Monday, March 15, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Dark Empire #1-5, Classic Star Wars #1-3

Wow, it's been nine years since I last wrote about Star Wars comic books!  Let's just say I expected it to get back to them a lot sooner.  I guess I got busy with other things.

In 1991, Dark Horse Comics picked up the baton for Star Wars after four years of radio silence for the franchise within the medium.  Dark Horse carried the license for the next 24 years, publishing dozens of series set in the galaxy far, far away.  Marvel now owns the rights to all of the Dark Horse series and, lucky me, they're available to read online via Marvel Unlimited.

I do not promise that I will read every issue of every series.  Indeed, the skipping around has already begun.  Years ago, I tried Marvel's Droids and Ewoks series from the '80s.  Both are god awful and I have no intention of reading any more of them than I already have.  You can't make me!  In fact, the Ewoks series is so bad that the Star Wars licensing people essentially disowned it, not even allowing Marvel to use the Star Wars logo for it any more.

There is tremendous variance in the canonic value of the Dark Horse comics.  Not surprisingly, much of the material has been superseded since by the films.  I'll note discrepancies where they're important but I won't let them get in the way of an engaging read.  

I have to say that after all my recent immersion in Marvel, Star Trek and Harry Potter, digging into Star Wars still feels like coming home.

Tom Veitch is the writer for the Dark Empire series.  He was born September 26, 1941.  He got his start in the underground comix movement of the 1970s but eventually found work with both Marvel and DC.  He is a published novelist and poet.  He was also, for a time, a Benedictine monk.  

My Recent Reads

Dark Empire #1: The Destiny of a Jedi
Originally Published December 12, 1991
Writer: Tom Veitch
Artist: Cam Kennedy
In-Story Timeline: 10 ABY
  • The first story out of the blocks was Dark Empire, set six years after Return of the Jedi.
  • A quick note on the Star Wars timeline:  year zero is the Battle of Yavin, the one at the end of A New Hope in which the first Death Star is destroyed.  Everything before the battle is BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin).  Everything afterward is ABY (After the Battle of Yavin).
  • The calendar is based on the Corsucant solar cycle: 24-hour days, 368-day years.
  • Back to the story.
  • The Rebel Alliance has established a New Republic covering most of the galaxy but the old empire is not entirely dead.  The remaining Imperial Forces are fighting a civil war among themselves.
  • The rebels are still harassing them, too.  Luke and Lando (and Artoo) are shot down over Imperial City during a raid.  Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio rush to save them.
  • The band is back together!  But not for long.
  • Something is amiss.  Luke senses something or someone is still wielding the Dark Side of the Force within the former imperial palace.  He insists on staying to check it out, alone.
  • The others - especially Leia - want to stay to help Luke but he says it's too dangerous for any but himself.  So they go.
  • Except Artoo.  R2-D2 always stays with Luke.
  • A few important developments in the intervening six years:
    • Han and Leia are now married.
    • In this storyline, they have two children - mentioned but not named in the issue.
    • Leia is now a Jedi Knight, as trained by Luke.

Dark Empire #2: Devastator of Worlds
February 18, 1992
  • The Dark Side has a new weapon: World Devastators.  Currently, they are attacking Calamari, Admiral Ackbar's home world.
  • Luke finds the source of the trouble he sensed in the previous issue: Emperor Palpatine.
  • But wait, didn't he die at the end of Return of the Jedi?
  • Yes, but he cloned himself.  This story is, in fact, where the idea of Palpatine's resurrection in The Rise of Skywalker originated.
  • In a surprise move, Luke joins the Emperor this time.  We know from Luke's thought bubbles that he feels he must challenge the Dark Side from within.

Dark Empire #3: The Battle for Calamari
April 21, 1992
via Amazon

  • Lando, Wedge Antilles (remember him?), Leia, Han and C-3PO are fighting the World Devastators.
  • However, Leia is worried about Luke.  She has been having visions about him.  She convinces Han that they must go rescue Luke.
  • First stop: Nar Shaddaa, a spaceport moon orbitting Nal Hutta, Jabba's birthplace.  Han considers Nar Sahaddaa "home" and believes he has friends who will help them, including Ninx, a mechanic, and Salla, a pilot and Han's old flame.
  • The bounty on both Han and Leia has increased substantially since they killed Jabba so they must be cautious.
  • A beggar woman, Vima, recognizes Leia as a Jedi.  Apparently, Vima was once a Jedi herself.  She gives Leia a gift.
  • In the last frame, Han's house droid Zee-Zee informs him that Boba Fett has come to see him.

