An intrepid hero crosses a fog shrouded moor in pursuit of something sinister when suddenly lightning flashes to reveal an imposing and ancient castle on a nearby hill. That type of scene is typical of the late 19th and early 20th century tales of gothic horror set in remote villages on planet Earth, but this spring that particular sub-genre of horror will head to a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel, a five part crossover between Marvel’s Star Wars books: Doctor Aphra, by writer Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, and Star Wars, by Jason Aaron and Andrea Broccardo.
The crossover kicks off in The Screaming Citadel #1, a special issue by Gillen and artist Marco Checchetto which finds Luke Skywalker teaming with the rogue and ethically challenged archeologist, Doctor Aphra, and traveling to a sinister planet. It then runs through issues #31-32 of Star Wars, which features art by Larroca and Doctor Aphra #7-8, drawn by Broccardo
CBR spoke with Gillen and Aaron about the roles their casts will play in the crossover, the new characters they’ll encounter, and the joy of bringing gothic horror to the Star Wars universe.
CBR: So Jason and Kieron, Vader Down, the last Star Wars crossover had elements of horror with Vader stalking the Rebels on a remote planet. It feels like with The Screaming Citadel, you’re going for a different type of horror; the gothic kind like you would see in the movies of Britain’s Hammer Films.
Jason Aaron: Most definitely. We were trying to lean into the gothic horror of it as much as possible. This story was very much more Kieron in terms of coming up with the original idea that it grows out of, which has been going on in Doctor Aphra.
Kieron Gillen: Star Wars is a setting that’s informed by many genres. There’s all these little bits and pieces here and there. So we’re focusing on this one very specific section and seeing what we can do with it in a Star Wars way. We really leaned into it as well. So by the end of the first episode it’s like, “O,h yeah! They’re totally doing gothic horror.” Than by the end of the crossover, it’s, “They really did Gothic Horror.”
One of my favorite moments on the crossover is getting Luke in a frock coat. So we have him in some quasi-Victorian gear. I know certain people are going to love that. [Laughs]
How did this crossover come about?
Gillen: One of the questions we had to answer for this crossover was, “How do we get the cast together? And I had set up the Rur crystal in Doctor Aphra. So I had this device that could get everybody together, but that’s not really what the story is about, which is immediately made clear.
So while we were talking on the phone we had a couple of ideas about what we could do, and then we immediately started laughing at them. [Laughs] I really wanted to write the story up. So I set up a document with the title “The Screaming Citadel” at the top and wrote down what I thought the story was.
Aaron: Right away, we seized on the same stuff. It’s always been like that with me and Kieron going back to when we were doing X-Men at the same time to now that we’re doing our second one of these Star Wars crossovers. He and I are different kinds of writers and we do different kinds of stories, but it’s really easy when we’re working together, and it certainly was on this.
Gillen: I think Jason was very generous to let me take lead here. Because with the last crossover it was, “Okay, Jason, you take lead.” This time I decided to take it. Also I’m much more goth than Jason. When it comes to levels of eyeliner and knowledge of the Sisters of Mercy I’m clearly the man for the job. [Laughs]
[Laughs] What’s it like getting the chance to write the casts of the other books again?
Gillen: We had a lot of fun writing Luke and Aphra in a room. They’re two characters who have so much in common, but have gone in completely different directions. How those two feel about each other is kind of the emotional heart of the crossover.
Aaron: Yeah, bringing the two of them together has been the most fun so far. We haven’t rally done that before. We did Vader Down, where we took the cast of our two books and smashed them together. That was a lot of fun. Aphra hung around for a little bit in Star Wars after that, but we never really had any scenes with her and Luke together.
In this story, you get a lot of the two of them together Their dynamic is really the most interesting part right out of the gate. Then we start to have more fun with mixing the casts up in a very different way than we did in “Vader Down.”
Gillen: Luke is still a bit naive and Aphra is still hard bitten, but their origins are very similar. Both of them essentially lost their family. Aphra went one way. She learned that the universe is a really hard place and you can’t trust anyone, and Luke is a hero. You can imagine how they’re going to drive each other mad. [Laughs]
What can you tell us about some of the other established characters we’ll see in the crossover and the dynamics between them?
Aaron: This is very much a crossover between the two books. So you’ll see the main casts of both our books playing big roles, and the last time we saw these characters they were all trying to kill each other. This time they find themselves in a very different sort of situation where they’re having to combine forces for common goals and because they’re facing a powerful new enemy.
Gillen: Our first issue is mainly Luke, but we bring in Han, who is weirdly responsible in this. Leia is furious at Luke over what he does in the first issue and Han is like the more reasonable person. He’s not that reasonable though as you’ll see in subsequent chapters.
The only original trilogy characters you won’t see are R2 and 3PO who aren’t in the main Star Wars book at the moment. Chewbacca isn’t really in this story either. It was kind of like, “We’ve got too many wookies.”
Part of the fun of this is seeing Princess Leia with two very different droids. So you eventually get to see Leia ordering around a different team. And as you imagine that goes a little different than usual.
Sana Starros also makes an appearance. She was an easy fit. Her and Aphra’s backgrounds were kind of core to the crossover in terms of the emotional relationship between the two.
Will some of the other lesser know supporting character from your books appear in Screaming Citadel as well? Like, say. Aphra’s father, or Imperial captain Tolvani from the first arc of Doctor Aphra?
Gillen: I always said that Vader Down was Volume 3 of Darth Vader. There’s no way you can skip and it’s the same thing with Doctor Aphra. It’s all one continuing story, but the supporting cast from the first arc is not a part of this story.
