Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle #1 – Review

Ah, that turnover to the tenth page of the calendar can mean only one thing – the countdown to Hallow’een is on. And it’s taking place in the Galaxy Far, Far Away as surely as in our own, as IDW challenge us to Return To Vader’s Castle

As a successor to last year’s project, this five-part anthology series sees a special issue of Star Wars Adventures published each week throughout October. It’s a handful of creepy tales plucked form the Star Wars timeline, with a framing device set around the perennial Sith Lord’s pad on Mustafar. Each entry features characters or locations we already know, and because they’re presented as in-universe folk tales, the grasp on canonical continuity can be looser than the one on the reader’s nerves.

So rather than reboot or retool Tales From Vader’s Castle, this new strand picks up some time after it. Deep within the bowels of the eponymous fortress, we open as one of Lord Vader’s hooded attendants wakes someone from an uneasy slumber. Talking directly to his captive audience – the reader at this point – our host sets out his stall, to tell “stories of nightmares past and terrors yet to come”.

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And what a way to begin. ‘The Horned Devil’ transports us to Lotho Minor, junkworld and subterranean home to that most furious of demons, Darth Maul. Set some time before the Sith’s rescue by Savage Opress, an offworld mechanical menace in the form of Captain Spikewheel ejects four young charges onto the planet’s scrap-strewn surface. His challenge? Find the haunted labyrinth which runs under the junk and spend one night in the dark without losing their minds. The prize? A place in Spikewheel’s mercenary crew.

Finding the system of tunnels proves easier than expected, as does drawing the attention of the one who lives down there. This quartet of young firebrands will have to set aside rivalries and work together if they’re to survive. Unless… unless it’s not that type of inspirational story, of course…

So Cavan Scott returns as writer for the Vader’s Castle series, able once more to exercise his more antagonistic creative muscles, albeit within a firmly PG environment. Francesco Francavilla provides pencils, inks and colours for the Mustafar wraparound, capturing the gloomy interior of the dark lord’s abode yet not skimping on the bold hues. The characters we see in this section are sketchily but atmospherically rendered, either cloaked in shadow or bleached out from a holoprojector display.

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The main story on Lotho Minor brings artwork from Megan Levens and colours from Charlie Kirchoff, both a familiar presence at Star Wars Adventures. While each are rendered with gorgeous precision, the visuals here aren’t as dark as one might expect. Or, indeed, as dark as the story actually requires. While it takes an admirably restrained number of panels before Maul appears, what should be gradual suspense building feels more like padding. And when the horned one finally makes his entrance, we get a relatively nuts-and-bolts rendition of his arachnoid form. Under normal circumstances this vision would be terrifying enough, but without murky shadows to appear from there’s surprisingly little tension for the reader.

This is not to say there’s no fun to be had in Return To Vader’s Castle #1. Last year’s creepy quintet had its share of highs and lows (entirely consistent with Star Wars Adventures, to be fair), and it would be unwise to imagine a sequel wouldn’t follow suit to some degree.

But the comic’s coda back on Mustafar tells us that the tale of Lina Graf’s crew didn’t end, promising interesting developments to come in the dark halls of power. Be sure to come back after reading to share your thoughts. We’ll see you next week when we’ve got a date with the Grand Moff…

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader’s Castle #1 is available from 2nd October from IDW Publishing and your preferred comic outlets.

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