The last issue of Marvel’s Darth Vader gave us, arguably, the moment Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader—if not physically, spiritually. The Dark Lord gave into the lie the world told him and accepted that this new, villainous being killed the heroic knight of the Old Republic. But if Darth Vader is willing to let his past die, there’s still one particular past he’s not quite capable of killing just yet.
Darth Vader #4—out today from writer Greg Pak, artists Raffaele Ienco and Neeraj Menon, and letterer Joe Caramagna—might pick up immediately where the last, tragic issue left off (with Vader about to be chomped to death by a Sando Aqua monster, one of Naboo’s many dangerous underwater nasties). But it’s really an issue that’s the calm before the storm as the Dark Lord of the Sith makes his dramatic way from his seeming doom to the planet’s capital, Theed. The Sith Lord was led into a trap by Sabé the Handmaiden and her retinue of justice-seekers (now known as the Amidalans) out for blood, but merrily butchered his way through them after he embraced the lie that he laid both Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker low.
Upon arriving at the capital, and more specifically, the tomb that is Padmé’s final resting place, Vader finds himself at a pause. Padmé’s tomb is guarded by the Amidalan’s last hope: the Handmaidens themselves, still defending their Queen beyond her end, even if it means theirs. As Vader’s accompanying forensic droid rattles off their identities, the comic once again utilizes one of its most morbidly fascinating tools. It flashes through red-soaked panels depicting Anakin’s past, depicting the Star Wars prequels themselves, as we’re reminded of just who each of these women were before they became agents of vengeance. Once the meet-cute is over, it’s time for the inevitable, as Vader ignites his saber and is ready to carve another path of butchery.
Or, you would think so at least. What becomes fascinating in the moment Vader leaps at the Handmaidens is he finds that he can’t strike them down. Literally he could of course—he’s Darth Vader, the unstoppable force, the Emperor’s hand, a specter of death with the grim mask to match and the Handmaidens, as well trained as they are, are no match for the power of the Dark Side—yet he does not. For every slash he attempts to land, every hit the Handmaidens strike against his armor, there’s a flash of that reddened past: but this time Vader doesn’t see the Handmaidens as he once knew them long ago.
He sees Padmé.
Every strike they make against him feels as if she had landed them herself, every smile a cut. And when those visions become so overwhelming—her love for the man that he once was, the man he believes he has destroyed, now so painful to him—Vader lashes out with the Force to strangle Sabé and her sisters in a single blow but cannot bring himself to do it. For all his outward bravado, deep down Vader knows in some way that killing them would be as if he had indeed killed Padmé in the first place.
As the skirmish ends and Vader prepares to enter Padmé’s tomb, Darth Vader #4 uses another incredible visual trick too—one reaching back to a prior run of the series, even if it took place chronologically speaking after this. Outside the door to Padmé’s tomb is a plinth holding the japor snippet necklace Anakin gave Padmé in The Phantom Menace, the same one she wore in repose for her funeral in Revenge of the Sith. Upon seeing it, Vader flashes back to the past via those red panels, but there’s something different this time. After recalling the words he told Padmé as he handed the necklace over—“I made this for you, so you’d remember me”—he hears them again, internalized.
But Caramanga gives them a different text treatment: black text on red boxes, evocative of the lettering Travis Lanham used in Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Darth Vader #25. There, that text treatment depicted the voice of the Dark Side itself, as Vader explored a haunting, fascinating nexus of the Force on Mustafar, in an attempt to raise his wife from the dead. To see it used again here, as the internalized voice of Vader and the dark within him, is a beautiful moment, and a tragic reminder.
It’s hit further home by the fact that Caramanga’s panels sandwich three more red-tinged glimpses from Vader, but instead of the past as they have been before, they’re of the present—the defeated Handmaidens, the massacred Amidalans, the sea creature he slew to get to where he is right now, before Padmé’s tomb. It tells us that for all he says about destroying his past self, deep down, it’s still all in there in this present moment. That Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are still one and the same—no matter how much he or his son reject it.
One of the most excellent things about each of the Darth Vader series we’ve had so far has been their willingness to use Vader’s special place in Star Wars as a bittersweet bridge between the eras of the prequel and original trilogies. It’s something that ties them together more strongly an ever. This has mostly been from an aesthetic and contextual standpoint in the past. Gillen and Larocca’s first volume gave us a Vader that felt characteristically in line with the Anakin we knew of in Attack of the Clones, Clone Wars, and Revenge of the Sith; Soule and Camuncoli’s more directly doing so by being set within the early days of the Rise of the Empire.
What is so far making Pak, Ienco, and Menon’s run stand out from its predecessors is a willingness to approach that idea at a different angle: connecting Vader to his past emotionally and spiritually, rather than simply contextually. It makes his attempts to let that past die all the more powerfully bleak, even as Padmé’s part in it is just about the only thing that’s letting him hold on to it right now.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.