Charles Soule on the Powerful First Arc of Marvel’s Darth Vader

The writer of Marvel's hit series discusses the Sith Lord's quest for a lightsaber and more.

The first arc of Marvel’s new Darth Vader series, in which writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli have taken readers back to the Sith Lord’s first moments inside his infamous armor, came to an end last week. Emperor Palpatine only allowed his new apprentice a short amount of time (you know, moments) to process his grief over Padmé before he gave Vader his next mission: to hunt a living Jedi, take his or her lightsaber, and make the kyber crystal bleed into signature Sith red. The ensuing action introduced us to a Vader we we haven’t seen before. talked with Soule about getting under Vader’s helmet and where the next arc is heading.

Darth Vader raises a clenched fist with Kirak Infil'a looming large wielding a lightsaber behind him. This is really a time when Vader’s learning about his abilities and also wrestling with his emotions. It’s like Vader unleashed. Did that make it more or less challenging to write him during this era?

Charles Soule: I think the things he’s doing in the comic are pretty comparable and in line with what we saw him do in the films. I tried not to him to have him be, like, blowing up Star Destroyers with his mind and things like that. It’s like any fantasy universe; there are rules about the way that magic works. Star Wars is absolutely a fantasy universe, so you have to be very careful of the rules and not to give mega power to Darth Vader to the point where he’s doesn’t feel like himself anymore.

I do want to convey this is when Vader has really opened up us to the dark side for the first time. I think that the assault on the temple in Revenge of the Sith and obviously the battle with with Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was powered up on the dark side then for sure. But now he’s really digging deep in a way he hasn’t before. He’s put no limits on himself. He’s not thinking, “Oh man, I’m going to go back and have to look Padmé in the eye.” He doesn’t have to look anybody in the eye anymore, not even himself. He’s trying to figure out what his own limits are.

He’s very powerful. He’s always been very powerful. It’s just now he’s using his power in a different way to do some really destructive, terrible things, and that is not going to stop in the series at all.

Darth Vader is electrically shocked by the Emperor in an image from Marvel's comic series, Darth Vader, by writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli. And as he’s tapping into this power, he’s being manipulated by Palpatine. What was it like to get in the Emperor’s head?

Charles Soule: The Emperor really wants Vader to dig deep into the dark side and see what he’s gained, even after everything he’s lost. That’s really where Vader is at this point. He’s lost everything he ever had to rely on; he doesn’t have any guiding light at all except for Palpatine. As we know, Palpatine is not a great mentor figure. You never know what his real agenda is and you never know if there’s actual loyalty. He calls Vader his friend and apprentice and partner all the time, but none of that ever rings completely true. You don’t know how true it is, except that he’s generally always out for himself.

So, Vader’s job is to try to process the relationship he has with this guy, which is all he has left. He doesn’t have a body, he doesn’t have his teacher, he doesn’t have the Jedi Order. He has nothing left except for this one guy who may or may not want him dead at the first opportunity once he’s stopped being useful to him.

Three panels from Marvel's comic book series Darth Vader, by writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, show Darth Vader looking out at a desert landscape before crossing it. This first arc has been about Vader finding his lightsaber and bleeding the crystal. Was that an idea brought to you by Lucasfilm or did you pitch that angle?

Charles Soule: No. They said, “We want to tell a story that starts right after Episode III. What do you want to do?”  Then I considered, “What are the stories that need to be told here?” I thought, “What’s a better quest than a dark wizard going after his magic sword?” It worked out so perfectly, because at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan takes the blue lightsaber and that leaves Vader without a weapon. I couldn’t believe that that story hadn’t been told and seemed like a perfect starting point for this guy. It also left him vulnerable. He’s in a suit that he doesn’t know how to use yet, and he doesn’t have a weapon. With characters as iconic as Vader, it’s about the idea that they could have a meaningful quest that is very essential to their to their storytelling and how they become the person or the character that you know. It’s hard to do because so many stories have been told. So, finding this open window was phenomenal. It was a lucky break, for sure.

Darth Vader braces himself as a window behind him is blown out in an image from Marvel's Star Wars comic book series Darth Vader, by writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli. Like you said, Vader’s still figuring out this suit. The story features a little thing we haven’t seen before with the character: he has to repair himself.

Charles Soule: You can play against what people think they know about how Vader works and how all his various pieces and parts work. Every time we see Vader, for the most part, he’s an incredible unbeatable machine man that you can’t damage. You can’t hurt him. If he comes after you, you’re dead.

