Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #3 – Comic Review

IDW Publishing continue their spooky October run of Star Wars chillers with Vader's Castle #3...

As October enters its third week and shambles toward Hallow’een, San Diego’s IDW Publishing release the next chapter in their spooktacular Star Wars Adventures spinoff, Tales From Vader’s Castle. It’s a series placing familiar characters in situations of the supernatural, presented in the form of spoken folk tales to avoid any… canonical entanglements.

As Lina Graf and the crew of the Rebel Alliance freighter The Auric seek refuge after crashing on the planet Mustafar, Darth Vader’s fortress appears to be the only available port in their storm. With a squadron of black-armoured Imperial Stormtroopers having discovered the gang’s arrival, Lt. Hudd sets to work on cracking the door entry code. Meanwhile, reprogrammed bodyguard droid XM-G3 distracts the troopers by engaging them head on, and all captain Lina Graf, technician Skritt and the junk-droid CR-8R can do is lay low until either of their comrades is successful…

As is now standard for this mini-series, Cavan Scott is the writer for the issue, and the Mustafar framing device is drawn and coloured by Derek Charm. As is also standard, Charm’s artwork is striking in its boldness, and he clearly loves working with each panel being framed by a black page rather than the standard white one. It would be intriguing to see what he’d make of a longer-form piece in this vein, such as an adaptation of the now-Legends Death Troopers or its Old Republic prequel, Red Harvest.

It’s after three pages of the continuing Mustafar chase that we get to the cover-feature ‘The Briar Witch’…

READ MORE: Star Wars Adventures – Tales From Vader’s Castle #1 – Comic Review

Following the events of the Solo movie, our young freelance trader accepts a quick, ‘easy money’ charter to transport a rare figurine to Rendel, in the Kiva sysem. His co-pilot Chewbacca is less keen, pointing out that many others have turned down the job believing the moon is cursed. Naturally, the cynical smuggler takes even more delight in accepting the payload (and the promise of payment) at this knowledge. But when the pair arrive on Rendel, a meeting with an old acquaintance tells Han and Chewie that something is very wrong, here…

‘The Briar Witch’ is pencilled and inked by Corin Howell, a new name at Star Wars Adventures. Using a slightly wider frame angle than Charm, Howell’s style is loose (particularly in character likenesses), but not quite sketchy. This enables her to capture great representations of movement. Colours are rendered by Valentina Pinto (‘A Small Push‘), as she applies the earth-tones of Han and Chewie having an adventure in rampant undergrowth at night, but expertly manages to keep things murk-free.

READ MORE: Star Wars Adventures – Tales From Vader’s Castle #2 – Comic Review

The storyline itself is more of a sticking-point, however. The format is relatively tried-and-tested in terms of macabre fiction, and it’s certainly not that ‘The Briar Witch’ is badly written. But the reader is left with the feeling that there’s the seed of a great story here, while this 15-page telling of it is merely ‘okay’. The nature of the problem our heroes face and its resolution feels less focused than usual – certainly less than last issue’s Vampire/Dooku storyline. Even accounting for the space-myth nature of its origin, this entry doesn’t really commit to anything other than a bonus tale from Han & Chewie: The Early Years.

And of course it makes absolute commercial sense to use the Alden Ehrenreich era of Solo, not least because at one point the witch’s magic causes our smuggler to age prematurely, looking a little more like his older self. But this parable of sinister shrubbery feels more like a tale suited to the Harrison Ford iteration of the pirate. Either way, these bizarre events occurring to a pilot so young don’t seem to correlate with his mystical-cynicism around the time of A New Hope (although this obviously leads to the earlier point regarding continuity). The central idea of this strip seems to have been writing a story around two characters currently in the readership’s consciousness, rather than finding the right Star Wars characters for a strong story.

One might also expect a tall-tale with a younger version of Harrison Ford’s character carrying a precious and cursed artefact to make a nod or two in the direction of Indiana Jones. Alas not, but again that probably has more to do with the restrictions of the page-count.

Over the preceding two issues, the inset ‘feature’ story has been reached in an almost casual way, with external events sparking a “that reminds me of the time when…” and “but did you ever hear the tale of…” introduction. It’s only natural that this technique might start to become more convoluted as the series progresses, but issue #3’s nested narrative is prompted by Skritt – an insectoid who is effectively the size of a toddler to begin with – literally asking Lina Graf to tell him a story to calm his nerves. Obviously the joke becomes that the one she chooses has almost the polar opposite effect, but the bluntness of the segue perhaps doesn’t bode well for the remaining two issues.

Still, at least we don’t have long to wait to find out…

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #3 is available 17 October from IDW Publishing.

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