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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 new Star Wars is much more informed by the early films than it gets credit for, it's all there in the finished product.

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

Vader Castle and Lava in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi 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)

Darth Vader Castle in the Expanded Universe

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

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Key Release Dates
  • Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
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