“Vader Down” Concludes! A Look Back at ‘Star Wars’ Comics Year One!!

With Marvel’s “Vader Down” event concluded, we here at Mah Muse thought it a good time to take a look back at the first year of new Star Wars comics.

For those of you unfamiliar, Marvel used to publish Star Wars comics starting back in the 70s (in fact, the Star Wars licensed pretty much single-handedly saved Marvel from going under), and went on to publish a lot (even before Dark Horse took over the Star Wars comics game); but the comics released by Marvel starting last year are not a continuation. After Disney acquired Lucasfilm and Marvel, everything non-movie and non-TV—basically the entire Expanded Universe—was classified as non-canon and re-classified “Legends”. Pretty much anything published before April 2015 no longer “counts”.

The thing is, everything published after April 2015 now counts in a big way. When stories in the Expanded Universe were published, regardless of how good they were (people tell me Heir to the Empire is outstanding), they basically existed in the Wild West—where anything went and contradictions abounded. Now, with the leadership of the Lucasfilm Story Group, everything published by Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm is considered irrefutable canon, part of one big storytelling mission.

With that in mind, let’s look back at the last year of Marvel’s Star Wars comics to see how the new universe is shaping up.

Star Wars, written by Jason Aaron

Last of the Jedi

The first and main title of the Star Wars relaunch takes place between the films A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back; it mostly concerns Luke’s search for answers to his questions about the Jedi, and Han and Leia’s searches for a new base for the Rebel Alliance (which, as we know, eventually becomes Hoth). It never really creates believable stakes considering its scope and its limits (after all, how can Luke face off against Vader in a more meaningful way than they do in Empire?), but there are many great moments. From the flashback title featuring Obi-Wan, to Luke’s face off with Boba Fett, to Luke fighting as a gladiator in a pit on Nar Shadaa, there are lots of great sequences that flesh out the world in great Star Wars fashion.

Darth Vader, written by Kieron Gillen

Darth Vader and Stormtroopers

In a makes-so-much-sense-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that move, Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader takes the most feared being in the galaxy, and punishes him. Darth Vader is as ferocious as ever in The Empire Strikes Back, but the brilliance of Gillen’s story reveals a simple, but easily overlooked truth: Darth Vader failed to stop the destruction of the Death Star. As the only surviving Imperial of the Rebels’ assault on the station, the blame falls squarely on his shoulders and he has to get back into the Emperor’s good graces.

What follows is an intimate story filled with intrigue, fascinating new characters (Doctor Aphra and her droids are worth picking up the series alone), and plenty of moments that celebrate the galactic badass that is Darth Vader.

Princess Leia, written by Mark Waid

Leia Plans 2

Princess Leia is given a title of her own, and boy does the title deliver. In my favorite of the Star Wars titles so far, Princess Leia finds our Senator / Princess / Rebel Leader still reeling from the loss of her home planet, even if she participated in a great deal of revenge against the Death Star. Turning her rebelliousness against the Rebel Alliance, she steals a ship and goes off on a mission to save as many Alderaanians who were off-planet at the time of Alderaan’s destruction in the hopes of giving her people a fight against extinction. The show of Leia’s skill and ferocity we get in A New Hope, that sadly shrank for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, is back on full display here. Beyond the high-flying action is a story of sacrifice, responsibility, and what it means to have a home. It’s packed with wit and wisdom, features a rousing (and rather moving) climax, and is a fitting addition to the legacy of Leia Organa.

Kanan: The Last Padawan, written by Greg Weissman

Kanan 2

The first of the relaunch titles to not take place between episodes IV and V does so aggressively: going back to the Clone Wars. While existing largely as a promotion for Disney’s Star Wars Rebels television show, Kanan: The Last Padawan is every bit as fun as that show, and bridges the tonal gap nicely between it and Star Wars: Clone Wars. The art is colorful and bold, while the story never shies away from serious stakes and dark turns.