These kinds of big crossovers, are kind of like movies. You want people to be able to come in quite cleanly. So when we introduce the Rur crystal, which is obviously continuing from my run, we do that quite simply. Here is the crystal. It contains the consciousness of a dead Jedi. I need to turn it on. The more seemingly extraneous stuff the more you might lose people that are like, “Here’s a fun, big Star Wars story! Let’s go in.”
So For me, these events are like how this Christmas people are going to walk into the cinema and see the new Star Wars movie. Most of those people won’t be following stuff on the internet or anything else. They just want to go in and have two hours of great Star Wars adventures. Here is us doing that. Here is five issues of full-bore Star Wars adventure. Come see us.
What can you tell us about the new characters you’ll be introducing? I understand one of them will be the villainous ruler of the titular Screaming Citadel.
Gillen: Yes the Queen! The Queen is definitely our cosplay challenge for 2017! Marco [Checchetto] designed her and her lieutenants. Star Wars is obviously a science fiction universe but there are strong fantasy elements. So you really want to do something that feels considerably gothic, without it being one-for-one, which is really hard. I think Marco pulled that off.
There’s a fundamental charisma and creepiness to the characters. He also came up with a way to do their “dark secret” in a way that feels “Star Wars.” That was also very important. I think we ended up with something that was very unusual and creepy.
I describe the Queen as basically an evil queen done by Alexander McQueen. That’s the vibe we want from her and that’s what Marco has put on the page.
Is the Queen tied at all to the Sith or any other existing sinister Star Wars figures?
Gillen: Commenting on that would be tipping our hand. I can say that it’s sort of similar to what I did with the Ordu Aspectu in Doctor Aphra where it’s kind of beyond the Sith-Jedi dichotomy. The Ordu Aspectu were heretic Jedi. That’s an example of an area I like to dig into rather than just hitting Sith-Jedi. It’s like, “What else can we do?” What else is here that actually feels right for Star Wars?
We also had to build upon stuff that was already in the comics. So people can go, “Oh, I see where that’s coming from.” At the same time though it will feel kind of new because they won’t have seen the connection yet.
What about the backdrop for the Screaming Citadel? Does this adventure take place on a new planet?
Gillen: Yes, we thought about how we could bring these gothic tropes to this planet.
It’s really run down due to constant acid rain. It’s the living embodiment of the, “Village at the bottom of the hill where the villainous aristocrat lives.” We do that beat for beat and we try to make it feel Star Wars.
We wanted to create that very archetypical setting. So there’s all this acid rain and there’s constant electrical storms. The Queen has this castle she only allows visitors in one day a year. So there’s almost a fairy tale vibe. And that’s kind of how we get there.
We start with a really archetypal Star Wars scene, in a bar. Then we slowly take people on a journey to this world. So we start with something very Star Wars and then we slide the genre on the journey. So when people get to the village on this run down planet and they go up the hill they’ll be able to go, “Oh I get it. Now I know what this is about.”
Did Marco Checchetto design this new world with you?
Gillen: Yes, Marco was my lead designer on this. When I first saw his character work and his designs for the planet, I was like, “Oh, yeah. He gets it. We’re fine.” [Laughs]
So much of gothic horror is about the vibe and aesthetic. So the idea is that we’re doing a fun, gothic, horror, adventure and at the same time it’s got to be Star Wars. Marco nails all of those things.
For me, so much of writing Star Wars comics is about settings. There’s not much point for me making another desert world unless you got a thing that makes this desert world not be Tatooine. You don’t want to hit the same beats.
In Darth Vader, you saw me looking to planets we hadn’t gotten a good example of yet. In here I was looking for something comparable to the old Dungeons and Dragons setting of Ravenloft.
I’m pretty excited by the thought of seeing a lightsaber on a fog shrouded moor.
Gillen: Yeah, when we started talking about ideas and we got on to one-to-one vampires someone mentioned having two crossed lightsabers. [Laughs] We couldn’t do that. Because that was too much ludicrous vampire stuff. We do play with different bits of the mythos though.
I understand Andrea Broccardo, who has some experience with the Star Wars world from his work on Kanan, will be doing the chapters of the regular Doctor Aphra book. And regular Star Wars artist Salvador Larroca will draw the Star Wars installments. Is that correct?
Gillen: Yes, Marco establishes the setting and characters with the first issue then Andrea and Salvador come in and make the story their own and continue it. Andrea actually had one of the most interesting design jobs because he had to design something that turns up halfway through the story.
The story is so fast paced. It’s really compact. There’s so much in that I can’t believe we got away with and I say that in the best possible way. We we’re like, “Are we allowed to do this?” We pitched it, and they said yes.
People will be like, “Remember that story where they did this?” That’s so much of what this is about and I think people will love it.
Aaron: It all looks incredible! Again, one of the most exciting things about this story is that we’re taking Star Wars into some different genres here. That involves a lot of new designs. There’s a new thing that’s a part of this, and a bunch of new villains. The cool thing though is that we’re mixing up the tropes a little bit and it all still seems to fit and work so perfectly within the Star Wars universe.
Finally, I understand that just like Vader Down the aftermath of The Screaming Citadel will send your two books blasting off into different directions.
Gillen: When I worked on the superhero stuff for Marvel I always kind of planned crossovers to be part of my run. So when I knew there was a crossover coming I wanted it to be meaningful. Now with Star Wars, where there’s far less books tying in, I can make crossovers even more meaningful. I view this as chapter two of Aphra, and I’m sure Jason views it as the next chapter of Star Wars. There’s no point in doing a chapter unless it creates meaningful change in the characters.
Aaron: Yeah, What happens in this story will carry over to and have big impact on both mine and Kieron’s books going forward.