The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
Perhaps Vader’s most quotable quip from the original Star Wars, it is also his most contested claim. Just yesterday, in an article entitled “5 Reasons the Dark Side Isn’t as Bad as You Think,” Cracked columnist J.F. Sargent stated, “No, it isn’t. The ability to destroy a planet isn’t insignificant next to anything,” after which followed a screenshot of the annihilation of Alderaan accompanied by the caption: “Particularly not planets.”
This misconception comes from the fact that Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways” amount to little more than the ability to choke a Moff from a few feet away or block gunshots of light that somehow move much slower than bullets. But such is not unlike an atheist equating the theistic concept of omnipotence with the miracle of the floating axe head. The direct intervention might be flashier, but the real power is in providence.
The Force, like any good deity, moves in mysterious ways. The Empire required nineteen years, quintillions of credits, and nearly a decillion joules to obliterate an earth-sized planet. Though the subsequent destruction of the Death Star may seem less impressive in scale, The Force accomplished such through nothing more than malfunctioning the motivator on an R5 unit and guiding some proton torpedoes along their intended path.
In Darth Vader Annual #1, the power of the Dark Side is on display, upping the ante once again, not by destroying the world of Shu-torun, but by subjugating it. Vader tightens his grip, but to Leia’s inevitable dismay, this star system does not slip through his fingers. By issue’s end, he’s got the whole world in his hands… hands which have slaughtered women and children, his best friend, and even his own wife. Given such, do the denizens of Shu-torun really face a better fate than those of Alderaan?
How the issue arrives at that unpropitious outcome is packed with equal parts action and intrigue. Supremely appropriate to any adventure in which Vader serves as the protagonist, it is a perverse inversion of the Gospel story. The good king so loves his world that he sacrificially sends his beloved begotten to by the devil die, descending with him into hellfire so that others might be free from it.
But Vader makes for a better fallen angel than Satan himself. The later said to Christ, “[All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them] I will give thee, if thou will fall down and worship me.” Jesus famously refused, but our Christ-figure here is prone and prostrate, wearing her late father’s crown like shackles as Vader threatens her, “Queen Triton, this world is yours to rule, but do not forget whom you serve.”
The allusions to the Temptation do not end there. As the Adversary before him, Vader too offers a stone, though his challenge surpasses that of transubstantiating it to sustenance: “This is what remains of Alderaan. The destruction of the Death Star has given a certain overconfidence to the Rebels. They think it means the Empire can be resisted. They are wrong.”
The Death Star’s ability to destroy a world was indeed insignificant next to Vader’s power. Here he destroys something more precious and enduring than even a planet: a once righteous soul. After all, what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Keiron Gillen might as well have titled this issue “1 Reason Why the Dark Side Really is as Bad as You Think.” The Prince of Darkness himself is one-upped by the Dark Lord of the Sith. Far better than the virginal birth and messianic prophecy shoehorned into the prequels, Gillen demonstrates the right way for Star Wars to appropriate and integrate ancient theology into modern mythology.