Sith Happens: Gillen and Aaron Talk Up ‘Vader Down’ [Interview]
Darth Vader — the most dangerous man in the galaxy — crashes on an alien planet and the entirety of the Rebel forces will stop at nothing to take him out. That's the pitch for 'Vader Down,' the new story coming this fall to both the Darth Vader and Star Wars comic series from Marvel. Announced during Saturday's Cup O' Joe panel from Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada, the six-part crossover kicks off in its own giant-sized #1 issue and then continues across the two titles, with art from Mike Deodato and Salvador Larroca, and covers by Mark Brooks.
ComicsAlliance chatted with 'Vader Down' writers Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron about what makes Vader tick; the promise of sweet, sweet droid fights; and the mechanics of lining up the crossover the galaxy has been waiting for.
CA: So for our readers who might not have read the press release, give us the elevator pitch for 'Vader Down'.
Jason Aaron: We actually haven’t read the press release, but Kieron, do you want to give the pitch?
Kieron Gillen: The pitch is kind of similar to the name; when we called it 'Vader Down', we kind of believed the title should say something. The idea of Vader’s TIE fighter going down in a situation that is somewhat perilous. The original working title was 'Get Vader', and that might be the other sort of clue as to how things may play out.
And the other side of it is what it brings, with my entire cast and Jason’s entire cast thrown together. So we get to see all the points we’ve been building this last year. It’s definitely the biggest story we’ve done so far. So we get to see Aphra and Han Solo meet for the first time, and, of course: droid fights.
JA: This all started with us talking about this inciting incident, talking about the massive fight that opens the story, and how that leads to Vader on this alien landscape, alone, lightsaber in hand, facing this massive army of Rebel troops, all with their guns pointed at him. We started with that, and once that happens, the rest of the cast of both our books are going to be very interested in being a part of that story.
KG: We have these core images of the book, when we’re talking this out and we have the concept, and we have this cool idea and then we build the situation around it. The idea that, “Okay, this is an interesting situation,” with all these different characters in it who are conflicting and have overlapping motivations, that’s a big part of the book. It boils down to the situation of Vader, shot down, alone, in this situation.
CA: The two series have been linked pretty strongly since the beginning, though certain issues — issue #6 of both titles, for example — have been more so. What prompted the decision to go full-on crossover with the two books?
JA: Our initial meetings with Lucasfilm, Kieron and I were both there in the room together with everybody, and we talked about all this stuff together. Actually, the stuff from issue #6, the whole idea of Boba Fett being the one who brings the name “Skywalker” to Darth Vader, we actually all wrote that together in the bar one night on that initial Lucasfilm trip.
KG: A lot of that came from that night in San Francisco.
JA: Yeah, exactly. We always talked about these books being really closely linked, but not every single issue, so it made sense to set up in the initial arc, how connected the books were, and then, for the second arc, to kind of both go off and tell our separate stories and allow Kieron to introduce a lot of new characters, and for that third arc, it made sense to do something huge and slam the casts together.
It also happens — you may not have heard — there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out in December, so this whole year has been kind of an escalation of excitement of all things Star Wars, and the closer we get to December, that’s only going to ratchet up, so it made sense to do something where, if you haven’t been reading either one of these books, you could pick up this crossover and jump right into it. You’re going to be hit with a lot of new characters and a lot of new stuff, but I think you’ll be able to pick it all up over the course of this storyline.
KG: You know, just give the audience something that’s both accessible and enormous, is what it felt like, for me.
CA: What’s the creative process for this? What’s the division of labor like?
JA: Kieron does all the work… [both laugh]
KG: Basically, through discussions, we talk it over and then one of us — I think it was me to start with — wrote down the basic idea, and we added notes to it, then Jason polished it, I did some more tweaks, and that became our synopsis. Most of it’s done verbally, and then you just get it down on paper and you just see what it looks like. Eventually you realize, “Yeah, that’s the story.”
JA: I think we’ve talked about this story in a lot of different cities in a lot of different ways. It started with us at a little Star Wars dinner at a Brazilian barbecue place and kind of started talking about ideas for a crossover and then we were all in San Francisco meeting with Lucasfilm and talked about it more, and from there did outlines and passed things back and forth. A lot has changed since then, but I think the inciting incident hasn’t wavered too much. It’s been the heart of every version of this story that we’ve talked about.
CA: It’s been interesting to see the approach to Vader across the two books. They’re definitely the same guy, but from different angles. With Vader as the focus of the crossover, how do each of you approach him? What’s your “in” with that character?
