Grand General Tagge has pitted the Emperor’s potential apprentice replacements against one another and against Vader himself as part of a semi-coordinated effort to bring about the Empire’s brand of justice. In the midst of this, he has assigned Inspector Thanoth to be Vader’s adjutant.
The story puts Vader in an increasingly tight spot so as to potentially divide his loyalties between the Empire and his personal mission to find young Skywalker, made more complex when his potential replacements are pursuing the same missions.
I’m not going to lie here. About half of this book felt like padding, and the blame is squarely on the character of Doctor Aphra and her continuing status as cheap Doctor Who companion knock-off with delusions of grandeur. She represents nearly everything I dislike about modern character development. Because of her, Vader had to bite the bullet twice and turn failure in the eyes of the Empire into personal success in ways only Vader could do. That she’s an asset to him is not really in question. But how she can fangirl about in his presence and then whine about not wanting to die while he hangs the Doom of Damocles over her head at every turn is beyond me. This is what Vader does. You don’t like that? Move on! Oh wait, she’s smart enough to know he’ll hunt her down and kill her if she tries that, and he will. I really want to see that, too. That’d be spectacular payoff for me at this point. Since I know she’s getting her own series, I know she makes it out of this alive. Too bad, but not unexpected. After all, if she fails, so too does Vader, and I’m invested in how he wins. That said, Aphra’s missions for Vader are most interesting. She’s not, but the missions are. Bounty hunters, crime lords… the Star Wars underworld holds endless potential and fascination, even if virtually none of the characters in that “gray area” have ever lived up to their reputations in the history of the franchise (I’m looking at you, Boba Fett). And so, like Vader, I continue to tolerate Aphra’s presence simply because she has “talent.” Where Vader sees talent (i.e., her ability to complete her assigned objectives), I see Jim Kirk levels of luck. Any skills she seems to have are irrelevant next to the grand timing of how things work out. Han Solo wishes he had this kind of luck on his side. My lower rating of this installment of the series directly reflects just how much of Aphra’s dumb luck I had to sit through, because I have to say… the way Vader himself is written, this would be a 5-star read if not for her. It really is just that easy.
Likewise, I’m not yet impressed with any of Vader’s potential replacements. The only thing I have to go on so far that leads me to believe these characters are threats are the Emperor’s say-so. That means precisely squat once I see them fail to live up to that promise. The Astarte twins are blowhards, complete wastes of potential so far. It looks like we’re about to see what former General Karbin can do, and it appears they’re holding Tulon in reserve for the 4th volume as Vader’s final obstacle, so right now she’s more idea than substance.
On the flip side, I’m really enjoying the character of Inspector Thanoth. This guy is an old school Imperial bloodhound. His loyalties to the Empire are beyond question, his appreciation of Vader’s abilities are rock solid, but there is no fear in him. There’s a lot of Tarkin in him, minus the overly-amped ambitious streak, which is probably why I like him so much. In Thanoth we have a near-perfect foil in the ranks, one who is playing his duly appointed role that requires he and Vader to tiptoe around one another while working in close coordination. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch, precisely because the writing for Vader is top notch.
According to the finale blurb in the book, the story is to be continued in Star Wars: Vader Down. Of course it is. %$#@! Now I need to read that before I can finish out this series. Thank the Force for the internet. That’ll arrive on Thursday. See, this is part of why I’ve mostly stopped reading comics years ago, because I’m not made of money. That, and DC kept pissing on their characters, but that’s another gripe entirely. In the meantime, Marvel’s releasing a new ongoing Vader title that picks up in the wake of Revenge of the Sith. Guess who asked my local comic shop to reserve a copy. Yeah. I’m a sucker for stories involving the Dark Lord. So I’ll be reading that, I’ll read Vader Down, and I’ll continue on with this tale. I trust Marvel will not fail me.