Everyone knows that Disney wiped the Star Wars slate clean when they bought the franchise in 2014. Star Wars fans mourned the loss of some beloved characters, but Disney has recently decided to fold one back into the current canon- Beilert Valance. He first reappeared in 2018’s Star Wars: Han Solo- Imperial Cadet mini-series before getting a starring role in the latest Darth Vader series Star Wars: Target Vader. While the premise of Target Vader may seem like fodder for six action-heavy shoot ‘em up issues, writer Robbie Thompson and the team of artists who contributed to this series- namely Stefano Landini- deliver a surprisingly heartfelt and deeply human character study that serves as the perfect argument for Beilert’s return to canon.
Star Wars: Target Vader has a relatively simple plot- Beilert Valance is offered a once-in-a-lifetime bounty from the Hidden Hand, an elusive gun-running and bounty hunting syndicate. The target? Vader (ha! Get it?). The twist? Well, I won’t spoil anything, but it turns out Beilert is much more familiar with the Hidden Hand than he initially lets on.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, which it often is, this story moves along at the perfect pace. It offers up new information without being exposition laden and features just the right mixture of bombastic, wonderfully illustrated action between narrative beats. This story does have loose ties to the overall Star Wars narrative depicted in the movies, but it doesn’t fall victim to feeling like it’s shoehorned into undeserved importance.
This loose tie to the Galactic Civil War- the Hidden Hand being known weapons suppliers for the Rebellion- reminds readers of the context of the story but also allows this story to stand on its own two feet. What I mean is I didn’t find myself trying to place this story of Vader’s attempted assassination into the grander scheme of Star Wars while reading. Instead, I just enjoyed the story for what it was- which is a mostly kick-ass character study of an often forgotten character.
Towards the end of the series, however, the plot begins to sputter. Revelations are made suddenly and without earnest while dangling story threads or side character progressions are left unexplored. The result is a story that is really awesome for five issues before stumbling into a rushed conclusion that feels somewhat anticlimactic. This is a series that definitely would have benefitted from an extra issue or two to really stick the landing of the otherwise satisfying narrative.
The juggled rotation of artists also indicates how expedited this series feels- especially in the all-too-important final two issues. It’s not that any of the visuals are subpar. In fact, each artist and color artist fantastically brings the Star Wars universe to life on the page. Stefano Landini, in particular, crushes it at every opportunity. From characters to ships to weapons, Landini just gets Star Wars and captures the aesthetic perfectly. Regardless, there is still a problem with the jarring inconsistencies in the aesthetic.
It’d be noticed if South Park suddenly animated their episodes in the style of Rick and Morty, wouldn’t it? What if they switched mid-episode? That’s the crux of the visual challenges of this story. Landini (issues 2-4 and #6) has a very similar style to Marc Laming (issue #1), which doesn’t cause much of a problem. But when the book switches from Landini’s soft lines and gritty aesthetic to the bubbly, more cartoonish style of Marco Faillo the reader is ripped from the immersion of the book because the lense in which they see the world is severely changed.
Faillo’s style is wonderful after the whiplash wears off, but just as the aesthetic finds a rhythm the book switches back to Landini, once again tearing the reader away from the immersion. This is not a matter of quality, just visual consistency. And it’s a shame the story had to suffer for this inconsistency.
Regardless of the jarring nature of the sudden visual changes, Star Wars: Target Vader truly succeeds because of its lead- Beilert Valance. It’s easy to write Beilert off as all style and no substance. Sure, he looks cool, but what is underneath the cyborg exterior? Well, writer Robbie Thompson and this team of artists prove there’s more than meets the cybernetic eye with Beilert.
Beilert proves to be an incredibly adept tactician and strategist who is always one step ahead, and experiencing his cunning in real-time will leave readers astounded by the cleverness of this character. He feels like the type of warrior who could go toe-to-toe with Thrawn and just maybe squeeze out a victory- which I was absolutely not expecting when I initially approached this book.
More importantly, Thompson shows just how deeply troubled and traumatized Beilert is. He’s a man who was raised to see the Empire as the heroic emancipators who allowed his world to thrive. He was a fiercely loyal soldier who never hesitated to put his life on the line for his nation- and he did, many times. Simply put, he was a patriot. A blindly jingoistic grunt who unflinchingly believed in his cause. And he was never, not once, rewarded for it. He was cast him aside, as soon as he was no longer useful.
This deep exploration of Beilert’s past is gut-wrenching, leaving readers thirsting for revenge against the Empire just as ferociously as Beilert does. This is so effective because Beilert’s eventual hatred for the Empire isn’t served up on a silver platter through exposition or dialogue. Instead, it is shown to the reader in a series of affecting flashbacks that offer a slow drip-feed of backstory to Beilert. On a more critical level, Beilert’s tragic Imperial career offers insight into the dangers of undying loyalty and patriotism- especially when one doesn’t think critically about the nation they swear fealty to.
At its best, Star Wars: Target Vader is a wonderfully entertaining and mysterious action-thriller, despite shortcomings in its conclusion. It’s a surprisingly emotional character study that will leave readers clamoring for more Beilert Valance stories in the future. While the rushed conclusion and jarring visual inconsistencies hold the book back from being great, Target Vader is a worthy read for all Star Wars fans and a must-read for fans begging for more EU characters to be added back into canon.