As messy a film as it is, one of the most fascinating things about The Rise of Skywalker is how heavily it leans into the mythic fantasy that has long been pushed to the fringes of Star Wars movies. It’s weird stuff, expanding what we typically see of the Force and the strange worlds of ancient Sith magics and cults. Mustafar, for a brief moment, is at the core of that exploration—but now it’s being explored.
The current arc of Marvel’s Darth Vader ongoing, by Greg Pak, Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon, and Joe Caramagna, has seen Vader pay for his indulgent revenge quest in seeking out the truth behind Padmé Amidala’s death—a quest in part spurred by being spurned by his son over the spires of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Lambasted by the Emperor for giving into this indulgence of his past, Vader’s master lays his apprentice low, destroying much of the machinery that makes up his body before dumping Vader on Mustafar with a challenge: survive, and return to his master’s side humbled using only his mastery of the force.
Vader, being Vader, promptly gets about doing that over the course of the past few issues of his series in an arc dubbed “Into the Fire.” Promptly smashing together bits of old Separatist droid parts scavenged from the graveyard of Vader’s past on the world—flashing back to his extermination of the Trade Federation’s final throngs of leadership in Revenge of the Sith, a narrative technique this run of the comics has been fascinated with—Vader rebuilds his broken body into an amalgam of his old form, albeit barely holding together, much like the man himself. But from there, Vader has taken a hard, deep swing into the mythos of the Sith Rise of Skywalker danced around, but never really interrogated.
The arc has tackled three elements from Rise in particular, most notably Ochi of Bestoon, the Sith Assassin who would one day be dispatched by Palpatine to assassinate Rey’s parents. Likewise, Ochi is cast in Vader in a similar lens, sent to Mustafar by Palpatine to ensure that his apprentice does not cheat in his challenge. But, fascinatingly, while Vader’s other embraces of Rise’s dark side mysticism are full-throated and earnest, its approach to Ochi is a puncturing of his small modicum of mythos. In the movie, he’s mentioned in hushed tones, the figure that Luke and Lando hunted, his ship a key MacGuffin of Sith mysticism that propels Rey and her friends on their journey to save the galaxy, to get closer to the truth of their selves for Rey in particular. He killed her parents. He’s this grim specter, a hand of the Dark Side, even unseen.
What’s amazing in Vader then is that he’s a loudmouth jerk who’s bad at his job.
Ochi constantly harangues the Dark Lord as he builds himself back up out of parts, mocking him for falling out of favour with their shared master. But Vader still promptly dismantles Ochi’s attacks and barbs, time and time again, manipulating him into letting slip more and more details about Palpatine’s true plans and secrets. Secrets that Ochi gives away, because, yeah, he’s kind of dumb. But as good as that inversion of Ochi’s reputation and persona is, Vader makes extremely good on Ochi providing the Dark Lord two other key pieces of Rise’s Mustafar mysticism. After Ochi believes he’s trapped a seemingly hallucinating Vader in a rockslide, it turns out the Dark Lord has been drawn by the Dark Side calling of one of the strangest could’ve-been in The Rise of Skywalker’s long, long list of could’ve-beens: the Eye of Webbish Bog.
Originally cut from Supreme Leader Kylo Ren’s assault on Mustafar and its lingering Dark Side cultists in Rise—but later re-included in its novelization—the Eye of Webbish Bog is the original guardian of Mustafar’s other key Dark Side artifact, just as powerful as anything Vader had uncovered there with his castle: the Sith Wayfinder that holds the secret to safe passage beyond known space to the dark heart of Sith power. Before Vader can get his hands on that power—and get his hands on it he does, of course—the Eye sends him on a spiritual journey of personhood, thrusting him, as this series has done so many times before, through visions of his past.
But they are moments that constantly ask Vader the same question: does he have choice? Is he the tool of his master, or of destiny even before that as the fallen Chosen One, or does Vader decide fate for himself? And if he does, have years of servitude blinded him to why he even fell for Palpatine’s honeyed words in the first place? If Darth Vader, if Anakin Skywalker, is in charge of his own destiny, what’s he doing all this for?
It’s a fascinating way to leverage what was intended for Rise of Skywalker as a catalyst for Kylo Ren’s own destiny—plagued as he was by his doubts and insecurities over just what charted his fate—to turn that on Vader at a crucial moment in his arc. This is a Darth Vader who has been rebuked by his son, learned the truth of his tragic wife, who is of the Dark Side but is at a point with Palpatine where he, like Ben Solo will be decades after that, is being torn apart between the dangerous lure of power and his connection to his estranged family. Presenting this question to Vader now, through the mysticism of Rise’s own exploration of Force lore, provides a texture to the eventual change in Vader’s character we know he will grow into by Return of the Jedi.
It’s left unclear, both for us the reader and for Vader himself, whether not he had a true answer to the Eye’s questions—whether or not power is what he truly craves, or reconnection with his son—or if indeed receiving the Wayfinder is an indicator of success or failure in this spiritual trial. But having received it either way, and forced Ochi of Bestoon into revealing even more of his master’s secrets, we are given a very interesting dramatic scenario: Darth Vader, before his redemption as Anakin Skywalker, discovered that Palpatine was hiding grand, dark plans on Exegol. And, after getting in a cobbled together old Jedi Starfighter with Ochi forcefully in tow, he intends to find out what they are.
We’ve yet to discover just what Vader learns of Exegol, or if he even makes it to the Sith world—Vader #10 won’t be out until next month. We’re left on the spectacularly weird and creepy image of his craft confronted by a massive, tentacled entity living within the roiling space anomalies that the Wayfinder is designed to carve a path through. But even if he doesn’t, what this arc of Darth Vader has done to explore and connect the work done with Mustafar as a locale to the sequel saga’s brief return to it is a welcome fleshing out of the weirder aspects of the Force, and the Dark Side in particular, that deepen our understanding of Star Wars’ most fantastical roots.
But this really, is nothing new for Marvel’s Star Wars comics, especially the Vader book. Mustafar and Vader’s connection to it played a major role in the prior volume of the series, by Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli, and saw Vader forge his fortress on the world of his downfall, tapping into its inherent Dark Side power to practice abilities unlike few we’ve seen in Star Wars’ vast tapestry before. Now that The Rise of Skywalker opened a gateway to re-establish Mustafar as this place of mythic, wild potentiality for the Dark Side, no matter how briefly, it makes perfect sense for this latest volume of Vader to expand upon that in some fascinating, tragic, and suitably weird ways.
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