In all the years that Dark Horse published “Star Wars” comics, they only ever did one crossover. That was “Vector,” during the time that they were publishing four ongoing titles. It’s actually one of the better crossovers I’ve read if only for the fact that it prompted major advancements to the plots of “Knights of the Old Republic” and “Legacy.” I’m assuming that “Vader Down” will only be the first crossover of many from Marvel if the way they manage their superhero universe is any indication of that. At least the resounding sales success of “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” means that they’re coming at it from a position of strength rather than something that needed to be done in order to shore up sagging sales. (I’m looking in the direction of “Standoff” and the upcoming “Civil War II” here.) Then again, given the talent involved -- Gillen! Aaron! Larroca! Deodato! -- you’d think that the end result would be better than what we got.
The set-up for this event is simple but effective: Vader has tracked Luke Skywalker to the planet of Vrogas Vas, home to an old Jedi temple. While the Dark Lord of the Sith is determined to capture his son, his plans are confounded by the fact that the planet is home to a Rebel base and a squadron of X-Wings. After holding his own in space, Luke brings Vader (and himself) down through some unconventional means. Now one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy is stranded on a planet with people who want nothing more than to see him dead, and even more arriving via hyperspace. For lesser men, this would be a death sentence. For Darth Vader, they’re nothing more than examples to be made about the power of the Dark Side of the Force.
Things start out really well with the space battle above Vrogas Vas as Vader demonstrates his superior, and Force-aided, starfighting skills. Mike Deodato Jr. illustrates this part along with the “Star Wars” issues of the crossover and delivers some exceptional work all around. He’s able to keep the action clear without sacrificing spectacle. The double-page spreads of the carnage he leaves in orbit, as well as his “All I am surrounded by is fear and dead men” admonition to the Rebels surrounding him, further reinforce the Dark Lord’s badass credentials. Even though he’s still unequivocally an antagonist here. With a start like that, and the promise of the casts of both titles interacting together, you’d have every right to be optimistic that this crossover will deliver on its hype.
If that last sentence didn’t give you an indication that this turns out not to be the case, then let me say that “Vader Down” ultimately leaves something to be desired. What gives these early scenes their power is that we know the Rebellion’s efforts to stop Vader will ultimately be unsuccessful. They don’t know that, however, so the story has a tragic feel to it as these characters struggle against the impossible. Constantly raising the stakes against Vader until the Rebellion realizes that he simply can’t be killed would’ve made for an interesting story. That’s not what we get here as he’s part of an ensemble piece that includes Luke, Han, Leia, Threepio, R2-D2, Dr. Aphra, Triple Zero, BT, and Black Krrsantan running all over the planet.
That’s not to say that there isn’t enjoyment to be had from seeing these characters team up or fight each other. I liked seeing Aphra’s assessment of Han, which plays into their confrontation where the latter is well aware of the former’s reputation. Triple Zero also has some good scenes revolving around Threepio, and the Chewbacca/Black Krrsantan fight scenes are as intense as you’d expect when two Wookies are involved.
The problem is that after a while it starts to feel like writers Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron are simply shuffling the deck here. They’ve got all of these interesting characters to play with, so why not have them all get to know each other. All of these meetings ultimately distract from what should be the focus of the story -- the Rebellion’s efforts to stop Vader -- and pretty much kill any interest or momentum it could have as a proper example of such. There’s a subplot about Luke investigating the Jedi Temple on the planet, but that never amounts to anything in the end.
What keeps this event from being utterly pointless is the fate of a certain Mon Calamari General and the transition of one of the supporting cast from “Darth Vader” over to “Star Wars.” I hope that last bit isn’t a permanent one, though. So if you’ve been reading both titles so far, then it’s still worth your time to check this out. Even if the core story disappoints, what’s here demonstrates that both Aaron and Gillen not only continue to have a great handle on what makes their characters tick, but those in the other guy’s title as well. It’s beautiful to look at as well, as Salvador Larroca turns in work that is merely just “quite good” in comparison to Deodato’s stellar effort here. Yet for all these quality parts, the whole is less than their sum. We got something that was just “okay” when the result should’ve been “excellent.”