The “Skywalker Saga” of nine films may have finally concluded, but that doesn’t mean the Lucasfilm and Disney powers-that-be are done mining the original Star Wars films’ stories and characters. Barely one month after the finale of The Mandalorian‘s first season, the Star Wars universe has already thrown another curveball at fans—but not in another TV or film launch.
Instead, this week’s news comes from a brand-new Marvel series of comic books starring Darth Vader. We’re here to spill the beans—and offer context and guesses as to what might come next.
From here on out, we’re in full-spoiler territory about multiple Star Wars properties. You’ve been warned.
Longtime comics writer Greg Pak has helmed a few Star Wars comics series since last year, and his latest, Darth Vader, debuted on Wednesday by rewinding to the end of the 1980 film Empire Strikes Back. The first issue opens with Luke choosing to fall to his potential death instead of taking his father’s hand. Unlike Empire, this comic follows Vader back to his Star Destroyer, where he immediately boards an Imperial Shuttle with a skeleton crew of soldiers and a single, brand-new droid.
This droid, Z-67, informs Vader that Skywalker hasn’t been found since his fall. “I will find him when the time is right,” Vader replies, as if to imply that he already knows his son is still alive. In the meantime, he privately tells Z-67 that their mission is to find the breadcrumb trail of whoever kept Skywalker safe through the years “and destroy them.”
I’ll leave most of the book’s details out for those who want to enjoy the book’s pacing and plot build-up, as it jumps to a few familiar locations with a mix of new combat and old-film flashbacks. But the issue’s ending won’t remain a secret for long, since its spoiler element will be front-and-center on the second Darth Vader issue’s cover. The first issue concludes with Vader finding a familiar face hiding on an distant planet outpost: Padme Amidala.
A different kind of “clone” war?
This is the first time we’ve received any indication that someone resembling Padme, played by actor Natalie Portman in the prequel film trilogy, somehow survived after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Since her latest appearance comes in the form of a one-panel cameo, however, we don’t have a lot of information to work with as of press time.
Vader is the one who greets his possible ex-wife with the call of “Padme?” as a question, so the second issue could very well begin with this person simply saying “No,” or “Actually, I’m her body double, Sabe.” If she turns out to be a projection or illusion, she is at least seen by both Vader and Z-67, implying that this person is not merely in his imagination. And, heck, this is Star Wars—a series that saw fit to insist that Emperor Palpatine was kept alive decades after the events of Return of the Jedi. By comparison, a Padme fake-out funeral seems milquetoast.
While we don’t have an encyclopedic recall of references to Star Wars in various novels, comic books, and animated series, we can point to one curious “Padme might have lived after all” tidbit: a mention in a YA novel retelling of Return of the Jedi. This 2015 book includes a question from Leia Organa wondering whether she had actually met or seen her mother Padme as a child. Otherwise, Star Wars fans have been led to believe that she died after giving birth to Luke and Leia.
Should Padme indeed be alive in this comic’s span of Star Wars time, we wonder how this will connect with the events of Vader Immortal, a VR-only series released by Lucasfilm in 2019. This series, staged shortly after Revenge of the Sith, hinged on Vader trying to bring Padme back to life, as he had apparently stored her life force in a “soul cube.” However, the series ended with this cube simply repeating Padme’s statements from previous films, as opposed to speaking from beyond the grave with anything new—which could mean he was merely manifesting his own memories, instead of interacting with a real-life Padme.
At any rate, this week’s comic-book reveal is a clear sign that the Lucasfilm empire would like to continue, ahem, bringing Star Wars possibilities back from the dead. Marvel Comics senior editor Mark Paniccia hints in the issue’s epilogue about upcoming stories revolving around “very cool elements from The Rise of Skywalker” that will be paid forward by various comics series (not just Darth Vader) to “touch on all three trilogies and explore the mysteries that led to the rise of Vader.”
Meanwhile, the above gallery, sourced from Marvel’s official site, includes this description from the series’ third issue, implying that “Padme” hangs around for at least a few issues: “In his quest to destroy everyone who hid the existence of his son, Luke Skywalker, from him, Darth Vader has formed an unlikely partnership with an eerie shadow from his previous life. Now they return to Naboo where a powerful new host of vengeful ghosts awaits them. Delve deeper into Vader’s past than you thought possible with this shocking tale of tragedy and revenge!”