The relationship between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin is one of Star Wars' most curious: the former is the obvious Big Bad, huge, clad in black, metallic armour and wielding otherworldly powers, the former an older officer type, who you'd expect to be following orders.
And yet, strangely, Vader not only seems to respect Tarkin, but obey him, so much so that the original movie paints a picture of Tarkin being the one in control of their working relationship, despite the differences in opinion they might have, and now a new comic has explained just why that is.
Darth Vader #18, by Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Daniele Orlandini, David Curiel, and Joe Caramagna, continues the series' thread of following the Dark Lord through the rise of the Empire, but takes a detour from the main arc to give more of a one-shot story, which sees Vader being hunted on a near-deserted planet by Tarkin and an expert team, for reasons not made explicitly clear to begin with.
The Vader in this issue is like the one glimpsed at the end of Rogue One and then some; his Force fully unleashed, he's an unstoppable, brutal monster who slays enemy after enemy, no matter what method Tarkin deploys to try and stop him. The officer tries missile-launching weapons, flamethrowers, and attempting to rob him of his famous red lightsaber, but it's all to no avail, and he sees his men fall one by one.
What started as a 20 v 1 fight comes down to just Tarkin vs Vader, but just when the Sith thinks victory is his, the true extent of Tarkin's cunning and cruelty is revealed. Throughout the issue, Tarkin notes the number of men lost in each 'failed' effort to stop Vader, but it's apparent there is no cost too great when it comes to securing victory. His men have been nought but lambs to the slaughter, used not to actually defeat Vader but merely lure him out to this very spot.
It's here, in the deadliest patch of land on the planet, that lightning will be attracted to the largest metal object, which in this case just so happens to be Darth Vader. When he thinks he has victory in his grasp, he's struck down and Tarkin stands triumphant over his charred body.
It's here, then, we learn why all this murder has happened: it's a test, orchestrated between Tarkin and Vader, to prove the latter can be bested. Tarkin uses Vader's own self-belief that he is indestructible against him, and emerges victorious... almost. As he calls for a spacecraft to take Vader away for medical attention, the Sith Lord reaches out with what little strength in left in him and briefly Force-chokes Tarkin, reminding him that he hasn't really lost.
What's really made evident here are the parallels between the two men. Despite one putting his faith in the Death Star and the other in the Force, both are cunning, intelligent, and capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty, to the point where they do not care how many people die because of their actions.
Those similarities, along with Tarkin out-witting the Sith here, no doubt play a huge part in convincing Vader that maybe he's worth listening to after all, rather than being blinded by his own fury and arrogance. Their shared history may date back to the Clone Wars, although it's never 100% confirmed Tarkin knows Vader is/was Anakin Skywalker, but this is a crucial turning point in it, developing what might've been respect into obedience.
What do you think of Darth Vader #18? Share your thoughts down in the comments.
NCTJ-qualified journalist. Most definitely not a racing driver. Drink too much tea; eat too much peanut butter; watch too much TV. Sadly only the latter paying off so far.
A mix of wise-old man in a young man's body with a child-like wonder about him and a great otherworldly sensibility.