When Ahsoka Tano faces Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebels, there is a moment when the Dark Lord growls to his former apprentice “Anakin Skywalker was weak, and I destroyed him.” But for all his confidence there, Marvel Comics is telling a much longer, more tragic tale of how Darth Vader pushed aside his former self.
The third issue of Marvel’s Darth Vader monthly series—written by Greg Pak, featuring art from Raffaele Ienco and Neeraj Menon, and lettering by Joe Caramagna—is out this week, and continues its fascinating exploration of Vader’s descent into himself after confronting his son on Cloud City, further enmeshing the tragedy of Empire Strikes Back and the Star Wars prequels together. After being confronted by a somewhat literal ghost of the past in the form of Padmé’s former Handmaidens—Sabé the Queen’s Shadow herself —in the last issue, Vader now finds himself on an inevitably tragic quest with his peculiar new ally: trying to find out who killed Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker.
He knows the story that Sabé does not, of course, but only from a certain point of view. So while there is some part of Vader that wants to find out the full picture, he knows that as he dives further into his own painful past as Anakin, that there’s only one way this exploration can end. That does not stop Vader #3 from arguably being even more gutwrenching than Vader walking through the ashes of the Lars homestead in the first issue.
As he and Sabé’s quests for tapes that allegedly hold evidence about Padmé’s true fate take them to her homeworld of Naboo, Vader is forced to directly confront memories of the time that perhaps Anakin was the most alive—at a time when he, as Vader, is more alone and empty than ever. As he and Sabé make their way to Padmé’s lakeside retreat, we’re treated to the stark, distinctly alien imagery of Vader’s black figure cutting a path through the aesthetic of the prequels, marching through the fields he once frolicked with Padmé, skulking through the disheveled remnants of the estate he confessed his love to her in. Each time, we’re treated as we have been in this series previously, confronted with those red-tinged memories of those moments, as if glimpsed through Vader’s eyes, the tension that he feels is clear, even through his unflinching mask.
That tension is for a good reason, at first—Sabé and Vader are not alone at the estate. It turns out they’re actually there to meet the former shadow’s contacts. They themselves are more familiar figures from Anakin and Padmé’s past: Captain Typho, Padmé’s former guard captain, and Tonra, the royal guard Sabé found herself romantically entwined with in E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow. But just when you think the reason for Vader’s unease has been lifted (albeit after nearly slicing through Sabé’s contacts), the inevitable moment this arc has seemingly set itself upon crashing head-first into comes at last.
After venturing into the depths of the lake by the Varykino estate, Vader and his unlikely retinue of Naboo come to the hiding place of the tapes Vader and Sabé were hunting. They’re hidden behind another confrontation of Vader’s past: a mural depicting the closing moments of The Phantom Menace, as a young, new padawan looked on as Padmé celebrated peace between the Naboo and the Gungans, a fragmentary calm before the galaxy was set alight by war. It’s not Padmé’s presence that sets Vader into a rage, but Sabé’s noting that Anakin is present in the mural too—and with a swipe of his lightsaber, it too is erased from history.
But in revealing the tapes hidden by the mural, Vader’s erasure of the past becomes ever more tragically literal. The recording doesn’t reveal Padmé’s true fate, but a commitment made by Sabé, Tonra, Typho, and several other beings—dubbing themselves the Amidalans—to find and kill whoever was responsible for Padmé’s death. And in the present, the trio reveals that they know Darth Vader was responsible.
Not because they know Anakin, in his rage, choked his wife to near death. But because Typho knew Padmé was fleeing to Mustafar, where she met her fate and Anakin vanished off of the face of the galaxy. And Mustafar, of course, is now infamously Vader’s private domain. Who else could’ve laid the former queen and a hero of the Republic low? Sabé and her fellow Amidalans weren’t helping Vader out, but luring him into a trap, sacrificing themselves so that one of Naboo’s giant, monstrous sea creatures could swoop in and kill Vader and them alike.
Tired enough of seeing the past, tired enough of reliving what remained of his former life, Vader decides to live the lie, lighting his saber once more. Yes, he killed Padmé, he tells Sabé. Yes, he killed Anakin Skywalker. It is the moment above all that we have seen in Star Wars’ revised history—even more so than his prior comics, even more so than Obi-Wan’s lie in A New Hope, even more so than that moment with Ahsoka in Rebels—that, despite their flesh and blood being the same broken husk, Anakin dies and Darth Vader is born.
It is fitting that this new Vader series is taking place in the immediate moments after Empire Strikes Back. “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your Father,” a likewise haunted Vader told Luke Skywalker, just days, perhaps weeks, before this slashing and burning through the past of Padmé Amidala.
“He told me enough! He told me you killed him,” his son retorted.
What happens next is the line that changed Star Wars forever. But it seems that in the aftermath of his rejection, Darth Vader is more than willing to live up to the lie.
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