But here, this is a guy who just doesn’t know — he’s in this machine that he doesn’t know how to work yet. It’s like he’s playing an instrument that he just started to learn. I thought it would be nice to show him using his engineering skills, which have always been part of Anakin Skywalker’s character. Just because he’s Vader now, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to fix stuff. He’s inside his own droid, in a way, so the idea that he’s going to be working on and tinkering with it was part of the pitch from beginning. His movements convey that he’s still figuring out the suit. His movements are a little stiff. What’s it been like working with Giuseppe Camuncoli on that?

Charles Soule: The nice thing about Giuseppe Camuncoli and everybody on the team is that we’re all very in sync. It’s nice to be able to to let them do their thing and bring their skills to the work we’re all doing together. That means you can really can let them find the feel or tone they want. Then they go and do brilliant things. It’s wonderful.

Barash Vow levitates in a lotus meditation pose in an image from Marvel's comic book series Darth Vader, by writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli. Let’s talk about the Barash Vow. It’s a new element to the Jedi mythology. What was it like developing this new facet of the Order?

Charles Soule: A lot of times these things are answers to questions or solutions to problems. For me, the problem was, “Okay. I want Vader to have an incredible Jedi fight with somebody who feels worthwhile for him.” You want it to seem mythological and incredible and live up to some of the stuff we’ve seen. I want this to be one of the really notable chapters in his life. So, I asked, “What Jedi could live up to that?” There are a few, but the issue is that we already know how those stories play out in different parts of the timeline.

I decided I would create a new Jedi, then I could be more free to do what I wanted to do. Then that became thinking about why was this person not there, why would this person not have been part of Order 66. I think of the Jedi as monks and monks have all these different vows and things they’ll do across different orders. I had this whole logic to it.

Then, it’s about running it by Story Group and making sure that they’re cool with it. Fortunately, they said, “This is great.” They love when things are additive, generally speaking, as long as they don’t contradict existing storytelling. The Barash Vow is something that can be used in different places. It’s not common, so it doesn’t have to come up or be referred to all the time. It gives the Jedi a very interesting history. Issue #5 saw Vader consider his options. Would you call what happened with Palpatine and Obi-Wan after Vader first connected with the crystal a kind of a two-way communication with the crystal? Since it’s living, was the crystal trying to help Vader back to the light/protect itself?

Charles Soule: I think the definition of “living” needs to be a little loose here. We’re still talking about a crystal, after all. It’s a piece of stone, not a sentient being. I view it as more of a feedback loop, if anything. The only mind there with any sense of will was Vader itself — if that helps give you a little clarity on what I was suggesting with that scene.
In a panel from Marvel's Darth Vader comic book series, Darth Vader duels Jedi Master Kirak Infil'a. Vader only sees one path forward for himself, and that’s with Palpatine. Do you think the events on Mustafar in #5 make him a more tragic character? 

Charles Soule: I do, and that’s the trick with Vader. He’s a monster, but he’s a tragic monster. He murdered an entire city — men, women, and children — in issue #4, and didn’t look back. Just walked away as they were all drowning by his hand. But here, you still feel for him to some degree. Vader is a wonderfully complex character to write, and I give all credit to all the other storytellers who have worked with him in the past to give me such a great foundation to build on. Looking forward to the next arc, we’ve heard the Inquisitorius program will be explored. Can you tease what’s ahead?

Charles Soule: What we learn here is — some of it’s going to be left a little to your imagination — basically who the Inquisitors are, where they came from, and why the Inquisitorius program was started. You see Vader attempting to figure out how he’s going to do this job. This is his first assignment after the lightsaber quest. Vader’s like, “Wait a minute. So I have to be a manager?” Which is not something that he really considered or wanted to be.

It’s about working with people who, you know, none of these people are angels. None of these Inquisitors are. They’re all grasping, ambitious, and clearly willing to do dark things. How does he exert his power, how does he make it clear that you don’t cross Darth Vader.

Darth Vader #6 cover, featuring the Grand Inquisitor. How does he do it without killing all of them?

Charles Soule: That’s exactly it. The easiest solution for Vader, always, is just to kill anybody who is a problem for him because then they’re not a problem for him anymore.

That is his go-to in every situation, at least that we’ve seen. So, here’s a situation where he’s not supposed to just murder all these people as much as he wants to. He wants to murder everybody. It gives him a challenge that feels different. It also brings into focus the fact that there are some Jedi out there who survived and how they’re going to play into this going forward and what’s going to happen. I’m very excited by all of it. 

It’s proven to be very fun. We got to make up a couple new Inquisitors, and there’s also some really familiar faces. The Grand Inquisitor is in it, various brothers and sisters that we’ve seen in other stories. You get to see more about them and give them more personality. Will we run into any familiar Jedi faces? 

Charles Soule: We will. The next big Jedi arc is with a known Jedi from the films, who I loved writing and I’m very excited to be able to do stuff with.

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.

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