Okay, let’s first address the elephant in the room. On December 27th, 2016, Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise sadly passed away from a severe heart attack she suffered while on a plane returning to L.A. from London. The news came as a big shock as Fisher was only 60 years old and earlier reports from her mother seemed to indicate that she was in stable condition. To add yet another layer of heartache, her mother also passed away not long after due to a stroke that was probably cause by the grief of losing her daughter. The news of both of their deaths came as an unexpected surprise to us all and feels like a final punch to the gut in a year that has been full of deaths, disappointing films and videogames, racial tensions boiling over in several major cities, several personal complications in my own life and the election of perhaps the most unqualified man in the history of our nation to ever be elected president. And to top it all off, we lose the woman who portrayed Princess Leia, a character who for many of us was the first strong feminine character we were ever exposed to. To put it simply, it just sucks. There really isn’t another word for it. It just flat out sucks and is the cherry on top of the horror sundae that was the year of 2016. And before I go any further with this I would like to make it clear that this article was not done as a means of capitalizing on her untimely death. It had been planned out months ago, and the majority of it had been written well before the news of her death came. The timing just happened to be very poor. All the same, it felt wrong to delay the article but this whole thing was something that I felt had to be addressed before moving on.
Anyway, last time here on Comic Book Spotlight we went over the not terribly good but not terrible Star Wars comic series, particularly that of Volume 3: Rebel Jail. It was by no means the worst comic that I’ve read nor was it the worst Marvel Star Wars comic to be released since the company took over the property. Unfortunately, the book played it WAY to safe, focusing on characters whos fates we are already well aware of and fails to thoroughly explore any of the original ideas and themes it introduced. Today’s subject, however, is another matter altogether.
Like the main series, the Darth Vader series takes place in-between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and attempts to answer questions that I’m not sure anyone was ever really asking. The main question that it attempts to answer is this: What was the Emperor’s reaction to Vader’s constant failings regarding the destruction of The Death Star and his failure to prevent the destruction of a major ship yard at the start of the main series? The answer? Vader is demoted and has to regain his position as the Emperor’s top enforcer while competing with possible new apprentices of the Emperor. In order to regain his position, he must eliminate all of these competitors while forming his own network of spies and assassins outside of the influence of the Imperial Army that is out to get him.
What ultimately makes this series work so much better than its companion series is that it actually explores aspects of the Star Wars universe that have, for the most part, gone untouched. For example, we actually get a closer look at the relationship between Vader and the Emperor and discover that the two aren’t as close as it had been suggested in other installments of the series. It also gives us a look into just what other members of the Imperial Army think of Vader and shows us the lengths they will go to defame and/or subdue him for their own personal glory. It also helps that a good chunk of the book revolves around Vader building his own personal spy network and puts a good deal of focus on these characters, giving them all colorful personalities and their own personal conflicts to overcome. Sadly, this volume doesn’t focus in on these aspects as well and ultimate feels inferior to the previous two.
The plot of this volume revolves around Vader as he tries to help Queen Trios of the mining planet Shu-Torun end an uprising against her, instigated by the barons of the planet who object to her Imperial backed rule. At the same time, he must fight through the traps set by rivals within the Imperial Army as well as those set by the Emperor’s other enforcers.
The main problem with the book is that, like Rebel Jail, the whole thing feels like a filler arc; something the creative team put together to burn time while they spent most of their time and energy on the future, theoretically more interesting story arcs and evidence of this can be seen on nearly every level of the book. This first becomes clear when you look at the plot of the book and compare it to that of previous installments. Previous volumes, for example, mostly focused on Vader forming his own network of spies and informants and using them to sabotage anyone who got in his way be it Imperial forces or Rebel and his efforts to conceal his activates. Unfortunately, this volume really doesn’t have any of that and contains a surprisingly vanilla plot in a series that had been, up until now, one of the more complexly plotted Star Wars comics. The majority of it is just Vader commanding his forces in the battles against the barons while fighting through the traps his so-called allies set and that’s about it. It lacks any of the tension and intrigue that previous volumes had and ends up coming off a bit as a generic sci-fi yarn.
This shows in the artwork as well. It’s by no means bad but it feels as if the finer details were left out. Most of this can be seen in the battles that are on display. We see a lot of blaster fire that is coming from enemy soldiers but it seems like we never actually see where the shots are coming from. We’ll see a group of Stormtroopers get blasted away or Vader deflect someone’s shot but we never actually see where the shots come from and very rarely get a look at the enemy. Additionally, there are several parts where the main characters are supposedly outnumbered and/or outmatched but the artwork itself never gives us any indication that this is the case. This also includes several of the strongholds that Vader and company attack in the book. We are told that several of these places are nigh impregnable but we never get to see these strongholds outside of a distant establishing shot and doesn’t show us anything that might tell us why these places are so hard to take. In most cases, it will be a close up of Vader, a Stormtrooper or some other character commenting on the situation but there isn’t anything visually that supports this making it feel as if we’re seeing people talking about the situation as opposed to experiencing it and heavily violates the show don’t tell rule.
But in spite of all of this, the book still manages to be better than entirety of the main Star Wars series. When you compare this book to that of Rebel Jail what you have on display in both cases are books that are clearly meant as stepping stones to the next story arc. The Shu-Torun War, however, shows even though you might be writing a book that is meant to be killing time you can at least give it a purpose within the context of its own story as well as giving it a reason to exist in the larger narrative of the series. While there is very little of the spy/espionage games played in the last two volumes in this installment, it does at the very least contain elements of it as Vader puts plans in motion to find and possibly eliminate Doctor Aphra, actually building up to the next installment of the series in a way that feels natural and makes you feel excited for the next story arc.
Another big thing that the book does right is that it actually gives us some insight as to how the Empire retains control over the galaxy. In the first chapter/issue of the book, we see Vader brutally putting down an uprising and placing a relatively weak ruler on a throne who will have no choice but to rely on the Empire’s support in order to retain control. While not the most original way of keeping control over an empire, it all the same shows us an aspect of the empire that we really hadn’t seen before and is something that I hope future books dig more deeply into.
The book also contains a decent number of supporting characters who help the book move along in ways that Vader cannot. Despite the absence of Doctor Aphra, the sadistically homicidal droids Triple-Zero and Beetee-One are as entertaining as ever and provide some more levity to a story that is otherwise fairly serious in nature. While I doubt that she will make any future appearances, Queen Trios has her own arc that made for an interesting read. At the start of the story she is a reluctant leader who has the throne forced on her after a failed attempt on Vader’s life. But as the story goes on we see her become more assertive, even going so far as to challenge Vader when his actions undermine her authority on the planet. Later in the book we see her commanding forces on her own without the Empire’s support before ultimately becoming the very thing she fought against at the start of the book with her actions mirroring that of Vader’s at the start of the book. Again, it’s not the most original arc nor is it the most well executed but it does give us an interesting story arc to see unfold while the series continues to kill time.
In the end, Darth Vader Volume Three: The Shu-Torun War is probably the weakest of the Darth Vader comic stories so far but it’s still far better then it’s companion series. The first two volumes are ones that I would highly recommend but this one is clearly meant to kill time and it’s hard to give a glowing recommendation when the book cost $20 and doesn’t feel as if it’s a necessary read for one to understand what is happening the next story arc. If you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan, go ahead and give it a read. If not, go ahead and check the first two volumes out and only get this one if you’re dying to know what happens next. Beyond that, it’s just an okay book.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.