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Published on February 12th, 2015 | by Noel Thorne

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Marvel Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 – Review

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darthvader

The stench of the prequels hovers over this comic as if the ghost of Jar Jar (you know he hanged himself after Revenge of the Sith) blundered into the presses and farted on the paper before the comic was printed.

It’s interesting that Marvel chose Kieron Gillen to write this Darth Vader solo series because he also wrote a (terrible)Wolverine miniseries, Origin II. The two characters are comparable in that they are standouts in an ensemble cast but take them away and bring the focus entirely on them? They lose their magic.

That was arguably the biggest problem of the prequels: making Vader, or Anakin Skywalker, so central to those movies. Vader has always been brilliant as part of a bigger story – he should never BE the story. And, while Gillen doesn’t totally fail, he hasn’t made as convincing an argument for the character in Darth Vader #1.

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Like Jason Aaron’s main Star Wars comic, this series is set between A New Hope and Empire, with this issue taking its cue from the ending of last week’s Star Wars #2 – Marvel’s cross-pollination has begun! The rebels have blown up an Empire-run weapons factory and Vader is now forced to barter with Jabba the Hutt. This is a villain-packed issue as Vader has interactions with the biggest and baddest in the Star Wars universe from one scene to the next. Vader trades threats with Jabba, Vader gets scolded by the Emperor, and a certain fan favourite bounty hunter makes a cameo at the end. That’s essentially it, which, for a bumper-sized issue, doesn’t add up to much.

The comic opens the classic Star Wars way: “A long time ago” etc. followed by a splash page STAR WARS: DARTH VADER, and the title crawl, which, I guess, is how Marvel are going to handle every new Star Wars comic, so that’s not going to get old anytime soon(!). But it’s the title crawl where the prequel stench begins wafting its way to the reader, mentioning Vader’s “rebirth on volcanic Mustafar”. Yuck, Revenge of the Green Screen!

Later on we’re on Coruscant in rooms that heavily reminded me of the prequels – though it is interesting to see Vader and the Emperor set against the sunlight rather than the moody iridescence of space. There’s also a panel that looks like artist Salvador Larroca copied it straight out of Episode 3 and once more there’s another scene of Vader butchering Tusken Raiders, like he did as Anakin in Episode 2.

It’s not a lot – there are far more references to the original trilogy in this comic – but it’s enough to cast a pall over the issue. I was hoping Gillen would ignore the prequels altogether but it looks like he’s challenging his audience to embrace them for this series. A challenge I’m not sure everyone’s up to and I’m hoping we’ll hear less and less about his past and more about his present as the series progresses.

The first half of the comic is quite good as Vader enters Jabba’s palace for an audience with him, mimicking the same scene Luke would play out in Jedi. Their exchange is dark and, as Vader stands over the trapdoor, there’s the possibility that Vader might fight the Rancor, Gillen playing off of the audience’s memories. Larroca’s art looks extremely slick and stylish in this sequence. Vader looks terrific, as does Jabba, and everything looks suitably high quality. The action is enjoyable if predictable – guards shoot lasers, Vader easily kills them with his lightsaber.

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The second half unfortunately isn’t as fun. Set the day before Vader’s scene with Jabba, Palpatine and Vader have a dull conversation, the upshot of which is what we’ve already seen: Vader has to go to Tatooine to barter with Jabba. The Emperor doesn’t do much else than talk down to Vader and tell him off for putting the Empire at a disadvantage – it’s page after page of very dull dialogue.

The comic ends, as it began, with Vader meting out death. And though the final image is a reminder of the crapfest that was Attack of the Clones, a cameo from one of the best loved Star Wars characters lifts the spirits to end the issue more or less favourably.

Salvador Larroca’s art, along with colourist Edgar Delgado, is what makes the issue stand out as grand and epic as the reader would expect. The wide panels throughout are a good choice for a story that began on the big screen and continues on the comic book page, lending a fittingly cinematic look to the issue.

And though this isn’t a bad comic, it’s not a great one either. That’s partly, for me, the prequel flavour that’s undeniably here, but also the uneven script which is at times crisp, like in the Jabba scenes, and slow and boring in the Emperor scenes. There’s also a lack of a distinct storyline for this title – will it play back and forth with Aaron’s Star Wars story, filling in the blanks for when Vader’s off-page, or will it try and do something separate? Because, going off this first issue, it’s the former, which is unsatisfying for what you would rightly expect to be a separate series with its own story. Otherwise, why not just call this Star Wars #3 rather than Darth Vader #1?

You won’t be yelling NOOOOOOOO!!! by the end of the issue but you’re not going to be yelling YEEEEEEESS!!! either. Darth Vader #1 is a directionless, though sometimes entertaining, start to a potentially good series.

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Publisher: Marvel

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Colourist: Edgar Delgado

Noel Thorne

Probably reading comics as you're reading this.

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