Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle #2 – Review

The nights draw in as October creeps forward with its eclipsing embrace, and it’s never darker than in the Return To Vader’s Castle on Mustafar. Eschewing autumnal comforts, the only warm glow comes from the rivers of blistering lava outside, while the fireside stories on offer are the sort which ensure that most fitful of sleeps.

When we last looked in, the captive audience of Vaneé was revealed to be none other than Lt. Thom Hudd, the Rebel insurgent who had gone missing – presumed deceased – during the 2018 run of Tales From Vader’s Castle. Now the dark lord’s psychotic assistant – so meek and accommodating during his appearance in Rogue One – tortures his quarry for gains unknown, delighted to wield what little power has been afforded to him in his master’s absence. But Hudd is made of sterner stuff, and reaches into the depths of his own memory for distraction. In a bid to displace the effects of Vaneé’s torments, Hudd relays to the reader a tale starring one other than the Grand Moff himself, one Wilhuff Tarkin.

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The story-proper opens in deep space aboard the Imperial Star Destroyer Optima, where Takin’s shuttle arrives to perform an impromptu inspection of Commander Cremp and her forces. As part of The Tarkin Initiative, this austere officer expects nothing but the best (and often more) of his protégés, but his dressing down is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a craft, literally crashing the party. As a gigantic and haphazard beast emerges from the wreckage and begins tearing its way through the ship, Tarkin realises that one of his earlier failures has come home to roost…

Yes, having spun such yarns with vampires and witches, the Star Wars Adventures team turn their attention to the Frankenstein mythos. And who better to translate this into the Galaxy Far, Far Away than a character whose original performer also played more than his fair share of the crazed scientist for Hammer Studios across three decades?

Francesco Francavilla’s outstanding cover sells this almost wordlessly (although the title-stinger has a fantastic trashy touch), the blazing fires of creation and destruction uplighting Peter Cushing’s gaunt features and the patchwork beast in the centre of it all. True to Mary Shelley’s original text, the creature here seeks righteous retribution rather than mindless destruction.

Still able to speak and converse, the monster wastes no time in spelling out his vengeful mission, while the creator quickly overcomes the shock of this reunion and vows to make the next parting their last. Originally crafted as a tool for war in a doomed experiment, we can make out the head of an Ikotchi (think Saesee Tiin from the Jedi Council), definitely the arm of a Wookiee and perhaps the pincer of a Nephran. Scales and green skin make up the rest, but their origin is anybody’s guess.

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With Cavan Scott at the writing table, this is in-keeping with the rest of the series and works very well. Dramatically exaggerated though it may be, his ambience evokes the feeling of Alan Moore’s stories for Marvel’s Star Wars run in the early 1980s, as much Tales Of The Unexpected as it is Hammer House of Horror.

Francavilla provides the artwork and colours for the Mustafar wraparound segment as per the first issue, while the main story is illustrated by Kelley Jones and coloured by Michelle Madsen. Jones’ atmospheric linework is more detailed, while Madsen’s rich yet smoothly-blended colours bring the story to hideous life.

And with a wrap-up that segues nicely into the wider Star Wars universe, the only downside is that the 16 central pages can’t quite do justice to the scope of the piece. Because who doesn’t want to see more of Grand Moff Tarkin brandishing an assault rifle?

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

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