Dark Lord of the Manor: The Origin of Darth Vader's Castle
How Darth Vader got his crib, and what it says about him.
This month, to celebrate the release of Rogue One, we’re taking a deep dive into the secrets and stories surrounding the creation of Darth Vader. We've looked at the origin of Vader's name, look, body, voice and TIE Fighter— now let's take a look at how he got his home, and what it tells us about his character.
WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Rogue One. If you haven’t seen the movie, turn back now – because once you scroll past this pic, anything goes.
Hopefully, if you’re still with us, you’ve seen Rogue One. The film contains plenty of references to Star Wars lore worth digging into — but my favourite thing about the movie is that we finally got to see Darth Vader’s house on screen.
Yes, Vader is the man in the bacta tank, confirming months of speculation. (That mysterious hooded figure kneeling in front of the tank turned out to be Vader’s Sith butler, not — as some fans had speculated — Snoke, Palpatine or any character of consequence.)
More importantly, that bacta tank is located inside Vader’s castle, on the volcanic planet of Mustafar.
While this is the first time we’ve seen Vader’s place of residence on screen, the idea actually dates all the way back to 1977, when George Lucas began mapping out the first Star Wars sequel with screenwriter Leigh Brackett and concept artist Ralph McQuarrie.
“We have to give Vader another environment, either another Death Star-type Imperial City or some kind of cave,” Lucas told Brackett during their initial conference in November 1977.
“Might be nice to give Vader a little castle on a rock in the middle of the ocean. One way to see him would be in a tall, dark tower, very narrow in a lava flow, dark, red, and burning, almost like hell. He’d be up in the tower with his gremlin, goblin-type gargoyles surrounding him. His pets.”
McQuarrie had begun sketching Vader’s castle a month earlier, in October 1977. Lucas, McQuarrie said, “was looking for a place to put Vader’s office”, and had initially suggested a metal castle in the snow.
On December 7, McQuarrie put the finishing touches on the first production painting of Vader’s castle. “I figured most of it was going to be covered up with snow,” he said, “but there would be these round towers in various types of metal sticking out. I put a couple of figures struggling along in the snow in the foreground, for scale, with the wind blowing.”
McQuarrie met with Lucas on December 9 to show him the artwork, and that’s when the director told the artist about his idea to place Vader’s castle in lava.
The castle made it into Brackett’s first draft of the Empire Strikes Back script, completed in February 1978, where it was described as “black iron that squats on a rock in the midst of a crimson sea”.
By April, Lucas was working on his second draft, in which Vader first appears on a Star Destroyer, and his castle is nowhere to be seen.
Despite being an extremely cool visual, Vader’s castle didn’t make it back into the later drafts of Empire, and never ended up appearing on screen.
The Empire really had a thing for lava lairs – at one stage, the Emperor’s lair in Return of the Jedi was going to be located in a cave surrounded by lava. A prototype model of the set was even built before it was decided that he would be based aboard the second Death Star.
Vader’s castle did make an appearance in the old Expanded Universe, where it was referred to as ‘Bast Castle’ and was no longer located on a lava planet, but on the acid rain-soaked planet of Vjun.
1995's Dark Empire II #6, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy, established that after Vader’s death, the Emperor’s new Dark Jedi had moved into his old place.
Of course, when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, the slate of expanded universe stories was soon wiped clean, giving JJ Abrams a blank canvas to play with and making way for the ‘new canon’ of films, books and comics.
This meant that Vader’s castle (as it appeared in Dark Empire II) was wiped from continuity, giving Lucasfilm a chance to reintroduce the castle as Lucas and McQuarrie originally conceptualised — a tall, dark tower in the midst of a sea of lava.
In retrospect, we can see now that Lucasfilm began laying the groundwork for the reveal of Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar back in the first season finale of Rebels. In that episode, Fire Across the Galaxy (which aired in March 2015), Mustafar was described as “the place where Jedi go to die”.
