I just got done reading Marvel’s Star Wars issue #2. These comics do a lot right so far. The reveals of the beloved Star Wars heroes in the first issue are really well done. The character voicing and banter are completely spot on. The action is fast paced and a whole lot of fun, with my favorite set piece so far being Han and Leia hijacking an imperial walker, with Artoo and Jawas in the back trying to get the cannons working to blast Vader before he rips the walker apart with the force. The artwork is high quality and the style is both very “Star Wars-y” and yet the pacing, style, and vibrant heroes remind me a lot of recent Marvel movies at the same time.
I am enjoying them, and I would unequivocally recommend them, except for a couple caveats. First, there’s not much in the way of plot development so far. I’ll give that a pass, two issues in, especially since the pacing and characters are enough to carry things for the moment.
Another issue was something I was willing to let slide in the first issue, since it really was just a passing moment. But as of the second issue I get the sinking feeling that this is going to be a permanent flaw in the Marvel Star Wars universe. It’s even more of a problem now that all the comics and novels and other media are ostensibly part of the same canon.
The problem is this: Darth Vader is written completely out of character.
In the first issue, Chewbacca mades an assassination attempt on Vader, who throws two stormtroopers into the line of fire using the force as human shields.
When I first saw this, it felt wrong to me for a few reasons. First of all, Vader can block laser fire with his hands or lightsaber easily, so sacrificing the empire’s elite soldiers is unnecessary. More to the point though, it goes against how I’ve always interpreted Vader’s character. Yes, he kills members of his crew in Empire and he chokes Admiral Motti for insulting his religion, but those are incompetent officers and bureaucrats, and there’s no respect there from Vader. Yet, you never see him harm or so much as chastise Stormtroopers in any of the movies. In fact, Vader’s always storming in on the front lines with the troops, fighting along side them and smashing things up. That’s because Vader’s a warrior who respects warriors. There’s two further key pieces of evidence for this.
First, he was a general in the Clone Wars, fighting alongside the clone squadrons in battle after battle. Anakin was a terrible Jedi, and was always alienated from everyone in that order except maybe Obi-Wan, but in the movies and especially the Clone Wars show there’s a huge amount of camaraderie between Anakin and his troops. I don’t really like a lot about the direction Lucas took the story in the prequels, but that’s one thing that ended up working really well from a story perspective for Anakin’s character: Palpatine started a phony war as a genetic algorithm to converge on an army skilled enough to take out the Jedi (which we see in Episode 3) and Vader is the general of that army.
The second key piece of evidence for my interpretation of the character is Boba Fett. In Empire, Vader makes a deal with Lando Calrissian. A deal which he repeatedly alters and reneges on. “Pray I don’t alter it any further.” Yet in Empire, Fett is sarcastic, dismissive, and confrontational towards Vader and he just takes it. Vader even goes out of his way to promise that the Empire will compensate Fett if Han dies, something he has no obligation to do. Vader respects Fett as a bad-ass warrior.
So I doubt Vader sheds a single tear when troopers die, but I doubt he would just kill them for no reason.
I let it slide since it was just a moment. But then we get to issue #2. Here, Vader gets blasted by an imperial walker in a battle. A Stormtrooper sees Vader without his helmet, wheezing. Vader executes the trooper. This is even dumber. There’s not even the excuse that Vader was selfishly and callously sacrificing the trooper to protect himself. It also makes no sense since Admiral Piett saw Vader in his hyperbaric chamber in Empire and didn’t give a crap.
Finally, when I read dialog like this:
I simply cannot hear James Earl Jones’ voice. Instead the best I can do is Hayden Christensen. In fact, all of this out of character behavior would be more understandable if this is was post Episode 3 and Vader wasn’t Vader yet and he was just Hayden Christensen in a robot suit. He would be petulant, arrogant, and angry enough to lash out at his own troops. But this is after the original Star Wars. Vader should be cold, regal, and intimidating. This portrayal is more General Grievous than Darth Vader.
Granted, Vader’s character reveal is very cool and he is shown to be a powerful and scary villain again, but I don’t get how Marvel can nail the voicing of the heroes so much and completely fail at capturing a character as complex and interesting as Vader, instead turning him into a Saturday morning cartoon villain. This kind of lends credence to the popular fan theory on the internet that Marvel is great at heroes, and DC is great at villains. I’m no comics expert by any means but this seems supported by the fact that 10 movies into the MCU the only really great villain they have is Loki, as well as this. I’ll also give them Magneto and Mystique, even though the X-Men movies aren’t MCU, but whatever.
Overall there’s been much worse Star Wars media, so I don’t want to overstate my complaints. I’ve just noticed that between the Clone Wars, Rebels, and this, Star Wars has a problem with trying to show how evil the villains are with goofy dialog and having them kill their own troops.