Star Wars: Darth Vader #5 – Review


WARNING: Spoilers for the entire series of Star Wars: Darth Vader

The Star Wars comics are an interesting study in how adaptable the franchise is within different genres. While the main Star Wars and Princess Leia issues stay true to the series’s swashbuckling roots, both Kanan: The Last Padawan and Darth Vader have taken Star Wars in a darker direction and given it a hard sci-fi bent.

But the transition isn’t always an easy one, and that’s why Darth Vader #5 stumbles a bit as it tries to balance the feel of both a lighthearted Star Wars romp and a gritty cyberpunk identity.

Darth Vader, along with his crew of archaelogist Dr. Aphra and the homicidal droid duo of Triple Zero and BT-1, arrive at the Emperor’s secret base, located in an interstellar caravan composed of a herd of robot space whales (just go along with it.) Vader manages to infiltrate the base with an army of droids he produced using the apparatus he swiped from Geonosis last issue.

But once he penetrates deeper into the facility, he encounters a band of foes with seemingly Force-enabled abilities – only he can tell the Force isn’t present in them. Before a battle breaks out, a familiar face appears, revealing himself as Cylo V, a cyborg who is the fifth reincarnation of the Emperor’s spy that Vader captured and killed earlier in the series.

Cylo explains that the Emperor has apparently commissioned a force consisting of cybernetically enhanced soldiers, intended to replace Vader and any other potential Force-user. The Emperor himself appears to confirm Cylo’s story and demands that he receive a demonstration of his new platoon’s abilities – and they converge on Vader.

The theme of organic life dehumanized by technology is prevalent throughout the entire issue, from the aforementioned space whales to the Emperor’s secret cyber army to Vader himself, and it feeds into the key conflict in this installment.

Writer Kieron Gillen has shown his savvy by finding a way to make Vader vulnerable without turning the Dark Lord into a wimp. Vader derives his power from his use of the Force, but now that’s exactly why the Emperor is willing to cast him aside, forcing his apprentice to prove himself.

But while the series’s push to move into more traditional sci-fi elements is admirable, it still isn’t totally comfortable with these new possibilities. There’s a lot in Darth Vader #5 that just isn’t fully fleshed out. The space whales are cool, and Vader cleverly takes advantage of the environment during his assault, but it doesn’t offer a strong sense of setting.

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Salvador Larroca’s artwork is still superb. The splash pages featuring the space whale fleet is awe-inspiring, but the inside of the environment is not as well-defined as the exterior. Although I’m digging the design of Vader’s droids, I’m not partial to his depiction of the lightsaber battles, which use motion blurring that just looks out of place.

Some personality is also lacking in this issue, as Cylo V and his cyborg team are devoid of any real menace or intrigue. Dr. Aphra is reduced to a cameo as she’s left behind with the ship. While the droids do have a small role to play this week, they’re growing less and less interesting every issue, as it’s clear they’re just dark mirrors of C-3PO and R2-D2 without any invention of their own.

I’m always glad to see Star Wars writers explore beyond the edges of the known galaxy and venture into new territory with their stories. Darth Vader is still the best of the new Marvel comics because it’s been so fearless at developing a much darker vision of the franchise. But it’s still got a ways to go before it’s comfortably settled in to this new environment.

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