(This article is written by Chris Wermeskerch and it’s his third post as a contributor for the Manor! Remind him not to cross Darth Vader as a helpful welcome for joining the Star Wars fan-site community over on Twitter: @ChrisWerms)
“The Shu-Torun War” is the fourth story arc of the Darth Vader comic book series, the second ongoing comic book from the Marvel line-up of Star Wars comics. Darth Vader os written by the excellent Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Salvador Larroca. The series focuses on what Darth Vader was up to during the time between the destruction of the Death Star and his confrontation with Luke on Cloud City. The series also stars Dr. Aphra, a weapons specialist/Indiana Jones style adventurer and her two droids, BT-1 and 0-0-0 (or BeeTee and Triple Zero), affectionately called the Murder Bots. For the sake of time and space, this article cannot and will not cover every aspect of the arc, but focus on the biggest strengths, and errors, the arc.
– Spoiler Review –
Each arc can be described as having three narratives, each working on two different levels. There is the metanarrative of the series, an overarching story that ties each arc to the previous one. The main story of the Darth Vader comic shows the frustration that Palpatine and Vader share with each other as they constantly scheme behind each other’s backs in order to gain (or retain) power over the other. Readers see this in the first arc when Darth Vader tries to obtain a Droid Army of his own while Palpatine is working with Cylo to engineer a possible replacement for Vader. Vader’s arc subtly evolves as it begins to focus on Vader’s time searching for Skywalker, the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. The second arc maintains this larger meta narrative by showing how Vader is forced to work with these replacements as a competition to prove who is more worthy. Finally, Vader Down shows a plan engineered by the Cyborg-Mon Calamari Karbin to destroy Vader.
After the first arc, these two levels separate naturally. The second arc shows Darth Vader and his new “sidekick”/overseer, Inspector Thanoth, as they track down a criminal with the help of the twins, Aiolin and Morit. Darth Vader also created a crisis for the Empire by helping Aphra and her droids and some bounty hunters steal from the Empire. After managing to avoid (for now) the repercussions of his actions, Vader is led into a trap over Vrogas Vas. There, Darth Vader is confronted by Princess Leia and an army’s worth of Rebels. He has to fight his way out of the hands of the Rebels. After taking down many Rebel attack forces, Vader faces off with Leia (who chooses to save her friends rather than kill Vader), Aphra is captured by the Rebels, and Karbin finally attacks Vader (and loses their battle spectacularly).
Now, to shift the attention back onto the Shu-Torun arc, I want to look at how the comic operates on the two levels. The specific arc focuses on Vader trying to quell an insurrection on the planet Shu-Torun with the help of puppet Queen Trios. Darth Vader made Trios the Queen of Shu-Torun after her father instigated a rebellion against the Empire, leading to the death of the King and two of his older children. The insurrection is co-opted by the ore-dukes, those who control the methods of production and leaders of the planet. Vader is also joined by the Murder Bots and the droid army he amassed for himself.
In looking at the arc itself, “The Shu-Torun War” is a short arc. Including the Annual, the arc only consists of Darth Vader #16-19 and Darth Vader Annual #1. The arc’s length probably worked against it. The story was quick to start off, but there wasn’t much depth in terms of exploring the ore barons or their motivations. A lot of the political dimensions of Shu-Torun were mentioned, but we didn’t get a lot of time to go very in-depth. There were interesting points made: Shu-Torun is an intensely courtly culture, it has deep senses of their history and their mythic narratives, and is heavily political. These bits were fascinating, and I would have loved to see these developed further. I, at times, appreciate snapshots of planets and their cultures, but that is only when I’m guaranteed that we will visit this planet again. As of now, the canon is almost content with just coming up with new planets to serve stories rather than trying to find ways to feature planets a second or third time.
A lot of the reason that I felt like a short arc was a detriment to the series is because of the nature of Shu-Torun’s terrain: it is a lava based planet. You would imagine that this would cause Vader to have flashbacks to Mustafar, and his hatred of Kenobi, but we only see a glimpse of that when he saves Aiolin from burning alive in the lava. This is similar to my main critique of Vrogas Vas: why introduce a new planet only to leave it so quickly? The fact that the arc explored a lava planet without exploring Vader’s relationship with Kenobi is almost a scary omission – if Gillen wasn’t writing a consistently great Vader in the past three arcs, it would make me wonder how much he “gets” Vader.
One of my difficulties in this arc (and uniquely this arc) was that I had a heck of a time following some scenes and figuring out what was going on. An extra issue would have been much appreciated: almost every scene could have used one more panel per page in order to fill out the story. Larroca’s art is stale at points (and relies on silly Force effects to animate his panels) and that doesn’t help me follow along, either. His Vader is consistently well done, but he at times feels overly rushed in order to fill the sometimes two issues a month pace that the book is hitting. Maybe part of the feeling of being rushed was caused by a really underused subtheme: the capture of Doctor Aphra. The Rebels captured Aphra on Vrogas Vas, so the arc diverges every once in awhile to remind us about Aphra. These scenes did not add a lot to the arc, and probably could have been saved until the end (and reduced). The Star Wars flagship title is handling the story of her capture very well, and it doesn’t feel necessary to return to it while the other book is handling it.
