EXCLUSIVE: Gillen & Aaron's "Vader Down" Tests "Star Wars'" Heroes and Villains

After regaining the Star Wars comic book license, Marvel's ongoing "Star Wars" and "Darth Vader" series have explored the space between "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back," supporting and establishing the updated universes' canon. In "Star Wars," writer Jason Aaron and his artistic collaborators have spent the past year showing the Rebel Alliance's efforts to maximize the victory they scored against the Galactic Empire by destroying the Death Star. In the pages of "Darth Vader," writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca have been chronicling the titular Dark Lord of the Sith's efforts to reclaim the favor he lost with his Emperor over the Death Star's destruction.

The events of both books have led to "Vader Down," a crossover between the two titles by by Gillen, Larroca, Aaron and artist Mike Deodato, the first crossover between the books in the new Marvel run. The crossover finds both sides incredibly close to the glory they seek because Vader has crash landed on a desolate, fog-shrouded world and hunted by a massive force of Rebels. Based on recent issues, however, it might actually be Vader who is doing the hunting.

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With the second half of the crossover set to begin tomorrow in "Darth Vader" #14, CBR News spoke with Gillen about Vader's ferocity toward the foes hunting him, the roles the British Moorlands and the original "Predator" film played in inspiring the story and the joy he and Jason Aaron derive from brutalizing each other's cast. In addition to bringing along an exclusive preview of "Darth Vader" #14, Gillen also laid out what 2016 holds for Darth Vader and his quest to reclaim his former glory in the eyes of the Emperor.

CBR News: Kieron, one of the the things that became quite clear in the first half of "Vader Down" is that this story reminds both the readers and the Rebel Alliance just how physically formidable Darth Vader actually is. It almost feels like he's a slasher movie villain. Was that ever the intention?

Kieron Gillen: [Laughs] A little bit. The actual shorthand we used for describing the story was "Predator." We had the idea of this planet where there was a lot of fog sweeping around and there was this creature in the fog predating. It's almost like Victorian England and a creature stalking the nights there. We're definitely seeing him as this kind of force of vengeance and nature.

There's the famous Rorschach speech of, "I'm not trapped in here with you. You're trapped in here with me." This comes back to a lot of the things I deal with in "Darth Vader" in terms of seeing him on the back foot. We're not really seeing Vader weak, or when you think Vader is weak it's probably a bad time. Because if you consider Vader weak you're definitely overestimating your own position.

So at three issues in, which is where we are now, the position is very different from where people thought we started it. It's Vader. We want it to be scary. He's not a good guy to be trapped on a planet with. [Laughs]

It feels like part of the reason the Rebels have repeatedly underestimated Vader in this story is you're dealing with a galaxy where the Jedi have sort of become folk tales and bed time stories. At this point in "Star Wars" chronology do a lot of people even remember all that the Jedi are capable of?

You can sort of extrapolate that from the movies if you want. There's Han's speech about, "seeing a lot of things" in the first film. [Laughs] The last 20 years have really changed what people suspect the Force is. So I would say there's definitely some of that going on here. These are people who haven't had any experience with someone like Vader, which immediately changes up their position. And of course part of the fun of this story has been working out some fun, yet elegant ways for Vader to use his powers.

How has it been writing these issues of the "Vader Down" crossover? Has it been difficult to give the story a grand scope and scale because of the films' chronology? Or is that something that comes naturally?

The more we do the more we know the limitations, and we knew the limitations anyway. We'd ask, "What is important? And what would undermine events in 'Empire?'" Meetings between Luke and Darth were kind of like the gold dust in terms of, "What is the acceptable number of interactions? And what kinds of interactions can we do?"

There's other stuff as well. If you look at Leia's response to Darth when he turns up in "Empire" it's considerably more than she ever showed him, in terms of fear, than in "A New Hope." So there's that element to it. You can pick up on the choices the actors made and ask, "Okay, what's an interesting way of getting there?"
So we're kind of used to working with the mythology, and we've got this kind of miniature movie. We saw this as an interesting way of testing where the characters are. We test Han's understanding of Leia. We test Leia's drive to deal with Alderaan, and Vader's an enormous symbol of that. So you get your core characters chasing various things around this small planet.

And of course a lot of the fun is we've been building these casts for the past year separately. Now we get to throw them together. It's even more fun because me and Jason [Aaron] plotted this really tightly. We worked out the issues and the beat-by-beat action really tight and then we just divided the issues up on the basis of, "Okay this is first and that's second."

So I'm desperately jealous because just by random chance Jason got to write the confrontation between Aphra and her droids and Han and Chewie. Honestly, when I got that script from Jason I laughed myself thick all the way through. It was just so much fun.

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Speaking of playing with each other's toys, what's it like getting a chance to write a little more of the heroes of the original "Star Wars" trilogy?

