The Dark Lord of the Sith is never gone for long, and Dark Horse is bringing him back for another feature mini-series in 2012. Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is coming next spring, bringing writer Haden Blackman back to the character he knows so well. After two video games featuring the complicated Sith and the recent mini-series Darth Vader and the Lost Command, Blackman still has plenty to say about the character.

Ahead of the official announcement at New York Comic Con 2011, we talked exclusively with Blackman about what makes Darth Vader interesting, why he likes playing in this "middle" era of the Star Wars timeline, and what (and who) we can expect from the new series.

Art pictured is from Darth Vader and the Lost Command

Newsarama: Haden, start by giving us just the basic premise of Star Wars: Darth Vader & The Ghost Prison, if you will. For instance, what is the Ghost Prison?

Haden Blackman: Darth Vader and The Ghost Prison tells the story of one of the earliest attempts to assassinate the Emperor, and the lengths that Darth Vader, Moff Trachta, and a young, eager lieutenant will go to in order to protect Palpatine.

Nrama: This timeframe of Star Wars, the period between Episodes III and IV, is one you’re familiar with. What makes that a fun era to play with for you?

Blackman: First and foremost, Darth Vader has just begun his career as a Sith Lord. He is still trying to prove himself to the Emperor, develop his abilities and control over the dark side, bury his past, and put some of his own schemes in motion. Secondarily, it’s very wide open in terms of the types of stories we can tell. Because so little has been written in or about this time period, there are very few continuity constraints or concerns, beyond making sure we don’t contradict A New Hope. For example, in both Lost Command (the previous Vader miniseries) and Ghost Prison, we establish and reinforce that the Emperor did not take complete control of the entire galaxy immediately after Order 66, and that he still has both military and political opponents to defeat. Finally, I really like being able to reference the past and hint at the future. In Ghost Prison, we’ll explore some controversial decisions that the Jedi Order made during the Clone Wars, and Vader takes another step toward becoming the ruthless enforcer we see in A New Hope.

Nrama: You’re obviously also quite familiar with Darth Vader at this point, having even explored some of his vulnerability. Why is it important to you to flesh him out that way and not just have the badass in black?

Blackman: There is always a huge part of me that wants to portray Vader as we see him in A New Hope – the unstoppable, remorseless villain. As a kid, I loved the mystique and mystery surrounding that character, which made us wonder who he was under the mask, how he became that way, and whether he was “born evil” or had been turned evil by the things that he experienced.

But thanks to the prequels and the cartoon series, all of those questions have been answered, and we now know more about Anakin Skywalker than virtually any other character in the saga. For me, at least, there is no going back. I can’t write a story about Vader and ignore his past or the character he is in the prequels, which is very different than the Vader we see in A New Hope.

So instead, I embrace who he was as Anakin, focus on how the past has impacted Vader, and show how Vader either overcomes or deepens Anakin’s flaws. I want each story to be another step in Vader’s evolution, so that by the time we reach A New Hope, that character is clearly a culmination of dozens of decisions and choices over time – just like the rest of us.

Nrama: We’ll also be seeing Moff Trachta, from Empire: Betrayal (2003) again (for the first time in a way). This is before he became anti-Sith, right? What’s his state of mind in this story?

Blackman: At this point, Trachta is very committed to the concept of the Empire. He views the Emperor as the necessary figurehead for the Empire, and is therefore loyal to him. But that sentiment doesn’t necessarily extend to Vader. Like Vader, Trachta is still dealing with baggage from his past and we’ll explore that a bit. We’ll also start planting the seeds for his future betrayal.

Nrama: When crafting a story about Darth Vader at this point in his life, what are his essential traits?

Blackman: At this time, the Emperor is all Vader has left, so he is loyal to Palpatine to a fault. I think deep down, he’s a classic insecure narcissist -- though he’d never admit it. He’s very insecure about his position in the Empire, so he’s constantly trying to prove himself to the Emperor and undermine his rivals at the same time. But there’s also part of him that still remembers and perhaps misses what it was like to be a Jedi -- to have that sense of camaraderie, to have a Master that was also a mentor and an Apprentice he could mentor in turn. Most of all, he’s taciturn -- he doesn’t talk a lot, and doesn’t give much away with what he does say, but his actions speak volumes.

Nrama: Are there any other characters fans might recognize that you can hint at here?

Blackman: The Emperor plays a big role, and we’ll see some important figures from Anakin’s past as well. We’re also introducing some new characters, including Imperial Lieutenant Tohm who is fresh out of the Academy and narrates the story.

Nrama: With a licensed title like this, what is the process like? Do you find yourself having to make more changes with the added overseer of a licensor or does that not enter into the day-to-day creation much?

Blackman: It’s pretty transparent to me, actually. I submit a treatment or script to Randy Stradley at Dark Horse, he gives me first round feedback. He’s very good at spotting anything that might be a red flag for Lucas Licensing. I do some revisions, and then he sends it off to Lucasfilm for their comments. I’ll then make any final adjustments based on that feedback. The treatment usually gets more scrutiny than any individual script, but honestly, in all my years writing Star Wars stories I’ve had to make very few changes along the way.

Nrama: What other eras of Star Wars would you like to play in? Or any particular characters?

Blackman: I think there’s still plenty of room to tell stories in the early days of the Empire – beyond just what is going on with Vader. And I’ve love to tackle the story of the “first” Jedi and Sith.

Nrama: You’ve done Star Wars games and comics; is there any other medium you’d like to take a crack at the universe in?

Blackman: Maybe a Star Wars novel some day, just so I can spend more time in the characters’ heads.

Nrama: What’s your favorite “classic” Vader phrase or move that you love to make him do?

Blackman: I love the “double take” from The Empire Strikes Back – when Vader watches the Falcon disappear, turns from the window as if to leave, then turns back briefly to look at empty space before stalking away. You just know he’s thinking something at that point, though you’re left to guess exactly what. We used that at least once in the Force Unleashed games. In comics, I like any line that reminds us of Vader in A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back – the Vader he’s going to become. He feels most like Vader to me when he’s either barking orders, accusing someone of something (usually pointing), or saying nothing at all – just considering a situation, character, or choice.

I’m still trying to find a way to work in “Wizard!” though.

Nrama: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers about Ghost Prison before we go?

Blackman: For me, the thing that’s most interesting about this series – compared to Lost Command in particular – is that it’s told from the point of view of an Imperial lieutenant named Tohm who has just graduated from the Imperial Academy. In stories featuring a really prominent and often static character like Vader, I think you have two valid approaches – show how that character changes, or show how the character changes others. In Ghost Prison, we’re trying to do both; Tohm’s interactions with Vader (and Trachta) change the lieutenant significantly, but we also see that through his relationship with Tohm, Vader takes another step towards the character portrayed in A New Hope.

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