One of the most fun aspects for any film-maker involved in the resurgence of Star Wars on the big screen must be raiding the archives at LucasFilm. And with primo – baddie Darth Vader occupying such a menacing position in Rogue One‘s timeline, slap-bang before where it all kicked off, writer Gary Whitta chose to make use of original concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s unused idea for a menacing castle home for the man in black.
The castle idea originated in pre-production for The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas instructed McQuarrie to set it amid boiling lava to reflect his villain’s mindset:
“Once you’ve embarked on the dark path it will dominate your destiny. Vader had abandoned himself to forces which were carrying him away – forces of destructive violence.”
You may have noticed a few new touches to the way the Star Wars wider universe is presented in Rogue One – planet name title cards, for instance. When Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) approaches a familiar – looking lava planet, its name doesn’t appear – it is Mustafar, site of Vader and Obi-Wan’s fateful duel at the climax of Revenge of The Sith, and where he chooses to hang his cape in Rogue One. The film-makers didn’t want to spoil the reveal.
Vader’s castle is described in the script as “a towering, monolithic obsidian fortress of stark, brutalist design.” Production designer Doug Chiang on the towers emanating from the structure:
“One of the things we landed on early was this idea of a tuning fork — a twin tower kind of look. And it was really interesting because then that started to give Gareth a lot of ideas like, “Well, maybe the structure is built this way because it is like a tuning fork. It’s tuning the dark side in terms of the energy.”
Almost like a Dark Side reflection of the towers in the holy city of Jedha.
Further aspects that remain unexplored in the final film are Sith bas-relief images on the walls of a long passageway that Krennic was to walk down, designed to instil fear in visitors.
Part of me is amused to imagine Vader also has a reception area for “guests” he needs to question, just like that of Blofeld in his similar “castle of death” in Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel – a chair directly above a lava geyser “that throws mud, at a heat of around one thousand degrees centigrade, a distance of approximately one hundred feet into the air….regulated to erupt volcanically on exactly every fifteenth minute in every hour.” Also considered was a Sith cave idea below the structure, again based on McQuarrie designs.
“If you look at the finished design, it has this very strong element of a structure that was there for a purpose, and that purpose was to draw energy from the lava lake. If you look at the design of the base, it feels very much like a dam, and how the lava flows through it, possibly getting energy. And so we thought, “Okay, well, that’s the foundation. Maybe even deeper, or underneath that, is an even more ancient part, which is a natural cave where Vader goes to meditate.”
Gary Whitta explained the reasoning behind the harsh homestead as “a nod to the conflict in him — that he would go back to this place to reflect on what happened to the man he once was. “
Vader recuperates within a bacta tank that looks out through a window onto the roiling lavascape of Mustafar – where he both “died” as Anakin Skywalker, and was reborn as Darth Vader. It is both a meditation and a healing chamber, with lava flowing beneath, under-lighting the room in a hellish red glow.
Vader may not have chosen to live here of his own accord – according to the Visual Guide book, “It is the Emperor’s design that Vader lives in such an unforgiving environment,” in order to keep him in a state of perpetual anger and hate, surrounded by the constant reminder of the Jedi Council and Obi-Wan’s betrayal.
Mustafar is also the last place he saw his wife Padme alive – how twisted is it for him to choose to brood on such a moment within a tank that nurtures his broken, crippled body, then to emerge, re-armoured in a dwelling that feeds his hate and self-loathing? An interesting idea is that a “recharge” of his hate here fuels his full-on assault on the rebels at the end of Rogue one. Although living with a constant reminder of Padme just may be the chink in his dark armour, allowing the light in when Luke eventually tells him, “There is good in you, I’ve seen it….”