The dead speak! Following on from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's grand reveal that the Emperor survived the second Death Star's demise, another high-profile character has returned, sending certain sectors of the fandom into hyperdrive.
The first issue of the recently relaunched Darth Vader comic – which Disney has officially sanctioned as canon – ends with a jawdropping final page reveal that has the potential to change everything we thought we knew about the prequel trilogy's ending and Darth Vader’s mindset going into Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Spoiler warning! The following contains major plot points from the first Darth Vader comic.
Penned by Greg Pak, Raffaele Ienco, and Neeraj Menon, Darth Vader #1 is set in the aftermath of The Empire Strikes Back. Furious following Luke’s refusal to join him, Vader searches for his son’s location. Vader returns to Tatooine and then to Coruscant to visit the quarters he shared with his wife. There, Vader discovers a lead towards the planet Vendaxa – where he’s confronted by someone completed unexpected: Padmé Amidala, alive, well, and rocking a blaster rifle!
How can this be? Padmé's death at the end of Revenge of the Sith was a pivotal moment in Anakin Skywalker's life – the point where he truly became Darth Vader ("Noooooooooo"). There must, therefore, be some sort of explanation regarding what Vader's actually seeing?
Vader's not witnessing a hologram or a vision
We can strike-through either of these explanations straight away. Firstly, holograms in the Star Wars universe have a trademark, lo-fi wobbly blue hue. That's certainly not the case here.
Perhaps Padmé's a vision? However, Vader's not the only one to witness her – Imperial forensics droid Zed Six Seven also reacts to Amidala’s presence by exclaiming, “By the Maker!” There is definitely someone physically present.
So, who could it be? Cloning technology is fairly prevalent in the Star Wars galaxy, so it’s not entirely out of the realms of possibility that this is a clone of the former Queen of Naboo. Not only have we seen the Republic’s Clone Army, but, in The Rise of Skywalker, we saw a bunch of test tube Snokes that had been made by Palpatine.
It’s not impossible, then, that Padmé Amidala has been cloned – but also seems highly unlikely. Firstly, what would be the point? Don’t forget that Vader’s former identity as Anakin Skywalker is not widely known – indeed Vader has gone to some lengths to hide that truth.
Perhaps the Emperor cloned Padmé? The previous runs of the Vader comic saw Palpatine go to extreme lengths to test his Sith enforcer, but – even for an evil mastermind with the habit of repeatedly melting his own face – this seems like a weird and convoluted play. (Of course, you could say the same about his plans in The Rise of Skywalker.)
Another explanation could be that someone's impersonating Padmé. Yet, why bother impersonating an obscure royal from 19 years previously? This leads us into a much more likely possibility…
It's not Padmé – but Sabé
Darth Vader #1 is replete with flashbacks and dwells a lot on the events of the prequels. Now, cast your mind back to those movies – what’s one of the very first things that we learn about Amidala in The Phantom Menace? That she’s fond of using decoys and doubles. The most memorable – if you can call any of them that – was Sabé, played by none other than Keira Knightley
During the invasion of Naboo, she acted as a decoy for the Queen while the real Padmé was off having adventures. It’s revealed in the canon novel Queen's Shadow – by E. K. Johnston – that, in the wake of Padmé’s death, Sabé began investigating the circumstances behind her former Queen’s passing.
It all sounds plausible, but there are still a couple of hitches. This isn’t just anybody mistaking Sabé for Amidala – it’s Padmé’s former husband. You’d imagine he would be able to tell the difference between the love of his life and someone who was once her decoy. And why would Sabé be clinging on to a disguise that presumably lost all its usefulness two decades earlier? All of which leads us to one unbelievable conclusion…
Padmé didn’t really die!
OK, so let’s say they’ve really done the unthinkable – revived Padmé. The whole thing would be a major retcon to the Star Wars canon. How would that work?
Actually… quite well. Padmé’s death in Revenge of the Sith was always a mess. She died of a broken heart after losing the will to live after Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. It’s a limp way to write the character out of the story, and one that also carries the uncomfortable implication that – as soon as she has given birth to Luke and Leia – she has no further reason to exist.
But, if she was secretly revived off-screen, that opens up some interesting possibilities. How will she react to meeting Vader? What has she been doing in the intervening years? What happens to her now? It gives agency back to the character, and could also tie into Leia’s claims in Return of the Jedi that she has a few scattered memories of her mother – something that always sat weirdly with the end of Sith.
There’s also a carefully worded line from Zed Six Seven earlier in the issue: “The security recordings for the time period directly after her reported death are missing.” Note the use of "reported" there.
If Padmé is indeed alive and well, that presents a new challenge for Vader. The comics have been suggesting that deeply buried elements of Anakin’s personality are rising up within him once more – elements we know come into play during the finale of Return of the Jedi when he finally turns good – and Vader being confronted with his great love is sure to exacerbate things.
While you can’t imagine that things will end well for Padmé – or her clone/decoy/Sabé – it feels like the comics may be attempting to fix the character’s death, while also adding more depth to Anakin’s redemption. Whatever the case, we’ll find out more when the second issue lands on March 11.