As we Return To Vader’s Castle for the fourth of IDW’s quintet of spooky tales, the fiery skies of Mustafar reflect the battle within its walls. Lt. Thom Hudd has escaped the clutches of the Sith Lord’s attendant Vaneé, only to be cornered by a pair of lethal security droids. Saved from the machines’ worst excesses by his captor’s desire to inflict punishment himself, Hudd plays for time by spinning a macabre yarn for Vaneé, aware that he at least has a soft spot for those…
And so to Tatooine for ‘Vault Of The Living Brains’, as the halls of Jabba’s palace in the Dune Sea echo to the sounds of everyone’s favourite Hutt, entertaining his cousin Crakka. The gastropod has arrived ostensibly as a means of catching up after a 40-year absence, bearing gifts in the form of a giant and fearsome Hunanetre creature. But the Hutts are as trusting as they are discreet – even among their own – and sure enough, Crakka’s real purpose is soon unveiled: the collection of jarred but still-active brains in the catacombs which are the B’omarr Monks, the original custodians of this temple.
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Yes, writer Cavan Scott delves into one of the more outré background details from Return Of The Jedi, the giant spider-droid seen clicking along in the background as R2-D2 and C-3PO enter Jabba’s abode. It’s been long established in Star Wars lore that the brain it carries in its glass dome belongs to an adherent to a sect of monks, freeing themselves from the burden of physical bodies to focus on purely spiritual enlightenment. Our story doesn’t dwell on their motivations for this, but they are a central aspect.
In sharp relief from the high-contrast artwork of Francesco Francavilla’s wraparound sections on Mustafar – with its dynamic linework, deep shadows and searing reds – the main segment is presented in a softer style by Nicoletta Baldari. The gloomy corners of the palace are there as we’d expect, but Baldari’s palette ranges from the blended blues of the brickwork, through Jabba’s earthy tones and into the bright purple of Crakka herself (since Ziro the Hutt is Jabba’s uncle and also purple, it’s probably a safe bet to say he is Crakka’s father. This ‘youngster’ has certainly inherited the clumsy duplicitousness, at any rate).
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Nicoletta’s characterisations are fluid and exaggerated, in-keeping with the watercolour-style texturing and absence of heavy black outlines. Visually, it’s reminiscent of 101 Dalmatians-era Disney, although far softer than the recent Star Wars Graphic Novel adaptations which play with the same feel. Despite the delicate art this is very brightly coloured in places, far more than a reader might expect for a Hallow’een-inspired story of a crime lord who lives in a twilight fortress. But there’s a slightly camp air to proceedings which explains this away effortlessly, evoking Dark Horse’s ‘Jabba The Hutt: The Hunger Of Princess Nampi’ storyline from 1995.
Return To Vader’s Castle is playing well to Star Wars Adventures’ strengths, with varied styles of artwork supporting consistently strong writing. We close on a gruesome note entirely fitting for the story and the series, the actual veracity of the details being a moot point as it’s presented in the first place as an urban myth. The whole thing is certainly believable of Jabba’s character, at any rate. Lt. Hudd has bigger problems however, as a third figure arrives in the dungeon for next week’s finale…
Star Wars Adventures: Return To Vader’s Castle #4 is available now from IDW Publishing and your preferred comic outlets.