The second volume of Darth Vader had a lot to live up to. Not only was it coming off the back of the revitalizing and sublime run by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, but by setting itself early on in Vader’s time, it had to balance two very different sides of Star Wars.
Its final issue, out this week, is a wild trip that nails that balance.
The final arc of Vader’s second volume—by Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Daniele Orlandini, David Curiel, Dono Sánchez-Almara, Erick Arciniega, and Travis Lanham — has been delving into some truly fascinating connections between the mystical side of Star Wars and the original trilogy aesthetic that defines that nebulous, 20-year “Rise of the Empire” period, as the galaxy far, far away transforms from what we see in the prequels to the look and feel of the original movies.
Through the frame of Vader himself, constructing his castle on Mustafar as we see it in Rogue One, we’ve watched a bold plan from the Sith Lord play out over these last few issues.
Working with an ancient Sith artist named Momin, Vader planned to build the perfect monument that could tap into Mustafar’s dark side energies and do what Palpatine had promised: Open a gate to the afterlife and raise his wife Padmé from the dead.
The power, as weird and unfathomable as it seemed, had some surprising connections to a similar gate seen in Rebels’ final season, after it opened up what appeared to be a bridge in time to give Momin his old body back.
Because he’s a Sith, he promptly betrayed Vader when this happened, but after a swift fight sent Momin back to the afterlife for good, Vader himself opened the gates in Darth Vader #25 and...well, walked in is a weird way of putting it. But he goes on a spiritual journey, and witnesses something that’s way beyond the time-gate of Rebels.
It’s sort of a mix of that time-gate and the cave of evil on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back (but amped up to a baffling, awe-inspiring degree) — and the result is one of the wildest, most visually inventive renditions of the absurd power of the force ever put to paper in Star Wars history.
Beyond the gate, Vader (or rather Vader’s soul, given incredible shape as this swirling mass of burning hate, with pale silvered limbs to represent the organic and robotic elements of his physical body) witnesses the totality of Anakin Skywalker’s past, present, and future as he tries to make his way toward Padmé.
It’s rendered in stunning form, not just within the reality of the text, as Vader’s soul witnesses glimpses from his past as Anakin, but metatextually as well.
The script uses lines of dialogue from the films as whispered windows across Anakin’s entire timeline — from knowing gags like “Now this is Podracing!”, to contrasting images of Obi-Wan and Palpatine under the line “I am your Father”, to even a glimpse of Vader’s future beyond his death, as he butchers ghosts of the former Jedi Council to his grandson’s command of “Let the past die, kill it, if you have to.”
It’s not just in writing that Vader #25 plays with elements from the films, but visually as well—in one moment we see Vader’s soul twist and reform itself into the shape of his childhood self, himself as a teenage padawan, and then as a surly Jedi Knight in the moments before his fall.
In another, one of the issue’s smartest tricks, the original teaser poster for The Phantom Menace becomes a nightmarish vision for the young Anakin, as his current self tries to reach out and understand what he’s witnessing.
Eventually, this mindbending vision brings Vader’s soul to Padmé—or at least, what he thinks is Padmé. Whether it was really her, or simply Anakin’s memories of her, and his feelings over how she’d react to his current form, is left to the reader to decide, but either way, Vader’s journey through the force ends in despair.
Padmé flings herself into oblivion, to be turned to ash by a bolt of lightning, after telling Vader that Anakin Skywalker is dead. And as if that wasn’t enough, immediately after, Vader’s soul is forced out of whatever plane of reality he’s found himself in by a vision from his future: A blinding light, emanating around a young man in combat fatigues wielding a blue lightsaber. A man that we at least recognise, if not the Dark Lord himself, is Vader’s eventual redeemer, his son:
From there, Vader #25 concludes with a message from Vader to Palpatine, in which the Dark Lord tells his master that he has found everything he needed on Mustafar. Even if it’s not necessarily what Vader secretly wanted out of the endeavour, he now has a place of his own to tap into and master, away from the prying eyes of the Emperor.
In the process of discovering that, however, Darth Vader stunningly gave us a view of the Force far beyond anything we could have possibly imagined. It’s an incredible, inventive way for a series that has constantly surprised us with the way it’s used Vader to explore the most intriguing mysteries of the Force that Star Wars has to offer.