One of the most hotly anticipated Star Wars comic releases of 2018 has been Tales From Vader’s Castle, a five-part series released over the five consecutive Wednesdays in October and concluding on Halloween.
Taking inspiration from Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Tales From Vader’s Castle is part of the Star Wars Adventures line from IDW Publishing, but while the rest of the Star Wars Adventures imprints have been entirely family-friendly, these tales vary significantly between light-hearted spooks and full-on scares.
Parents of younger (and more easily frightened) children may wish to read the series themselves before deciding whether to hand them over, particularly issues two and four. The series is penned by Cavan Scott, the man behind the Adventures in Wild Space series of Star Wars kids books set during the early years of the Galactic Civil War.
The series opens with a frame story which continues at the start and end of each issue and features Lina Graf, the young heroine of Adventures in Wild Space.
Lina has now grown into a Commander in the Rebel Alliance and is out flying along with her faithful droid Crater and a ragtag crew including the constantly scared technician Skritt, an adorable little insectoid of an unknown species. When their ship, the Auric (another little nod to Wild Space fans) is damaged, they are forced to land on the nearest planet, Mustafar. Touching down on the inhospitable world, the crew begin to make their way toward the looming fortress nearby. Skritt is utterly terrified but the others attempt to keep him going by telling each other stories they’ve heard from across the galaxy as they go.
The first tale, “The Haunting of The Ghost”, was told to them by Chopper and also features Kanan and Hera from Star Wars Rebels along with a Rebel informant named Graysom. Kanan and Hera rescue Graysom from his ship which has crashed into an asteroid after a mysterious entity took hold of it. Soon, Graysom is panicking that the same being is now haunting the Ghost, but Hera isn’t going to accept any intruders on her beloved ship and soon she and Kanan discover there’s more to this “haunting” of the Ghost than just a traditional ghostly haunting.
This is a fun and family-friendly opening story for the Tales From Vader’s Castle series and the issue does a good job of introducing the new characters alongside old favorites, all without feeling like it’s in a rush – tricky when you are effectively telling two stories in one book. The title is a homage to The Haunting of Hill House and the art by Chris Fenoglio (Goosebumps and The X-Files: Origins) is a perfect fit for the Rebels and Wild Space characters. While by far the clunkiest of the five issues, it’s a perfectly good introduction.
Issue two moves the action of the main story to the Clone Wars era with “Count Dooku: Prince of Darkness” – because you couldn’t possibly write a Star Wars horror series without including the character played by the master of the genre, Sir Christopher Lee.
In this tale, General Kenobi travels to Bray, the “planet of eternal night”, after the native Brayans put out a cry for help. A man known only as The Dark Lord has taken up residence in a holy citadel and is slowly destroying the nearby villages. Obi-Wan investigates and discovers that Dooku has made a horrifying deal, but when that deal turns south, it’s up to Obi-Wan to restore balance.
This issue of Tales From Vader’s Castle is an obvious nod to the original Dracula, whom Sir Christopher Lee was known for playing in multiple films. While the story steers away from actual vampires, it succeeds by bringing in its own horrifying creature of the night and begins to take the series down a darker route than the previous issue suggested. The artwork changes to reflect this much scarier storyline too with Kelley Jones (The Sandman, Batman) taking up the reigns for an issue that is darker both literally and metaphorically. Of all the planets in the Star Wars universe, Bray won’t be going on my “must visit” list anytime soon.
Issue three jumps forward in time once again, this time catching up with a young Han and Chewie in “Beware – The Briar Witch!”
By now, Lina and her crew in the frame story are under attack themselves and have managed to find their way inside Vader’s fortress where they continue telling stories to calm Skritt’s nerves. In this one, Han and Chewie take on the delivery of a rare piece of art to the supposedly cursed moon of Rendel, much to Chewie’s chagrin. When they arrive, they discover an old ally’s ship tangled in briar and his old droid warns them about the Emerald Witch. Han, showing his usual bravery/hot-headed impulsiveness strides off into the briar to make his delivery but soon finds himself tangled up (quite literally) in more than he can handle. As usual, it’s up to Chewie to save Han’s behind, but not before we learn more about the history of Rendel and how its curse came to be.
This issue of Tales From Vader’s Castle is actually inspired by Frozen, but I felt it also had elements of Wicked woven into its plot. Corin Howell takes over the art (the first and only woman on the core creative team) which returns to a slightly more light-hearted and cartoony feel. This reflects the story which is not as scary as its predecessor, giving us a lighter break at the mid-series point. Han is a great character to bring into a horror story as his laid-back “nothing bothers me” nature is always going to be at odds with a story genre in which the protagonist’s fear plays such a key part. This story then gives the author ample opportunity to play with Han’s head, and this is probably the most fun of all five issues as a result.
The penultimate issue, “Night of the Gorax“, takes us to Endor in the years before Return of the Jedi. Something or someone has been taking young woklings from their beds at night. Some Ewoks believe it is the work of the Duloks – another nearby tribe of creatures – however, when a group of Ewoks set out to the Dulok camp to bring back the woklings they find it deserted and a far more terrifying foe at large instead, one whose reach extends right into the heart of the Bright Tree tribe itself.
This is possibly the darkest of all the Tales From Vader’s Castle with nods to classic horror films like The Wicker Man throughout. These work surprisingly well with the notoriously cute and cuddly Ewoks by showing a much more sinister side to these oft-despised creatures. The artwork by Robert Flack (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) reflects this in its stark color palette of blood reds and dark blues. On a lighter note, however, there are plenty of fun nods to the 1984 movie Caravan of Courage!
The fifth and final issue of Star Wars: Tales from Vader’s Castle is released today and is simply titled “The Fearful Finale!” Instead of following the format of previous issues, this issue mostly sticks with Lina, Skritt and the rest of the crew in the frame story as they make their way through Vader’s fortress on Mustafar and soon come face to face with the Sith Lord himself. The team is in a seemingly hopeless place but it seems that anxious little Skritt has been listening to the tales his crewmates have been telling and has taken away a message from them, allowing him to find his inner bravery in the face of utter terror.
This final issue looks at the power of storytelling to help us become the people we want to be in the face of adversity and our own fears.
It is a message that is told throughout the whole of the Star Wars saga, but here it is laid out clearly for us to consider as an answer to the old question of why any person would want to hear, watch, or read a story designed to frighten them. Do we want to run away and hide from the scary things out in the world, or do we want to find our own inner strength like Skritt and stand against them instead?
GeekMom received these comics for review purposes.