SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Star Wars #54, by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Guru-eFX and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
As intimidating as Darth Vader was in the early Star Wars trilogy, one of the few disappointing aspects of his character was that he just didn't seem as powerful as Emperor Palpatine. Sure, he was Force-choking folks and slicing arms off with his lightsaber, but he didn't wield the Force-lightning like his Sith Master, leading fans to believe that as cool as he was, he was still just a lackey.
In the prequel trilogy, though, we came to see Hayden Christensen's descent from Anakin Skywalker into Vader, realizing along the way that he had more power than we first saw on-screen. This came full-circle in Gareth Edwards' Rogue One when we finally saw him unleashing the full power of the Dark Side, being the Vader we clamored for for decades. But just when we thought we'd seen the fallen Jedi at his most brutal, Star Wars #54 gives us a kill that leaves us even more petrified of his villainous ways.
The finale of Rogue One saw Vader take on the rebels after they got the Death Star plans from Jyn Erso and her team who had just perished on Scariff. Vader boarded their cruiser and in one of the franchise's most intimidating scenes, he slaughtered them in the dark with his iconic red blade. He used the Force to hold down soldiers, thrown them to the roof, and with his lightsaber he deflected laser blasts, and impaled a few enemies for good measure. It was a ruthless assault which would make his chokes in A New Hope and thereafter pale in comparison.
Star Wars #54 takes lead from that Rogue One ending, paying homage to it while amping the fear factor up. Here, Leia and Co. are aboard an Imperial cruiser, hacking codes to send back to all the ships Vader's forces have locked down. These codes will render them mobile again, allowing them to escape the Imperial blockade. However, Vader, having just arrived after a couple of dogfights with Han Solo which left the Millennium Falcon battered, cuts his way through the soldiers to Leia, knowing full well of her plan.
He's the epitome of unadulterated rage and pure hatred, and eventually meets up General Draven and his military squad. Draven was seen as a bit of a cynic in Rogue One but here, he's learned from his mistakes. He may not have gotten along with Jyn, but through her sacrifice he learned humility -- which is why he sacrifices himself and buys Leia time to escape on a Tie Fighter.
After Vader easily kills his men, he grabs Draven from a distance, using the Force. Just when you think he'll choke him to death, Vader clenches his fist and gives us a first, snapping the rebel's neck and unceremoniously dropping him to the floor.
Unperturbed at the thought of Leia escaping, Vader's clearly toying with the rebels, viewing their escape as a game which will prolong the inevitable. Ultimately, he wants this challenge, which is why he uses this incident to track them to what eventually becomes the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back on the ice-planet Hoth.
Sadly, we wouldn't get much more of Vader being brutal like this in the ensuing films, but we can rest assured knowing that just like Star Wars Rebels showed us at times, he has an even-more violent past as Palpatine's enforcer than first assumed. Hopefully Marvel continues to bring this to light and gives us more of the cruel Sith Lord on these pages which the big screen more or less diluted. After all, Vader was created to kill, so why not let him do what he's best at?