Comics

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #4 – Comic Review

The month-long adventures from Vader's Castle continues with IDW's latest issue...

Hallow’een is in sight now and the countdown has begun. IDW Publishing ramp up their October onslaught with a new Tales From Vader’s Castle, the fourth in a quintet of spooky offerings set in the world of Star Wars folklore.

Stranded on the planet Mustafar, Lina Graf’s handful of Rebels have regrouped in Darth Vader’s fortress stronghold, desperately trying to find a way off-planet while evading capture by the Sith Lord’s minions. It’s at this point they realise that Lieutenant Hudd has gone missing, having left a trace of his last whereabouts in a strange, dust-sheeted armoury. Splitting into two pairs to hunt for their comrade, bodyguard droid XM-G3 and the arthropod-like Skritt find themselves creeping about the echoing hallways. As the latter is of a nervous disposition to begin with, Gee-Three decides to tell a tale of inspiring bravery while they search…

Working from Cavan Scott’s script, artist Derek Charm brings his A-game once more. His pencils are stylised but carry crucial detail, the angle and framing of each panel economically chosen to move the story along briskly. Meanwhile heavy inks, strong colours and a black page-background set the tone for Mustafar perfectly.

Also choosing its battles wisely is the writing for this framing device. With only two pages before the issue’s spotlight-story begins, Scott keeps things tight and with minimal recapping. Issue #3‘s cliffhanger ending is moved forward (although without resolution at this point) and like that, we’re in a familiar forest…

The main feature for this issue is ‘Night Of The Gorax’, the subject of the title being five-metre tall, fur-covered troll-like creatures which inhabit the moon of Endor. The Gorax were developed from concept art by Star Wars luminary Ralph McQuarrie, and first introduced as an antagonist in John Korty’s 1984’s spin-off movie, Caravan Of Courage.

READ MORE: Star Wars Adventures – Tales from Vader’s Castle #3 – Comic Review

The Ewoks films have always had an ‘it’s complicated‘ relationship with wider continuity of course, and the soft-reset brought about by Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm placed the extended fauna of Endor firmly onto the shelf of ‘Legends’. That was until the Gorax appeared in 2015’s canonical Ultimate Star Wars book, and 2016’s Galactic Atlas. Earlier this year, a fearsome giant also featured in the ‘Traps and Tribulations’ episode of Forces Of Destiny. The Gorax is here to stay…

We open in the treetops, as Ewok scouts Chirpa (in the years before he became the chief we meet in Return Of The Jedi) and Ra-Lee are in the midst of a quest to feed the tribe. Managing to snag a huge boar-wolf, the triumphant hunters return to Bright Tree Village only to find a gloom has descended. Woklings have been taken from their baskets, and Chirpa’s father and tribal chief, Buzza, suspects a Dulok raid. But Endor’s traditional adversaries have held a fragile peace for years, and something about the abduction doesn’t sit right with Chirpa. Teaming up with Logray, the pair set off to investigate…

And what an absolute treat this will be for fans of a certain age. In addition to the big-bad noted above, we also get Duloks thrown into the mix, as featured in Nelvana’s 1985 Ewoks cartoon series. Always at the fluffier end of the property in every sense, this woodland fable is given more of an edge by means of a voodoo-like trance infecting some of the characters, and a giant Ewok wicker-man (which hasn’t exactly been built as an artistic celebration of the diminutive funsters).

The Ewoks and Duloks here are given full dialogue throughout. That could be as a means of moving the narrative forward in a very precise way, but some might like to think it’s a subtle reference to Wicket W. Warwick speaking fairly fluent Basic (ie English) by 1985’s Battle For Endor film. Your humble correspondent couldn’t possibly comment.

READ MORE: Star Wars Adventures #15 – Comic Review

And the vintage references don’t end with the faces we see. Robert Hack’s artwork evokes the latter years of Marvel’s first run of Star Wars comics. Rich in fine detail with a slightly sketchy finish and predominantly upright-framing, the whole strip exudes the texture of the rough, pulp paper of the 1980s hardback annual. Charlie Kirchoff’s colours complement this by coming from a limited palette, mostly pastels other than the striking red skies occasionally used for emphasis. Again, this is a callback to the days when colour printing was something to be done with one eye on the budget, rather than being the norm.

All in all, this is the most stark visual contrast yet we’ve had with Derek Charm’s intro and outro sections, but no less engaging for all that. Although as with the Count Dooku story from issue 2, ‘Night Of The Gorax’ seems to suffer from being confined to 14 pages. A sense of tentative atmosphere is difficult to accumulate when a story is being told at this pace, and while the payoff is executed magnificently, it feels more than a little rushed.

Returning to Vader’s castle, the four-page tailer sees another character removed from the Rebel group, and sets up what promises to be next week’s dramatic conclusion on Hallow’een itself.

All in all a fine addition to the collection, and if this makes your own padawans ask for more from Endor, that can only be a good thing…

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #4 is available 24 October from IDW Publishing.

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