Star Wars has always been a franchise that’s not afraid to mix genres, taking things that we’re familiar with and putting a spin on them worthy of a galaxy far, far, away. An overt western vibe permeates most of the films, and George Lucas has always said it was a throwback to classic sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon. The term Jedi itself was coined in reference to samurai period dramas known as Jidaigeki. But one genre seems mostly absent from the Star Wars films. Horror.
Sure, horrifying things happen (younglings, Anakin!?) but most ties to horror shine through in more subtle ways–like casting. Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee are both iconic space baddies that were cutting their teeth (fangs?) in the horror scene as far back as the 1950s. They even shared the screen on several occasions, with Lee portraying Dracula against Cushing’s Van Helsing in five of Hammer’s Dracula films. But taking the full jump into horror was something that took the series a little while. So, just in time for Halloween, here’s five examples of the times Star Wars got a little spooky.
The now-defunct EU has some of the earliest examples of horror in Star Wars. The less structured management allowed for some pretty strange derailments from the films, the most terrifying of which is a novel called Death Troopers, a story about a stranded Imperial prison barge crew that has to board a derelict Star Destroyer to scavenge parts. Unfortunately for the boarding party, the seemingly abandoned ship is housing a man-made virus that has turned its crew into an army of undead. When the virus is inadvertently transferred to their own ship, the body count skyrockets. The crew along, with prisoners Han and Chewie, try and survive the horrors of the undead, plus some casual cannibalism. There’s shades of Event Horizon and Alien in this novel, which leaves you thinking this one wasn’t really intended for kids. The target audience was a little broader for another Legends horror outing called Galaxy of Fear, a young adult book series trying to convert the Goosebumps audience to Star Wars. This has everything from hauntings, murderers, sinister AI, and brain swapping with space spiders – you know, for kids!
The Clone Wars is probably the most well regarded piece of non-film canon that exists in the Star Wars universe. While not much of the show is straight-up horror, its few forays into the genre are worth checking out, simply for how pulpy they are. The purest example is Brain Invaders. This episode is the culmination of a multi-part arch that involves worms creeping up the nostrils of characters and taking over, you guessed it, their brains. It plays on the zombie movie tropes of dealing with your loved ones turning on you, as well as the innate fear of losing control of oneself. The body-snatching shenanigans come to a head with a tough moral conundrum that weighs on the protagonist, even if they ultimately made the right call (no spoilers here). It’s the kind of note that the movies that influenced it would’ve ended on and I deeply appreciate that decision. Plus, the concept is such a fun throwback to old school, schlocky, late nighters that it’s hard not to fall for its charms.
The Nightsisters of Dathomir are witches. As in, leaning-over-boiling-cauldrons-might-as-well-have-broomsticks witches. They wield dark magic on a planet drenched in red fog that’s covered with twisted old trees, and plot revenge against all those in the universe who have spurned them. This, in my humble opinion, owns. The Nightsisters are a fun addition to the universe, one that gives us a unique perspective of the dark side. The planet is the home world of both fan favorite Asajj Ventress and devil horned, sometimes spider-legged, Darth Maul. Both character designs are deeply steeped in horror iconography, so it’s no surprise this is their home planet. If witches and covens are your thing, check out Nightsisters or Massacre to get a healthy dose of black magic and dread.
Darth Vader has had a lot of exposure in the Star Wars universe. Like, a lot. He’s a merciless villain turned regretful father turned tragically doomed protagonist. Through his appearances in Rebels and in the well-received marvel comic run, Vader was built back into the monster we were always told of in the original trilogy. He’s not without pathos, but we’re shown a lot more of him as an unstoppable killing machine, rather than a sad young slave boy with a crush on an older queen. Vader is at his scariest when when he boards a blockade runner at the end of Rogue One, wordlessly igniting his lightsaber before slaughtering a squad of horrified rebel soldiers. It’s one of the most chilling moments in the entire saga–his skull-like mask has never looked more monstrous. This sequence makes good on the evil villain promise given to us in Revenge of the Sith when Vader rises up on that smokey slab like something straight out of a Universal Monster movie.
Tales From Vader’s Castle
Spooky castles are a cornerstone of classic horror movies. Vader, as the fabulous scary queen that he is, decides it would be cool if he could pull a Barbara Steele and haunt himself a scary castle as first seen in Rogue One. It may be a touch dramatic to have it on the planet where you lost most of your limbs and your Handsome Christensen good looks, but I think we all know this dude has a flair for that sort of thing. Enter a group of rebel soldiers looking for a place to hide out and you have Tales from Vader’s Castle, a sort of perfect horror comic concept that involves soldiers telling scary stories to make it through a long night. This is the most straightforward swing at horror Star Wars has ever taken. Each issue is its own creepy vignette and seems specifically geared towards pleasing genre fans, even going so far as to directly reference Dracula: Prince of Darkness with an issue called Dooku: Prince of Darkness. The whole series is clearly having so much fun with its concept. One issue cheekily brings in a monster from the much-maligned Caravan of Courage, while another has Han and Chewie facing off against a Blair Witch-style Sorceress. It’s a perfect marriage of so many things that I love and if you’re looking for something fun and pulpy to curl up with once you’ve done you’re trick-or-treating this year, this has my vote.