The current arc of Greg Pak’s Darth Vader comic line has seen the Sith Lord greatly tested and tormented by his Master, which leads Vader to seek out what Palpatine was hiding – which takes him to Exegol, the hidden home of the Sith.
While there, Vader attempts a coup of his Master but comes to learn just how unlimited Palpatine’s power truly does seem. Vader learns the secrets of Exegol.
On Exegol, Ochi of Bestoon rushes to warn Palpatine of Vader’s arrival – which, of course, the Sith Lord already knew. Vader shows up riding the massive creature from the red space, thinking that he holds the power and saying he wants to now teach Palpatine how to fear. But the Emperor is ready for this, calling other creatures to attack. He says there is no threat he hasn’t prepared for, while Vader says he is no longer his apprentice. Palpatine uses the Force to kill the massive creature, which splits itself in half.
Together, Palpatine, Vader, and Ochi walk into the Sith Temple, where Vader senses something. He first sees a series of vats containing things Palpatine has made – and one of them includes a severed hand. Suddenly a series of figures approaches to attack Vader, presumably cloned beings who are there to take Vader’s place if he falls. Vader manages to defeat all of them, and then a crowd of Sith Eternal loyalists approaches, knives drawn. Vader uses the Force to turn all the knives on themselves, killing them. As Ochi pleads with Vader to leave, the Sith senses unfathomable pain and presses on.
He then comes to discover the massive Sith Eternal fleet, in construction, with designs to equip all of them with a canon that can destroy a planet. Moving on even further, they come upon a shrine of sorts, inside which is a massive kyber crystal, which is the source of the pain Vader had been sensing. In order to serve the Sith the kyber crystals have to be bled and must suffer. While there, a reaction with the crystal causes Vader and Ochi to experience pain as well, and Vader then sees his Master standing in the midst of all this, saying:
“Unlimited power. Beyond anything you have ever experienced. All in my hands. You feel it burning your flesh and your mind… ready to incinerate you in an instant… and you know you cannot fight it. So now… how can you claim it? Pain. Fear. Anger. Power. It’s the path you have chosen, time and time again. But somehow need to choose again, time and time again. If you walk with me, you will never escape this terrible pain. But only in this way… can you share my power.”
Vader then has a vision of Luke, on Bespin, repeating Vader’s own lines back to him, saying that he can destroy the Emperor, and that he’s foreseen it. Back in the present, Palpatine asks Vader if he’s chosen, to which Vader responds that he has, as he walks away with Palpatine’s entourage.
There’s a lot going on in this issue, and it’s wrapping up this Exegol arc with a highly-anticipated issue. To be honest, I hoped for a bit more resolution with things, but it seems that we’re left waiting to figure out exactly what happens. Nonetheless, it still seems like a massively pivotal moment, as this is when Vader discovers what’s really happening on Exegol.
That includes the cloning tests, the Sith fleet, and a massive kyber crystal – which we didn’t previously know about, but which explains what powers the Sith Fleet and its planet-destroying weapons. One other reveal was the image showing a severed hand among the cloning tests, which is very interesting. There’s nothing in this issue that tells us what this hand is, but let’s apply a bit of common sense and make an educated guess. First, it must be a significant hand. It’s something too random to just appear if there isn’t a connection – most primarily for Vader, but also for the reader. Second, then, we can make an assumption that we’re supposed to connect with this severed hand. So we probably should be able to figure it out (meaning it’s not a secret). Third, when we consider severed limbs, the primary two are Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. But Anakin had his arm cut off at the elbow, not just the hand, plus that was so long before. It makes tons more sense, then, to see this as Luke’s severed hand, that he had lost recently at Cloud City.
So it seems like Palpatine has come to acquire Luke’s hand, cut off by Vader. That should be a chilling warning to Vader, but it also alerts us – given its proximity with the cloning tests – that Palpatine is probably going to either use Luke’s DNA for cloning, or is going to use it to threaten to do just that with Vader. And if Palpatine really does use Luke’s DNA for some of these tests, that could have very significant implications for how we view Snoke and the sequel trilogy! But also, consider that the figure in the vat looks very similar to the one in the vats in The Mandalorian, which suggests a connection to Palpatine that we all wondered about – and suggests that potentially this is what is wanted with Grogu, too!
With all of that, then, it’s possible that this issue could actually be dropping hints at something so much bigger! In the more immediate sense, however, this issue is about Vader vs. Palpatine. At the beginning of the issue – set up by the last several installments of this arc – we find Vader intent on overthrowing his master – even going so far as to say he’s no longer his apprentice. By the end of the issue, he’s chosen his path – but even that choice is ambiguous. The brief glimpse of Luke – which, in a nice touch, has the roles reversed from Cloud City – suggests that Vader makes the choice to overthrow Palpatine. But that doesn’t really fit with where we meet him in Return of the Jedi, saying, “I must obey my master.” In many ways, the Vader we find in ROTJ is the most submissive we see him in the original trilogy – until the very end. So what changed?
That’s what I was hoping this issue would address, and it didn’t. Not directly, at least. Was it seeing the massive power of Palpatine? That’s what it seems like. It seems that Vader maybe realizes he can’t overthrow his master, and that the only way to power is to follow him. Ok, that would work… but I’m not sure how that fits with the final two pages, with the vision of Luke, which implies something else. So I think this is ongoing, as even the last page said, “to be continued…”
So all things considered, this issue was fascinating and incredibly interesting. I love exploring Exegol more, and I love when the comics address things that just feel very important and significant to the larger Star Wars saga – which this absolutely does! And it opens some brand new possibilities that, if seized, would be fairly jaw-dropping reveals that shape a lot of things. But at the same time, this issue didn’t offer the kind of resolution that I was expecting. Maybe the problem was in my expectations, but it’s strange to be leaving Exegol without really reaching much resolution on Vader’s relationship with Palpatine. He’s not the Vader we meet in Return of the Jedi yet. But that’s surely coming, and I’m confident it will be heavily influenced by the events on Exegol.