On another level, the conflict is almost resolved too quickly. In a different book, this would be a problem. I think that Gillen uses the short arc well: Vader quickly and efficiently mops up the so-called rebellion, even while dealing with the treachery of Cylo who works behind Vader’s back to undermine Vader’s success in the eyes of the Emperor. We don’t see a lot of Cylo’s machinations in the arc, but perhaps we’ll see that come to the fore-front in the next arc. Thankfully, Marvel’s take on Darth Vader is as scary, and scary efficient, as we need to remember him as at this point in Star Wars history.
But aside from a tragically underused background planet, a somewhat rushed plot, and stiff art, what worked about the plot? For one, I really enjoyed the character of Trios. In the Vader Annual #1, Darth Vader made Trios queen, but left a warning: a chunk of Alderaan that told her what it would mean to move against the Empire. I loved seeing someone who was set in place by the Empire learn what it means to rule as representative for a truly evil, and immensely powerful, force. Trios was fascinating as we saw her grow not only in courage and bravery in terms of leading a planet, but grow more cunning by being close to Vader. Rather than sit back and be ruled by the customs of her planet, she smartly maneuvered them to both appease Vader and to cement her rule (and the Empire’s) over the planet. She laments over the loss of Shu-Torun culture, but later in the arc she overturns Shu-Torun customs by ordering a military strike and killing her assistant. At the end of the arc, Vader leaves a Stormtrooper Commander on Shu-Torun, whom Trios is content to show the customs of Shu-Torun.
Another aspect I enjoyed of the series was seeing the Murder Bots start to move a bit more autonomously. The Murder Bots were, to me, becoming a little stale in terms of characterization. During Vader Down, I was feeling a little fatigued over the same types of jokes and the same antics. This arc set them moving in a different direction: Triple Zero came up with an idea of his own, where the Droids would take the blood of their enemies, to kill a human army before they revolted. Pair this arc with the C-3PO one shot and suddenly Star Wars has an interesting new direction to take with their droids. It was interesting to see Triple-Zero and BT come into conflict with Vader over how to beat the Shu-Torun army; this suggests an unrest that might manifest in a few arcs down the road.
On a metanarrative level, Vader has to compete with Dr. Cylo, Aiolin and Morit, the cyborg twins, to claim the victory for both the Empire and for himself. Cylo wants to undermine Vader and provide a victory that would reflect well on the Empire without boosting Vader’s ego too high. He teams with the Ore Barons and generally tries to cause trouble with Vader. This seems like a personal fight, too: he suggests at one point that Vader “owes” him for some reason, which a lot of fans took to mean that Cylo was instrumental in rebuilding Darth Vader.
The fight against Cylo turned out to be the weakest aspect of the metanarrative. Darth Vader takes the twins to Shu-Torun, per the request of the Emperor, and we see the three of them fight together to take down the Ore Barons. Toward the end of the arc, Aiolin came to Darth Vader to ask for his help in preparing for the inevitable fight she foresees with Morit. This is an interesting point, and I would have loved to see this developed more. In the final movement of the arc, Morit and Aiolin attack Darth Vader together. In another twist, we don’t get to see the final fight between Morit and Aiolin as Morit…just pushes Aiolin into the lava. Bummer. This kind of comes out of nowhere.
Interestingly enough, it is this scene where we reconnect with Darth Vader’s connection to Anakin. Not content to see her burn alive, Vader pulls Aiolin out of the lava. In gratitude, Aiolin gives Vader her memory chip to prove Cylo’s machinations against him. Vader repays her…by killing her? This scene could have definitely used a few more panels: in the middle of a sentence, Aiolin is cut off as we jump to a new panel…where Vader’s lightsaber on and she’s smoking? What happened? This was a sad use of the space, and more time would have been appreciated here.
Ultimately, the arc was fine. Due to the rushed ending, choppy action scenes, underused planet, missed opportunities at fleshing out characters, and some stiff art, I haven’t enjoyed this arc nearly as much as I’ve enjoyed previous arcs. The Shu-Torun War did have some awesome additions to the canon: the growing division between Vader and the droids, an entirely new and somewhat defined culture, and the character arc of Queen Trios is a great, layered, addition to a new canon with too many run of the mill villains. Hopefully the next arc can more skillfully utilize its context (planet, locales, characters) and tap more deeply into the characters in the story to make a more compelling arc. I’m already confident it will with the return of Inspector Thanoth – but we will see.
Vader Down (crossover of Star Wars and Darth Vader on-goings)
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Rebel Jail (#16-19)
The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)
Black Squadron (#1-6)
Obi-Wan & Anakin (mini-series)
Shattered Empire (mini-series)
Princess Leia (mini-series)
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (mini-series)