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Star Wars #14 continues the story of Darth Vader hunting down those who were responsible for his recent failure. While the previous issue was mostly from the perspective of Ensign Nanda, a young Empire administrator, picked to help Vader on his personal mission, this issue shows us more of Vader’s experience. One thing that becomes clear in this issue: Vader is a formidable force, both physically and mentally.
There are really three distinct parts to Star Wars #14. In the first part, Vader is having a daydream related to the scene in Star Wars IV: A New Hope where he strikes down Ben Kenobi. Rather than quickly dispatch with Ben here, Vader talks to him more, eager to learn more about the young boy that has been causing trouble. He figures out that the kid’s name is Luke Skywalker. Strangely, Vader doesn’t seem to comment on the fact that this was his former name. Perhaps he has completely divorced himself from his previous identity. When Kenobi tries to call him Anakin, Vader responds that that’s not his name.
Vader also finds the former Empire engineer that is wanted for his link to the Rebel Alliance. A few issues ago in this series, we met Tag Rogaren, who is living amidst the debris of Alderaan, his homeworld that was destroyed by the Death Star, a project that he helped build. He now has a bounty on his head by the Empire, which causes Vader’s crew of elite Stormtroopers to rebel against him. In the ensuing battle, Vader makes quick work of the soldiers, using his strength and the force to kill them all in embarrassingly quick time. After Rogaren is killed refusing to talk, Nanda is now alone with Vader.
The rest of the issue shows Vader obliterate a burial ground linked to Admiral Bircher, a Rebel spy who took worked his way through the Empire enough that he took over command of Vader’s ship before betraying it. Although desecrating the graves of Bircher’s relatives might seem below Vader’s sense of honor, it demonstrates how much unyielding rage he possesses. Really, the entirety of the two issues of Star Wars paint Vader as extremely intimidating, which is something that can be lost when we think about his origins as Anakin Skywalker and his end in The Return of the Jedi.
Writer Brian Wood excels at characterizing Vader in the past few issues of the series. If nothing else, Vader is extremely prideful, and losing a number of important battles would rankle badly him anyway. However, that a spy was in his midst and assumed control of his ship makes him go literally off the reservation in pursuit of revenge. Wood has recontextualized Vader as the fearsome and extremely capable force of the Empire, even as he is servant to (and often demeaned by) Emperor Palpatine.
At times the dialog in this issue was unusually forced. Wood’s dialog in this series has generally felt very true, but the dream sequence features a number of clunker lines, delivered by both Kenobi and Vader. I’m not sure if there was an effect intended here, since the rest of the issue is pretty good with dialog, but it’s still pretty awkward.
The art by Facundo Percio is consistent with the series, though it also features some strange spots in the dream sequence, where Kenobi looks nothing like Alec Guiness. Still, Percio does well in the closing scene, where Ensign Nanda, having made it through her trip with Vader, is clearly mentally and emotionally damaged by the experience. Percio shows her torment well.
It can be risky to interrupt a story that is moving well to show the tale from the other side. Much of the first twelve issues of Star Wars has been from the Alliance side and it seems like the series will return there in the next issue. However, despite a few hiccups in this issue, the two-issue detour into Vader’s personal Kill Bill-style vengeance trip has been worthwhile for the series. It shows again the determination and ruthlessness that Vader brings, and that the Rebels still face a very tough enemy.