“I am Darth Vader. I am a Dark Lord of the Sith. I am death!”
I have long been a big fan of Star Wars, so when it comes to comic book chronicles from the Expanded Universe, I’m relatively easily pleased. However, Darth Vader and the Lost Command (set 19 years before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) excelled far beyond my expectations, and is an admirable entry into some of the more memorable Star Wars publications in several years.
When it comes to the Star Wars Prequels, I have also been a long defender of them – and have never been one to fall into the anti-prequel hivemind. Conversely, upon reading this trade paperback – and recalling James Luceno’s superb novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader – I couldn’t help but imagined a revisioned version of the prequel trilogy, where you combine elements of Episode I and II into the first part, make Episode III the second… and then make the third focusing on the Darth Vader we all affirm as the ultimate villain – very much what both Dark Lord and Darth Vader and the Lost Command have accomplished here.
In this comic, we find Darth Vader in his early days of being a Dark Lord of the Sith. There are still touches of Anakin Skywalker within his personality, but in this adventure, we finally see what it is that makes him destroy his old self, why he does it, and how. While many have highly criticized the “NOOOOOO” outburst in Episode III, which I can understand, it is an indication in the film that Vader has not fully purged himself of Anakin. The Lost Command shows us how he convinces himself Anakin is truly dead, something he abundantly believes until he comes face-to-face with his son during the events of Return of the Jedi.
If you will, this is a transition story. It tells the tale of how the Darth Vader at the end of Episode III, becomes the more identifiable and recognizable adversary from the Original Trilogy. Darth Vader and the Lost Command provides context to the fans for the slight different representations between the two in the films, which I’m sure the Expanded Universe fans will be elated with.
The adventure begins with Grand Moff Tarkin briefing the Emperor, Vader, and new character Imperial Captain Shale. Tarkin’s son, Admiral Garoche Tarkin, has gone missing in the Ghost Nebula of the Atoan System, a region relatively left untouched and largely ignored by the Republic. Vader, in dual command with Shale, is to investigate the situation and locate Tarkin’s son.
What begins as a routine mission eventually becomes a major conflict – between the encroaching Imperial services, and the indigenous Atoan populace. As Vader’s quest continues, they meet Lady Saro, who claims to be the High Priestess of Atoa. The mysterious priestess promises them to help locate Tarkin’s son, in return for absolute leadership of the Atoan system. At this point, things begin to go wrong for Vader and his command, when they discover the destroyed remains of Admiral Tarkin’ Star Destroyer, which had been sabotaged from interior explosions. Things do not appear as they seem to be, and Vader must find the answers or else he may face disaster himself.
The plot is solid, all the way through, with key characters turn out to be involved in manipulative plannings that would even impress Sidious during his disguised days as Senator Palpatine. The rich tapestry of the woven spider’s web, if you will, is eloquently plotted, and totally draws in the reader as the story progresses. Many Star Wars comics also have contained non-essential characters in their stories, often with the only purpose of “adding something new” to the Expanded Universe. Mercifully, with Darth Vader and the Lost Command, this is not the case – each major character plays an integral role to the story as it progresses.
Perhaps my most favorite elements of this comic are the dreams of Anakin Skywalker taking place in Darth Vader’s mind. As Vader, he is using the rage at having lost his wife and child to become stronger in the Dark Side, and it plagues him with dreams of what-may-have-been had Skywalker rescued Mace Windu from Sidious.
I have often wondered, as a fan, how events may have progressed if that had actually happened in-universe. Anakin’s decision to cut down Windu in Revenge of the Sith is pivotal to the entire saga, and had he chosen not to do so, the rest of the story would have played out completely differently. Vader’s dream sequences in this tale give fans perhaps a glimpse of this “what-if” timeline, at least from the Anakin perception. I’ve often hoped that Dark Horse may one day do an Infinities version of the saga based on this changed choice… but these sequences may be all we get, so I quite enjoyed them indeed.
But the dream sequences, used by Early Vader, are vital to his story as an individual – and tie very strongly into how I was explaining that this is very much a transitional story for the character. The scenes are not used “just because we could”, but in a manner that bonds very strongly to the entire comic, and eventually becomes an exploited component of the manipulative spider-web conspiracy as well.
I can’t criticize the artwork too harshly in The Lost Command; in fact, it is quite apt to the storyline. While it is not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, it does complement the writing very well and Rick Leonardi along with Dan Green and Wes Dzioba do a very good job at credibly portraying the larger battles in the comic. The cover artwork by Michael Kutsche is quite simply, beautiful, and I covet a huge poster version of this brilliant depiction of Darth Vader.
There’s a wonderful battle sequence early on in the story, where Vader and the 501st land on an icy/snow world in the Atoan system, very evocative of the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. The Imperial Troopers during this combat are wearing the traditional Episode II Clonetrooper armor. I’m sure some obsessed continuity aficionado will probably explain that it’s better used for cold terrain or some such nonsense… but that really is beside the point. The visual nature of Darth Vader fighting alongside Prequel troopers is an intriguing visual juxtaposition, which actually works very well. We also see Vader’s closer ties and respect for his 501st troops in the story, something which is shown extensively in the current Clone Wars television series.
Speaking of television series, I do also get the “animation” vibe from the art in this trade paperback – so much so, that I found myself visualizing what it would be like to do a Vader animated series set in between the two trilogies. If George Lucas ever came down to deciding something along these lines, one would expect their creative team take some significant inspiration from Haden Blackman, writer of Darth Vader and the Lost Command, and James Luceno (mentioned for his Dark Lord work earlier).
While I admit predisposition in being a Star Wars fan reviewing this graphic novel, I believe I can safely say that even the casual fan who enjoys either Star Wars or comics in general will find this to be a good read. Star Wars geeks like myself will be pleased with the results, and for the hardcore Expanded Universe fans, Darth Vader and the Lost Command is a must-have for your collection.