Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle #3 – Review

The third issue in IDW’s Star Wars Adventures: Return To Vader’s Castle series hits the ground running, or perhaps hiding, as Lt Thom Hudd escapes his shackles in the Mustafar dungeon. The dark lord’s servant Vaneé doesn’t take kindly to this development of course, and proceeds to stalk the corridors of the fortress looking for the missing Rebel, armed with a sardonic scowl and a shimmering vibro-axe. But knowing Hudd can’t just stroll out of the front door Vaneé plays a longer game, telling another of his ghoulish tales to test the patience and resolve of the one he seeks, hopefully drawing him out that way.

We open on level 1313 of Coruscant toward the end of the Clone Wars, with Asajj Ventress having walked away from the conflict and taken up subterranean residence as a jobbing bounty hunter. Underworld crime boss Lacezzi Macran approaches Ventress with a challenge – to find whoever is abducting his goons, security guards and even droids. But a straightforward case of entrepreneurial rivalry becomes a far more primal hunt, as the hands making light work of Macran’s employees turn out to be tentacles

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With the title, ‘Bop Sh-Bop, Little Sarlacc Horror’, writer Cavan Scott immediately sets a playful tone for this week’s outing. This is borne out through both the Mustafar wraparound and the central story itself, with quips and comic asides not usually featured in the Vader’s Castle strand. Francesco Francavella continues the pencils, inks and colours for the framing device, his loose and expressive style complemented by pitch black shadows, an array of lava-reds and smattering of golden highlights. It’s work that’s particularly suited to this series, and would look great over the course of a 100-page Sith-based graphic novel.

The grimy depths of Coruscant, however, are probably brighter than we’ve ever seen them. Artwork and colours for this section come from Nick Brokenshire, with his trademark clean drawing style and light colour palette. Nick’s last appearance in Star Wars Adventures was issue #19 with a similarly creature-tastic strip, but it’s perhaps notable that this spooky sojourn marks a return to his stronger form.

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The pastel-toned backdrops and atmospheric detailing are reminiscent of Marvel’s classic Star Wars run in the early 1980s, although the layout and framing are strictly modern-era. To apply this combination to a new story set before the Original Trilogy really is the best of both worlds.

Over the course of its 16 pages, ‘…Sarlacc Horror’ has enough room to relay the story at a steady pace without resorting to padding. Scott takes a ‘show don’t tell’ approach to the action before introducing the primary characters for a deeper insight to the problem at hand. Ventress remains her usual implacable self, having grabbed the reins of mercenary life with both hands. The entry is self-contained enough that it requires no further qualification or addition, yet still paints more detail into the life of the bounty hunter while she was out of the limelight.

Best of all, the latter half of Vaneé’s yarn seems to take as much inspiration from 1980’s Blood Beach as it does Little Shop of Horrors, with Scott proudly wearing his credentials on his sleeve.

Slightly more throwaway than Tarkin’s tale, this is nonetheless a consistently strong issue as Return To Vader’s Castle does what it does best: mixing up a smoking beaker of anthology horror in the Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Star Wars Adventures: Return To Vader’s Castle #3 is available from IDW Publishing and your preferred comic outlets.

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