The main Star Wars comic line is currently exploring the period in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and in particular the issues so far have really been focusing on Luke Skywalker.
Still reeling from the revelation that Darth Vader is his father, Luke is attempting to find his place as a Jedi and with the Force. This quest leads him to a former Jedi padawan named Verla, and the most recent issue picks up on that.
The series, written by Charles Soule, takes an unexpected direction in issue number 6, which was just recently released, and brings back a familiar foe in a stunning manner!
*** Obviously there are full spoilers ahead for the issue, so if you haven’t read it yet and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further! ***
Picking up where the last issue left off, Luke Skywalker is trapped by Verla and left for dead… until R2-D2 shows up, shocks Verla unconscious, stops the water trap, and resuscitates Luke. When Verla awakes, she is seated by a campfire with Luke and R2. Luke frees her and inquires about his father, Anakin Skywalker, while asking if Verla knows where he can find a lightsaber. Verla attempts to dissuade him from becoming a Jedi, suggesting that the Force just manipulates them into doing its bidding, but Luke insists on following the Jedi path anyway. So Verla agrees to tell him where he can find a lightsaber, if he promises to never bother her again. He agrees, and so Verla sends him to an old Jedi outpost from the days of the High Republic, on Tempes.
Luke arrives (with R2, of course) and opens the outpost using the Force. Once inside, he discovers that everything has been left intact, and he finds a yellow-bladed lightsaber. But once Luke picks up the lightsaber and believes he actually will become a Jedi, the Grand Inquisitor appears, consumed in flames! He tells Luke that he once was a Jedi, then hunted the Jedi, and now kills everyone who follows Darth Vader’s path to this outpost. Luke engages the Grand Inquisitor in a duel.
Meanwhile, Vader senses that a trap has been sprung and orders his shuttle to head for Tempes to find out what it is. Before Vader arrives, the Grand Inquisitor continues to fight Luke, taunting him. He tells Luke to, “Believe what you like. It didn’t save the Jedi. And it won’t save you.” To this, Luke responds, “Maybe it won’t. But there are things worth fighting for. Things even worth dying for. The Jedi knew that. They understood loss in the service of a greater good. I’m beginning to understand it too.” As he says this, Luke cuts off the Grand Inquisitor’s hand and slices through his body as the Inquisitor disappears into flames.
Later, after Vader arrives, the Sith Lord talks with the Grand Inquisitor, who expresses a desire for relief after such long servitude. Vader says that the Grand Inquisitor is a tool that will continue to serve his purposes. As Vader leaves, the Grand Inquisitor again disappears into flames, but not before saying, “There are worse things… than death.”
Back at the Rebel fleet, Luke arrives and greets Leia. He then ignites his lightsaber in front of the other Rebels and holds it up, a much-needed beacon of hope.
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but the truly stunning thing about this issue was the return of the Grand Inquisitor. As a quick refresher, the Grand Inquisitor was a primary antagonist of the first season of Star Wars Rebels and has since appeared in other material as well. He was formerly a Jedi Temple guard, but as the Jedi fell, so too did the Grand Inquisitor, as he was turned to the dark side. He became the leader of the Inquisitorius and reported directly to Darth Vader while providing additional oversight of the program, under the watchful guise of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Nearly 15 years later, the Grand Inquisitor was personally involved in hunting down the Jedi Kanan Jarrus and his padawan, Ezra Bridger, and faced them multiple times. He wound up capturing Jarrus and taking him to Mustafar aboard his Star Destroyer, but Bridger and the rest of the Ghost crew infiltrated the Destroyer to rescue the Jedi. Jarrus dueled the Grand Inquisitor once more, and this time he won. Rather than face failure, the Grand Inquisitor allowed himself to fall into the flames to his death, saying, “There are some things far more frightening than death.”
That is a clear reference to Darth Vader, and so that adds extra layers to his appearance here, as we see that it is a truer statement than we could have possibly understood previously. And in this issue, the Grand Inquisitor says a similar refrain as Vader leaves: “There are worse things… than death.”
But wait a minute: how is he back? After all, we clearly saw him falling to his death aboard the Star Destroyer! Well, let me just say this: if you’re looking to kill a bad guy in the Star Wars universe, don’t just let him fall to his presumed death. That doesn’t really have a great track record of success (see Maul and Palpatine). And now, we can add the Grand Inquisitor to the list! However, I don’t think he physically survived.
Firstly, he fell into flames, so that’s a bit more difficult to work around.
Secondly, his appearance in this issue still has him engulfed in flames (and has him disappearing into flames), so he appears very ghost-like. His appearance is, in my opinion, the dead giveaway that he’s not physically alive, but he’s also not totally dead either.
Third, as Luke fights him, the Grand Inquisitor gets his hand cut off before disappearing in the flames, but when he is talking with Vader, the Inquisitor has his hand and looks perfectly fine – and then again disappears into flames.
And fourth, the Grand Inquisitor asks Vader for release, not death.
Considering all of this, I think it’s fairly clear that the Grand Inquisitor did not physically survive the events above Mustafar in Rebels, but somehow Vader prevented the Grand Inquisitor’s spirit and consciousness from dying and instead used him for sinister his purposes. Dark side users cannot live on after death the way Force spirits can, but Charles Soule already has established that the spirit of dark side users can be attached to a particular object, like with Momin. So my best guess as to what is happening here is that Vader somehow kept the Grand Inquisitor in a sort of purgatory-like state, where he is physically dead but unable to truly die. Then Vader tied his consciousness to this Jedi Outpost, setting a trap that could lure a Jedi and catch him. In this issue, Vader doesn’t know exactly what he caught with this trap but simply senses that it has been sprung, which leads me to conclude that this trap wasn’t specifically set for Luke Skywalker but was set to catch Jedi in general. After all, the Inquisitor tells Luke, “Now I serve them still — and kill every seeker who follows the path Vader created to this place. I presume I always will.” It doesn’t sound like Luke is the first one to encounter the Grand Inquisitor here.
So yeah, it’s kind of a tragic story for an evil villain, as his spirit seems trapped and tied to this Outpost for as long as Vader desires. There are plenty of other questions that this raises – specifically, how did Vader make this happen? – and I’m hoping that will be answered in future issues. But this was a huge surprise to see the Grand Inquisitor return, for sure! Typically I’m a bit more hesitant when it comes to reviving familiar characters, but since it seems like this isn’t a straightforward “somehow he survived” type thing and that he probably actually did physically die, I think I can get behind it. But I’m extremely curious to learn more.