With the conclusion of the Thrawn trilogy, we’re now taking a look at the comic series that came out more or less contemporaneously with that series – Dark Horse Comics’ first outing in the Star Wars universe – Dark Empire.
Writer: Tom Veitch
Art: Cam Kennedy
Lettering: Todd Klein
Covers: Dave Dorman
Publication Date: December 1991 – October 1992
Following the fall of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Imperial Remnant has fallen into Civil War. For a time, the New Republic had lost control of Coruscant, but is now working to retake the planet. An attempt to retake Coruscant lead by Lando Calrissian and Luke Skywalker has lead in a Republic fleet destroyed Luke and Lando and their Star Destroyer downed on Coruscant. Leia and Han lead a rescue mission, which picks up the survivors from the war-zone that is the streets of the former Imperial Capital, but a Force Storm emerges and picks up Luke Skywalker and R2-D2., taking him to parts unknown.
Meanwhile, new Imperial war machines known as “World Devastators” have emerged. These super-weapons chew up large chunks of planets, and use the raw materials to create new fighter craft and other weapons which are then unleashed on the Republic. These vessels, while crewed, are coordinated from a command signal in the Deep Core. The Republic stages a defense on the world of Mon Calamari while Han and Leia hunt down the source of this signal.
On the new Imperial throne world of Byss, Luke is brought before a reborn Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine has gained new life by transferring his life force into a clone body, one of many, as they cannot contain the power of the Dark Side, and each clone has a considerably lessened lifespan. Palpatine offers to make Luke his new apprentice. Luke accepts, hoping to overcome the Dark Side, and the Empire, from within.
Meanwhile, the trail of the World Devastators leads Han and Leia to Han’s old haunt of Nar Shaddaa – a moon of Nal Hutta that is frequented by smugglers – and a world that is fairly dangerous for Han and Leia as they both have bounties on their heads placed by the Hutts for their role in Jabba’s death. Han & Leia team up with an old flame of Han’s, Salla Zend. Zend has access codes to get to the Deep Core, and in particular to the imperial homeworld of Byss. Before they leave, Han and Leia have two big run-ins. First, they encounter a fallen Jedi named Vima-Da-Boda, who gives Leia her lightsaber. Second, they encounter a still alive Boba Fett, currently teamed up with Dengar. Han, Leia, and Salla flee Nar Shaddaa on Salla’s ship, the Starlight Intruder (with the Falcon attached to the outside). Fett attempts to pursue in his new ship, Slave Two. However, he doesn’t have the appropriate codes, and ends up trapped outside Byss’ planetary shield.
On Byss, Leia and Han are captured. Leia is taken before Palpatine, who senses that Leia is pregnant with their her third child, and that he wishes to take control of the baby as his next host body, that the child’s power in the force will make him far more compatible than Palpatine’s clones. He also shows Leia a Jedi holocron that is in his possession – a holographic repository of knowledge, operated by an AI guardian possessing the knowledge and personality of a previous Jedi master, that can only be operated by someone who is Force-Sensitive. This holocron’s “keeper” is Bodo Baas, a non-human Jedi from the ancient Republic.
Luke helps Leia and Han escape with the Holocron and R2-D2, who possesses shutdown codes for the World Devastators. Luke also reveals that he was using his position within the Empire to reduce the effectiveness of the Imperial Fleet, and that he was not actually accompanying them to their ship, instead projecting a Force Illusion. As Palpatine rages, and his existing clone nears the end of its life, Luke proceeds to the cloning tanks and starts destroying Palpatine’s clones. However, Luke is not fast enough, as one clone survives and is possessed by Palpatine. Palpatine overpowers Luke, and then with Luke as his prisoner, gives chase on his Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyer. Onboard the Falcon, Leia sees an ancient Force prophecy, saying (effectively) that Luke will need her help to defeat Palpatine.
The Falcon and the Intruder emerge from hyperspace over Mon Calamari shortly before the Eclipse does. Leia turns herself over to the Emperor in the hopes of saving Luke, and she is once again taken before the Emperor and Luke. Leia helps Luke return to the light side, and the two combine their Force abilities to overpower the Emperor. Palpatine summons another force storm in an a last ditch effort to destroy the Rebel Fleet, but due to Leia and Luke’s efforts, he loses control of it, and it destroys the Eclipse instead. Luke and Leia escape in a shuttle, and Luke vows that the Jedi will rise again.
