Star Wars: Vader Down by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, Mike Deodato, and Salvador Larroca

“You need to pick up this crossover.” — ComicVine.com

No, really?  You’ll miss about seven issues of storyline if you don’t.  I’m sure that’s not exactly what the reviewer at ComicVine meant.  At any rate, this is the obligatory crossover from Marvel’s main Star Wars title by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato and the Darth Vader title from Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca.  The classic heroes.  My favorite Sith Lord.  Their first canonical clash (for as long as the current canon lasts) since the destruction of the Death Star.

Shut up and take my money.

Picking up where Darth Vader Vol. 2  left off, Lord Vader has arrived at Vrogas Vas, relying on intelligence gained from Doctor Aphra that this is where he’ll find Luke Skywalker.  And it makes sense to him, as Vrogas Vas once housed an old Jedi temple, the perfect place for young Skywalker to learn more of his heritage.  Skywalker learned of it in old Ben’s journal.  What Aphra’s reports do not say is that the Rebellion is performing starfighter exercises in that system, and Vader finds himself facing three full squadrons alone.  After ripping through Blue and Yellow Squadrons like tissue paper, Vader prepares to take out Red Squadron when one of their pilots — Skywalker himself — dares the unthinkable.  In what can only be characterized as an act of pure desperation, Luke rams his X-Wing head-on into Vader’s TIE, crashing them both to the planet surface, each confident that the other survived.  Red Leader calls for all Alliance reinforcements for the opportunity to capture Vader.

Princess Leia prepares her troops for the mission, worried for Luke, but focused on the priority.  Han Solo tags along on his own mission to find Luke instead.  Meanwhile, surrounded on all sides by Rebel troops — or as he sees it, surrounded by fear and dead men — Vader wades through the Rebel forces exactly as you would expect, but with some new tricks.

By the time this collection is half over, the only living characters in the field are Vader, our main heroes, and the sidekicks / droids on both sides.  Which, unfortunately, does include Doctor Aphra.  They’re bound and determined to make this sell to me.  And for a brief and shining moment they did, but it took top notch writing for Han Solo in one scene to do it.  And then they went for the joke and Indiana Jones reference.  Not entirely unsuccessful, and probably too difficult to resist, but… meh.  A little droid on droid combat salvages things nice though.

Apparently acts of suicidal desperation, I mean, unbridled heroism run in the family as Leia takes her own opportunity to sacrifice herself to bring down the Dark Lord.  Where one X-Wing fails to do the job, why not an entire flight of Y-Wings?

And that’s when we finally get to see Commander Karbin (General Grievous 2.0) make his grand entrance, after orchestrating all this in the first place, in his bid to capture Skywalker before Vader does.  If Vader takes out the Rebels, he wins.  If the Rebels take out Vader, he wins.  It’s tactically sound, using all the other characters as a distraction, have to give him that.  Of course, to his mind, four lightsabers is tactically more sound than one.  As a swordfighter myself, I can tell you that’s BS because two swords is a counter-intuitive hindrance.  And when your opponent wields the power of the Dark Side and you don’t, well… you do the math.  I think it’s no spoiler to remind people that Vader makes it to Return of the Jedi, and nobody’s heard of Karbin before or since.  Just saying.  That’s the suspense-killing nature of these things.  But honestly, who’s reading this for any reason other than to see Vader be a wrecking machine?  Anyone?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

What actually does spoil the story is that Aphra talks Vader into a moment of redemption for unknowingly leading him into this trap in the first place, so she gets to help out in bringing Karbin down.  Lame.  Seriously?!  Vader, just kill her already and be done with it!  At least Leia came through for me and belted her a good one across the face.  My princess.  I love her.  (She knows.)

All in all, this is far better than most crossovers.  It’s the same kind of fare in that you see all the fights you hope to see except the one that ensures somebody will win, but excellent characterization and some fun ideas carry it through to victory in spite of Aphra’s presence.  Just to put a fine point on it, I get Jar Jar Binks.  I can defend him all day and talk circles about how he belongs in Star Wars.  After much soul-searching, I can’t and won’t defend Aphra.  She just doesn’t belong in this universe, let alone at Vader’s side.  If Vader lets her walk away from this particular failure to apprehend Luke, it’s the kind of unforgivably bad writing that built the Holiday Special.  But… we haven’t seen the fallout of that yet, and this book didn’t address it, so it gets rated on what it did show.  I got a droid fight, I got a Wookiee fight, I got Vader at his absolute best (minus that horrendously stupid endgame with Aphra), I got some incredible characterizations for Luke, Leia, and Han… it’s almost everything I could have asked for.  Thanks for kicking it back down to the mortal realm, Aphra.  She’s literally the only thing that kept this from being truly legendary.  What a senseless waste.

4 stars