Features and Columns · Movies

Marvel’s ‘Darth Vader’ Comics Shake the ‘Star Wars’ Canon

A small character played by Keira Knightley in ‘The Phantom Menace’ is causing horrifying torment for the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Darth Vader The Tambor Gambit Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
By  · Published on February 20th, 2023

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines the recent canonically twisting events experienced in the Darth Vader series from Marvel Comics.

Our Star Wars fandom began with the films but didn’t thrive within them. George Lucas‘ far-away galaxy sparked so much curiosity that we couldn’t stick to his timetable. From the moment Kenner started producing the toys, we desperately sought to expand on the universe. Putting our grubby kiddie mitts on Walrus Man, crafting our own tales around him until Lucasfilm gave him a proper name.

We celebrated the films (and the shows) when they arrived, but we survived on the dregs offered by the books, comics, and games. Soon enough, the dregs became anything but, and most of our time is currently spent in these tangential realms where canon is maintained, bent, and rarely busted. When these stories are given some space and a little freedom, watch out! Plot makes way for character, and it’s magical.

Marvel Comics has cranked out a lot of Star Wars comics since Disney got the license. As with all digressive material of this ilk, the stories range from the good, the bad, and the ugly. Weirdly, their Darth Vader series has remained consistently entertaining since it launched in 2015, relaunched in 2017, and then again in 2020. For the last three years, writer Greg Pak (Planet Hulk) has steered the Star Destroyer. His Anakin is plagued by the final moments he shared with Padmé on Mustafar, and this emotional haunting brings profound sorrow to every panel.

Throughout Darth Vader‘s thirty-one issues (so far), Anakin has cyclically confronted and rejected his sins. Most of them involve the slicing and choking of the innocent. And not so innocent. In the most recent issue, published earlier this month, Vader confronts a familiar face; one he never much bothered to consider. This superiority led to a near defeat and quite an “Oh, damn” moment for readers.

How’s your familiarity with the Techno Union? If you’re reading Darth Vader, you’ve probably spent some quality time watching The Clone Wars animated series, and you’re up to date on all their Separatist shinanigans. If you’re further back from the live-action prequels, you may or may not remember their galactic influence.

The Techno Union allied themselves with Count Dooku and set up shop on Mustafar. Shortly after Palpatine anointed Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader, the Sith henchman traveled to the lava planet and slaughtered the Techno Union’s foreman, Wat Tambor. Tiny violence for a tiny mess.

The Separatist leader was one of many goons Vader slaughtered, and the Sith thought little of the action even when Wat Tambor’s son, Wat Tambor II, appeared briefly in Darth Vader #29. The punk made about as much of an impact as his dad, dying, once again, under Vader’s boot. However, with each Tambor generation, the hate for Vader intensified, and sharpened under that pressure was Wat Tambor’s grandson, Jul Tambor. Now, a few years after the Battle of Yavin, Jul Tambor and Darth Vader meet, and no punk is present.

In Darth Vader #31, Vader is sent to Tambor’s home planet, Skako Minor, hoping to quash their rebellion against the Empire. He doesn’t expect much opposition. They’re an annoyance at best. However, Jul Tambor comes packing. He’s spent the good years of his life as a space pirate, learning to dodge or defeat mightier forces. His tactics against Vader don’t involve a head-on collision. To bring down the man in black, one must fight dirtier than the dirtiest.

Jul Tambor captures Sabé, the handmaiden of Padmé Amidala, played briefly by Keira Knightley in The Phantom Menace. Along with other Naboo loyalists, Sabé discovered Darth Vader’s true identity. While she hates Vader tremendously, Sabé was present during Padmé’s final moments, when the queen insisted that there was still good in the dark lord’s heart. Sabé struck an uneasy alliance with Vader, hoping he would help her eradicate several Crimson Dawn gangsters.

During this wobbly partnership, Jul Tambor imprisoned Sabé in an effort to bait Vader. He succeeded. As Vader gets inches from ending Jul Tambor’s life, the pirate unloads a swarm of electromagnetic pulse grenades. They bring Vader to his knees, allowing Tambor to skedaddle. Vader recovers and asks Sabé to join his cause to bring order to the galaxy. Pak and artist Ibraim Roberson brilliantly and devilishly mirror the plea with the last one Anakin gave Padmé.

Darth Vader #31 leaves Jul Tambor in the wind. He’s proven himself to be a proper foe for Vader, but it’s the tricky unity between Sabé and Padmé’s killer that contains the juiciest tension. Given where this series falls in the timeline, we know Jul Tambor will not succeed in vanquishing Vader. It’s doubtful he’ll survive Pak and Roberson’s storyline. Sure, there’s always a chance. He could pop up in a Disney+ series post-Return of the Jedi. But, come on, it isn’t very likely.

Again, though, the badass isn’t the appeal of what these comics are cooking. Padmé’s belief in Anakin’s goodness is a belief that kinda sorta pays off when Vader chucks Emperor Palpatine down the Death Star ventilation shaft. The fallen Jedi’s road to redemption turns on a dime in the movies, but the comics provide time for their readers to consider the notion. We are Sabé, super skeptical. Through her, we work out our complicated Vader feelings.

The greatest expansion Greg Pak has given to the canon is the obvious pain Vader is experiencing years after Revenge of the Sith. The comic continuously returns to Mustafar, and through Jul Tambor, it’s as if the planet itself is lashing out at Anakin Skywalker. Jul Tambor is the physical manifestation of his sin or at least one of them. Sabé is another. Killing Tambor won’t soothe much of Vader’s agony, but convincing Sabé that his righteous order is the way would ease his torment.

Vader free from grief doesn’t work, though. It won’t get him to where he needs to be for Luke in Return of the Jedi. All Greg Pak can do is twist the knife…or the lightsaber. The agony is for us to consider. As Darth Vader has done over and over again, it reminds its readers that the monster under the armor is wretchedly human. His pain is for our benefit.

Related Topics: ,

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)