Exploring Mustafar – Introduction & Characters

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.


When Lucasfilm first approached me about collaborating on a Star Wars VR project I jumped at the chance. Very quickly, we settled on Vader as our “protagonist”. In Star Wars: Rogue One we glimpsed Vader’s home on Mustafar. I wondered what else was happening in that monolith? What was Vader doing when he wasn’t Force-choking people on the Emperor’s behalf? In Europe, many castles are built atop the foundations of previous, older temples and structures. I started to wonder whether Vader or the Emperor had picked this specific site on Mustafar for a reason? Why build your home in such an inhospitable place? You wouldn’t—unless there was something on that site of particular value. We knew there had been an indigenous race on Mustafar (we’d glimpsed them briefly in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith). I was excited about the possibility of doing a deeper dive into Mustafar’s backstory and adding to the greater Star Wars lore. What were the Mustafarians’ beliefs? What was their culture like? If an older fortress existed on this site, who lived there and why? This lead me to develop the characters of Lady Corvax and Lord Dorwin, whose tragic history in some ways mirrored Anakin and Padmé’s One of the most thrilling aspects of the development process involved a visit to the Lucasfilm archives. There’s a treasure trove of concept art there by some of the greats like Ralph McQuarrie and Doug Chiang (who is now the Vice President & Executive Creative Director, Star Wars). Many of these ideas never made it into the original films and we were encouraged to use or adapt them. Once new ideas started flowing, Ben Snow (our director) and I were given access to an army of illustrators under Doug’s guidance, who created a slew of contemporary concept art (some of which is represented here). The creation of Vader Immortal was an iterative collaboration between Doug’s team and ourselves. Sometimes, I would write a concept into the drafts and the illustrators would iterate on it. Other times, the illustrators would come up with something on their own and ask me whether or not I saw a way to organically fit it into the story. The process was exhilarating and joyful. Probably the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project. I was like a kid in a candy store. For the legion of Star Wars fans who’ve immersed themselves in Vader Immortal, I want to thank you for joining us on this journey. We made Vader Immortal for you. But we also made it for ourselves—because we count ourselves amongst you! – David S. Goyer


It began in the shadowy halls of Vader’s castle….

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was in the middle of production in 2016 as ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio, was ramping up. As the interior of the foreboding fortress on Mustafar took shape for filming, one single question inspired a new form of Star Wars storytelling. What if you could explore Darth Vader’s castle and uncover some of his secrets? David S. Goyer, writer of the first location-based Star Wars virtual reality experience, Secrets of the Empire, was brought on board the project as writer and executive producer alongside ILMxLAB’s Mark S. Miller. It was the beginning of a long process that would culminate in the creation of Vader Immortal. Vader Immortal is an authentic Star Wars story that can only be experienced in virtual reality, combining action and exploration to tell a riveting tale. “Storytelling in virtual reality is one of the most exciting things for us [and] exploring is part of that,” says director Ben Snow. “We need people to have a moment to breathe. We need to let them look around, enjoy stepping into Star Wars and being in Star Wars.” Not only was there an original story of the Dark Lord of the Sith to craft and develop, but virtual reality also presented its own challenges. “VR is still a really young medium so, with every project, we experiment and learn,” ILMxLAB’s Mohen Leo said. “With Vader Immortal, we really wanted to push connection to characters and narrative between multiple experiences. So you’re not just visiting an iconic place from a movie; you get to meet iconic characters like Darth Vader face-to-face.” ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group, Story Group, Skywalker Sound, Epic Games, and Oculus Studios created an experience to give Star Wars fans a chance to go through the screen and into a part of the galaxy far, far away. “Who hasn’t wanted to look inside an Imperial hangar and walk along the corridors of [Vader’s] castle? Or stand on the bridge of your own ship?” asked Snow. “An important part of the story is that you are part of the story.” Gather your courage and get ready to take your first steps into a darker world. Darth Vader’s world.



