When Disney decided to de-canonize large portions of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I found embracing the news harder than expected. I’m an adult, quite tethered to reality, and I understood that these fictional stories were never truly real, yet their erasure from the larger Star Wars galaxy felt like losing large portions of my teenage fandom. It’s clear that it had to be done both to open up opportunities and clear the stage for future storytellers, but seeing some of my favorite storylines and characters fade into narrative purgatory offered an unblemished example of my impending middle age, and the universe owed nothing to my childhood fantasies.
Whether due to (or in spite of) the perceived deficiencies of recent Star Wars films, it seems Disney has found meaningful ways to keep the previous Expanded Universe in the narrative consciousness (now referred to as “Legends”). For years, Dark Horse Comics published comics delving into stories both distant and impending in the realm of Star Wars. Whether it be comics featuring ancient characters in the pages of Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales of the Jedi or the sequel narrative following Luke, Leia and Han in Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire series, Dark Horse whipped out some classic stories set in the Star Wars mythos. When the property was bought by Disney and the comics moved to Marvel, there was fear that these arcs would never be republished again, causing some rather sharp increases in the sale of Dark Horse graphic novel collections. Thankfully, with this series of collections, that seems to be an unfounded concern.
As for the story, this book collects all three parts of Veitch’s Dark Empire series (Dark Empire, Dark Empire II, and Empire’s End) into a slick, chronological trade. With the return of the Emperor and an insurgent Empire, Luke makes a fateful decision to join together with the Dark Lord in hopes of undermining his rise from behind the curtain. Han and Leia, now expecting children, are being hunted by Boba Fett and kinfolk of Jabba the Hutt, all while Leia trains to become a full-fledged Jedi. It’s a solid story from beginning to end, with enough surprises and character moments to give any Star Wars fan delight and elation. It carefully connects characters and arcs from previous Star Wars EU stories (both modern and ancient) without turning into a self-referential slog. Reading through it again with fresh eyes, I was taken by how many new concepts and characters Veitch introduces while still giving center stage to our core gang of heroes.
It’s hard not to compare this sequel to what we eventually received in film form the last few years. What stands out more than ever is how much was actually borrowed from this comic when creating the recent trilogy. First, both trilogies deal with planet destroying weapons. Unfortunately, this trope was overused in the ’90s (with other EU novels also borrowing the concept) and should have been abandoned even in the Dark Empire arc. Considering how strong the elements featuring Luke and Leia are in this trade, it really didn’t need to be bogged down with new Death Star acolytes. Second, we have the return of a cloned Palpatine, something adopted late in the sequel film trilogy. It works significantly better in this trade, with the relationship between the mature Skywalker siblings providing more character conflict than the ill-informed final act reintroduction of the character in The Rise of Skywalker. Having said that, it is fascinating to find elements of these quintessential de-canonized Star Wars tales find their way into the current film mythos.
The pencils by Cam Kennedy (and later Jim Baikie) are sold, with enough detail and character focus to do this story justice. Unfortunately, I find the inking and coloring to be a huge miss for this series of stories. It’s simply too dark and monotone to stand as a sequel trilogy to the original films. The palette does well in keeping with pre-digital colors from this era, but it’s incompatible with the scope of this arc, especially when compared to the marvelous covers from Dave Dorman, who gave each individual issue the cinematic visualization fans were anticipating. When you consider the vibrant colors Pamela Rambo would bring to Tales of the Jedi stories two years later, it seems like a missed opportunity to have such a subdued accompaniment to the fine line work.
One of the highlights of this trade is the level of care given to delivering supplementary materials related to this storyline. Not only do we get short side-stories from this era printed in Star Wars Tales, but we are treated to The Star Wars Handbook #1-#3. Even die-hard Star Wars fans like myself may need some additional context for this universe our heroes navigate, and the comprehensive entries do the trick. The trade also collects a number of letters/essays from the creative teams associated with the Star Wars EU from this time period. For those interested in the complex process involved in generating interlocking narratives in different media with separate creative teams, these documents furnish a window into the challenges with crafting these stories.
Star Wars fans should be thrilled that the classic EU comic adventures are not being memory-holed to make way for new developments in our galaxy far, far away. I have been a vocal proponent of letting Star Wars develop and change for newer generations, and not letting it become a relic of my generation’s fandom, recycling past stories to a dwindling fanbase. Yet, keeping these excellent narratives alive, even if not in the official canon, is a treat for anyone who left a Star Wars film inspired, eager to explore its edges and periphery.
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