How Darth Vader’s Castle Changed From Empire Strikes Back Drafts To Rogue One


Darth Vader’s castle has changed a lot over the past 42 years of Star Wars. Although audiences wouldn’t see what is officially known as Fortress Vader until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016, the idea has been a part of Star Wars since the very early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back, and has gone through quite a few changes since.

In Star Wars canon, Vader’s castle sits on the edge of a lava waterfall on the planet of Mustafar, where the Sith Lord received his debilitating injuries in a duel with former master Obi-Wan Kenobi. More than just an imposing structure that serves as cathartic torture for the Jedi formerly known as Anakin Skywalker, Fortress Vader has been revealed to be built over an old Sith cave, tapping into innate energies on the planet and allowing Darth Vader to undergo something approaching Sith trials. With such weight, it’s become prominent in Star Wars 9 theories, with many expecting Kylo Ren to pay his grandfather’s home a visit (if he hasn’t already).

Related: Did Star Wars Just Confirm Darth Vader Taught Kylo Ren?

But even more interesting than how it’s been worked into the Star Wars story is how Darth Vader’s castle developed behind-the-scenes. Like its owner, who evolved a lot as he went from pure evil to Luke Skywalker’s father to tragic figure, the castle has seen many forms in concept art and the expanded universe. And, fitting of how Star Wars is more on plan than many realize, it’s all rather consistent.

Darth Vader’s Castle Comes From Empire Strikes Back Concept Art

The idea of Darth Vader’s castle dates back to 1978 and the early story plan for The Empire Strikes Back. Before even the first draft (which was yet to introduce the big twist that Darth Vader was Luke’s father), George Lucas and original screenwriter Leigh Brackett explored the idea of the film’s main villain having some form of castle on a lava field (along with suggestions it could be in a snow planet). The idea stuck to the point that Ralph McQuarrie mocked up some basic concept art giving a sense of the construction. Of course, the plan changed dramatically and Darth Vader ended up residing on his Super Star Destroyer, Executor, although that does in many ways visually evoke the castle art.

The idea of an Imperial base in a lava planet stuck around for Return of the Jedi. Early ideas had Luke taken to the Emperor’s throne room, which was located in lava lake on the Imperial capital Had Abbadon. McQuarrie concept art again gives a taste of what it could have looked like, but the idea was ultimately dropped. Although, again, the core idea of the throne room and it being open to some dangers (the Death Star shaft) remained.

What all of this focus on lava supersedes, however, is a bigger part of George Lucas’ Star Wars plan. Mark Hamill said in 1980 (via TheForce.Net) that the earliest information on the past of Luke’s father been told of a duel on a volcano that left Vader mortally wounded and in need of constant life-support (in his telling, Anakin and Vader were distinct characters, but the core idea is there). This returned in the Return of the Jedi novelization, where Obi-Wan told of a battle that ended when Vader “fell into a molten pit“. Clearly, the idea of lava meant more to Lucas than just villainous iconography; it was a visual representation of Vader’s past. While it wouldn’t be shown until Revenge of the Sith, the weight of Vader’s castle was there from the start.

Related: How George Lucas’ Star Wars 9 Ended The Saga Completely Differently

Darth Vader’s Castle Was In The Expanded Universe (Twice)

Before it made its way into the movies, the notion of Darth Vader’s castle derived from the early concept art made its way into the Expanded Universe multiple times.

The first was Bast Castle, a fortress on the planet Vjun where Vader would recover, meditate and train after missions for the Empire. It first featured in Dark Empire II (and its follow-up, Empire’s End) used by a resurrected Palpatine (in a clone body for the second time) as a base of operations for his Dark Side Elite. Although its role in the comic was rather incidental – the primary purpose of the Vader connection is to show Palpatine’s contempt for his former apprentice – the captivating idea meant it returned a few more times in video games; as a major level in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (where the planet’s acid rain provided a novel-if-irritating game mechanic) and handheld-only Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron.

A couple of years after Dark Empire II, multimedia event Shadows of the Empire introduced Vader’s castle on the Imperial capital (Coruscant’s name in the era). A typical large, black tower of the Empire’s rule, it was rather incidental in the story of Dash Rendar and, despite getting visited in spinoff materials, wasn’t really returned to much after.