Kanan, the exiled Jedi of Star Wars Rebels, was a Padawan during the Clone Wars—right before Order 66, the Emperor’s galaxy-wide assassination of the Jedi Order. Kanan survives, but his master dies, and the series follows Kanan’s struggle as a fugitive in a galaxy at war. It combines two of the most fascinating aspects of Star Wars—the mythology of the Jedi and the seedy underworld of pirates and smugglers—for a story with humor, heart, and plenty of gun-slinging action.

Lando, written by Charles Soule

Lando cutting and running

Lando succeeds in giving us more of a woefully underserved character (even with his recent cameos on Star Wars Rebels). The Lando of these comics is the one hinted at in the movies—the one who gambled and ran with Han Solo—surely giving him a run for his money—before becoming the legitimate businessman we see in The Empire Strikes Back. Beyond that, it gives us a look at some Sith mythology, an origin for Lobot, and introduces us to three new characters we immediately want to know more about.

That’s what these comics should be doing: giving us more of the world we love, telling us things we didn’t know about that world we love, and giving us new things in that world to enjoy.

The artwork is gorgeous—I can imagine several panels fit enough for framing, but the tone never quite gels with Lando’s attitude. It makes the character stand out, but not necessarily in a positive way.

Shattered Empire, written by Greg Rucka

Shall We Take a Flight Ltnt Bey

Shattered Empire is exciting by sheer virtue of its “newness”. It is, officially, the first comic-book story told after the events of Return of the Jedi, and functions as the first “tease” of the world leading into The Force Awakens.

And what a tease it is. It takes place immediately after RotJ, beginning on Endor, during the celebration after the destruction of the second Death Star. It introduces us to Shara Bey Rebel ace pilot and mother of future ace pilot for the Resistance, Poe Dameron. Shara, in turn, reintroduces us to Han, Leia, and Luke in this post RotJ world, with Luke’s meeting being the most intriguing development. Sara helps Luke rescue two Force-sensitive trees (which when put that way sounds a little silly, admittedly), stolen by the Empire. Presumably (because Luke gives one of the rescued trees to Shara after they rescue them), the one tree will stand at the heart of Luke’s new Jedi Order.

There are big story points in this series, but the series is also only four issues long. It leaves you wanting more, but it also feels rushed and underdeveloped. Gorgeous and thrilling as moments are, they arrive and depart before they gain any momentum. It feels like a gesture towards a bigger story, rather than a satisfying detour.

Chewbacca, written by Gerry Duggan

Chewbacca in Charge

Actually… the less said about Chewbacca, the better.

“Vader Down”, written by Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen

Darth Vader in Vader Down

If the Star Wars comics up until this point flirt with being appetizers for Star Wars stories, then “Vader Down” is the main course. You can understand our skepticism for a multi-title event so soon in Star Wars’ new comic book phase, especially in a year that brought us Convergence and Secret Wars (well, most of Secret Wars, anyway), but “Vader Down” puts that skepticism to rest. It wrapped up a week ago and, actually, ended on an immediately smaller note—no big bang, really, but that’s appreciated in how unexpected it is, especially when it ends on such an interesting and satisfying thematic note (Vader shows mercy—if only accidentally—and the Rebels yet again snatch a silver lining from the jaws of major defeat). Furthermore, it sets up some interesting notes for the respective titles in upcoming issues.

Most importantly, though, the event benefits from not having to introduce anything. It hits the ground running with clean and weighty circumstances and makes great use of the audiences’ knowledge that the principle characters will indeed survive.

Ideally the rest of the Star Wars line takes a cue from “Vader Down” and spends less time setting up and more time diving in. To be fair, however, Star Wars and Darth Vader do have a new status quo to set up but, for the most part, the titles have felt afraid to go deep (although Kanan is a surprising exception).

Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 is on the shelves now and, if that issue is any indication “Vader Down”’s message was heard loud and clear. Consider this Star Wars fan excited.

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