That’s not even the most ridiculous thing I can tell you about Marvel’s latest Star Wars comic, Darth Vader #11.
Greg Pak, Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon, and Joe Caramanga’s run on the third volume of Darth Vader has, despite being firmly rooted in the original trilogy, explored concepts and themes from across the Skywalker saga. Rooted in the wake of Vader’s attempt to convert his son in a plot to destroy his master and rule the galaxy together in Empire, the series dove back into the tragic final days of Padmé Amidala and looked forward to the dark plans Palpatine would have for beyond his death in The Rise of Skywalker. It is in that latter exploration that we find Darth Vader #11: if this is an arc that is not so much focused on the emotionality that runs through the Star Wars saga as Pak’s exploration of Padmé’s death, it is then deeply interested in the wild mystic science and heightened surreality that makes Star Wars a grand, absurdist fantasy.
Which is to say, we open on Darth Vader, having dominated a gigantic mono-eyed space squid through the sheer will of the Dark Side, floating down to meet his master Palpatine in the shadow of Exegol’s Sith temple and engaging in a psychic battle of Squid vs. Crab-Kaiju. As one does. That Darth Vader #11 not only continues from here, and does not let up, is both a blessing and a curse depending on what you want from your Star Wars — a saga that is arguably at its best when it knows that all good Star Wars bears a considerable amount of ridicule.
Vader #11 then operates in a heightened sense of surreality that makes it, at times, odd to navigate — its casual lobbing of story details left, right, and centre that should, if you entirely trust them, shake elements of the Star Wars saga to its core. Instead, they’re momentary distractions to visual spectacles that embrace that fantastical absurdity to the extreme. Does Palpatine happen to have a jar in his collection of cloned soldiers and proto-Snokes that is heavily implied to contain Luke Skywalker’s severed hand? Perhaps, but Pak and crew will give you just a single panel, with no context beyond the hand’s presence, before running off to gleefully throw a squad of cyborg-clone gestalt warriors in Vader’s direction.
Does Darth Vader, and hilariously incompetent Sith Assassin Ochi of Bestoon — who’s been tagging along for this arc and doing a wonderfully bad job of anything but eating shit on the regular — discover the manufacturing of the Final Order fleet seen in The Rise of Skywalker, something he very probably should’ve mentioned to his son in a Force Ghost FaceTime at some point? Putting aside the fact that it’s very Anakin Skywalker to believe that he and he alone has marched head-first into a problem and dealt with it entirely, ramifications be damned, by chucking someone down a reactor shaft, Darth Vader is disinterested. Because really, would it not be much, much cooler to watch Palpatine sic an army of wannabe Sith cultists, armed only with knives and an unyielding desire to replace Vader as one of the two True Sith, on our titular character? Would it not be cooler still to watch Vader promptly use the force to wrench those knives out of every cultist’s hands, and manipulate them to fly back into his foes’ chests in a single gesture?
This is, at its core, what Darth Vader #11 is: one absurd thing after another, either by a sense of heightened reality or canonically shattering reveal, culminating in perhaps the strangest of them all. As Vader and Ochi make their way to where Palpatine is hiding deep within the temple, they confront him in front of a massive mountain of kyber crystal, far larger than a lightsaber’s… larger still than the gems that powered the Death Star’s planet-killer. It is not the lore-driven question of where Palpatine found this trove that’s of interest though, but that he tasked an army of minions to torture the living gem, bleeding it in the way all Sith corrupt their crimson saber blades, just on a scale incomprehensible to what we’ve seen in Star Wars before. The kyber’s pain, its anger, forged and directed into a tool of hate, becomes symbolic of the core struggle driving the entirety of the issue — Vader’s vengeance against his Master. Forged as this kyber was through years of secrets and strife, Vader is confronted by Palpatine in the midst of this unfathomable, blinding power with a mocking question: will this anger consume him, burn him out to an unfeeling husk, or is Darth Vader willing to embrace pain to share the power seemingly offered to him?
It’s fitting that this question comes when both Vader and we the audience are at our most compromised, exhausted, and baffled in equal measure by what Darth Vader #11 has laid out before us, unsure of what to take as truth or myth. Because what blurs the line between symbolic and real even further is that Vader, blinded by the kyber, mentally flashes an image, akin to the many red-stained flashbacks we’ve seen throughout this run of the series. But this time it’s not memory and instead a vision: his and Luke’s positions reversed on Cloud City, as his son implores Vader to realise that it is his destiny to defeat Palpatine. Embracing that vision — more so than any of the wild imagery the Dark Lord has confronted in this issue up to this point — Vader relents to his Master’s control, at least on the surface.
It’s clear now that even as Vader renews his subservience, his plans to fulfil the chosen one’s plight and (seemingly) destroy Palpatine are underway. It’s the one clear thing we can take from the issue, pushing aside the fantasy and sheer logical rollercoaster that it takes to navigate Star Wars whenever it dips into its more esoteric, mythical side. There’s something rather fitting that in a story about the absurd, Vader’s moment of clarity is the closest thing to reality we can take from it. In rooting all corners of the Star Wars saga (past and future) in this fundamental moment, it’s arguably the franchise at its best: a moment of emotional sincerity, contained within a cavalcade of the surreal. If that’s not Star Wars, then what is?