Similar to the "Star Wars" Annual, this issue is the epitome of the type of story that we expect to see in Annuals. Unrelated to the current arc of the series, we get more insight into the character than a traditional issue would allow.
On the planet of Shu-torun, an old king sends his youngest daughter, Trios, to escort Vader to a ball thrown in his honor. Not surprisingly, Vader isn't exactly the dancing type, though Trios insists that he must appear to please the dukes that mine the resources that Vader is there to secure. Vader really just wants to get to the king to deliver a box that will remind him how good of a friend -- and how deadly of an enemy -- the Empire is. Not surprisingly, a group of assassins burst into the room, pretending to want to kill Vader and the king. But, we quickly learn that the king is really behind the plot. When Vader makes short work of the assassins, Trios leads him into another trap in a series of underground tunnels. Vader is impressed by her willingness to sacrifice herself for her family, so he knocks her unconscious and carries her to the throne room (after, of course, escaping the trap). There, she awakens before he can enter the room and tries to shoot him, but Vader cuts off his hand. He opens the door to reveal that Triple-Zero and Beetee have already killed Trios' father and siblings. She confesses to Vader that they wanted him killed because the dukes were rebelling against the taxes. (It's not really much of a long game, to be honest. Did they think that the Emperor would just let that stand?) He presents her the gift -- a volleyball-sized rock that he says constitutes the remains of Alderaan -- and tells her that she may now rule Shu-torun, but that she should remember who she serves.
Gillen really shows Vader in all his glory here. His refusal to play nicely with the dukes is a reminder that the Emperor and he really do see fear and power as the only necessary requirements to keep people in line; you don't need to dance if you can just kill everyone. In fact, Gillen is hinting at why that approach doesn't work when fear and power wane, foreshadowing their end. But, Gillen is careful not to go too far in implying that Vader simply rules by an iron fist. We can see how calculating and insightful he is when he sizes up Trios and realizes that she'll be an acceptable ally. (Moreover, sending in Triple-Zero and Beetee shows that he anticipated the king's ploy.) Moreover, I realized in reading this issue that neither Aaron nor Gillen have made any hints that Anakin -- the good inside Vader that Luke eventually rescues -- exists. If anything, this issue reminds us just how cold and deadly Vader is.
*** (three of five stars)