Exploring Mustafar – Behind Episode III

Written by Kelly Knox


We’re giving a look at how Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series came to be in our written series titled “Exploring Mustafar.” From a digital artbook written by StarWars.com contributor Kelly Knox, we’ve shared the contents out across four online pages to provide insight into how Vader Immortal was brought to life when it was created in 2019, back when ILM Immersive was still ILMxLAB.

“Fate chose you for a reason.” —The Priestess
It’s time to face Darth Vader once and for all. The Bright Star is in his clutches. You must risk everything to stop the Dark Lord of the Sith from destroying the remaining life on Mustafar by activating the Aeon Engine. But you’re not alone. You have ZO-E3, the Mustafarians, and an entire droid army on your side for one final confrontation. Everything you’ve seen and learned in Episode I and Episode II come together in an explosive conclusion. “Over the course of three episodes we got to go from an outside view in the initial swoop down to Mustafar to being in the deepest bowels of the planet underneath the castle,” said Producer Alyssa Finley. With a high-speed chase on skiffs, an epic showdown with Admiral Karius, and a monumental clash of lightsabers with Darth Vader himself, Episode III is absolutely action-packed. It’s also the culmination of a story that gives Star Wars fans the chance to feel like they’re making an impact in the galaxy far, far away. “This has been one of the best experiences of my career, and many on our crew feel the same way,” Director Ben Snow said. “Vader Immortal has shown that there is an appetite for this type of storytelling in virtual reality, and we’re so happy that people have enjoyed it as much as they have.”


The Corvaxian droid army, known as the Marching Horde, stands at the ready in this early concept art. The age-old droids respond only to the descendants of Lord and Lady Corvax and the signals of the light sword in their hand. Parts of the decayed castle were inspired by an eighteenth-century Italian artist named Giovanni Piranesi, whose detailed drawings often depicted Roman buildings destroyed by armies and reclaimed by nature. “You had this beautiful erosion and manmade destruction,” said Concept Artist Stephen Todd. “The ruins get sacked by man and then sacked by nature. We had his drawings of the Colosseum; it’s hauntingly beautiful. We wanted to illuminate this place with low lighting and the Corvax army arranged to give them a purpose.”


After a daring skiff chase with stormtroopers in pursuit, Zoe and the captain ascend from the ruins to Vader’s castle. The path to the ancient castle was originally designed as a long elevator ride from top to bottom and vice versa before the skiff sequence was conceived. “This is the excavation underneath Vader’s castle. The huge, monolithic pillars you can see in the background are actually holding the castle up,” said Concept Artist Russell Story. “We tried to make it feel like the Death Star when it was being rebuilt, although this is being built downwards. We took a lot of the shapes from models that had been made for the original Star Wars and used those for the same feeling.” “What Star Wars does very well is having a single shape tell the story,” agreed Concept Artist Stephen Todd. “The Death Star is essentially a sphere; the lightsaber is essentially a cylinder. Vader’s castle is a triangle that adds a few nice angles to accentuate it. We wanted to mirror that. Instead of a dome on top of Corvax’s castle, there’s an octagonal shape with no complex curves. We looked at pyramids for inspiration.”


The captain and ZO-E3 are reunited with the Windfall in the Imperial hangar. The action ramps up as the air sizzles with blaster bolts and the Marching Horde unleashes their assault. They also run into another old friend, Admiral Karius, in a TIE fighter face-off inspired by the theatrical trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. “Everyone on the team said, ‘We gotta put that in!’” said Mark S. Miller. “It inspired us to have a battle against a TIE fighter and also became a cool way to take Karius out for good.” Concept Artist Russell Story painted the spectacular scene. “It was really fun to do,” he said. “It was supposed to feel very imposing; you’re on this tiny walkway and there’s no way for you to escape except for trying to go through Karius.”


Inside Vader’s Castle

This early concept art shows a landing pad at the top of Vader’s castle. “This was a test we did to concept the game for virtual reality,” said Concept Artist Stephen Todd. “If you loaded this into a VR headset, you could experience it. This was about getting the mood in the beginning of development, showing off the world and the scale, and playing off what we saw in Rogue One.” Another foreboding area of the fortress, Darth Vader’s meditation chamber, was also explored in the early stages of development.


The final battle takes place at the top of Vader’s Castle as the Aeon Engine draws life energy from the planet. Darth Vader’s obsession with bringing back his true love, Padmé Amidala, is within his reach—at the cost of every living thing on Mustafar. Can he be stopped before it’s too late? “We wanted almost a Shakespearean moment in these pieces,” Concept Artist Stephen Todd says. “You’re coming face-to-face with Darth Vader and you have these last few moments you have to overcome. We wanted to create a space where you felt trapped inside the castle. Everything is waiting for you outside if you can just get away.”  


This early storyboard of Episode III is the start of the end. With the Aeon Engine and Bright Star destroyed, the life current returns to Mustafar in this step-by-step outline.


The danger has passed and a brighter future lies ahead for the planet of Mustafar. The captain and ZO-E3 are safely together again on board the Windfall. Where will their next adventures lead them?


Artbook Credits

WRITER Kelly Knox DESIGNER Leigh Zieske MARKETING GROUP Elizabeth Walker, Michelle Halevi, Sugeily Benitez, Sierra Carelock MARKETING ART DIRECTOR Eric Tobiason LUCASFILM STORY GROUP
Matt Martin, Kelsey Sharpe

Project Credits

STORY BY David S. Goyer, Colin Mackie, Ben Snow NARRATIVE DESIGNER Mohen Leo PRODUCTION DESIGNER Aaron McBride CONCEPT ARTISTS Stephen Todd, Russell Story, Brett Northcutt, Luis Carrasco, Maciej Kuciara, Karl Lindberg, Christian Alzmann, Erik Tiemens, Chris Voy, Finnian Macmanus, Ben Grangereau, Evan Whitefield STORYBOARD ARTIST Amy Beth Christenson DESIGN DIRECTORS Colin Mackie, John Nguyen ENVIRONMENT ART SUPERVISOR Steve Henricks LUCASFILM STORY GROUP James Waugh, Matt Martin

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