Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison
Written by Haden Blackman
Art by Agustin Alessio
Cover Artwork by Dave Wilkins
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Cover Price: $24.99
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a cornerstone in the Star Wars expanded universe. It is a game changer that produces one of the most intense reads. I have read a lot of Star Wars expanded universe media, and there are a bunch of great novels and comics out there that have explored the depth of the in-universe history of the galaxy from a variety of viewpoints. But Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison has to be one of most superior examples of providing a different perspective – in fact, I think it is perhaps one of the best Star Wars graphic novels I have ever read.
Haden Blackman is the writer for this magnificent publication, and despite the fact that he has had his critics in the past; he truly delivers the good with Ghost Prison. Initially known for his criticized work on Star Wars Galaxies, and his praised efforts on The Force Unleashed multimedia project (the first series especially), Blackman provides a narrative for a perspective from the New Empire, in a dazzling fashion that will tug you emotionally in places, and have you rooting for what we’ve traditionally considered the villains of the Star Wars galaxy.
In the movie series, the good vs. evil dichotomy is painted in black and white. The Jedi and the Rebels are the heroes, and the Sith and the Empire are our villains. There is the Light Side of the Force, and the Dark Side. And while numerous publications have attempted to bring us shades of grey (the works of Matthew Stover come to mind, as does the concept of the Potentium in the New Jedi Order novel series), there have really been no stories that turn the villains into the heroes for the tale.
By all means, we’ve had Expanded Universe journeys into the adventures of characters like Darth Maul or Boba Fett, but for the most part they’re portrayed as either villains as protagonists; or at best, anti-heroes. What Blackman achieves in Ghost Prison is a complete shift in perspective, in which you are totally rooting for Darth Vader and his allies in this story. And that, as mentioned, is what makes it a game changer.
Set not long after the events of Revenge of the Sith, conceivably a year or so, the Empire is continuing its development. Tarkin is still overseeing the construction of the first Death Star, while the Emperor remains on Coruscant enforcing and fully developing his New Order. Darth Vader continues to be the loyal apprentice to his master, a right-hand enforcer that delivers Imperial justice with a prejudiced iron fist fueled by anger.
But in Ghost Prison, despite its title, all of these characters are predominantly supporting cast members. The most important protagonist in this story is Lourita Tohm, part of the first graduating class from the Imperial Academy. A cadet at the beginning of the story, Tohm is a disfigured young man, having been injured in a blast set by Separatists during the Clone Wars.
While on Coruscant for the primary graduation ceremony, the Empire is attacked by one of its first rebellion efforts, an insurgency run by a high-ranking Imperial dissatisfied with the objectified treatment of soldiers, cadets, and others he has instructed. It is a well-organized and well planned resistance, resulting in a major terrorist attack in Imperial Center that concludes with the release of a weaponized virus that nearly kills the Emperor.
Surrounded by traitors, Lourita Tohm joins with Darth Vader, and Moff Trachta (an individual some Star Wars comic fans may already be familiar with) in protecting the Emperor. They decide to go into a hiding place to lick their wounds and plan for a counter attack to retake the capital, and find the presence of a shadowy secret prison run by the Jedi during the Clone Wars referred to as the Prism, but colloquially named the Ghost Prison.
The writing and plot for Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is astonishing and extremely solid. Blackman weaves elements from the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy, and the expanded universe seamlessly together; delivering an effect that fills in many blanks but also provides a coalescing element for both trilogies. PT ships are seen with OT ships, Coruscant is seen visually with its transition to becoming the legendary Imperial Center that EU fans remember the old conceptual artwork for. It is a delightful tying together of the films and the media.
But surpassing that, Blackman’s writing in Ghost Prison is very character central. This is tremendously important, and what’s significant is the way the readers will truly feel for main character Tohm in this story. It has this magnetic pull on the emotions that you cannot turn away from, as he is placed stuck between two powerful figures, Vader and Trachta, in an adventure that will place him on a new path and/or seal his fate. It’s a hero’s journey, but set within the confines of the side we’ve often referred to as the nemeses.
We’ve seen efforts at this before. Hell, even Blackman’s own Force Unleashed was almost like that, but turned into more of a redemption tale. In Ghost Prison, this is all in the Empire, all the way – from start to finish, from balls to bones – and I’ve been sucked into the Dark Side now. I just need my cookies now.
The artwork in Ghost Prison is out-and-out spectacular as well. Agustin Alessio provides the talents for this epic piece, and first and foremost it must be stated that he nails Vader completely. In all the comics I’ve read from the Star Wars galaxy, it seems like that Darth Vader is a character that is hit or miss for some artists. Alessio nails him each time, with a likeness that matches the imagery from the films.
But there’s a bunch of artistic symbolism in here too. Tohm’s injuries are almost symmetrical, which makes him look like the Harvey "Two-Face" Dent of the Star Wars galaxy, just without the insanity. Alessio uses this characteristic to great symbolic effect, showing the man’s journey throughout the pages for this story. His physical manifestation is very much a reflection not only of the individual character, but also of the Empire and the state of the story as well.
The colors are great as well, and fit into the classic Star Wars visual leitmotif of colors setting tone of good guys, bad guys, and locations. The Prism is dank and dull, with a hint of steel blue in the beginning to emphasize the cold approach of the Jedi to this prison, and later a dull burgundy to indicate bloodshed spanning decades of in-universe history.
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a crowning achievement in the Expanded Universe. It is a game changer that provides a successful alternative perspective of the galaxy that reels you in with its pacing, its action, its focus on character, and its emotional tug. This is most definitely one of the most exceptional Star Wars comics you could ever read. My advice is for Star Wars fans and casual comic readers – get this one as soon as you can.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5