As the days cool down, the nights draw in and the dusty clock in the reading room at STT towers almost seems to tick more slowly in anticipation of plummeting backward, October’s bony claw flips over the calendar and points to Halloween, both here and in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And IDW Publishing have brewed the very potion for readers wanting to ease themselves into the season of darkness, with a five issue Star Wars Adventures mini-series of stories collected under the banner Tales From Vader’s Castle, to be published weekly across the tenth month of the year.
The debut chapter in this fistful of fright is titled The Haunting Of The Ghost and opens with Rebel Alliance pilot Lina Graf (co-protagonist in the Adventures In Wild Space junior novels and great aunt of Emil Graf, who hosts the regular Star Wars Adventures comic Tales From Wild Space segment), captaining a modified YT-series freighter, the Auric, and attempting to out-run TIE fighters with her crew and seeking cover on Mustafar. Once within the planet’s atmosphere, Lina and her team find themselves hurtling toward the fortress stronghold of Darth Vader (as glimpsed in Rogue One) and the realisation sparks a memory in the gang’s intel officer.
The vintage droid CR-8R (‘Crater’, later to become one of Milo’s crew-members) then relays a spooky story he was told by C1-10P (‘Chopper’, from Star Wars Rebels), about the time that Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus’ ship, The Ghost, found itself playing host to a mysterious and unwelcome entity while on a rescue mission…
So as you’ve hopefully gathered from the slightly convoluted introduction, the first issue of Tales From Vader’s Castle gives us an Original Trilogy-era framing device referencing Disney-era content via a Clone Wars-era narrator, handing over to a Star Wars Adventures veteran bringing us a just-before-Rebels-era story. You don’t get this level of timeline involvement with Marvel.
Although written by IDW regular and Adventures In Wild Space author Cavan Scott, this issue is split in two artistically, as well as chronologically. Derek Charm provides the pencils, inks and colours for Lina Graf’s opening five pages (and the closing two-page outro) with thick lines and a high-contrast style introducing the ragtag crew. The cramped cockpit interior is brought to life with close-up shots of the Auric’s crew, and Charm’s skill lies as much in choosing the right colour palette for lighting the scene as it does conveying characters’ emotions with almost minimalist detail.
Once we leap back in time onboard The Ghost, the lines become finer while detail and shading have more control as Chris Fenoglio takes over. The scenery artwork in this section is exquisite, although the few familiar character-likenesses feel a little more loose. That said, Chopper and Hera are distinctive enough that it’s difficult to get them ‘wrong’, so Kanan Jarrus follows by default, if anything. Perhaps more importantly (for this story), the lighting in their powered-down ship coveys the isolation of the story while being clear enough to let give the reader all the information they need.
And in a surprise turn of events, Robbie Robbins provides lettering for this issue, presumably meaning Tom B. Long (who has worked on every issue of Star Wars Adventures and its Forces Of Destiny spin-offs to date) can finally get the sleep he so clearly deserves. Although Robbie’s work is equally strong here, so I’m sure Tom’s not going to go so far as enjoying a lie-in.
The problem, if there is one, lies more initial complexity of the dual framing devices and the slightly vague, ‘folk-tale’ nature of the central story itself. While Star Wars has never been quite as clinical as some of its sci-fi genre mates, readers/viewers have been used to a fairly consistent level of rhyme-and-reason. And while the ‘supernatural’ element of this tale is illustrated well enough to reach a conclusion, it feels both simultaneously under- and over-explained, packed into its 13-page inset. Whether the narrative’s malign influence will rear its head in subsequent issues remains to be seen, but as a self-contained comic the framing-device writes cheques that the ghost story can’t quite cash.
Star Wars has always had a grim, if uneven, fascination with the macabre. Readers of a certain age may remember being unnerved by Reist, the nightmare demon, while more recently (and prior to the soft-reboot of Disney ownership) we had zombies roaming around the GFFA via Death Troopers.
But this comic series is aimed at younger readers, more than likely taking their first tentative steps into the darker corners of fiction and with the security-blanket of Star Wars gripped tightly in hand. Tales From Vader’s Castle #1 is fun, your padawans will be fine.
Besides, next week we’re in the company of Count Dooku in the full-on prequel era, a prospect which should strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere…
Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #1 is available from 3 October from IDW Publishing.