Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War
By: Kieron Gillen, Art by Salvador Larroca
“Of course I'm not going to shoot you, I'm queen, I have people for that”
When we last checked on Darth Vader, we saw him fight his way out of a situation where a Battalion or 3 of rebels had found themselves trapped alone on a planet with him. You might laugh to read that, but I can assure you, the rebels ain't. Despite being set up by a rival for his job and having plots within plots against him, Vader fought his way to and murdered the traitor through the power of his sheer awesomeness and the Force. That also marked the first appearance of the main Star Wars cast into the Darth Vader comic and the capture of Darth Vader's right hand girl Dr. Aphra. With the loss of the leader of his evil adventurer crew, Vader is finding himself having to get his hands dirty. Which frankly doesn't seem to be a problem for him. That's good because the Emperor has a very dirty job for him.
The World of Shu-Torun is rich in metals and heavy elements, things that the Empire needs to build things. Things like blasters, useless stormtrooper armor, star destroyers, Death Stars; you know all the little bits of the Empire's war machine of doom and despair that we know and love so much. These metals have been mined under a feudal government where the Ore-Dukes organize and lead the mining from great mining citadels that function as massive mobile equipment, cities, and fortresses. This system has been co-opted by the Empire to fuel the imperial war machine Now that really hasn't been a problem for these nobles (the opinions of the common miners aren't really mentioned), but lately the quotas have been skyrocketing and the payments aren't increasing to match. They don't mind supplying a genocidal regime mind you but they expect reasonable demands and payment equal to the supply and risk. Despite my snarling this isn't an unreasonable expectation so long as you don't live under a brutal military power that doesn't give a damn about your opinion. Anyway, with the nobility restless, the crown of Shu-Torun grows uneasy and begins plotting on it's own, which ends badly for most of them.
You know I actually feel really sympathetic to the royals of Shu-Torun. Rebellion against the Empire is a dangerous bet at best. It's one thing to bet your own skin against the enemy or even your family but the royals would be betting every man, woman, and child on the planet. Rebellion against the Empire has two outcomes, either you win (which at this point no one has really managed to do yet) or eventually the Empire masses enough troops and firepower to kill you and everyone who is within a light year of you. With those as the stakes, if you take the responsibilities of being in charge even slightly seriously, you're sweating bullets and crapping bricks. Sure your underlings will talk a big game about putting everything on the line for your principals but when everyone's kids are on fire and your entire culture is being erased from the face of the universe, it'll be all on you. So the royals here have to walk the line of dealing with overwhelming force from above and boiling discontent from below. There are many ways to deal with this, many of them very subtle and complex involving playing different factions against each other and a lot of give and take as you reach an arrangement that everyone can live with.
This however, is the Empire. Additionally while the last two volumes have shown us that Darth Vader can do under handed and subtle... That requires him to give a crap and Vader does not have time for Shu-Torun's shit. As far as he is concerned this is a sideshow from his important work, so he's giving Shu-Torun two choices, submit or go the way of Alderaan. So when he walks in to present this choice and gets an assassin team sicced on him? Vader decides to just start killing his way across the hierarchy until he reaches someone sensible enough to listen. This actually brings in a new character Trios, 3rd daughter of the king and newly crowned Queen of Shu-Torun by the grace of Vader's lightsaber. She's the character with the biggest arc here as she grows from a dutiful daughter and unassuming young royal to a rather canny and aggressive political operator under Vader's “leadership” and the extreme pressures he puts her under. Trios puts a face on the dilemma that the Empire presents to rulers across the galaxy. She is a collaborator with the Empire, the very force that murdered her family, because the alternative is the very death of her culture. She is surrounded by people who refuse to see that and she finds herself going further and further to kick these people into submission so she can keep the Empire from killing everybody. I wouldn't mind seeing more of her honestly.
Our evil droids are very present in this story arc and we get to see them interacting directly with Vader, which honestly isn't as entertaining as their interactions with the good Doctor Aphra. There's no give and take with Vader, the droids have wacky antics and Vader sort of puts up with them as long as they achieve the goals he's set. Vader just doesn't do interpersonal relationships on that level I suppose. Still despite the lack of humor there's a good story here showing just how the Empire maintains its control and Vader's role in this. This is a weak point because without Doctor Aphra here, the interactions lack a certain spark as Vader doesn't really play off other characters well in anything but “obey or be destroyed” ways. It doesn't advance the main plot of the series all that much beyond the confrontation Vader has with the pair of cyborg twins trained from birth. The confrontation lays seeds of future plot but doesn't really pay off in this novel. To be honest the plot of Vader confronting twisted mockeries born of DARK SCIENCE! Is fun but holds no suspense. We know the Dark Lord of the Sith is going to ruin them all sooner or later it's just a question of when and how.
Additionally, we see Vader as a battlefield leader and frankly he's a good one. He leads from the front, often taking dangerous missions to sway the balance of power on his own leaving his men in protected positions while he goes and shows off his murdering skills. I'll be honest this basically feeds into my belief that Vader would have been rather popular with the enlisted Stromtrooper. What's that? What about his tendency to choke people? Well let me ask two questions. One: do you really think the enlisted Stormy is going to be upset that Vader choked to death... let's the say the guy who screwed up the insertions into the system and alerted the enemy that they were coming insuring that there would be heavier casualties on the assault? Two: did you ever see Vader choke someone under the rank of Captain? Trust me, your average Lance Corporal isn't going to be that broken up if an incompetent officer or 5 pay for their mistakes.
I really like this series and I enjoyed reading this part of it, however the group dynamic is wounded by the lack of my favorite evil Archaeologist/techie and it's more of a side story than a part of the main plot. Because of that I'm giving The Shu-Torun War by Kieron Gillard a B. It's good but not as good as the past installments.