Think what you may, but I’ve always believed that Darth Vader is one of the most interesting characters in all of movie fiction. Why? Well, it could be primarily because he’s such a tragic character: when audiences first meet him, he’s this bubbly little boy with somewhat of a girl’s name (Anakin?), and – through choices of his own making – he ends up instilling much of the galaxy with an almost paralyzing fear. Granted, there are other contributing characteristics that make him a player worth exploring more closely, but when all is said and done I think most of us know and accept him best as the Dark Lord of the Sith … that guy at the far end of the table who’d Force-choke you for simply looking at him with a crooked eye … that guy who tortured his own daughter and never so much as said ‘sorry.’
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The real business of building a Galactic Empire truly took place in those fitful days following the events depicting cinematically in STAR WARS: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH. That’s when Darth Vader – at Emperor Palpatine’s behest – went about the thuggish business of bringing rebellious star systems under Imperial control. In the process, Vader naturally broke a few eggs – meaning to say that he killed innocent people in order to instill fear – and it’s this fertile time that Tim Siedell and his creative crew seek to mine in DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN.
Essentially, the story boils down to these elements: A. Vader kills a powerful businessman’s son, and that father wants his vengeance. B. Said angry dad hires his very own lethal assassin to put Vader six feet under. C. Eight failed attempts later, said angry dad finally finds a ‘Ninth Assassin’ who just may be up to the task (hence the miniseries’ title). D. Vader and the Ninth Assassin play a game of galaxy-wide cat-and-mouse, attempting to bring all of this to closure in five issues.
I guess there’s nothing wrong with the idea of plunking a lumbering menace like Vader into the unlikely position of conducting a police procedural – which is basically how a large chunk of NINTH ASSASSIN plays to the audience – but what Siedell accomplishes here is a very far cry from anything that could be called “Vader, P.I.” This largely nameless assassin crafts a compelling idea – he needs to get the Dark Lord out of his element and into foreign territory, away from the Empire’s prying eyes, where the deed can be done in quiet; so he hatches a plot to imperil the Emperor (or so we’re lead to believe). Unfortunately, for all of the man’s cunning, more time is spent with this somewhat goofy subplot – there’s a secret cult on a distant deserted world that somehow has foreseen Vader’s rise to power (it’s never quite clear, but, in the end, comes off more as a fabrication than anything else). When the two finally go mano-a-mano for the big finish (or what seems like a big finish), it’s a surprisingly short and ineffectual showdown, so much so one wonders what so much ado was about.
The artwork is perpetually appealing, as is the case with most of Dark Horse’s forays in the galaxy far, far away, which only underscores why this NINTH ASSASSIN is little more than a one-time affair.
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN is published by Dark Horse Comics. The script is written by Tim Siedell; the pencils are done by Stephen Thompson and Ivan Fernandez; the inks have been provided by Mark Irwin, Denis Freitas, Drew Geraci, and Jason Gorder; the colors have been done by Michael Atiyeh; and the lettering was completed by Michael Heisler. As you well should know by now, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas. The volume collects individual issues previously published in five installments, and all of this comes with a cover price of $24.99 (USA).
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Meh. As much as I liked some of the elements leading into DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN, where it eventually took readers was through a web of ideas and themes that have already been amply explored in the vast STAR WARS Universe. Yeah, we know Palpatine is always pulling Vader’s strings. Yeah, we know that Vader is always looking for another way to please his master. If the only tweak you can bring to the material is that you posit the Dark Lord into a set of circumstances that require him to behave like Sherlock Holmes, then maybe the tale isn’t one worth exploring further after all. It’s fine for a one-off read; trust me when I conclude it has virtually zero re-read quality.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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