Favorite Quote: "Chewie, get her ready to fly." "HHHRRRHHH" "What's the mission? Oh, nothing much, pal. Just the usual." "RRRRRHHH" "Right. Something stupid. Something very, very stupid." - Han and Chewie, as Han wonders about the price of friendship.
Aaron brings together a lot of different threads here, and I'll admit that it took me a while to put them together.
For example, the intro page says that Vader knows that Luke Skywalker, his son, destroyed the Death Star. But, I wasn't sure if we knew that. We've seen Boba Fett tell him that someone named Luke Skywalker existed (in issue #6) and we know that Vader knew that the pilot who destroyed the Death Star was strong with the Force. However, I wasn't sure if he conclusively knew that those two people were the same person. After all, at the end of "Star Wars" #12, he's still looking to get the name of the Force-strong kid from Kreel. If he knew that they were the same person, why would he press for that? But, in "Star Wars" #4, it's pretty clear that Boba Fett is hunting down the kid that destroyed the Death Star. If Vader knows that the kid's name is Skywalker, then Vader definitely knows that his son destroyed the Death Star. (That said, I'm not sure how Boba Fett knew that Luke was from Tatooine, but I've already spent enough time on back-issue research.)
Then, I realized that I've been confusing Nar Shadda (the Smuggler's Moon) for Vrogas Vas whenever it was mentioned in the "Darth Vader" series. (I spent most of the issue wondering how the hell the Rebellion was able to hide a base on the Smuggler's Moon. You would've thought that someone would've noticed the X-Wing squadrons practicing maneuvers!) If Aphra sent Vader to Vrogas Vas and not Nar Shadda, then "Darth Vader" #11-#12 -- where Aphra learns of Luke's location -- happen after "Star Wars" #12. Presumably, Vader went to Nar Shadda after getting word from Kreel (in "Star Wars" #11, where Kreel tells his handlers that they better move quickly if they want "the Jedi" alive), while he simultaneously had Aphra working on getting Luke's location separately. After failing to capture Luke in "Star Wars" #12, he has the interaction with Aphra that we saw in "Darth Vader" #11-#12, sending him to Vrogas Vas. It took some re-reading to piece together that sequence of events, but I think that it's correct.
With that established, I re-read the issue so that I could actually focus on the story that Aaron was telling and not how we got to this point. I'm glad to say that the issue itself is amazing. Aaron uses it to remind us what a force (heh) Vader is, just in case we've forgotten as a result of his humbling in the wake of the Death Star's destruction. When he emerges from hyperspace above Vrogas Vas, he appears right in the middle of three squadrons of X-Wing fighters engaged in drills. He makes short work of two of the squadrons, and the entire creative team is at the top of their game in displaying his talent. Aaron uses the pilots' chatter over the comm-link to document their increasing surprise (and horror) as Vader takes out ship after ship. The tone goes from confidence in their ability to disarm a solo pilot to shock at how quickly the squadrons are being destroyed. Moreover, Deodata is amazing throughout this sequence. As good as Immonen and LaRocca are on "Star Wars" and "Darth Vader," respectively, Deodata knows how to draw a space battle. He's greatly helped by the colorist, Martin, who set the tone through everything from the eerie internal lighting of the Tie-Fighter to the blazing red engines of the X-Wings. But, it's the scene of the bodies of the dead pilots and drones floating in space that have the most impact. It's something that we've never seen in the movies and, seeing this splash page, you have to wonder if space in this far, far away galaxy is filled with nothing but bodies. But, it serves its purpose, driving home how lethal Vader is and what the stakes really are.
Vader's onslaught comes to an end when Luke realizes that it's Vader flying the ship and ambushes him, sending both ships tumbling to the surface. After seeing Vader's performance in space, the reader is left more worried for the company of Rebellion troops that converge on Vader's position than Vader himself. Vader's comment -- that he's surrounded by dead men -- is probably accurate.
Meanwhile, on one of the rebel starships in space, Han and Leia have yet another hilarious conversation as Han tries to remind Leia that Vader has almost killed them every time that they've been near him and maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't be rushing to confront him. But, Leia reveals that Vader's on Vrogas Vas, and Han recognizes that Luke is there. Once gain, Luke pulls Han into his drama! Meanwhile, Vader senses that Vrogas Vas was, in fact, the site of a Jedi temple. (Here, I'm confused by how or if Luke knew that Vrogas Vas had a Jedi Temple. He originally went to Nar Shadda to get someone to fly him to Coruscant to find its Jedi temple. Did Grakkus tell him during their conversation in his hanger? I'd go look, but I'm tired, so I'm just going to go with it here.) This revelation ups the stakes significantly. After the devastating loss of Grakkus' horde in "Star Wars" #12, Luke unexpectedly gains the possibility of learning more about the Jedi...if Vader doesn't kill him first.
*** (three of five stars)