mysterious Sith tradition. Most significantly, Vader’s desire to earn Darth Sidious’s approval includes tracking down the survivors of Palpatine’s well-executed Order 66 and wiping them out. His quest also involves undertaking a Sith right of passage, where he “bleeds” his first lightsaber.
In Darth Vader #4, a battle-worn Vader recovers from a failed duel with a superior Jedi opponent. Can the dark lord prove his mettle against a powerful adversary, or will he have to look elsewhere for his red blade?
How a Sith Gets Their Blade
Before changes to the Star Wars excised much of the Legends material, there were several different ways a Jedi earned their lightsaber. Return of the Jedi set the concept in motion, and although Luke is never seen constructing a new sword, Vader expresses admiration (in his own fatherly way) at his accomplishment. Hence, a Jedi Knight assembling their own hilt is a key part of their training.
According to the Expanded Universe, Jedi would meditate over their kyber crystal, imbuing them with their essence as they built their blade housing. Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series further altered canon so the crystals themselves became somewhat alive and called to future Jedi, bonding with their wielders. In particular, the episode “The Gathering” elaborated upon this, showing younglings questing into the Crystal Caves on Ilum and facing unique challenges to obtain their attuned crystals.
Similarly, Sith mythology was somewhat convoluted until recently. Traditionally, whereas Jedi used naturally occurring kyber crystals, the Sith would artificially manufacture their blade’s power source, which resulted in the crimson hue. However, Darth Vader #4 introduced a new element into the mix. As Palpatine revealed during the second phase of Vader’s training, the true path to a Sith blade was not building one, but killing a Jedi in combat. Their crystal would then “bleed” red, as it feels “pain” for its fallen master and is then infused with the dark sider's pure rage.
But in order to bend a Jedi’s weapon to his will, Vader must first find a remnant of the Order – a tricky task in and of itself, seeing as the Emperor obliterated their ranks.
Remorseless Like a Sith
In Darth Vader #3, the dark lord heads to an ancient Jedi monastery on the moon of Al’doleem. There, he discovers Master Kirak Infil’a, a skilled warrior who remained tucked away on a “Barash,” a self-exile (which could explain Luke’s disappearance prior to The Last Jedi). The two clash atop Mt. Pasvaal, with the powerful Jedi besting the fledgling Sith, who's still adjusting to his new body and his new way of being, and throwing him to his death. But Vader recovers, using the wreckage of a temple droid to rebuild his mechanical parts. As the Jedi prepares to reenter the world and destroy Emperor Palpatine, he's shocked to find his opponent still among the living. The two battle along the main city dam, before Vader gets the upper hand by destroying the damn and endangering the city below.
With the latest chapter in Vader’s early days, Soule affirms key differences between the Sith and the Jedi, both in honor and style. Quite simply, the Sith don’t fight fair. After realizing his adversary outmatches him at every turn, he turns the Jedi’s credo against him. He brings the fight to the entire watery moon, not just the two Force-wielders, and his brutal tactics are too much for the exiled master. As he repairs the dam telepathically, Vader snaps Infil’a’s neck, claiming his lightsaber as the townsfolk below him are washed away – a symbolic moment that signifies the yawning floodgates of Vader’s own dark side capabilities.
In addition to proving Vader’s cunning, the duel with Infil’a also pinpoints the weaknesses in the Jedi Order’s ideological armor.
Darth Vader #4 further illustrates the evolving presence of the Force in the Star Wars universe. Vader’s mission further probes the complex, millennia-long relationship between the Jedi and the Sith. In past, the Sith have routinely exploited their light side adversaries by overruling their sense of fair play, such as Palpatine’s fake helplessness when assailed by Mace Windu in Episode III. Similarly, Vader realizes that fighting the honorable fight won’t get him his blade, so he plays dirty.
In past, the Jedi were able to compensate for these nasty tricks by sheer numbers or the balancing (and often overpowering) essence of the light side. But their arrogance and moral superiority blinded them to the Sith’s shadow play, allowing Palpatine to overthrow the Galactic Republic and destroy the Jedi. Vader’s bout with Infil’a also provides insight into his own dark side ascension as well as the trials a Sith must endure to attain their lightsaber and increase their power.
Marvel’s latest dig into the dark lord's past hints at the subtle graying of the Jedi first explored in Legends material and, canonically, during the Clone Wars, Rebels, and other recent books and comics like Doctor Aphra). Their own doctrine limits their ability to counteract the Sith, and in the long run, may make it impossible for the Jedi to defeat the Sith. As Rebels preps for its fourth season and the eighth installment in the main franchise hits the theaters in a few short months, a Jedi defeated by two powerful adversaries explores the rules of engagement.
These are questions Luke continues to wrestle with after his failure to rebuild the Order, and his controversial line in The Last Jedi trailer - “it’s time for the Jedi to end,” - implies his conclusion is "Jedi equals fail." At the very least, the last Jedi needs to seriously reevaluate his efforts, which just haven't panned out. Maybe it's time for a Force focus group.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #4 is currently available.