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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Force in Focus: Star Wars #35

"Dark Lord's Gambit"
May 1980

In a Nutshell
Darth Vader learns Luke's identity and plots to destroy him.

Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin
Artists: Carmine Infantino & Gene Day
Colorist: Nelson Yomtov
Letterer: John Costanza
Consulting Editor: Jim Shooter

Darth Vader returns to his Star Destroyer, having learned the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star: Luke Skywalker. He then rendezvous with General Tagge, revealing that his older brothers Orman and Silas still live, but are in stasis. He agrees to keep them that way, in exchange for the general's loyalty. Later, near Yavin, Luke helps rescue a civilian ship, which proceeds to land at Yavin Four. It contains representatives of the Order of the Sacred Circle, led by Sister Domina, A religious group devoted to the circle of life, they have remained neutral in the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, but are currently being swayed by the Empire to join their side. In order to maintain balance, they are seeking a representative from the Alliance to make a similar pitch. Though Leia, as one of the Rebel's best diplomats is tagged for the job, Domina takes a shine to Luke, and asks that he perform the mission. Luke is eager to do so when he learns the Imperial representative is Darth Vader.

Luke, along with Artoo and Domina return to the order's homeworld of Monastery, though they are unknowingly followed by Han and Leia aboard the Falcon, who have placed a listening device inside Artoo at General Dodonna's request. Arriving on Monastery, Luke comes face-to-face with Vader, but is forced to hold his attack due to the diplomatic situation. That night, Domina meets with Vader, who commends her for playing to Luke's romantic side. Domina in turn notes the irony of having allied herself with the man her brother, Baron Tagge, most hated, but says that means nothing when Luke is the one who killed him. Alone, Vader contacts Captin Wermis, telling him all the players are in position, and that the game can truly begin.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue opens with Darth Vader learning that Luke is the pilot who blew up the Death Star. Of course, his reaction is relatively muted, as at this point in time, Goodwin either didn't know or couldn't tell the truth about their relationship. This is nevertheless a significant moment in the history of the series, as Vader has been chasing this information for most of its existence.

Following on from that, Luke and Vader meet and interact with each other directly for the first time this issue, really ever, as they didn't cross paths outside their respective ships much in the movie. This also establishes that their encounter on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back was not their first meeting.

We might the final member of the Tagge family, their sister Domina, in this issue. She is a member of the Order of the Sacred Circle, a seemingly-pacifist religion from the planet Monastery, where she was sent by her family to maintain her innocence, but it quickly becomes clear she's a Tagge through and through, as she schemes with Darth Vader to get revenge on Luke and bring the order into the war on the side of the Empire.

Luke finally, FINALLY wears something other than his white farmboy attire, donning the jacket and brown pants from the medal ceremony at the end of Star Wars, and I have no idea why this wasn't made his default Luke from the time the series started telling new post-film stories featuring him (in much the same way Marvel's current Star Wars series does), as it exists in the film and makes so much more sense for him to be wearing it.

As this issue opens, Ulric Tagge believes both his brothers Orman (the baron) and Silas died during the Rebel attack last issue, and that he is now the leader of the family. Darth Vader then proceeds to reveal that both are in fact, still alive, albeit in stasis, and agrees to keep them that way in return for Ulric's loyalty.

In a bit of an odd moment, Leia is shown to have injured her leg on a recent mission, with a footnote pointing to a story that's yet to be told. The incident in question could be depicted by Alan Moore of all people, in the pages of Marvel UK's The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #154 in February of 1982, which takes place around the same time as this issue, but I have no idea if that's the official explanation for the injury, nor why in the world Goodwin added it here (it read very much like a TV show needing to explain an off-camera injury to an actor, which, of course, isn't the case here).

A Work in Progress
A flashback shows more of the battle between the Tagges and the Rebels that closed out last issue, revealing that the Falcon, with Luke onboard, played a key role in defeating the Imperials.

Luke is shown leading a squad of X-wings for the first time, under the name Blue squadron, which was his flight in the New Hope novelization (in the film he was a member of Red Squadron). By the time Empire rolls around, he'll be leading Rogue Squadron.

A nice reminder that for all his affection for Leia and Luke, Han is still not fully committed to the Rebel's cause, he claims he's going to send the Alliance's accountant a bill for all the help he's given them lately.

Um, Actually
A future miniseries from Dark Horse called Vader Quest offers an alternate look at Vader's search for Luke's identity, and establishes that he learned the last name prior to this issue, and that he's actually only hearing Luke's first name for the first time here.

Of course, all of that has been rendered moot by Marvel's current series, as both Star Wars #6 and Darth Vader #6 depict the now-canonical moment when Vader learned about Luke.

For understandable reasons, this issue continues to reference the idea that Darth Vader is responsible for the death of Luke's father.

Luke gets in on the "warp as a term for faster-than-light travel" game this issue.

You Kiss Your Sister With That Mouth?
Luke is jealous of the idea of Han making time with Leia.

Later, Leia grows jealous of Domina, then gets bashful when she and Han overhear Luke discussing his feelings for her.

