Return to Vader’s Castle #2: The Curse of Tarkin—Review

by Eric Onkenhout

The Curse of Tarkin reveals a monstrous beast bent on revenge in Return to Vader’s Castle #2.

This article contains plot points for Star Wars Return to Vader’s Castle #2: The Curse of Tarkin.

Return to Vader’s Castle…returns this week with Return to Vader’s Castle #2 (because 2 comes after 1) The Curse of Tarkin. Last week left off with Lieutenant Thom Hudd being held prisoner within Vader’s Castle on Mustafar by the despicable Vaneé. Prisoner Thom Hudd is growing weary of Vaneé’s stories of monsters and madmen and decides to tell a tale of his own—one that is sure to keep you up at night.

Return to Vader’s Castle #2 starts with Hudd’s narration—a quick reminder that he’s a prisoner of Vaneé, but he’s not without his own stories. Judging by how Francesco Francavilla illustrates the closeup panel of Hudd’s face, it’s clear Hudd is not afraid of Vaneé or his creepy stories and begins to tell one of his own.

Tarkin’s Arrival

The story begins with the Imperial Star Destroyer Optima (not made by car manufacturer Kia), awaiting the arrival of an Imperial shuttle. This panel is very reminiscent of the opening scene in Return of the Jedi. The Imperial shuttle designation, PC-265, follows a similar identification code as the Shuttle Tydirium in Return of the Jedi – ST-321. And just like Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin is there to perform a surprise inspection.

Return to Vader's Castle #2

Commander Cremp is caught off-guard by Tarkin’s arrival, claiming that “we weren’t due inspection for another month,” but assures the Governor that “we’re well on track to meet our targets.” However, Tarkin doesn’t expect her to meet the standard. He wants them to exceed it because they are part of the Tarkin Initiative. The Tarkin Initiative, which was first mentioned in volume 1 of the Darth Vader comic (2015), is a secret think tank of the Advanced Weapons Research division of the Imperial Security Bureau, which includes people like Orson Krennic.

Scott and Jones Make a Strong Team

Kelley Jones, who took the reigns as artists for pages 3-18, does a magnificent job bringing out Tarkin’s lifeless eyes. Black orbs resembling a shark’s eyes bore into the reader. Cavan Scott nails Tarkin’s dialogue as well. You can almost hear his r-r-rolling R’s, “R-Raise the deflector shields!” Great stuff! Scott gets the dialogue so perfectly, you can clearly hear Tarkin’s voice in your head.

Return to Vader's Castle #2

A rogue transport crashes into the Optima, causing severe damage. The neutrino radiation levels on the transport counteract the shields of the destroyer. Emerging from the crash is a monstrous beast that towers over the crew of the Optima. With a head of an Iktochi (see Saesee Tiin) and a lobster claw for a left hand, its right arm is covered in brown fur from shoulder to fingertips. Its torso and left arm are hairless with green skin. Stitches from a botched surgery are visible where its neck meets the head and where the right arm meets its shoulder. Muscles bulge with ferocity. It speaks, “Where is Tarkin?”

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay?

It quickly dispatches any who confront it, then glares up at the camera, “Are you watching father?” Father? “Are you pleased with your creation?” It’s true then, this beast is some sort of Frankenstein’s monster with Tarkin as Dr. Frankenstein. The creature reveals that it was stitched together from different bodies—different species. This also brings to mind Dr. Joseph Mengele, who was a Nazi doctor who performed surgical experiments on prisoners during WWII. Not that the Empire would ever consider humanity, morality, or religion, this type of experiment exceeds the boundary of what science can accomplish. Just because attempts to create life are possible, does that make it morally acceptable? The same question arises in Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs becoming extinct was an act of nature, bringing them back using DNA is a moral question that should be considered. Isn’t that right, Mr. Hammond?

Return to Vader's Castle #2

The beast goes on a rampage searching for Tarkin. Meanwhile, Tarkin intends on correcting his mistake by planting experimental plasma mines, clamping them to the ship’s central power core. This brings to mind another example of ambitious soldiers erasing huge blunders: Captain Phasma in Star Wars Captain Phasma (2017), placing the blame of lowering the shields of Starkiller Base on another to save her own skin. That poor soul, of course, was executed while Phasma got away with it.

Tarkin Escapes

Continuing, the mines are magnetically locked and cannot be removed. After Tarkin plants them, he escapes aboard the shuttle he arrived in, leaving the crew and the creature to fend for themselves. The beast assists the ship’s commander into her escape pod, somberly he admits, “I came here to stop Tarkin before he could destroy any more lives. I’m not going to let you die at his hands.” Just like in Frankenstein, it’s Tarkin who is the real monster while the creature is simply misunderstood and wants revenge for his wretched life. Seconds after the escape pod launches, the Optima with the beast inside explodes in a fiery blaze.

In an unexpected turn of events, but not shocking, Commander Cremp joins the Rebel Alliance shaking hands with Mon Mothma. Back to the present, Hudd has escaped the shackles that kept him prisoner. As he hides around the corner, Vaneé says, “By Andeddu’s flames, I’ll hunt you down.” Andeddu is another legends call back to Darth Andeddu, an ancient Sith Lord who was a gatekeeper of his own Sith Holocron. According to Wookiepedia, Darth Andeddu was first mentioned in the Dark Horse comic titles, Republic (2004) and Legacy (2007), and in the 2009 Drew Karpyshyn novel, Dynasty of Evil, which told the story of Darth Bane’s life as a Sith Lord, and his quest for eternal life.

Conclusion

Star Wars Return to Vader’s Castle #2 adds to the strength of this series by continuing the horror aspects with references to Universal and Hammer horror films and nods to obscure Star Wars legends material. It’s nice to see this era of Star Wars publishing get some attention. Return to Vader’s Castle #3 is out next week (10/16), which will feature everyone’s favorite tragic anti-hero, Asaaj Ventress.

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