"Five Days Of Sith" concludes as Darth Vader, Ensign Nanda, and her elite stormtrooper squad travel to the remains of Alderaan and Chandrila to eliminate the threats to the Empire responsible for Colonel Bircher's infiltration.
Brian Wood writes Darth Vader at a moment of transition in his life; probably the most significant since he first accepted the Dark Side. The revelation of Luke has caused all of Anakin Skywalker's conflicting emotions to come flooding back. Obi-Wan recognizes this internal conflict, still Anakin's shatterpoint 20 years later, and plays upon it in a Vader dream sequence taking place aboard the Death Star. Allowing the former friends to interact in an alternate version of this critical Star Wars moment is an inspired notion, showing Vader's fascination at the ramifications of his son's existence. It's a fascination that will soon turn into the obsession spoken of in The Empire Strikes Back's opening crawl, as Vader realizes that Luke represents an opportunity for him to seize power.
While Palpatine may not yet know the cause of his apprentice's newfound independent streak, he too recognizes Vader's internal conflict and the danger it presents to him. Wood understands the nature of their relationship, and captures every facet of their toxic codependency with their conversation at the end of this issue. Vader's fear of Palpatine, Palpatine's fear of Vader; it's an equilibrium that's irrevocably disrupted by the appearance of Luke. Something's been awakened in Vader, and Palpatine doesn't like it.
Brian Wood writes the supporting characters with the same care and attention he brings to Vader and Palpatine. Particularly Ensign Nanda, whose narration of events continues to provide our entry point into the story in a way lending them a surprising amount of genuineness. She's intelligent and capable, but also relatable in a way few Imperials are. The PTSD-like effects she suffers after only five days in Vader's employ were a nice touch that further humanized her, and made her an even more sympathetic character in the end. While the suns will soon set on Dark Horse's stewardship of Star Wars franchise, I'd still like to catch up with Ensign Nanda sometime in the future.
It was certainly cathartic to catch up with Tag Rogaren again. Wood gave the character a fitting send off that brought him full circle. He even gained a measure of respect from Darth Vader. Recalling his guilt and shame at his role in his home planet's destruction, I appreciated his arc even more.
Facundo Percio won me over with his art in this issue. I love when an artist imbues Star Wars with a grittiness that still manages to retain the spirit of the saga, and that's exactly what Percio did here. Look no further than Darth Vader's fight against the stormtrooper squad. The Dark Lord gets physical in a way you don't often see, literally crushing the skull of one of the troopers with his bare hands in a glorious moment of savagery.
Percio's talent is on display again in how he draws Vader's Force abilities during the fight. He flawlessly balances the might of these powers with a restraint that prevents them from being over the top in a Force Unleashed kind of way that wouldn't fit this story. Reading through these panels, you know the temptation to go full Starkiller had to be there, but Percio wisely made artistic choices that enhance the inherent drama of the situation instead of allowing the fight to insist upon itself.
This same ability to enhance Wood's writing is seen when in Percio's handling of the emotional beats. Once again, he makes artistic choices that serve the story rather than overshadow it. In the past I've mentioned the expressive way he draws the characters' eyes, and want to again give him credit for that here. This story doesn't allow much time for reflection, putting our emotional connection to its characters at risk of falling by the wayside, but Percio never allows that to happen. Fear, hope, regret; they're all emphasized in how he draws their eyes. Even Vader, notoriously difficult for artists due to the mask, has eyes that seem to emote. That's an accomplishment, and Percio should be commended for how excellently he achieved it.
Issue #14 of Star Wars, and "Five Days Of Sith" overall, was Star Wars storytelling at its best. It touched upon many enjoyable aspects of the saga and tied up the arc of the series' "first season" (Issues 1-11) far better than the mediocre at best Issue #12. It's represents a new hope that Brian Wood and company will finish this series with the same sense of excitement and character that has defined most of it. Bring on Issue #15!
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