Written by Haden Blackman
Art by Agustin Alessio
Everybody loves the Empire. Oh sure, we all root for Luke and Han and the Rebels to win the day on the surface. But some of the most prominent images of Star Wars are Darth Vader, stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and the Emperor, and it’s because we love to see them be evil. Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison not only gives us a pure look at the bad guys, but it also has a fresh take on things.
Taking place between Episodes III and IV, Ghost Prison is from the point of view of Laurita Tohm, an Imperial cadet who’s just graduated when a terrorist attack is launched on Coruscant and the Emperor by other Imperials. It turns out that not everybody in the Empire is happy with the Emperor’s rule. Tohm joins up with Moff Trachta and, of course, Darth Vader as they protect the wounded Emperor and find refuge in the titular ghost prison.
The prison is not haunted (no Star Wars horror comic today), but is instead a secret Jedi prison, hidden so well that even the fall of the Republic protected it, and it turns out to be filled with war prisoners, many of whom were captured by Anakin Skywalker. This tie to Darth Vader’s past works to give him just a touch of backstory and anger at his past. Despite being in the title of the book, Darth Vader really isn’t the focus. A lot of the emotion comes from Laurita and Trachta. However, this makes Vader that much stronger. By having Laurita narrate instead of Vader, we see him as this brutal, imposing figure. He kills without mercy, he flies into rages. He is not as tragic and sympathetic as we know he is, but a force of terror.
And we want him to win. We want them to take back Coruscant and defeat the traitors. Which is interesting in its own right for several reasons. For one, the traitors are shown to have a completely good cause, reasons for doing what they’ve done and quite a few sympathies. We see reflections of these in Laurita, but as he comes under Vader’s tutelage, these get wiped out. This is a story of a good, idealist soldier who happens to learn under the wrong person, and it’s fascinating to watch. The other reason the story is interesting is that we know who’s going to win. Well, yeah, the traitors aren’t going to succeed in taking over Coruscant and killing the Emperor because we’ve seen what happens. This doesn’t mean the book isn’t filled with plenty of suspense and exciting action sequences.
Alessio’s art must be praised. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The detailing on the characters is incredible, and he makes the prison comes to life. It feels like a dark and forgotten place in the Star Wars universe. The action sequences are also perfectly done. As lightsabers fly and blasters…blast, he just captures it.
A great Star Wars book all around. I don’t dip into the Expanded Universe much, but this is an enthralling tale of darkness against light that makes us cheer for the dark.