The 8 Best Darth Vader Comics to Read Before Watching "Obi-Wan Kenobi"

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Marvel Comics

The new Obi-Wan Kenobi show might star the eponymous semi-retired Jedi, but no small amount of hype around the show’s release has been the return of iconic Star Wars villain Darth Vader.

Though much of the new Star Wars content like The Mandalorian and the sequel trilogy are set years after Vader’s death, the Sith Lord has still popped up from time to time in Jedi: Fallen Order, Rebels, and Rogue One. Where Vader’s made the most appearances, though, has been in several comics both in the new canon and before.

Marvel’s Star Wars comics have had their highs and lows. The good news is that most of the Vader comics have been some of the best stuff to come out of Marvel’s Star Wars line. Mostly. It was also one of the few titles that truly came out of the gate strong.

1. 'Darth Vader Vol. 1'

Marvel Comics

Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca’s Vader series isn’t just a good place to start: it’s one of the best Star Wars comics from the new lineup and arguably one of the best Vader stories from the comics in either canon.

The first round of Star Wars comics set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back sometimes struggled to find relevance to make the stories feel worth reading: not so with Vader.

Gillen starts with Vader in disgrace after the events of A New Hope are seen as something of an unmitigated failure. Vader is out of favor with the Emperor and the sharks within the Imperial hierarchy are circling. He’s a character typically defined by his menace to the heroes, so it’s unusual to have a story where he’s vulnerable and not in control of the situation. Even more rare are the stories that handle that with nuance and make the stakes feel high, despite everyone knowing Vader’s eventual fate, but Gillen manages it masterfully.

The book also fills in the gap for a big story beat between Episodes IV and V: Vader hunting for the identities of the people who were responsible for the destruction of the Death Star and his disgrace. This storyline leads to one of the most famous moments from the new canon comics and makes at least the first volume very much worth a read.

But the Vader series’ secret weapon—one the other Star Wars books around this time should have taken better note of—is a strong supporting cast of original characters that became breakout stars, like torture-bot Triple-Zero and Black Krrsantan, who recently made an appearance in Book of Boba Fett after debuting here. The real highlight though is rogue archeologist Doctor Aphra, an audience surrogate whose role in the book is so strong she went on to help multiple solo series afterward.

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2. 'Imperial Machine'

Marvel Comics

Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli had the unenviable task of following up Gillen’s highly-praised Vader series, but they manage capably if never quite reaching the same heights that Gillen did.

The story pivots to the days and months after Revenge of the Sith, a fascinating transitional moment in the setting that was mostly fresh territory at that point—though it’s been explored more since in the Bad Batch series. This is a Vader without a public identity, without a reputation, and at the start: without a lightsaber. Like Gillen’s run, Soule’s Vader series works where it presents an unexpectedly fresh look at a long-established character.

Soule’s run provides insight on Jedi still on-the-run post-Order 66 and the rise of the Inquisitors, both fascinating subjects that look to play a big role in the Kenobi show.

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3. 'Dark Heart of the Sith'

Darth Vader Vol 1 Dark Heart of the Sith final cover copy
Marvel Comics

The third and most current Vader run, helmed by Greg Pak and Raffaele Ienco, continues the character’s winning streak in the comics. The story starts strong, with Vader confronted with what seems to be a ghost from his past: Padme. It’s pretty obvious early on that it’s one of her Handmaids, but Anakin’s tortured relationship with Padme still hangs over much of this series and adds tension to Vader’s partnership with Sabé as the former decoy hunts for Padme’s killer.

The series also sees the roots of Vader starting to question his loyalty to the Emperor and following up on a character from the underrated Solo film. Of the three new canon Vader titles it’s the weakest, but that’s more a testament to how strong this trilogy of runs is than a condemnation of Pak’s work with the character.

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4. 'Vader Down'

Marvel Comics

When Darth Vader’s tie fighter is shot down on a planet, the Rebels race against the Empire to get to the most feared agent of the tyrannical regime. But even alone: Vader is a dangerous force to be reckoned with as one fan-favorite moment early in the event shows.

Vader Down is a crossover event between Vader and the main Star Wars line and has a quality somewhere between those two. The main Star Wars line was an uncharacteristically mediocre showing from otherwise fantastic writer Jason Aaron.

The main Star Wars title seemed hampered at every turn by not being able to have any real sense of consequences, in part because the story is tightly focused on the main characters from A New Hope. Every arc has a sitcom-level reset by the end, and that’s in full swing during Vader Down, but the event still has some worthwhile moments and some great art.

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5. 'Obi-Wan and Anakin'

Marvel Comics

This standalone story about young Obi-Wan and Anakin isn’t a must-read, but it does a nice job of showing unsure and headstrong Anakin in his early padawan days with an equally aimless Kenobi, still reeling from the death of his master Qui-Gon Jinn.

The book by Charles Soule, who would later helm one of the Vader series listed above, and Marco Checchetto tells an almost Star Trek-like story of the pair being dispatched as negotiators to a war-torn planet. But tensions between the two threaten to break apart their new partnership even as it begins. It’s a short story and the A-plot of the negotiations is never really more than half-baked, but the titular relationship still makes the story worth a read before their anticipated reunion in Kenobi.

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6. 'Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison'

Dark Horse Comics

Obviously, Darth Vader’s popularity isn’t anything new, and Vader was featured in several no-longer-canon comics that are still worth reading for fans of the Sith Lord. The Ghost Prison by W. Haden Blackman and Agustin Alessio was one of the last of the pre-Marvel comics from Dark Horse and it’s a strong sign-off. Emperor Palpatine is dying after an attempted coup and Vader sets off in search of a cure deep within a semi-mythical Jedi prison.

Some of the stronger Star Wars stories have tackled military vs Sith tension within the Empire’s hierarchy and that’s one of the stronger parts of Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison. The story also answers what the Jedi did with those captured during the Clone Wars and looks at some hypocrisy and dubious morality of the Jedi in their twilight years.

It’s no longer canon, but it’s still a worthwhile read as a standalone story.

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7. 'Star Wars: Empire'

Marvel Comics

Like Ghost Prison, Empire is a Dark Horse story from the pre-Marvel canon that deals with divisions within Palpatine’s new Empire. The book by Scott Allie and Ryan Benjamin sees Vader tasked with hunting down a cabal of traitors within the Empire in the years just before A New Hope. The series shows Vader facing off with rebels, escaped Jedi, and shadowy forces of corruption striking from within Imperial ranks.

It’s a different take than the current Marvel-continuity Vader, with the Sith Lord here tasked with an almost secret police-type role rather than as Palpatine’s brutal enforcer. Vader is still merciless and violent, but it’s interesting to see the character in a more investigative role.

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8. 'Star Wars: Purge'

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Dark Horse Comics

This story is a one-shot from the pre-Marvel era, but it’s one of the best looks at Vader in his role as a Jedi hunter. A classic feature of the comics is that, with the Jedi as a galaxy-spanning organization, there were plenty of gaps in Order 66. Purge features Vader at his most brutal and vengeful, scouring every corner of the galaxy hunting down Jedi and searching for Kenobi in particular.

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