Yoda lied. In the murky swamps of Dagobah, Luke inquired of the wizened Jedi, “Is the Dark Side stronger?” Yoda assured the fledgling knight that it was easier, more seductive, but not stronger.
Yoda and his former student Obi-Wan have been known to tell the truth “from a certain point of view.” But for viewers of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, there was no reason for them or Luke to doubt those words as anything short of the unadulterated truth. But with this week’s release of Vader Down #1, Disney and Marvel have retconned the life of Luke Skywalker, adding yet another pre-Bespin encounter with Vader. Set before his training under Yoda, and long before his tortuous tutelage under the Emperor, Luke witnesses “the full power of the Dark Side of the Force.” After seeing Vader unleashed, that Luke could later accept Yoda’s declaration as gospel truth becomes an incredulous notion.
Vader Down #1 makes little sense in the context of the films. It feels discordant with the narrative arc which the trilogy presents, bearing more in common with Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars shorts or The Force Unleashed video games than any of the movies. But that’s not a criticism, it’s a complement.
Like cartoons and video games, comics have always been brimming with unbridled imagination, far more so than films even at their most fantastical. The verisimilitude inherent to live-action tends to ground the medium in ways which comics have never been subjected. It’s a thin and subtle line, but present nonetheless. It’s the reason why on screen Superman can fight Zod but not Mr. Mxyzptlk, why Batman has fought Two-Face but not Clayface.
Until now, all of Marvel’s Star Wars offerings have remained safely on the side of faithfulness to their cinematic roots, attempting to replicate on page the experience of the theater. Vader Down #1 tips it’s toes over that line, flirting with it, and is a better comic book for doing so. Three squadrons of X-Wings? An entire company of Rebel soldiers? None of them so much as cause the Dark Lord of the Sith to flinch. It’s ridiculous, over-the-top action, and it’s amazing.
Mike Deodato’s brings that action to life, better than live-action does. He is in many ways a better cinematographer than Lucas, Kershner, or Marquand. It’s a shame that he’s only tackling the characters for this one shot; Deodato’s Vader is so expressive without ever deviating from a perfectly accurate representation that he’d make an excellent lead on the villain’s titular series should Larroca depart.
Even without Deodato’s gorgeous visuals, I can’t wait to continue the Vader Down crossover in the pages of Darth Vader and Star Wars. In a month when every human on the planet will be talking about Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and whomever else may crop up in The Force Awakens, the most compelling villain in a galaxy far, far away may just prove to be Vader.