Beyond any skill as a director, perhaps George Lucas’ greatest contribution to universe he created in Star Wars was as a translator, his particular modus operandi being to take pre-existing elements and adopt them into the genre of space opera. The whole of A New Hope may be seen as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress… in space. Likewise, its main cast may be seen as various archetypes described by Joseph Campbell… in space. Star Wars may not have been the first or last work of science fantasy to employ this methodology, but it is perhaps the most notable and prolific.
Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader continues this proud tradition. Inspector Thanoth is obviosly Sherlock Holmes… in space. Doctor Aphra is clearly Indian Jones… in space (though less on the nose than the previous Expanded Universe’s Corellia Antilles).
These familiar tropes are not substitutes for character development, however, but starting points, which Gillen continues to build upon here in issue #10. Thanoth continues to serve as a great foil to Vader, one whom the Sith Lord cannot simply intimidate or eviscerate. But fun as Thanoth’s safecracking proved, Aphra was the real stars of the issue. With Padme’s mortician bound up for torture and interrogation as per Vader’s orders, she pontificates with him regarding the effects of war, her political sympathies to the order provided by the Empire have a clear antecedent in personal tragedy experienced during the Clone Wars. It’s a scene which is simultaneously meditative and emotionally resonate.
Darth Vader may be the titular character, but he in many ways has proven to be less the star of the series and more so a pretense or impetus for Gillen to introduce into the Star Wars universe a cast of characters of his own creation. Yes, Vader and his mission are the thread which connect Thanoth, Aphra, Triple Zero, Black Krrrsantan, and Cylo-V’s recruits together, but they’re the fresh elements which prove there’s fertile ground in the period between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back that’s not merely a repeat of the Expanded Universe prior to the reset or redundant with the various new Marvel series all set in the same era.
Larroca’s art is as competent as ever. It rarely wows in this issue, but more importantly never stumbles. Of particular note are his facial expressions. Characters such as Aphra and Commodex Tahn (likely a subtle nod to the first name given to Luke’s father way back in the daily newspaper strip, Tan Skywalker) undergo a gamut of emotions, each exquisitely expressed. More impressively, however, is how Larroca frames shots to show emotion in characters with stiff faces, such as disquiet upon Vader’s mask or sadism in the empty mechanical eyes of protocol droid Triple Zero.
Darth Vader #10 is another solid issue in a consistently solid series. Kieron Gillen continues to smartly keep Vader narratively slightly out of focus, preserving the presence and mystery the character had in the original trilogy and avoiding the mistakes made by Lucas in centering too much on the character in the prequels.