The current Darth Vader comic series, written by Greg Pak, is showing us something that seems very significant: Vader learning of, and traveling to, Exegol.
Set in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Vader learned of the secret and location of Exegol while being betrayed and tested by his master on Mustafar, and along with Ochi of Bestoon, Vader headed off to the ancient Sith world to discover Palpatine’s secrets.
But first, he has to confront some frightening foes along the way.
Let’s dive in to the review of Darth Vader #10!
Picking up where the previous issue left off, Vader is just about to enter the Red Space en route to Exegol when they are confronted by a massive space creature, later identified as a subspecies of the summa-verminoth (the creature encountered in the Kessel Run in Solo), described as “the galaxy’s greatest predator.” At the same time, Sly Moore and the Empire block him in from behind, as Palpatine sent reinforcements to finish what Ochi failed to do: kill Vader. But the Sith Lord takes out the TIE Fighters, before the Empire launches a ton more. Vader then heads into the Red Space, but is warned that the creature is stronger than he is and not only is physically imposing but also messes with minds.
Vader is affected, and he sees a number of visions. He sees Ben Kenobi, right before Vader struck him down. He sees Luke facing him on Cloud City, interspersed with Obi-Wan facing him on Mustafar. But in this vision, Luke gets the upper hand on Vader – just as Obi-Wan did. Luke cuts Vader’s hand off and stands over him, while Vader then gives the speech we know from Empire – this time, though, as a broken and defeated foe. Instead of listening, though, Luke kills Vader, stabbing him through the chest, before Skywalker leaves with the Emperor, who encourages him.
Vader and Ochi land on Exegol, and Ochi (who also was affected) asks if it showed Vader how he would die. The giant creature interrupts this and hovers over them, but Vader taps into the Force, dragging the creature down to the planet’s surface, and then using it to head toward the ancient Sith temple (seen in The Rise of Skywalker).
Let’s begin with the ending: Vader approaches the structure seen in TROS, where Palpatine resided. This sets up the next issue, which will be the final one of this arc, and I am really excited for it. I always love it when stuff like this connects in a meaningful and major way to the films, and that’s exactly what is happening here. Vader learning about the Emperor’s secrets on Exegol feels like a huge story, given what we know happens in the coming decades, and we’re seeing it happen! That’s awesome. So much of this arc has been seemingly leading to this next issue, so I really hope it lives up to the expectations. Unfortunately it’s releasing in April, meaning we have an extra month to wait, but I am incredibly eager and excited for this one.
So anyway, back to this issue. This one shows us Vader traveling through the Red Space (seen in TROS) to arrive on Exegol, so at first glance it doesn’t tell a hugely significant story. But Vader and visions can be enthralling, as evidenced by Charles Soule’s fantastic Vader comic series, and that’s what happens here. As this giant creature messes with his mind, we see a number of images and visions flash through Vader’s mind. And basically, what happens is that Vader combines his encounter with Luke and his encounters with Obi-Wan here, and it shows him dead. Ochi surely reinforces these fears when he seemingly confirms that it showed him how he would die (in the deserts of Pasaana?), as that probably makes Vader believe this even more. So what’s happening here?
Interestingly, this vision not only combines both of Vader’s fights against Kenobi (that we know of so far) but also both of Vader’s fights against Luke (he only knows of one at this point). We see Vader against Ben Kenobi, but we also see Vader being cut down by Obi-Wan. But Vader then conflates that with his duel with Luke on Cloud City, and here the vision diverges from reality and instead Vader is the one losing his hand in the duel, not Luke. But while Vader hasn’t lived it yet, the reader all of the sudden begins to see parallels to the second fight between Vader and Luke, the one in Return of the Jedi. Then, Luke really does cut off Vader’s hand and stand above him, ready to strike a killing blow. And there Palpatine really does encourage him on, wanting Luke to follow him as his new apprentice. What Vader is seeing is a vision of the future. He’s getting a glimpse at his future encounter with Luke – only in this one, Luke kills him and follows Palpatine.
Presumably, then, Vader is convinced that Luke is going to be the one to kill him. This adds depth to their encounter in Return of the Jedi, because Vader’s vision is coming true… until Luke throws his lightsaber away rather than plunging it into Vader’s heart. Vader cannot stop this future from happening, but Luke can. And while Luke, at this point in the timeline, very well might have chosen to kill Vader if given the chance, he grows considerably as a Jedi by the time of their next encounter. By then, he’s recognized that there is still good within his father. Even though Vader thinks himself a lost cause, Luke has hope. And ultimately, it’s the actions of Luke that draw Anakin Skywalker back to the light. Yes, Vader will die in that encounter, but not at the hands of Luke; instead, he will die saving Luke from the Emperor. But here, Vader doesn’t believe that. And the Force doesn’t show him that. Why not? Because the only one who can bring about that future is Luke Skywalker, and he does the one thing that Vader would never expect him to do: throw the lightsaber away.
This adds depth to their next fight, and that’s just perfect. Like I said, I love it when the comics feel like they’re adding meaningful stories, context, and depth to the films, and that’s what is happening here.
I think that will especially be the case in the next issue, and it’s my guess that what Vader sees and experiences on Exegol will cause him to truly fear Palpatine, such that he pledges himself to his master again, like we see in ROTJ. In many ways, Vader is a trapped and broken man, and his only hope is what he doesn’t believe possible: his son loving him and holding out hope of his redemption.