The Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series has come and gone, marking the latest small screen story set in that galaxy far, far away. But Star Wars is much more than just film and television. The comic Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith by Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli serves as the perfect counterpoint to the show, and fans who enjoyed the series would be remiss not to read it.
Dark Lord of the Sith, published by Marvel, ran for 25 issues between 2017 and 2018. Like Obi-Wan, the comic takes place between Episodes III and IV, and as such explores a rawer Vader, one who has still not let go of his old life and is adjusting to his role as the Empire’s iron fist. In the Obi-Wan finale, Vader declares, “I [killed Anakin Skywalker].” Dark Lord of the Sith is the story of how he did it.
Visions of Obi-Wan
The comic begins in the final moments of Revenge of the Sith and recreates the well-made case of a despondent, freshly armored Vader screaming out in a drawl, “Nooooooooooooo” about how much he’s lost. As we see what’s going through Vader’s mind, the emotion is felt more than in the film itself. This immediately establishes one of the comic’s greatest strengths: montage and frame-to-frame contrasts. The juxtaposition of a suffocating Padmé and the cheerful Sidious is particularly effective.
Vader’s first task is to acquire a new lightsaber. After killing Jedi Master Kirak Infil’a and traveling to Mustafar, Vader must corrupt the saber’s kyber crystal so that it glows red like blood. Darth Sidious instructs his apprentice: “Teach it your pain. Teach him your anger. Hear it sing a hymn of darkness. Let it bleed.”
The crystal fights back and begs Vader to return to the light. The yellow in his eyes fades and is replaced by their natural blue. He kills Sidious and returns to Obi-Wan, asking for atonement through execution, only to be met with true forgiveness instead. But just like this fantasy Obi-Wan refuses to put down his former friend, Vader refuses to turn his back on the darkness. When Vader finishes coloring the crystal red, he declares, “That’s all there is.”
This is the first of this type of visions in the book, in which Vader imagines different paths his life could have taken. Issue #13 begins with Vader returning for the conclusion of his Mustafar duel with Obi-Wan, only this time it’s he who knocks his master down; Obi-Wan’s impassioned “You were the chosen one!” The speech is delivered even while he’s on fire, just like Anakin. Outside of this fantasy, however, Vader is alone, sustained only by dreams of revenge.
The power of book art really shines in these moments. Marvel’s first Darth Vader comic by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca was a heavily written series held back by off-putting art. Larroca’s work, which draws on a particularly crude use of photo references from Star Wars films, consisted less of pencils and more of traced still images. Seeing familiar scenes and actors’ faces painted over in ink was distracting and made the moments seem stiff and spooky.
Smoother and more vibrant, Camuncoli’s art lends itself better to the fantasy of Vader’s imagination. Camuncoli and Francesco Mattina’s cover for issue #8 shows a levitating Vader meditating in front of a sun, with his armor floating in pieces behind him. The interior of the edition does not disappoint either. A welcome page of Vader in meditation shows how discordant his mind is even when at peace. Vader himself appears as a black-red mass of energy, humanoid in form only, while his severed limbs are pure white. He hovers above a raging black sea as the sky above him screams with cried crimson lightning. A few flocks of blue, glowing butterflies are the only signs of the light remaining within Vader. The surreality of this image calls for a less photorealistic touch, and Camuncoli delivers.
Origins of the Inquisitors
Aside from Vader himself, the main protagonists of Dark Lord of the Sith are the Inquisitors, Jedi hunters in the service of the Empire. They’ve been recurring faces in Star Wars media since their debut on Rebels, but Dark Lord of the Sith is exploring their origins.
Obi-Wan introduced a new Inquisitor, Reva/the Third Sister (Moses Ingram). As an antihero who played the role of a villain, Reva had one of the strongest character arcs in the Disney+ series. The other inquisitors not so much. The Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) was just a snobbish bully in both Obi-Wan Kenobi and his earlier appearance in Star Wars: Rebels (where he was voiced by Jason Isaacs). Dark Lord of the Sith explores more about where he came from.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi Tomb
The Inquisitors make their debut in the second part of the series, The Dying Light. They turn out to be former Jedi who, like Anakin, have fallen under the influence of the dark side. We already know why Anakin fell; love and fear of losing it. Reva fell to Vader in search of revenge for slaughtering her fellow boys during Order 66. The Jedi-turned-Grand Inquisitor, on the other hand, fell for a much colder reason. Why did he give up his order? Not to save or avenge those he loved, but to know. By turning to darkness, the Grand Inquisitor learned secrets of the Force that his Jedi superiors would never have allowed him. To complete his quest, he plans to read every book in the Jedi Archives.
Despite their common heritage, Vader does not forgive them any more than he is their common prey. During the sparring with the lightsaber, he robs two of her right arms and one eye. He claims it’s meant to teach them lessons in loss, but it’s clear he just wants them to know his exact pain. Towards the end of the series, he kills two inquisitors whose crime was falling in love with each other. The Sixth Sister notes that Vader is “dying to fight, dying to death”. Spreading pain is all that distracts him from his own, but he’s still looking for a permanent end to it.
accept your way
The final arc of the series is Fortress Vader, where the Dark Lord establishes the Mustafar Citadel, which has often been his base of operations since its debut in Rogue One. Vader chose the planet for more than just his memories. Mustafar is strong on the dark side of the Force, and Vader believes he can channel that energy to rip open the door to an otherworldly world and reunite with Padmé. In the penultimate issue, he succeeds in opening the door.
Issue #25, the final and best chapter in the series, is almost entirely a vision quest as Vader traverses his entire life. Reminiscing about his childhood on Tatooine – in a moment reminiscent of a famous Phantom Menace poster, Vader breaks out of young Anakin’s shadow. He reminisces about his adventures with Ahsoka Tano during the Clone Wars and looks ahead to their future duel in Star Wars: Rebels. Instead of narrative, there are echoes of moments past and moments yet to come. For example, when Vader makes it to the Jedi Temple and single-handedly slaughters the Jedi Council, his grandson Kylo Ren’s words echo through time: “Let the past die. Kill it if you must.”
That’s what the Force tries to teach Vader, but he remains torn. After taking care of the Jedi, he meets apparitions of Obi-Wan and Palpatine. In a masterful use of text placement, Vader’s most famous proclamation, “I am your father,” appears between a close-up of the couple, their heads on opposite sides of the panel.
When Vader finally makes it to Padmé, he reappears as Anakin for a moment. But she rejects his pleas, declaring, “Anakin Skywalker is dead!” before plunging into her doom. But when Palpatine contacts his apprentice and asks if his time on Mustafar was a success, Vader replies, “Yes.” What he found wasn’t what he was looking for, but it was what he needed. By retracing the steps of his past, he accepts that they are immutable and that his path is forward, not backward.
in the an interview with StarWars.com, Charles Soule highlighted the bookend between his first and last edition. “[Vader] goes from no to yes in the series…” he said. “What he realizes at 25, and it was a very deliberate decision not to show opportunities, all he’s seen is things that have already happened… What’s the point of doing anything other than that? That’s all there is for me.”
Although Vader’s path is set, it does not end in darkness. The last thing he sees before returning to reality is a figure with a blue lightsaber. his old lightsaber, in the distance. Both Dark Lord of the Sith and Obi-Wan Kenobi are about their title characters learning to move forward; in fact, their paths lead them to the same place.