Austin's Analysis
Appropriately enough, Darth Vader takes center stage as the last story before The Empire Strikes Back adaptation begins (not counting the one-off fill-in issue #38). A few spotlight moments aside, Vader has existed mostly on the fringes of this series thus far, likely due to some combination of LucasFilm edict and careful writing on Goodwin's part (so as not to water down the villain or break ground to be covered by the sequel film), but with Empire looming large (and the series planning to adapt it as part of its regular run), it makes sense to make him the focal point of the narrative for really the first time. It was certainly wise of Thomas, Goodwin, et al to limit the exposure of Vader previously, not only to preserve the impact of Empire, but to make moments like when Luke and Vader come face-to-face in this issue more impactful as well. The Vader of this issue is also shown to be a master schemer, using the apparent deaths of Orman and Silas Tagge to bring two different members of the family to his side (humorously enough, by both threatening to restore the health of Orman and playing up the fact that he's dead and that Luke is responsible). It's a sharp bit of writing from Goodwin, as it helps (intentionally or not) bridge the gap between the more toady-like Vader of the first film and the one who runs roughshod over the Rebels throughout Empire.

This issue also dramatizes one of the key moments of the Expanded Universe: Vader learning the identity of the pilot who blew up the Death Star. It's been teased previously in this series, and it's interesting that LucasFilm allowed it to unfold here. It has to happen, since Vader knows about Luke and is searching for him at the start of Empire, but with that film's big twist a closely guarded secret, Vader finally succeeding in his quest at the start of this issue isn't as impactful as it could be (compare it to the now-canonical moment when Vader learns the information, in Star Wars and Darth Vader #6, written at a time when the full breadth of Vader's history and relationship with Luke was known to audiences and writers Kieron Gillen & Jason Aaron). Because Goodwin (and the readers) couldn't know the truth about Vader's relationship to Luke, the reveal here, in hindsight, reads just as a moment of triumph, without any of the nuance or complex emotions we now know it would engender in Vader.

Nevertheless, getting to depict that moment is a big "get" for this series, establishing a significant development in the relationship between the series central hero and villain as setup for one of the most anticipated movies ever, and it immediately gives the series a relevancy boost. But while that was likely a bigger deal at the time, now it's the more subtle character work on Vader done in this issue that stands out, as the series reintroduces its big bad, setting the stage for The Empire Strikes Back while bringing Luke and Vader into direct conflict with one another for the first time.

Next Issue
Vader's plot unfolds in issue #36.

Collected Editions 


  1. I agree re Luke’s attire — me and likely anyone else reading this post. Of course there’s something to be said about keeping characters identifiable, especially across various marketing platforms, but even if Luke hadn’t appeared at the end of the film in this outfit and rather just in, say, his orange X-Wing uniform, like at a less formal medal ceremony, it’d be obvious to anyone reading that he’d change his everyday clothing as appropriate.

    // The incident in question could be depicted by Alan Moore of all people //

    You’d think maybe it was the plot of a fill-in done around the same time, or the next annual perhaps, although that still wouldn’t account for why Leia needed something to show for it unless Goodwin was really keen to have that fill-in seem important to story continuity. With the date on the UK story still over a year away, I wonder if it was meant to pick up on this reference since nothing had yet come of it or if it was done around this time and just published later. Very strange.

    // A future miniseries from Dark Horse called Vader Quest offers an alternate look at Vader's search for Luke's identity //

    I don’t recall if there was a general statement about the Marvel comics when the license was picked up by Dark Horse, but given how questionable some of the early stuff like Jax and Kihotay was and how even solid stories were rendered noncanonical by later films it makes sense that they’d be given a sort of blanket Legends designation like all the previous comics and books have now been given, with readers told not to assume any of it remains canon unless/until the Dark Horse line explicitly referenced or retold it.

  2. It does seem odd that it took 32 issues after the adaptation for Luke to wear his ceremony clothes (even though the Golden-drawn fill-in issue has he and Leia in their Ep IV attire). My thinking is the staff had to put him in it so that his Bespin outfit wasn't as abrupt in the ESB adaptation in a few issues.

  3. "I have no idea why this wasn't made his default Luke from the time the series started telling new post-film stories featuring him (in much the same way Marvel's current Star Wars series does), as it exists in the film and makes so much more sense for him to be wearing it."

    My only speculation on this is that, perhaps, there was no action figure of the medal ceremony version of Luke? I'm not sure when that one came out, but I don't believe it existed for the line's first few years.

    But by this point, of course, I assume publicity shots of Luke in his ESB attire had been released, and Marvel was free to put Luke in clothing other than the Tatooine garb.

    "Of course, all of that has been rendered moot by Marvel's current series, as both Star Wars #6 and Darth Vader #6 depict the now-canonical moment when Vader learned about Luke."

    Boy, they didn't waste any time, did they? Goodwin drew this out for over two years/thirty issues! Seems odd current Marvel jumped there so quickly when they could've drawn out Vader's quest for a while in the same fashion. It feels a bit like instant gratification, which I tend not to like in serialized comics. What's the point of a payoff if it happens so quickly?

    That said, I haven't ready any of the current STAR WARS series yet, so maybe I'm wrong and it was well done and logical.


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