ZO-E3—or Zoe for short—is the Windfall’s wisecracking copilot and the protagonist’s trusty companion for this adventure. Zoe makes an immediate impression. Actor and comedian Maya Rudolph plays the unforgettable droid, who was created with Rudolph specifically in mind. Zoe and the captain have a long history of getting into scrapes across the galaxy together and have formed a tight bond over the years. The droid might be opportunistic and slightly snarky, but she always looks out for her friends. Concept Artist Aaron McBride worked on several iterations of the droid companion. “In earlier versions, you were part of the Empire, like an envoy,” McBride recalled. “This droid would be your yeoman or your military secretary. As the story evolved, you weren’t part of the Empire, you were more of a rogue adventurer-type character. Zoe became more of a sidekick, and we had a lot more freedom to play around.” The design of Zoe started with practi- cality in mind. She needed maneuverability and vertical capabilities to keep up with the player, so the ability to hover was a must. Then the team turned to other sources in the galaxy far, far away for more inspiration. “We had a lot of fun trying to come up with what exactly your co-pilot was going to be like,” Mark S. Miller said. “We literally scoured through pages and pages of art from Star Wars movies, The Clone Wars, and animated projects and looked at all the different droid designs that have been done over the years. We decided to do an amalgam of what we wanted.”
“Captain, whatever happens, it’s been a good run.”
McBride looked at some beloved droids to piece Zoe together. “You can recognize R2-D2’s leg as her bicep, L3-37’s right arm, and a protocol droid’s left arm,” he said. “You’re not quite sure what type of droid she was originally, but you’ve repaired her over time with bits and pieces of other droids. She has a collage quality to her.”


The haughty Admiral Gable Karius is part machine after his years of service to the Galactic Empire left his body battered and wounded. On Mustafar he’s second in command and answers only to Darth Vader. Intimidating, cold, and merciless, the Admiral holds no sympathy for the protagonist or ZO-E3. He’s loyal to the Empire through and through, no matter the cost. The Imperial officer’s striking design was inspired by another iconic Lucasfilm franchise. “Karius was really fun,” said Concept Artist Aaron McBride. “The idea was to make him super imposing and super scary. The cool thing was there is an old concept for the character of Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark done by Ron Cobb. Originally, Toht was going to have half a mechanical face and a mechanical arm. I wanted to pay homage to that because I thought it was a cool idea.” “We knew we wanted Admiral Karius to have a checkered past, suggested by the fact that he’s lost part of his face and his arm in battle,” recalled Mark S. Miller. “He’s kind of a weathered general, angry that he’s been stationed here on the always dangerous assignment of being in command of Vader’s castle.”


“When we thought about what we could do in VR, we thought, who would you want to meet if you had the chance to step inside of Star Wars?” said Director Ben Snow. “Or who would you fear to meet, maybe?” The answer to both questions, of course, is Darth Vader. Only he could be so bold. The designers of Vader Immortal endeavored to include just the right amount of the Dark Lord of the Sith to preserve his menace and mystique over the course of three episodes of the immersive experience. As development on the project began, the team asked themselves more questions about capturing the iconic character’s aura within virtual reality to strike an ideal balance. “What is it like to be next to this very large, looming dark character that we all know super well?” posed Production Manager Sarah Barrick. “Can we get that same feeling in VR? If you’re next to him, does he feel imposing?” There are ancient secrets on Mustafar that Darth Vader has sought for years, but he doesn’t get any closer to unraveling them—until the day he meets a seemingly unremarkable ship captain in the depths of his castle.


The Black Bishop is an enigmatic being trapped between life and death. While his intricately embroidered robes still lend him an air of nobility, the Bishop’s shrouded face is a stark reminder that the dark creature is something unnatural. “We were always fascinated by the partially transparent veil that the Black Bishop wore,” recalled Mark S. Miller, “and how much we could suggest there. How creepy could we make him without making him too scary?” The Black Bishop was once Lord Dorwin Corvax, a warrior who lived on Mustafar millennia before. Mortally wounded in battle, his wife was desperate to bring her true love back to her. Lady Corvax unleashed a terrible power that altered Mustafar and changed the very nature of his existence. Corvax’s fate was irrevocably tied to the shattered planet.


Loremaster of the Mustafarians living in the caverns below the molten surface, Vylip Falma is the keeper of his clan’s history. He is the first friendly face the captain and Zoe encounter in Vader’s castle. Although the Mustafarian is masked with a breathing apparatus, Vylip is expressive and passionate. He might be a historian, but he’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to protecting his people. He gives the protagonist and Zoe a totem and entreats them to find the Priestess in the gloomy caves below.


The regal Priestess is the spiritual leader of her clan. She has a mysterious connection to the Force, which she draws upon to share a striking vision of the past. The history and lore of Mustafar live on through her. The design of the Priestess’s robes comes alive with rough-hewn textures, beads, and variations of blue and purple. Her headpiece went through several changes in the concept phase until the team found just the right design. “Once we came up with the iconic crescent shape of the Bright Star, we wanted to incorporate it into the Priestess’s headpiece,” Mark S. Miller said.

Read more of our Explore Mustafar series below

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