- The Empire fell into disarray following the defeat of Thrawn.
- The cloning technology at Wayland (and presumably other Imperial storehouses) was so the Emperor could clone himself. It could be theorized that the cloning of Jorus C’Baoth was a test-run for Palpatine’s own cloning attempt.
- While the New Rep had taken Coruscant, the seat of the Empire and the Old Republic, the Empire still holds much of the deep galactic core.
- Introduction of the E-Wing Starfighter
- Introduction of Jedi Holocrons.
- Much as with DC’s Watchmen, Dark Empire included text expanding on the world as something of a “backup” story. These include some stories that we’ll see expanded versions of in the Tales of the Jedi comics, among other sources. Of particular note is the story of Ulic Qel-Droma, and the introduction (in brief) of Nomi Sunrider.
Luke Skywalker: Willing to walk the path of the dark side in order to “defeat it from within” – which I’m pretty sure doesn’t mean anything, but which does show how loose ideas of how the Force works are at this time.
Leia Organa-Solo: Carrying her third child (a boy). Is continuing her training in the force, and is about as far along now as Luke was at the start of Empire Strikes Back. Has a bounty on her head from the Hutts. While Luke is more in tune with the physical aspects of the Force, Leia is somewhat more… spiritually in tune with the Force. To put this in perspective of the 3 West End games Star Wars Force skills (Control, Sense, and Alter), Luke focused on Control, Leia on Sense.
Han Solo: Formerly the partner of Salla Zend, and skipped out after she proposed to him. She has since moved on, and he’s quite happy where he is.
Lando Calrissian: Following the destruction of the Niklon mining operation and the losses in the Imperial Civil War, has rejoined the New Republic military.
Emperor Palpatine: Has the force ability to move his spirit to a new host body, and has an array of clones for this purpose, in his own pursuit of eternal life. It’s unclear if Vader or Thrawn knew about this. However, in the wake of the dialog scene between Anakin and Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, and considering how the Rule of Two works, this makes for something of a good insurance policy.
It has frequently been remarked upon that the coloring on this story is weird. Cam Kennedy has later admitted that he started losing his color perception around this time. This book was also published contemporaneously with the Thrawn Trilogy, which leads to some weird incongruities with those books. Later writers in the EU would latch on to Zahn more than to Veitch
On the one hand, this story has been heavily retconned from the EU – though bits and pieces would be picked up later. This is, in part, because of the timing between this book and Zahn’s books. However, Holocrons become instrumental to the EU as a way to have Jedi knowledge preserved, so in that regard it’s somewhat skippable. Also, Cam Kennedy’s coloring is weird. For any other science fiction comic, I’d be fine with it, but for Star Wars it doesn’t quite feel right. Also, the dialog doesn’t quite feel right – there’s a sense of humor present in Star Wars, even in it’s darkest moments – check that – especially in its darkest moments, as we saw in Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One, that is lacking in this story. There’s some humor there, such as Lando bemoaning that he’s the only person in the New Republic to lose two straight Star Destroyers, and there are some additional bits with Salla that are in the radio play. However, otherwise this is a fairly serious, fairly weighty story.
On the other hand, I still enjoyed it. This era of the Star Wars comics reminds me a lot of some of the ’90s Anime OVAs that came out around this time, not the ultraviolent hypersexual ones like Wicked City or Ninja Scroll. After lying being more-or-less left alone for almost a decade, Star Wars was being cultivated again. By this point it had, to continue the metaphor, cross pollinated with a variety of different sources, and everyone, from the people at the top at Lucasfilm, Dark Horse, and Bantam, to the other writers working in the universe, to the readers and fans at the bottom are seeing for the first time in what fruit it would bear.
So, reading something that is so different from what we’ve had before is very exciting, especially the light of knowing that where we’re going as well will be just as different. That said, seeing what will be pruned away does also make clear how important the concept of the “Keeper of the Holocron” as an official position at Lucasfilm (and now Disney) will become. Without real coordination, things can end up in wildly different directions.
Now, before we return to the novels, we have one more comic to take a look at, as we take a look at the first Tales of the Jedi miniseries, with Knights of the Old Republic.