The release of this new series of Star Wars Adventures – Ghosts of Vader’s Castle – feels very fitting as we begin to make our way towards the Halloween season, as this latest story in the Star Wars universe sets aside the science fantasy to embrace the horror of a galaxy far, far away.
Set after the fall of the Empire and the death of Darth Vader, readers once again return to Vader’s fortress castle on the fiery planet of Mustafar, as the spirit of Vader, or what’s at least claiming to be the spirit of Vader, instructs his attendant Vaneé to perform a ritual to gain revenge on those who have wronged him. Now, you’d probably expect the target of Vader’s revenge to be someone like Luke Sywalker, but no, instead we find ourselves checking in on Milo Graf on Orchis 2.
Having not yet read the previous Vader’s Castle titles I was unaware that the Graf family made appearances in those books, but as someone who read the Adventures in Wild Space series it was great to see Milo, Lina, and CR-8R showing up here.
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It’s whilst searching through the remains of the Graf Library that Milo recounts a strange dream he had to CR-8R, a dream where he was the Jedi bodyguard to a Republic senator. Thus begins the main bulk of the issue, a dream sequence/possible flashback to the Clone Wars, as Anakin, Padme, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Jar-Jar Binks investigate the planet Rubinero after all contact with it was lost.
This is where the spooky elements of the book jump up a few notches. We’d already had some great, creepy stuff so far, but it’s during this sequence that we see our heroes having to fight through what is essentially the Star Wars version of a zombie outbreak. As you can guess from the cover and the title of the comic, it involves some kind of infection spreading through droids, turning them on people. If that isn’t bad enough, it doesn’t seem to be isolated to just mechanical beings, putting even more horror into things as the infection tries to take over living people too.
This is a great section of the comic, and seeing Anakin having to cut down C-3P0 with his lightsaber because he’s trying to kill him is a shocking and brutal moment, though not as shocking as the droid coming back together in a mass of tentacle-like wires as he gets back up to try and kill his creator yet again. There are some genuinely scary moments here, and some shocks that feel well earned, as characters we know and love are left fighting for their lives in one of the most horrific moments in any Star Wars media I’ve ever seen. And the issue ends on two shocking moments that made me genuinely angry I didn’t have the next issue because I needed to know what happened next.
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Cavan Scott has crafted an incredibly good horror yarn here, teasing a sense of unease across the first few pager, before shifting things radically as we enter the dream/flashback that builds its own tension in a very different way before suddenly turning full horror. This isn’t the first time that Star Wars has done horror, ‘Legacy of Terror’ from the second season of The Clone Wars and the Death Troopers book are two great examples of this, but this might be one of the best done.
The artwork really works well for the spooky feel of the story too. Francesco Francavilla provides the art on the sections of the book that are set in the present time, taking place on Mustafar and Orchis 2. His art style is somewhat messy, with thick, bold lines that look like they’ve been drawn with a bit of speed. For example, the straight lines haven’t been drawn to look perfectly straight, and you can see wobble as if they’ve been drawn freehand. This, along with the darker colour pallete, and the sickly colours used give it a very primal look, almost like a nightmare where the details might be missing, but the atmosphere is one designed to make you feel ill at ease.
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In contrast to this, Megan Levens and Charlie Kirchoff provide the art of the dream/flashback section, and it has a completely different style to the rest of the book. The line work is a lot neater, with thinner, more precise lines, and the colours make it all feel very muted and adds to the idea that this was Milo’s dream. It makes it stand out from the rest of the book, and works to show that thematic difference, as well as having some brilliantly detailed horror moments too.
Star Wars Adventures: Ghosts of Vader’s Castle is a great start to the new series, one that sets a great tone, has a ton of atmosphere and a story that I’m desperate to find out what happens next in. If you’re one of those people who discounts the Star Wars Adventures series as ‘just being for kids’ you’re doing yourself a massive disservice by not grabbing a copy of this.
Star Wars Adventures: Ghosts of Vader’s Castle #1 is out now from IDW Publishing.