Indeed, what’s really important about Vader’s castle — as any real estate agent could tell you — is location, location, location.
The volcanic planet of Mustafar first appeared in Revenge of the Sith, where it was the site of Darth Vader’s greatest failure. Not only was it the planet where he was comprehensively beaten and left to die in a pit of lava by his old friend Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it was also where he killed his beloved Padmé Amidala (or, at least, that’s what the Emperor told him, and that’s what he believes).
Like the castle itself, Vader’s defeat on the lava planet is an idea that can be traced back to 1977.
“Vader kills Luke's father, then Ben and Vader have a confrontation, just like they have in Star Wars, and Ben almost kills Vader,” Lucas told Rolling Stone then, explaining the backstory that had only been hinted at in the film. “As a matter of fact, he falls into a volcanic pit and gets fried and is one destroyed being. That's why he has to wear the suit with a mask. It's like a walking iron lung. His face is all horrible inside.”
So between this quote and the conversations Lucas had with Brackett and McQuarrie in 1977, we have an idea that has only now, in 2016, been realised on screen — Vader is humiliated and disfigured on a volcanic lava planet, and then chooses to live on that lava planet.
The fact that Vader chooses to live in Mustafar, when there’s a whole galaxy of affordable dwellings out there to choose from, tells us something important about his psyche — Darth Vader is a masochist.
Hate is a powerful fuel for dark side Force users, and on Mustafar, Vader can luxuriate in it — both in his hate for Obi-Wan Kenobi and, more importantly, his hate for himself.
Author Matthew Stover depicted this aspect of Vader best in his novelisation of Revenge of the Sith, as Vader reacts to the news that he killed Padmé.
You loved her. You will always love her. You could never will her death.
But you remember…
You remember all of it.
You remember the dragon that you brought Vader forth from your heart to slay. You remember the cold venom in Vader’s blood. You remember the furnace of Vader’s fury, and the black hatred of seizing her throat to silence her lying mouth —
And there is one blazing moment in which you finally understand that there was no dragon. That there was no Vader. That there was only you. Only Anakin Skywalker.
That it was all you. Is you.
You did it.
You killed her.
You killed her because, finally, when you could have saved her, when you could have gone away with her, when you could have been thinking about her, you were thinking about yourself…
It is in this blazing moment that you finally understand the trap of the dark side, the final cruelty of the Sith –
Because now your self is all you will ever have.
And you rage and scream and reach through the Force to crush the shadow who has destroyed you, but you are so far less now than what you were, you are more than half machine, you are like a painter gone blind, a composer gone deaf, you can remember where the power was but the power you can touch is only a memory, and so with all your world-destroying fury it is only droids around you that implode, and equipment, and the table on which you were strapped shatters, and in the end, you cannot touch the shadow.
In the end, you do not even want to.
In the end, the shadow is all you have left.
Because the shadow understands you, the shadow forgives you, the shadow gathers you unto itself –
And within your furnace heart, you burn in your own flame.
This is how it feels to be Anakin Skywalker.
In Resurrection, a stand-alone story written by Ron Marz, illustrated by Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin and published in Star Wars Tales #9 in 2001, Vader faces off with a clone of Darth Maul.
When ‘Maul’ is about to move in for the kill from behind, Vader uses the Force to ram his lightsaber through his own stomach, killing the Maul clone in the process. A shocked Maul asks Vader what he could possibly hate enough to give him such command over the dark side.
Of course, that story’s not part of the new ‘canon’ — but now, in Vader’s castle on Mustafar, we have a new testament to Vader’s self-hatred.
In that way, Rogue One really is a Star Wars prequel, because — like Lucas’ prequel trilogy — it continues to explore Darth Vader’s motivations.
Of course, if Anakin Skywalker really hated himself, he would have built his castle on sand…
To learn more about Vader's castle, I recommend JW Rinzler's comprehensive The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Brandon Alinger, Wade Lageose and David Mandel's glorious Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie.