The War of the Bounty Hunters storyline really kicks off this month, but the month of May was spent prepping for what is to come. A number of the ongoing Star Wars comic series all are converging for this massive storytelling event, and those series all included introductory issues that help transition to the crossover event to come.
That includes the current Darth Vader series, written by Greg Pak, which so far has bridged the gaps between the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy, and the sequel trilogy. Most recently, Vader traveled to Exegol to learn his master’s secrets – but soon he will be after another prize: Han Solo.
Here’s my review of Darth Vader #12!
After his harrowing experiences on Mustafar and Exegol, Darth Vader returns to Coruscant damaged, broken, and defeated. Accompanied by Emperor Palpatine, Mas Amedda, Sly Moore, an an injured Ochi of Bestoon, Vader is taken to the Imperial medical facility to be re-built. Amedda questions whether it’s wise to completely restore Vader after he wanted to kill Palpatine, but the Emperor is unfazed, saying that almost everyone he’s ever met wants to kill him. Palpatine insists that, because of what Vader had seen on Exegol, he would know his place and his limits and would re-direct his hatred elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the medical droid prepares to shut Vader down for the operation, but he refuses, choosing rather to feel the pain of the procedure as he is re-built limb-by-limb. While this happens, Vader has flashbacks to moments from the past few years with Luke Skywalker – to their duel on Cloud City, to the Trench Run, and more – all while Vader ‘talks’ to Luke. Vader insists that Luke has never done anything without his friends, and we then see a time on Corellia when Vader confronted Han Solo and Chewbacca, learning Solo’s name. Vader then continues to have flashbacks to Hoth, to the bounty hunters, to torturing Solo, to the carbon freezing process, and he ‘tells’ Luke that rather than Luke’s strength, it is actually Vader’s design that has kept his friends alive.
Vader and Ochi are both re-made, and Palpatine asks Vader what is next. Vader takes Ochi with him to the Outer Rim, to meet Bokku the Hutt, all while Vader continues to ‘talk’ to Luke and tells him that after seeing the might of the Emperor, he realizes that Luke must die. Ochi confronts Bokku about Han Solo and learns that he has been stolen and that Jabba the Hutt does not have him. Ochi, backed by the powerful presence of Vader, insists that Bokku will find Solo and give him to them.
Similar to a number of these May issues that set up the War of the Bounty Hunters, this one certainly doesn’t feel like necessary reading if you’re looking to keep up with the story, but it’s a fine issue. It basically bridges the gap from the previous arc to this one, and not a whole lot happens in doing so.
The main thing that takes place is that Vader is re-built, and he has supposedly learned his lesson and now submits to his master. To be quite honest, this doesn’t totally land for me. It’s mentioned several times in this issue that Vader, after seeing what he did on Exegol, realizes his master’s might and now falls into line serving him, but I don’t think they spent enough time on the fallout of what Vader saw and how he’s processing it. I really think that the Exegol storyline – which I was incredibly excited for, by the way – would have been well-served by adding an additional issue that allows us to see the fallout. It really felt like Vader showed up, Palpatine did a bit of show-and-tell, and then Vader snaps into place. I just wish there had been more time to actually see and process all of that. But, as it is, what Vader saw on Exegol is enough for him to realize his master’s incredible power and might. I guess that works. And it does fit in with what Vader tells Luke in Return of the Jedi, when he says, “You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master.” Why must Vader obey his master? Because of the power of the dark side. So it definitely all fits in – I just wish we were able to see more of it. It feels like we’re moving on way too fast, but perhaps this series will continue to show Vader processing things.
Anyway, Vader is re-built, as is Ochi of Bestoon. And while this happens, Vader has flashbacks. This includes a moment we haven’t seen before, where Vader supposedly learns Han Solo’s name for the first time. Vader, seemingly in search of the Millennium Falcon, shows up on Corellia and finds the wrong YT model ship. He kills that pilot, and it just so happens that Han, Chewie, and the Falcon sit nearby. They see Vader, recognize him, and decide to flee. But Vader pursues their ship in his own, so Han loses him by landing in Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-series Warranty and Repair Shipyard B33, where plenty other YT model freighters sit. This allows the Falcon to escape, but later, as Vader and an Imperial Officer search for more information from a droid at the Shipyard, Vader learns that the smuggler’s name is Han Solo.
This story ties in with perhaps the main theme of the issue: Luke’s friends. Vader sees Luke as not having done anything without the help of his friends, and Vader sees that as an opportunity he can use to his advantage. We might say that Vader sees it as a weakness to exploit. That’s the way that Palpatine sees it in Return of the Jedi, remember, as he says that “Your faith in your friends” is Luke’s weakness. And as Vader tortured Han Solo on Cloud City, we’re led to believe that he did so for a purpose: he wanted to draw Luke there. So Vader already has realized how he can exploit Luke by his weakness, which is his friends.
This all helps us get a better idea as to why Vader would get involved with the hunt for Han Solo at all. As many have perceptively wondered, why would Vader turn around and hunt down Solo after just having captured him and letting him go? Well, in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader’s entire purpose was on Luke. He wanted to get him to turn to the dark side, and that’s why he captured Solo – to set a trap for Skywalker. But after what Vader supposedly learned on Exegol, he concludes that Luke must die. Again, I’m not sure all of this is super convincing, but it’s what we’re told in this issue. And so now Vader probably wants Solo again, either to kill him or as a way of getting to Luke.
So, at the end, Vader and Ochi approach another Hutt about retrieving Solo, which is an interesting dynamic of approaching Bokku the Hutt to retrieve Jabba the Hutt’s prize and deliver him to the Empire. So now, Vader and Ochi have entered the game, stepping into the War of the Bounty Hunters as well.
This issue doesn’t feel essential by any means, and it doesn’t move things along too far, but it does try to bridge the gap between the previous arc and the upcoming one. I’m not fully persuaded by the way it did so, but it was a fine issue.