The Death Star has been destroyed. The Emperor holds Lord Vader personally responsible for the simple fact that he alone survived to be a target for his master’s anger.
While Vader falls from grace in the eyes of his Emperor, questions need answering and power needs securing. Put into a position of subservience under Grand General Tagge (whose ship conveniently departed the Death Star before the Battle of Yavin), Vader goes behind the Emperor’s back to acquire an army loyal to him alone and to learn the identity of the young pilot who secured the Dark Lord’s failure. Meanwhile, discoveries are made of the Emperor’s secret projects to replace Vader. Under the traditions of the Sith, there is no place for the weak.
This is a tale that’s been told before, in previous versions of the Expanded Universe. This particular version is now considered canon. As with the novels in the current era, I bundle it under the heading of “EU 3.0.” My labeling of such tie-in material doesn’t make it any less awesome, however. This is the kind of Vader story I want to read. This is the kind of Vader story I’ve been rarely treated to over the course of my lifetime, since the character’s creation. There is a deft hand at play here, one that demonstrates understanding and reverence of both Vader and his universe. It’s the kind of thing that many authors claim to have, but few can demonstrate to this level. And this goes for the art as much as does for the writing. It is, in a word… impressive.
The new droid characters Triple-Zero and BT-1 are, as many have said, the sadistic and murderous dark mirror versions of C-3PO and R2-D2. As obvious as that is, and as cheap a gimmick as it sounds up front, these two are clearly fun to write, and it comes across. They don’t steal show from the Dark Lord at any turn. At least not yet. Quite the reverse, Vader’s at center stage at all turns. He doesn’t let anyone forget it either.
The only downside I have to this story is the character of Doctor Aphra. She’s a fan favorite, and I get why. She’s a young, genius, overly effective, pretty, glib, and beyond talkative character put in there, I presume, as comic relief (as though the droids aren’t worthy of that status), and also to give Vader a more human counterpoint that’s representative of the current standard of storytelling. She comes across as an otherwise cookie cutter Doctor Who companion, and I’ve not been really impressed with those of late. That she’s a Vader fangirl just makes her even more lame. I don’t hate her, but I’ve not warmed up to her either. I… tolerate her. As far as I’m concerned, such a character has no place at Vader’s side, or anywhere near him for that matter. But it’s early in the story, so we’ll see how she develops. Or if. I want to give her a fair shot.
Companions aside, the central theme of this story is all about pushing Vader back into power as the Empire finds its footing all over again. How he gets there, and how he plays against Palpatine in this “Rule of Two” is what I’m interested in. These aspects of it feel right to me. Ultimately, that’s all I’ve ever asked when it comes to characters of this caliber. I’m looking forward to the other three volumes in this series.