Darth Vader comic writer on how it's basically Breaking Bad meets Star Wars

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Feb 20, 2015, 1:45 PM EST (Updated)

When Marvel reacquired the Star Wars license, you knew it wouldn’t take long for the company to double down on the property. But how do you build an entire comic around one of the most terrifying villains in sci-fi lore? 

On top of the flagship Star Wars series, there are also Princess Leia and Darth Vader spinoffs. Veteran comic writer Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Invincible Iron Man) signed on to helm the Vader series and has opened up to Comic Book Resources about his approach to the character.

It’s a tricky thing — writing a book centered on the guy who is best known for causing havoc for Han, Luke and Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy. So it’s not surprising to hear that Gillen is taking a unique approach to this one. Put simply: He’s looking to the playbook that made Breaking Bad and The Godfather work so well, and embracing the villainy of the character. If you’re expecting an antihero, you might want to look somewhere else:

“The classic line is that everyone is the hero of their own story. You make up all kinds of stories in your head to justify what you're doing. But for me, I'm very much fine seeing him being a villain. It's over 20 years on and he's still serving the Emperor. But he's definitely the protagonist. It's like ‘The Godfather.’ It's like ‘House of Cards.’ It's like ‘Breaking Bad.’

It's an interesting story. In the first six movies, Anakin is the throughline. And I get to continue that story. We know he's a villain but we also know where he ends up. And as we get further into the book, we will see him surrounded by people worse than him. Palpatine is an amazing villain. Writing Vader and Palpatine is fascinating because of all of the games going on. And in the next issue, we meet Tagge. And he has an entirely different view of how the Empire should act. And we have the unknown individual who is in the first issue and not named. He's got his own philosophy on how the Empire should act too.

It's almost like a classic superhero comic. These are all dark mirrors of the hero. Vader does some things that we would define as indefensible. There is a good line in ‘Story’ by Robert McKee about ‘The Godfather,’ which basically says that ‘The Godfather’ works because there are other godfathers that are more questionably ethical and worse than him. It's like saying, ‘If I was an organized crime lord that killed loads of people, that's the kind of organized crime lord that I would be.’ [Laughs] Without a doubt, this is a villain–protagonist book. I wouldn't say anti-hero.”

Of course, a Darth Vader comic also has to deal with the fact that even casual fans pretty much know the life story of Anakin Skywalker. He was the focus of the prequel trilogy, and we’ve literally seen this guy from the time he was a snot-nosed kid all the way to his on-screen death. Despite the fact that we’ve already witnessed most of the big moments, Gillen said he believes there is still a lot of territory left to mine about his career working for the Emperor:

“There is certainly room for dramatic irony. It's basic literary devices. ‘Macbeth’ is just as good the second time you watch it performed. [Laughs] And part of the tragedy is that you know where it ends. It's how you go there and how it delineates. You see all of the mistakes that people make and all of the times that they don't learn from those mistakes. Without a doubt [Laughs], the vast majority of people reading "Darth Vader" know how it ends. And that's fine. This book is more about how did he get there?

That was the most exciting thing about doing this book, especially in the period that we're doing between ‘New Hope’ and ‘Empire.’ In ‘New Hope,’ Vader is not quite as politically powerful as he is going to become. The Empire is an entire fleet and he's basically a field commander. In ‘A New Hope,’ he's almost like a troubleshooter. And he becomes enormously more powerful between the two movies. Why? Especially, when you consider that Vader really is to blame for the destruction of the Death Star. At least, he's the only one left alive that the Emperor can blame. [Laughs]

There's an interesting story in the lead up too. Vader has basically been in a holding pattern for 20 years under the Emperor's control and then along comes Luke. And he's shortly going to discover something that he didn't know but has been beginning to expect. And that's going to completely change everything. And that's what makes it all quite fascinating. It's a bad time for the Emperor to choose to start treating Vader badly. [Laughs]”

The first issue of Marvel’s Darth Vader comic hit shelves earlier this month, and Gillen says he’s already scripted the first six issues. Do you think there’s room for a Vader-based spinoff?

(Via Comic Book Resources)