REVIEW: Star Wars: Darth Vader #25 is Tragic and Beautiful

Darth Vader is a character who has captured the imagination for millions of fans for more than forty years. His impossibly cool costume, dominating screen presence, and James Earl Jones' legendary timbre made him an instant icon despite having little screen time (at least in comparison to the three heroic leads) in 1977's Star Wars. Subsequent theatrical releases would take note of Vader's popularity and feature him more prominently, a trend which came to a head in 1999 when franchise creator, George Lucas decided to dedicate an entire trilogy of films to the rise of one of pop culture's greatest fallen from grace figures. On paper, this seemed like the story fans had always wanted, but in reality, it was a mixed bag, at best.

Despite your feelings on the Star Wars prequel trilogy, a lot of what fans love about Vader (and the man behind the black mask, Anakin Skywalker) have been explored rather thoroughly in Extended Universe novels, comics and video games. However, when those stories were stripped of their canonical relevance after Disney acquired Lucasfilm and were categorized under the header "Legends," the world of Star Wars beyond the film series had to be rebuilt. Once Marvel Comics began publishing new stories that would become the new canon of the franchise, it became immediately clear the love for Vader by both fans and creators remained undeterred by shaky prequels and beloved stories cast aside.

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The Darth Vader titles Marvel Comics has produced have been, without a doubt, the best Star Wars adjacent offerings in its lineup. The original series, which ran from 2015 - 2016 and focused on Vader's rise to Imperial power during the time between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back,  gave us the calculated predatory version of the character we love seeing. The following year, writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli launched a new story, focusing on the rise of Vader after the events of Revenge of the Sith. With Star Wars: Darth Vader  #25, Soule and Camuncoli have come to the end of the line in their tale, and have given readers a dark, tragic final chapter that focuses on the notion of not being able to escape your destiny, especially when the journey which leads you there is mired in darkness.

As much as fans gravitate toward Darth Vader, a huge swath of them don't feel the same pull toward the young Jedi who would eventually take the mask, Anakin Skywalker. This is no doubt due to the divisive (and often wooden) portrayal of the character in the prequel films. Soule and Comuncoli have done the impossible by retroactively giving some of the more cringe-worthy moments from the aforementioned films quite a bit of pathos. In Star Wars: Darth Vader #25, Vader goes on a Force vision quest on Mustafar. The issue is filled with images from his past, present and future, wonderfully executed through the use of dream-like imagery and lines of dialogue from other Star Wars media. Now, one could say utilizing the latter is lazy writing, but it reads more like a fan mashup trailer. Despite the material already existing, there is a lot of artistry in how it's pieced together.

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Soule is able to make Anakin an empathetic character. By stripping away the window dressing of the prequels and putting the raw emotions of the Jedi's fall from grace at the forefront, we are able to understand the struggle between Light and Dark without having to hear "I hate sand" uttered in monotone under a John Williams score. The significance of Mustafar for Vader has also grown. Yes, this is the planet where Vader was born, but the events of Star Wars: Darth Vader #25 beg the question if it is also the place where Anakin truly died. Is the glimmer of hope and redemption that would eventually be coaxed out in Return of the Jedi really so small? Even though we know where this road leads, it doesn't make going down it any less harrowing.

Giuseppe Camuncoli, along with Cam Smith and Daniele Orlandini, help breathe a lot of life into Vader's out of body experience. The use of iconic imagery from across the Star Wars franchise is used well and how those images are subverted make them strangely haunting at times. The action sequences are also well put together in large epic panels and splash pages, each filled with fury and familiar faces. The character designs do hold a strong resemblance to the actors who portrayed them on screen, but there is enough disconnect to make it feel like something new. It's a tough balancing act, but the art team pulls it off.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #25 is a fantastic finale to another great character piece set in the new Star Wars canon. Soule and Camuncoli have crafted a fantastic tragic hero's journey that with resonate with longtime fans of the franchise. They  have also redeemed some of the more derided moments from the prequel trilogy (which might be the more impressive feat). It's been a wild ride that we can't recommend enough.

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