In the Shadow of Vader’s Castle with Cavan Scott

The writer of the scary stories at the heart of a new IDW one-shot comic reveals new pages and his tips for writing horror for all ages.

In the spirit of Halloween this year, it only seemed right to conjure Cavan Scott and discuss his bone-chilling Shadow of Vader’s Castle one-shot, coming out November 4 from IDW. Featuring ghostly art by a ghoulish gathering of graphic artists, this comic is the third annual Halloween special coming to us from a galaxy far, far away. StarWars.com recently sat down with the author to discuss horror in Star Wars, what readers can expect from his latest scary tale, and – perhaps most importantly! — whether or not the Dark Lord of the Sith has a favorite candy.

Pages from Shadow of Vader's Castle.

StarWars.com: It seems like you’re the resident scary storyteller in Star Wars between Dooku: Jedi Lost, Adventures in Wild Space, and the Vader’s Castle series. How do you mix space-opera with horror so seamlessly?

Cavan Scott: Resident scary storyteller? I like that. Can I get business cards?

For me, horror and Star Wars go so well together as they’ve been part of my experience of the saga from the beginning. When I was a kid I was obsessed with monsters, whether that was classic gothic terrors such as Dracula and Frankenstein or alien creatures I saw on TV and films. And let’s face it, if there’s one thing Star Wars has, it’s creatures. I came to the films halfway between Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and the most thumbed pages of my copy of The Star Wars Storybook were the cantina aliens. That grainy picture of Trinto Duaba the Stennes Shifter literally gave me nightmares with his crazy sunken eyes. Of course, like an idiot after having the nightmare I took to drawing him in my exercise books along with every other patron I could find pictures of. Then when I saw Empire in the cinema, how did it start? With Luke hanging upside down in the larder of a massive abominable snowman. That’s literally horror right there (and of course, this was pre-special editions, so my over-active imagination made the wampa even scarier. There was probably a lot more blood). I do remember being absolutely terrified as the creature’s roars started echoing down the ice-tunnels and that’s before we got to splitting tauntauns in two, giant space slugs, and swarms of mynocks.

So, whenever I need to explore the more horrific sides of a galaxy far, far away, I try to remember what it was like sitting in that cinema, being absolutely terrified that Luke Skywalker wouldn’t make it out of the ice cave in one piece. That’s the sensation I want to get across.

However, there is one difference between traditional horror and Star Wars horror. Usually, horror is the story of characters not being able to escape their fate. Even the most competent characters fall prey to the monsters, who just keep coming. And even when victory comes, you just know that the evil hasn’t really been defeated. In Star Wars this is countered by the fact that hope is at the heart of every Star Wars story, or at least it should be. So, even at its darkest, Star Wars scares have a glimmer of hope. I have to admit it was something I struggled with writing Dooku: Jedi Lost. It’s actually quite a bleak story when you think about it; the literal creation of a monster. I kept hanging onto the fact that, as we know from Dark Disciple, Ventress does eventually find peace.

StarWars.com: Shadow of Vader’s Castle is the latest addition to the expanding Vader’s Castle series. What can readers expect from this issue?

Cavan Scott: Well, it’s a slightly different format this time. Knowing it was a one-shot instead of a mini-series, we tried to give it a portmanteau feel, three shorter stories told within the frame of a larger story. Unlike the first two series, we’ve moved away from Lina Graf and her crew. Time has moved on to the fall of the Empire. News has reached Mustafar that the Emperor is dead and, like the rest of the galaxy, the planet is celebrating — all except two young Mustafarans who believe they will never be free of Vader while they live in the shadow of his castle. So, ignoring warnings from those older and wiser than themselves, they set out across the lava flows to raze the castle to its foundations. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan…

StarWars.com: IDW comics are targeted towards a younger audience. What sort of challenge does that present for you when writing these scary stories? Do you ever worry younger fans will get too scared?

Cavan Scott: That’s where you have to be responsible. I think the key I have to remember is that the IDW comic lines are considered all-ages, rather than for kids. That’s quite a big difference. It has to be something that anyone can pick up, whether you’re eight or eighty. The difference, of course, is that knowing that younger readers could and should pick them up, you have to be sensitive when it comes to writing scares. Excessive gore is out. We can suggest but not show the grislier side of the action. Saying that, isn’t that sometimes more effective? Again, I’m thinking about that wampa roar. You also have to really be careful about the intensity of the horror, judging when to ramp up the tension and, more importantly, when to release it. Humor is such a useful tool for this. Think of the times you’ve seen a scary movie and everyone screams or gasps and then suddenly laughs. It’s a natural reaction, so you try to pepper those moments into an all-age horror story, giving the younger readers a moment of respite before the next scare.

Pages from Shadow of Vader's Castle.

StarWars.com: The prologue of this issue was particularly exciting for me as a huge prequel fan. Without spoiling too much, can you speak to writing that opening scene?

Cavan Scott: I wanted to include Vader at various points in his life, both in his armor and before he had the need to wear it, just after his elevation to Dark Lord. The scene of Anakin on Mustafar is one that has stayed with me in the years since watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; that tear rolling from his almost demonic yellow eyes. It’s an incredibly sympathetic and yet also completely horrifying moment, that proves he knows exactly what he’s just done.

Originally, that part of the story was written to act as a back-up strip in Star Wars Adventures, hopefully leading readers over to Shadows of Vader’s Castle. For various reasons we made the decision to shift it over to the one-shot and make it a prologue. I prefer that actually. I think it really helps the book.

Pages from Shadow of Vader's Castle.

StarWars.com: Halloween is just around the corner which obviously begs the question: what do you think Vader’s favorite candy is? 

Cavan Scott: I’m not sure he has a sweet tooth to be honest, but if he turns up at your door, for star’s sake, just give him a treat! Don’t, whatever you do, ask for a trick. It would probably take your breath away.

Shadow of Vader’s Castle, written by Cavan Scott with art by Francesco Francavilla, Derek Charm, Nicoletta Baldari, and Nick Brokenshire, arrives November 4 and is available for pre-order now on Comixology and at your local comic shop.

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Emily Shkoukani is a jr. creative executive at Lucasfilm who helps to maintain the lore and continuity of the Star Wars galaxy. And sometimes, they write for StarWars.com!

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