It's interesting. I wrote 12 issues of "Darth Vader" before this crossover. So I'm quite comfortable with Vader; I know what I'm doing with him. Now I have these other iconic characters that I don't have as firm of a grasp on so I've had to really dig into things.

Leia is the trickiest I think. Actually I'm lying. [Laughs] The trickiest is actually R2. Jason is so good at doing the bleeps properly. I think I get better at doing the bleeps as you go through "Vader Down." Han Solo was natural for me. It was a voice I understood and is perhaps the character I'm closest to than many of the others ones in the book. [Laughs]

It seems like you and Jason are having a blast with "Vader Down," and if the art is any indication you're working with artists who are having just as great of a time.

Yeah, "Star Wars" is this big primal thing for me and Jason and if you ask almost any artist of the current generation, "Do you want to draw 'Star Wars?'" They'll throw themselves on the page. They do wonderful stuff.
That whole first issue of "Vader Down" that Mike Deodato did? When I got those panels of Vader going through this maelstrom of blaster fire it was like, "My god! That's exactly what I wanted to see!" So they're bringing amazing things to the page.

I've just been doing a lettering pass on the last issue. So I'm going through Salva's stuff. There's a couple of things that he does with the space ships that's a lot of fun indeed.

The planet Vrogas Vas that you, Jason and your artists designed for "Vader Down" is quite interesting. What inspired its creation?

We originally had a quite different idea for "Vader Down." Basically we wanted to have it be at Jedi temple that Vader or the Emperor didn't know about. So Luke was there for a reason. Then there's a reason that Vader might actually buy of why Luke was there.

We really liked the idea of the mists on the planet though. Plus we had all these characters that were sort of lost in the planet's mists. So that was kind of a nice visual, and a lot of this is you want to use visuals that will feel "Star Wars," but you don't want to just repeat things like Hoth, Bespin, or Tatooine. You want to do something that's as iconic, but not something we've seen before.

So the idea was to create this, fog shrouded, desolate place sort of like the moors in England. I thought that was quite interesting, especially in terms of things like the lightsaber calligraphy.

It really is desolate down there too. We haven't seen any animals on the planet, and normally when we create Star Wars places we populate them with all sorts of weird aliens and creatures. So this is a really weird, desolate rock. I think that really underlines the hardness of the plot as well. They're trapped on this place.

Also when there's a lot of mist you don't have to draw backgrounds as much. It's our gift to our artists. [Laughs]

It does seem like the planet does have lot of mystery that could be explored in further stories.

Definitely. This is like the classic Marvel crossover. That's how we saw it going in. In some ways it's the books flying together, but it's also, "Here's a really big, new direction." Our books have kind of been dovetailing each other anyway. We do our own things and then we crash into each other again.

This is kind of like two meteors colliding and then the remaining rocks go blowing off into space. So when we head away it's like, "Oh that's a really interesting new status quo for both books."

So by the time "Vader Down" is done we'll have seen some big action, some fun reveals, and both the "Darth Vader" and "Star Wars" titles will be off in their own separate orbits for a while?

Yeah, the impact of the books are meaningful. You want to be able to say that with every crossover, but when people look back on these books they'll be able to say, "Oh yeah. I see what Kieron was getting at."

We started with this big high concept of Vader versus an army. That's the initial image, and the more you get into it the more personal it gets. It also gets more intricate because all these people want certain things and the question becomes, "Can they get them?"

So me and Jason are having a lot of fun mashing into each other. It's like, "What horrible thing can we do to each other's casts?" You saw what Jason did to my poor innocent 0-0-0 last issue! The poor guy has no arms! [Laughs] So yes, that's a continuing theme; our brutality to each other's characters.

Since we've covered "Vader Down" pretty extensively, let's talk "Darth Vader" on its own. Is your story close to catching up with "The Empire Strikes Back" or is there still quite a bit of road to travel before you get there?

I've always said I know the end of "Vader." The question I guess though is, "How close is that end to 'Empire Strikes Back?'" When the story is all over it will tell a whole story and make for a nice omnibus. I hope people like it.

So we know the end and where we go after this crossover. We've done a year of Vader being in the shadows backstage; that was the vibe. 2016 is much bigger. We're looking at "Star Wars" and sort of underlining the word "Wars" a hundred times. The arc coming out of "Vader Down" is Vader as a general leading a military campaign. It's me and Salva doing these enormous vistas of destruction. It's all set on the planet we introduce in the "Darth Vader Annual."

People have had an incredible response to the "Star Wars" books and it's been so exciting. I've said before that "Vader" is an incredibly fun book to write. I sit down and giggle while writing it.

I just finished a really, really hard script. I'm relaunching "Uber" next year. That's a lot of hard work because of the amount of research and it's emotionally grueling. Now I can sit down and tackle what's next on my list, which is "Darth Vader" and it's going to be so much fun. The book makes me smile and the fact that the audience appears to be enjoying it as much as I am means a lot.

"Darth Vader" #14 goes on sale December 23, 2015.

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