Bast Castle is clearly the more inspired by the original idea for Darth Vader’s castle, right down to the design, so it’s no coincidence its general use is so similar to Fortress Vader from Rogue One.

Darth Vader’s Castle Was In The Force Awakens Concept Art

Darth Vader’s castle could be argued as loose inspiration for the constructions on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, but where it next came to the forefront of discussion was with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One piece of concept art for the film, seen in the Art Of book and above, shows a finished piece of what’s labeled as Darth Vader’s castle with TIE Advanced fighters flying from its hanger. A more gothic interpretation than previous, the castle is surrounded by both snow and lava; a throwback to early discussion on The Empire Strikes Back‘s castle location.

Related: Force Awakens Concept Art Confirms No Luke Retcon In Last Jedi

While it’s possible to speculate that the castle was intended to be on Starkiller base and the lava indicates a role in the finale firing sequence, the truth is less revealing. After Disney purchased Lucasfilm and put Episode VII into pre-production but before they secured a director or screenwriter, artists were put to work coming up with a variety of concepts influenced by all areas of Star Wars. This is where ideas like a light-dark Anakin Skywalker Force ghost came from, and the same would appear to be true of the castle: it wasn’t intended to be used but was just a visual experiment. In the end, some of these ideas were incorporated into the film – the castle would be adapted to the First Order command on Starkiller, while Vader’s legacy looms large over Kylo Ren – but the actual concept was shelved… although not for long.

Page 2 of 2: Darth Vader’s Castle After Rogue One

Darth Vader’s Castle Finally Appeared in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

After the better part of four decades in comics, video games and concept art, Darth Vader’s castle finally made it to the big screen in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. For those paying attention, there wasn’t much to surprise here. The design was in keeping with McQuarrie’s original art, while the function was incredibly close to how Bast Castle had been described; Vader was shown healing in a bacta tank, waited on by a cloaked attendant, and confronted Director Krennic in an imposing viewing room.

What is striking is that this was the first time where the idea of Darth Vader’s castle and lava had been put together to place it on Mustafar (confirmed in a companion book to be chosen by Vader due to its personal connection to his dark side power). There had, admittedly, been few opportunities since Revenge of the Sith to do so, but given what we know of George Lucas’ Star Wars plan, this lines up well with the originally intended meaning.

How Darth Vader’s Castle Has Been Changed In The Comics

Rogue One wasn’t the end of Vader’s castle, at least in terms of the overall canon. It was alluded to ahead of its big screen appearance in Star Wars Rebels, with Tarkin planning to take Kanan there, and has been the subject of Rebellion attacks in both VR experience Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire (which will surely be expanded upon in the upcoming Vader Immortal) and young reader comic Tales from Vader’s Castle.

Related: Star Wars Reveals Darth Vader’s Greatest Power EVER

Much more impactful is Fortress Vader, the fifth story in the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comic run. This saw the creation of Darth Vader’s castle and explained a lot of key details. It was designed by long-dead Sith Lord Momin (his spirit was survived in a mask), with Vader intended to tap into dark side energy on Mustafar so he could somehow save Padmé; in a key step of his furthering darkness, he failed.

Darth Vader’s Castle May Have An Important Future In Star Wars Canon

It may have taken forty years, but Darth Vader’s castle is now at the forefront of Star Wars canon. It was a standout location in a $1 billion-grossing movie and has been returned to more times than pretty much any other new canon addition. With connections to both the prequel and original trilogy – and a character that remains the series’ major icon despite being killed in 1983 – it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a monument to Darth Vader, in-universe and out, and thanks to the mythology has ties to a time long before Anakin Skywalker and can stand for decades after his death. That it was percolating for so long is really credit to that.

The future of Fortress Vader is already in motion. While the comic arc is over, it’s sure to play a background part as it continues, while the Vader Immortal VR is set to run for multiple episodes. The real breakthrough would be having an impact on the sequel trilogy era, either through Star Wars 9 or the inevitable expanded material that will be greenlit once the Skywalker Saga is over, but even without that, it stands as an example of how so much of the Disney Star Wars era is influenced by ideas right at the core of the originals.

Next: Star Wars Is Trying To Turn Darth Vader Into An Anti-Hero (And That’s Very Bad)

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