How did Darth Vader become the remorseless villain we see in the first Star Wars movie? Yes, we saw him switch sides in Revenge of the Sith and take on his memorable moniker, but what actions did he take to fully expunge those remnants of Anakin and become the Emperor’s dark lord of the Sith? In a new comic series from Dark Horse hitting this Wednesday, January 26 2011, we’ll start to find out.
In the limited series Darth Vader and the Lost Command, writer W. Haden Blackman picks up on Darth Vader shortly after the events of Revenge of the Sith as he tries to set aside his past and carve out a new future as the right hand of the Emperor. Blackman’s no stranger to Star Wars -- he worked for 13 years as one of the key writers of the franchise’s video games, most notably the recent Force Unleashed series. After leaving LucasArts last summer, Blackman has gone out on his own with several video game projects as well as co-writing the upcoming Batwoman series, but this new comic series shows that Star Wars is still on his heart – and in his pen.Newsarama talked with Blackman about the series, his long-gestating ideas about Darth Vader, as well as the possibility of this being his coda on Darth Vader and possibly Star Wars as a whole.
Newsarama: What’s the story about in Darth Vader and the Lost Command?
W. Haden Blackman: The Emperor sends Darth Vader into an untamed portion of space known as the Ghost Nebula in search of a missing Imperial Star Destroyer under the command of Moff Tarkin’s son. This happens shortly after Revenge of the Sith, at a time when Vader is still trying to prove himself to the Emperor, and both Tarkin and Vader are solidifying their positions within the new Empire.
Nrama: I’m not familiar with the Ghost Nebula – and I’m sure a lot of other people are in the same boat as I am. Can you tell us about it?
Blackman: The Ghost Nebula is largely unexplored, but the Empire knows that it is inhabited and potentially harbors enemies and valuable resources. Tarkin’s son begins exploring the Ghost Nebula, but his Star Destroyer vanishes shortly after entering the system.
Nrama: You said this happens shortly after Revenge of the Sith, so how do those events – especially to Darth and his turn to the dark side and the death of Padme – affect this book?
Blackman: As a kid, I had always imagined that whatever transformed Anakin into Vader had actually made him more powerful. I always assumed he had given up part of his humanity in exchange for raw power, and that the combination of his armor and the devotion to the dark side had turned him into a nearly-unstoppable bogeyman. But when we were working on The Force Unleashed at LucasArts, George Lucas told us that after Revenge of the Sith the Emperor views Vader as “broken” and believes that Anakin’s physical transformation into Vader has left him weaker and less useful. The idea that Vader is somehow less powerful than Anakin really depressed me… So when writing Darth Vader & The Lost Command, I wanted to rekindle my awe of Vader – who I really believe is the most badass villain ever created – and show how he might actually prove the Emperor both right and wrong. In my mind, everything he endures in Revenge of the Sith might cripple him as the Emperor believes, but it also sets the stage for a story in which Vader is forged into the remorseless villain we see in A New Hope.
Nrama: Joining you on this is artist Rick Leonardi, whose work on Cloak & Dagger in the 80s you admit still being a favorite. What’s it like working with Rick?
Blackman: I’ve been very fortunate to work with a series of great artists. I’m totally spoiled in that regard. Rick’s work on this series has been phenomenal. I feel like he not only captures Vader in all his various roles, but also the man under the mask (which we will get to see). He does “quiet” moments just as well as the big battles, and there are a lot of both in the story. I also think he’s creating memorable supporting characters.
Nrama: This isn’t your first jaunt with Darth Vader – you wrote him in The Force Unleashed game as well as the recent comic one-shot Star Wars Purge: The Hidden Blade. As you came into this new series to flesh out Vader and his various roles under the Emperor, how had your accumulated experience helped you? Are the things you show in the book things you thought about for the character even before this comic came along?
Blackman: On The Force Unleashed, I was just trying to get Vader’s “voice” right, to make sure that he acted and sounded like the Vader we remember from A New Hope, even when delivering a ton of exposition. The only other thing that was really important to me in that story was to make sure that, by the end, there was a sense that Vader is trapped under the Emperor’s boot. For Star Wars Purge: The Hidden Blade, I wanted to show Vader kicking ass and explore the dynamic between Vader and the Emperor shortly after Revenge of the Sith. After doing both those stories, I felt that there were still a lot of stories to be told about Vader between the two trilogies.
One of the sparks for the Lost Command actually came from an early brainstorming session on The Force Unleashed. At one point we discussed a story that involved Vader trying to resurrect Padme. We ditched that idea pretty early on, but I always wanted to tell a story in which Vader is forced to face his past in some way. So, while the crux of the plot for Darth Vader & The Lost Command is Vader’s search for Tarkin in the Ghost Nebula, there are moments when Vader is confronted with his past and has to contemplate his future.
Nrama: Setting a series around Darth Vader must be difficult – he’s a villain, but he’s also a former hero. Since you did something similar with Starkiller in the video games, what’s it like treading that fine line to get Darth Vader right?
Blackman: I’m not even trying to walk the line between villain and hero. At this point in the timeline, Vader is definitely a villain. He is evil. He does terrible, ruthless things. This isn’t a story about Vader seeking redemption or a story about him being put in his place. It’s a story about Vader trying to prove himself, and as a villain how far he’s willing to go in that quest. In terms of trying to get Vader “right,” I just kept trying to put obstacles in front of him – both external and internal – and show how he overcomes them.
Nrama: Writing this series comes at a time when you’re going through a personal shift – your day job up until August was as a writer for LucasArts’ video game company. How has it been writing this comic during this transition to your own company, Fearless?
Blackman: I was definitely blessed to have worked at LucasArts for thirteen years, and to be given the keys to one of the biggest franchises in the world. But I also always knew that in order to tell the stories I want to tell and make the games I really want to make, I’d someday need to start my own studio. Fortunately, I found someone who wanted to take that leap with me (my co-founder and Fearless’ CTO, Cedrick Collomb), and the six months since founding the studio have been the most exciting and creatively fertile of my career. The new universes, gameplay mechanics, stories, and characters I’m now working with day-to-day are constantly giving me new inspiration and ideas, and hopefully that passion and excitement translate into the Lost Command.
Nrama: Do you have more Star Wars projects, either in comics or video games, lined up for the future?
Blackman: I’m not sure yet. I still have stories I want to tell in the Star Wars universe, but I’ve just been focused on finishing Darth Vader & The Lost Command, launching Fearless Studios, and writing Batwoman with J.H. Williams for DC Comics. Now that I’ve completed the last script for Darth Vader & The Lost Command, I hope that Dark Horse and I can come up with another project for me to work on. Maybe Star Wars. Maybe something else entirely.
Nrama: One last question, Haden…. On your blog you said that this might be your last Vader story – if it is, how do you think this acts as a coda to your work on Vader?
Blackman: Well, I didn’t set out for this to be my “coda” with Vader. All I really wanted to do was tell a good story with lots of action. But hopefully, the story feels like a pivotal series of events in Vader’s life, and part of what transforms him from the broken, tormented Vader shown at the end of Episode III into the confident, remorseless commander we see in Episode IV. Since writing Vader for The Force Unleashed, I always wanted to bridge the gap between those two versions of Vader, and I’m grateful I had that opportunity to try.