The Star Wars Marvel Comics line released two annuals last year. One was for its main Star Wars line and its long run of Darth Vader. Neither annual is needed for continuity. The Star Wars one allows us a break from the main story line with our familiar heroes. The Darth Vader issue proves yet again not only how powerful the Empire is, but it also shows how smart it can also be.
The Star Wars issue allows expands the Rebellion to characters that aren’t in the movie. This to me is the most interesting aspect of the new Star Wars universe. There are more stories of the Rebellion that take place than the ones starring Han, Leia, and Luke. This one focuses on a spy, Eneb Ray, who decides to take his shot against the Empire and the Emperor. It is a self contained story by Darth Vader writer, Kieron Gillen. It’s a tale of intrigue and the plot provides plenty of attention. I really enjoyed Angel Unzueta’s pencil work here. It is very sharp and allows for a moody atmosphere that reminded me of Blade Runner. Our protagonist repeatedly reminds us that he is no hero.He is a spy who does what it takes. Unlike Luke, he isn’t all powerful with the Force, so he can give in to the dark side and do what needs to be done. The plot also hints at the idea that one side’s hero can be the other side’s terrorist. I wish it would have focused on that more…in fact, I would love to see an Empire-centric run that takes this point of view and shows how the Rebellion affects the Empire and the families who believe in it. In other words, I want Star Wars to make us uncomfortable. Still, this is an excellent issue to get someone who doesn’t read comics but loves Star Wars to get them interested in exploring the comics side of the universe.
The Darth Vader episode is also scripted by Kieron Gillen. However, I don’t find Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork as good as Salvador Larroca’s expressive Vader. Yu’s work is good, but the regular run of Darth Vader has made me a Larroca fan (some kind of magical way he makes Vader’s mask expressive!). The plot is about the Empire reminding an outpost who is in charge. This one is really harder to get into for a novice in that it uses Triple-Zero and Beetee One. If you aren’t familiar with these droids, their actions could be confusing. Also, the story isn’t as nuanced as the Star Wars annual. It does have some great ideas, like the royal family who Vader has to remind who is control. This family has a King Lear influence but I thought that could have been explored more. However, the ending of this story is fantastic and not only reminds the royal family why the Empire is powerful; it also reminds us of this fact.
What both annuals do really well is remind us that the expanded universe is full of stories that don’t require the full time services of Luke, Leia, Han, and even Vader. Rebels has been demonstrating this perfectly on TV by telling stories of new characters with just an appearance here and there by people from the films. Even this Vader issue shows that the Empire is not one monolithic entity but a fragile alliance ruled through fear. There are plenty of people that would love to leave the Empire and their stories are just as interesting. This is also what gets me excited about Rouge One. The creators of Star Wars are trying to create a complete universe that is full of stories.