Darth Vader introduced himself to moviegoers in 1977 as the ultimate, undiluted representation of evil. His cold voice and brooding physicality established him as a force of intimidation and relentless determination. With no military rank and no regard for rules or structure when they didn’t serve his motives or his allegiance to the dark side of the Force, Vader degraded and murdered and tortured whomever he pleased whenever it served his largely unknown agenda. But when the credits roll, and A New Hope is over, we still don’t know what Vader wants. We remember his name, his actions; we remember the what, but not the why. Why does Vader do what he does? Decades after his fall from grace, what keeps Anakin Skywalker going? Now, finally, Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader gives us those answers, and without any of the fat or high-octane theatrics or fan-service flashbacks that sometimes plagued the Star Wars Expanded Universe prior to the Lucasfilm Story Group’s unified canon.
Darth Vader tells the story of a brash, outspoken young warrior who retreated into a restrictive metal suit and into the arms of a powerful, hateful father figure, Emperor Palpatine. His personality has completely shifted. His thirst for excitement and adventure has come to a violent close, but his ambition continues to be boundless; it is simply that, like his personality, this boundless ambition is more covert. His lord is watching him, and if there is one thing a Sith Lord fears in his apprentice, it’s an ambition like Vader’s. Darth Vader’s sense of ambition crackles through the pages of Darth Vader #1, but Gillen robs us of an interior monologue; just as in A New Hope, we can now only judge Vader by his actions and words. Vader’s mind is now similar to that of a machine, constantly calculating and evaluating people and situations, planning and conniving; there is little humanity left to be translated into a prose-filled monologue. But, by watching his actions, we now know what Vader wants, even if he didn’t have much of a motivation in A New Hope aside from his service to the Emperor. In Darth Vader #1, Vader wants to be top dog again, yes. He wants to crush the Rebel Alliance, of course, and he wants to be powerful and important to his Emperor. But his true, most sacred goal is to discover the identity of the young man who brandished the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker–his lightsaber.
This motivation is the truest simply for the conditions under which Vader acts on it. First, Vader keeps this motivation secret from his lord. The punishment for such secrecy could be fatal for one who has already fallen so out of favor with Palpatine. While Palpatine’s ruthlessness could be (and probably is) a means to create a sense of jealousy and determination in Vader, it is more an obstacle for Vader’s quest to find the owner of his lightsaber. To defy a figure of such immense power during such a sensitive point in their relationship demonstrates the extreme value of his mission, not to mention his dealings with the Hutts and bounty hunters of his crime-ridden homeworld of Tatooine. As revealed from Vader’s last visit to Tatooine as Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones, Vader is very sensitive to reminders of his past, and they often result in violent outbursts. Although Vader is more than willing to murder, it’s unlikely that he derives pleasure from mass killings; instead, he again slaughters an entire tribe of Sand People during his most recent visit to Tatooine, not as revenge or out of malice, but as a form a therapy. As ridiculous as it may seem, Darth Vader, damaged and broken but deeply determined, cannot visit Tatooine, a necessary step toward discovering the wielder of his former lightsaber, without committing such extreme acts of violence.
Although we are left in the dark as far as Vader’s thoughts are concerned, his motivations in Kieran Gillen’s Darth Vader #1 are clear, personal, and secret. He proves the importance of and the obsession with the talented wielder of his former lightsaber by taking extreme measures behind his master’s back. Darth Vader, shrouded both literally and figuratively in darkness, still cares about the ties to his past. Whether he wants to follow those ties–or cut them–remains to be seen.
Twitter: @tiboondaPowered by Sidelines