One of the complaints about Brian Wood’s Star Wars series is that it crams too many storylines into an issue. There is Leia trying to find a new Rebel base, Han and Chewie getting weapons in Coruscant, and Luke and Wedge Antilles infiltrating an Imperial Star Destroyer while Darth Vader has his own plans and machinations. However, Star Wars #13 places its focus squarely on Darth Vader and his reaction to the betrayal of Admiral Bircher, who was instrumental in a big defeat for the Empire. Wood does a great job of shedding light on Vader’s character through the perspective of Ensign Nanda, a young junior officer, who is a part of Vader’s secret mission to get revenge on the people who made him look like a fool. He also makes Nanda a well-rounded character, who follows Vader’s orders, but has qualms about some of his actions. Facundio Percio’s art isn’t spectacular and the coloring looks washed up occasionally, but his starship designs are impeccable and he gives Vader a real menacing air.
Along with its faithfulness to the tone of the original films, the biggest strength of Brian Wood’s Star Wars is its characterization. Wood has put meat on the bones of George Lucas’ archetypes. In this issue, he shows Vader as a broken, angry man who happens to be one of the most powerful people in the galaxy. Nanda’s caption boxes reveal the horrifying effect Vader has on his subordinates. Even after Vader gets the information about the people who falsified Bircher’s records, he spends almost eight hours “straightening out” an Imperial records facility. However, in a later scene, readers see a glimpse of vulnerable behind his dark mask. Wood also humanizes the Empire through the character of Nanda. He gives her a little bit of backstory and motivation then sets her free to make observations about Vader and the war. She is surprised by the brutality of Vader’s tactics, but admires his efficiency and also wants revenge for her dead friends on the Death Star. Nanda is definitely not a good guy, but Wood makes her a sympathetic foil to Vader and adds depth to the faceless Empire.
Penciller Facundo Percio helps Wood’s characterization by giving characters a wide variety of facial expressions. Nanda goes from open mouthed horror when Vader “deals with” the crew of his old Star Destroyer to steely resolve when she is piloting his ship. Percio even gives readers a glimpse of the men under the Stormtrooper helmets in a riveting set of panels. However, much of Percio’s work is just average. There are lots of shots of ships’ interiors, and the some of the transitions between panels can be awkward like when Vader switches transports early in the issue. Percio does a good job giving Vader gravitas, and colorist Gabe Eltaeb utilizes a muted palette for his subordinate and surroundings to make him stand out as a character. The use of silhouettes makes the assassination scenes even more brutal. Star Wars #13 is a solid Vader-centric comic and an example of how a narrower focus can make this good comic even greater.