In October of 2018, Lucasfilm Publishing partnered with IDW to put out Star Wars: Tales from Vader’s Castle, an anthology comic-book series that collected spooky (but family-friendly) short stories set in A Galaxy Far, Far Away. That release was followed up annually with more Vader’s Castle installments until IDW lost the Lucasfilm license at the end of last year.
Now, with Dark Horse Comics getting back into the Star Wars game, the company has issued writer Cavan Scott’s (Star Wars Adventures) latest foray into the darker side of the George Lucas-created universe with Star Wars: Tales from the Rancor Pit, which was due out in time for Halloween but was unfortunately delayed until last week (at this point it is only available in comic shops, though a wider release at bookstores is coming in January).
Tales from the Rancor Pit is a hard-bound edition that is longer in page count than the average comic book, but smaller in area, if that makes sense (the width is about 6.25 inches, while a standard comic is around 6.75). It contains three stories overall with a bookend framing story that involves a Harassian smuggler named Captain Vaclav, who is imprisoned by Jabba the Hutt in the period between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi– we know this because Han Solo’s carbonite-frozen body is depicted hanging on Jabba’s wall. Jabba has Vaclav dangling over the titular Rancor Pit, but the captain offers the mighty Hutt stories in exchange for his life. The first flashback tale involves ghost droids during the Clone Wars (this story much more inventive and clever than I’m making it sound), the second stars monster hunter Ty Yorrick on a mission during the High Republic era, and the third zooms in on the familiar Echo Base, which is plagued by creatures as the Rebellion establishes a headquarters on Hoth. All of these stories are entertaining, but my favorite was probably the first one, mostly because it feels so imaginative, playful, and delightfully outside-the-box for this franchise.
It’s a credit to Cavan Scott’s writing abilities that he was able to concoct a story about undead droids without breaking what we know about Star Wars canon, but the MVP of this tale– appropriately entitled “Ghosts of the Machine”– is artist Juan Samu (Marvel Action: Black Panther), whose memorably stylized illustrations and offbeat color choices pop right off the page. Then “Undead or Alive,” which sees Ty Yorrick from Star Wars: The High Republic – The Monster of Temple Peak hunting a menace that turns out to be more than she bargained for, features art by Andy Duggan (Star Wars: Hyperspace Stories) and colorist Roman Stevens, while “In the Lair of the Dragon Slugs”– starring Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and some Wampas– is drawn by Rafael Pérez with colors by DJ Chavis. Nick Brokenshire, who previously collaborated with Scott on Vader’s Castle, provides the art for the overarching story set in Jabba’s Palace, and I continue to be impressed by his attention to detail and atmospheric choices. It’s really a shame that Tales from the Rancor Pit wasn’t assembled by Dark Horse in time for an October release, because it would have been such a perfect gift for fans who love the spookier side of Star Wars during that time of year, but that just means you’ll have to go out to your local comic shop and pick up a copy or three as holiday stocking-stuffers. My only real complaint about this title is that the hardcover binding brings up the price to $20 bucks for what should be a five or six-dollar super-sized comic, but it will look nice on a shelf so I can forgive that. Cavan Scott remains one of the most consistently reliable Star Wars authors working today, and to me that’s worth just about any amount they’re asking.
Star Wars: Tales from the Rancor Pit is available now exclusively at comic shops, and will become available at booksellers on Tuesday, January 3rd (pre-order now).