SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Darth Vader #18, by Charles Soule, Daniele Orlandini, Giuseppe Camuncoli, David Curiel and Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
Darth Vader is one of pop culture's most iconic villains for quite a few reasons. His awesome suit is one, not to mention his unforgiving attitude when it comes to helping the Empire strengthen its grip on the galaxy. But for many fans, it's his special abilities that are the draw, powers he first honed as a Jedi and further enhanced as a Sith.
This is all down to the Force, the omnipresent essence of life whose energy can be manipulated, which George Lucas first introduced us to in 1977's Star Wars. While this has been played up over the decades, from novels to animated series to video games to the latest trilogy, Marvel Comics has gone even deeper into Vader's use of it, giving us further insight into the extent the villain can utilize it.
Come Darth Vader #18, we actually find out the Sith Lord does indeed have limits with regards to wielding the Force.
In the series' current arc, "Bad Ground," Governor Wilhuff Tarkin and his army are hunting Vader on the Outer Rim planet of Chandar’s Folly. His squad of 20 has been whittled down to just eight, as we come to learn Vader requested this in order to test himself and ascertain if he's truly worthy of serving Emperor Palpatine in a galaxy where he feels he has no true equal after the Jedi Order was eliminated. However, it's a two-fold hunt as Vader also wants to see just how much of a military genius Tarkin really is, thus evolving in a fight to the death.
Vader, while outnumbered, makes easy work of the initial set of troops but after Tarkin steals his lightsaber the situation gets a bit more difficult. He somehow perseveres, despite having his armor damaged as well. Vader switches off his breathing apparatus and using the skin of a creature called a Valath, he's able to basically go invisible to kill off his predators. He scythes them down and Force-chokes other attackers, tossing them aside too, but as we quickly discover, this is all a tactic by Tarkin to test the limits of Vader's Force-abilities.
He discerns the distance he has to stay so Vader can't get to him by sacrificing his soldiers. And no matter how much Vader tries, he's literally a few steps ahead and out of reach. Both men almost end up killing each other and the mission eventually ends in a stalemate, with both returning to Palpatine's side, stronger and wiser about the next. But it's very shocking to see Vader struggle to push his Force-wielding skills past the boundary we now see he has. He can't project anything via telekinesis which emphasizes if someone approaches him with the right strategy, as Tarkin did, he would be vulnerable. His senses are also weaker from this distance, and he can't really feel out anyone who's after him.
Ultimately, this is a bit of a retcon by Soule because as diehard fans would recall, in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, Vader, from within his own quarters, Force-choked Admiral Ozzel on another ship in the fleet known as the Death Squadron. This happened because of a tactical blunder Ozzel made which made it tougher to kill the rebels on Hoth, and truly stunned the audience who saw how far Vader's powers extended.
Well, that's now been dialed back. What Soule does here is allow us to finally witness there are indeed restrictions when it comes to the fallen Jedi harnessing the mystical Force. Still, we all know he's no less lethal, even with this newly-exposed weakness.