Star Wars: Darth Vader – Vol. 4: End of Games by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

If you actively read enough with intent to understand, regardless of the medium or format, you will discover the difference between “quality” writing and “clever” writing.  It takes very little effort to recognize that difference, but when you do, “clever” will never be good enough.  I don’t expect Star Wars to be excellent literature.  I do expect it to be great mythology.  Anyone who expects otherwise has not heeded the lessons of George Lucas via Joseph Campbell.  Anyone who has not heeded those lessons has no business writing for Star Wars.

Like Lord Vader himself, I am most displeased with failure.

I’ve harped enough on Doctor Aphra’s status as a prime example of everything wrong with modern character development, and I’ve listed her as a refugee Doctor Who companion who has no place in Star Wars.  The exact problem is that she’s cleverly written, but she’s not a good character in the literary sense.  She offers no purpose to this story except to stroke the author’s ego.  This graphic novel, the final entry in Marvel’s first Darth Vader series, exemplifies my point ad nauseum.  In what should have been the grand finale, it makes rookie mistakes that undermine the credibility of Vader and his Emperor.  The sad part is, the financial success of the book means it sold, and they’ll make more, and Star Wars will continue to grow in this fashion.  The problem is that in growing in substandard soil and subjecting itself to internal rot, the brand diminishes.  I’m certain some fans will no doubt be pleased with what they find here.  I am not that fan.

I’ve been with Star Wars since the beginning.  I’ve bided my time, learning at the proverbial feet of the masters to understand what makes Star Wars work and why at every level.  I’ve applied what I’ve learned to my life and to virtually everything else I read, fiction or not.  Darth Vader is my favorite Star Wars character (tied with Ahsoka Tano), just as he has been since the beginning.  As a failed knight who exposes both the flaws within himself and within the Jedi Order he once served, as one who has to live with the fallout of what he has caused, Vader has provided me with a lifetime of lessons worth meditating upon in my own quest for personal development.  Even where he “succeeds,” he ultimately fails in the grand scheme until Luke’s intervention.  I’m sure this is something that many will never consider.  Their experiences are not my experience, and vice versa.  But this is where legend, lore, and mythology raise the bar on storytelling, and gratefully there are those who work on Star Wars projects who do understand this sort of thing.  Such stories become the common fabric of human experience, regardless of the medium in which they are told.  That’s how Star Wars became the great franchise it is today.  And this is why the current tie-in material is doomed to someday be relegated to Expanded Universe 3.0 status, or “Legends,” if you will, just as the previous two version of the EU have become.  Every so often, you find one that nails the characterization, or provides just the right story thrust, or whatever.  Sometimes you find a example of what got really close to being perfect.  And sometimes you get whiffs of such greatness in between the disintegrating structure of something merely clever.

The whiffs of greatness are to be found in the character of Inspector Thanoth, who recognized in Vader the strength of the Empire that even the Emperor himself could not attain.  They are found in the tensions between Sith Master and Apprentice.  They are found in Vader’s relentless and creative pursuit of Doctor Cylo and his minions.  They are undermined by letting Doctor Aphra save herself by ingratiating herself to the Emperor and snarking it up for the camera in his presence, and further exacerbated by allowing her to somehow survive being spaced for as long as she did.  While it is possible, it does not take into account the absolute zero temperature conditions of space that should instantly freeze everything from blood to bile to eyeballs.  How long do you suppose it takes to flash freeze an unprotected body in space?

Yes, Star Wars is science fantasy rather than science fiction, and yes, I’m horribly biased against this wretched creature surviving to get her own title when she does not deserve it.  None of that changes the fact that this is simply bad writing, clever instead of quality.  It demonstrates the author is more willing to undermine otherwise ruthless characters like the Emperor, sacrificing verisimilitude and credibility rather than his darlings.  You can’t write for the Sith without being ruthless enough to exterminate the things you care for most.

Another point of unnecessary cleverness is this misbegotten idea that Doctor Cylo, supposedly having been the scientist whose technologies rebuilt Vader after Mustafar, has a remote control that can simply stop Vader’s cybernetics.  The writer even hangs a lantern on this farce.

“I’ve kept this for twenty years, just in case.  I didn’t want to use it.  It was entirely possible that my private access would have been disabled in the years since I helped rebuild your body.  It appears I was overly concerned, and I could have turned off your cybernetics any time I wanted.  You were never a threat to me.  I could have brought you to your knees with a single click of a button…”

Here’s why this is so much Bantha poodoo.  I’m sure fans will recall the moment Darth Vader clunkily stepped off the medical table in grand imitation of Frankenstein’s monster at the end of Revenge of the Sith.  What’s found here in Cylo’s remote control is retconning for the sake of this story at the expense of understanding Vader himself at the fundamental levels.  Vader was rebuilt by the droids we saw on screen, on short notice, with whatever was at hand.  He was not tended to over an extended period while the Emperor supposedly looked for potential apprentice replacements while lamenting his own apprentice’s failure at Mustafar.  The time proof of this is seen by how much longer Padmé didn’t have to live.  Palpatine knew exactly what he was doing.  He was turning failure into an abject lesson in both subjugation and in rising above crippling circumstances after recognizing the sheer strength of will and hatred it required Vader to simply stay alive after his duel with Kenobi.  As a mechanically-inclined prodigy himself, Vader would have continually redesigned his cybernetics in order to maximize his potential and overcome as many weaknesses as possible.  It’s the illusion of strength while being ever-reminded that he’s still a slave to his condition.  Even allowing for Cylo, which I certainly do not, such remote access would have been discovered and eliminated.  Vader is a Sith apprentice.  He stays alive for a couple more decades not because he’s stupid, but because he’s thorough.  He’s in that position where it’s not really paranoia if they really are out to kill you.  That’s what he has to expect from his master at all turns.  Such shortsighted grandstanding by the writer for the sake of being clever.  What a waste.

And if you still want to buy this as the author has written it, instead of this grand triumph of will that Vader makes, why not simply use the Force to hit the release button?

The entire experience leaves a bad taste in my mouth, oscillating from truly wonderful characterizations to abysmal storytelling and back again… and again, and again.  I will look forward to the upcoming Darth Vader series in the knowledge that Aphra will not be in it due to age limitations.  The moment she or some character with similar traits pops up to undermine it, I’ll drop that series like a bad habit.  My time and money are too valuable to waste on mediocrity, especially in a Galaxy Far, Far Away where there are so many better stories that have been told and yet wait to be told.

2 stars

 

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