JA: I think for me, it’s pretty simple: he’s this force of nature. He shows up and sort of lays waste to everything around him. For me, the most fun has been being able to write Vader and just cut loose. I don’t have to worry about what the special effects budget is; I’m working with artists like John Cassaday and Stuart Immonen, guys who can draw anything you can throw at them. That’s the fun for me, seeing Vader let loose in a way that we never really got in those original films.
KG: If I had to describe the difference between me and Jason, it’s that in my book, he’s the protagonist. As such, I get a bit closer. I didn’t do anything as like, captions — I always want people to kind of guess something — but at the same time, I’m going to do one-panel flashbacks and stuff like that. That’s the kind of stuff that I don’t think will be in the crossover. It’s more different characters interacting, there’s not one character in the lead as much, so there’s slightly more distance from Vader than what you’d normally see in my book.
On the other hand, you define characters by action. Vader, especially in my book, you tell how he feels about something by what he does. It’s very much driven by characters who have really hard decisions and now Vader chooses to act on it. Vader is a guy who uses the force, no pun intended. Actually, that one I did intend it. I’m sorry.
CA: [Laughs] Somehow I felt like the pun was intended to be there.
KG: It’s a famous phrase from a certain movie.
CA: Mike Deodato is joining the Star Wars book for the crossover. Jason, you two recently worked on another Marvel crossover, Original Sin, just last year. How does writing for him differ from writing for, say, John Cassaday or Stuart Immonen?
JA: I don’t think it does. I think when you’re dealing with a guy who works at such a high level, I never feel like I have to tailor my script to one or the other. My job is to just kind of give them what they need and get out of the way and leave it up to those guys to do what they do. When I’m writing the story in my head, even the imaginary artist in my head can’t draw as well as guys like Stuart Immonen and Deodato. Those guys always surpass what I imagine. Those guys are amazing, so it’s never that much work to give them stuff to draw.
KG: Definitely the best part of being a comics writer is these kind of moments where you open your inbox and you go, “Oh my god,” as you see an idea that you had now visualized beyond your capacity. That’s the addictive part of the job for me.
JA: I just think. “Wow, I must be an awesome writer. I wrote that.” [Laughs]
KG: They make us look good.
CA: Kieron, you’ve been working with Salvador Larroca for the Vader book, which I think really hit its stride in the last couple issues, art-wise. What’s that partnership like, and how does working with him affect the decisions you make as a storyteller for 'Vader Down'?
KG: With Sal, I just have to trust him. He’s an astounding storyteller, he’s lightning-fast. My main worry with Sal is always trying to stay ahead of him. [Laughs] He loves Star Wars and he loves action and he loves character, and I know if I write him something that he thinks is entertaining, something amazing will come out the other side. I try to do stuff that amuses him. And that’s kind of how I work, every issue has to have these kinds of things and I want to move between the different tones. I’ve relaxed with my scripts.
I think the first scripts were a bit more anal, but now I kind of hit the script and say, “Sal, I know you’re gonna do something amazing here.” I don’t need to do any of the dancing around.
CA: So you don’t give him Alan Moore, novel-length descriptions in the script?
KG: No, no, no.
JA: It’s just panel descriptions and the occasional puns, right?
KG: Only Jamie [McKelvie] has to suffer my really bad scripts. My worst ones. [Laughs]
CA: At this point, what’s been your favorite moment to write in your respective runs thus far?
JA: That’s a tough question. I’m just trying to top whatever the previous one was with each new issue. I think there’s stuff coming up in this new arc that Stuart is drawing; stuff with Luke, stuff with Han and Leia, some big Chewie stuff. To me, it still feels like we just got started, and there’s so much more cool stuff to do.
KG: The stuff people have seen? Probably Vader realizing that Luke’s his son. That was the one where I thought, “Oh my god, I actually get to write this.” Or like Vader arriving on Tatooine, going to the homestead. Or a conversation between Aphra and Vader, where Aphra basically says, “Are you going to kill me now or later?” Those kind of moments, they were what really liked.
Still, my favorite stuff is in the second arc, as well, the stuff people haven’t seen yet. There’s some stuff with Aphra involving a certain mission that I think is really quite powerful and painful. I’m writing issues #10 and #11 at the moment, and there’s some stuff in there that I just can’t wait to write.
'Vader Down' kicks off this November with the giant-sized Vader Down #1, and continues across both the Star Wars and Darth Vader series. Available from Marvel Comics.