Dark Empire #4: Confrontation on the Smugglers' Moon
June 23, 1992
via Amazon

  • Alas, not all of Han's old pals have been so loyal.  Mako, the traffic controller on Nar Shaddaa, sold him out to the bounty hunters, led by Boba Fett who somehow managed to survive the Sarlacc pit.
  • Leia and Han make a run for it and manage to escape Nar Shaddaa with help from Ninx and Salla.
  • The Millenium Falcon now travels to the Emperor's ruling city where our friends hope to rescue Luke.
  • Han, Leia, Chewie and C-3PO surrender themselves to the imperial guards so they'll bring them to Luke.
  • Leia confronts the Emperor who now believes he possesses both Luke and Leia.  She tries to kill the Emperor and he shoots his Force Lightning at her, stunning her.
  • Han attacks Luke, believing he's become just like Vader.  Of course, Luke gains the upper hand quickly and urges Han to trust him.

Dark Empire #5: Emperor Reborn
August 18, 1992
  • This issue introduced the holocron to the Star Wars universe.  Holocron is short for holographic chronicle.  A holocron is a sort of artifact/bible/instruction manual for the Force.  Eventually holocrons would be part of the lore for both Sith and Jedi within the Expanded Universe.  They never appear in the films but they do feature in the Clone Wars television series.
  • Palpatine has a Jedi holocron which he shows off to Leia, his new captive.  
  • When she escapes, she steals the holocron.
  • Meanwhile, Ninx and Salla break Han and Chewie out of their detention cell - it could hardly be Star Wars without a jail break.
  • Everybody makes it on to the Falcon to get away, including Luke.
  • Psych!  He's just a Force projection.  Luke's still with Palpatine.
  • And he breaks into Palpatine's clone room just as Palpatine is about to transition to a new clone.
  • Luke destroys all of the incubators and the clones within them... except for one.
  • One is all Palpatine needs.  He gains the upper hand in his subsequent duel with Luke.
  • News flash: Leia's pregnant.  And Palpatine knew before Han did.

Classic Star Wars #1
August 1, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson
In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY
  • As part of its Classic Star Wars series, Dark Horse compiled and colorized the newspaper comic strips which ran 1979-84.
  • I honestly can't remember whether or not The Washington Post carried the Star Wars strip when I was a kid.  They must not have by the time I discovered the comics section of the paper because I'm sure I would have noticed. 
  • This first issue compiles the first part of The Bounty Hunter of Ord Mantell which ran February 9-April 19, 1981, based on a Han Solo line in The Empire Strikes Back.  The story takes place between A New Hope and Empire.
  • While on a scouting mission, Luke and Leia are kidnapped by the bounty hunter Skorr and his sidekick Gribbet on, you guessed it, Ord Mantell.  Skorr's real goal, though, is to use his hostages to ensnare Han.
  • Archie Goodwin has a much better sense of the Han Solo patter than Veitch does.  I prefer Williamson's artwork to Kennedy's too.

Classic Star Wars #2
September 1, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
  • The Ord Mantell story concludes.  Surprise, surprise, our heroes get away.
  • Next up is Darth Vader Strikes which ran April 20-July 26, 1981.
  • Vader has a new plan of attack against the Rebels but one of his own admirals intends to betray him.
  • Han and Leia are growing closer and Luke is jealous.  I guess he doesn't know about the whole sister thing yet.  Of course, a reader in 1981 wouldn't either (though one might easily have guessed).

Classic Star Wars #3
October 20, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
  • Darth Vader Strikes continues.
  • Turns out, the traitor admiral - Griff - is a ruse devised by Vader to lure the Rebels into planting a spy.
  • Truth: Vader does have a new battleship.  He's using Admiral Griff and the Rebel spy plan to draw out other admirals who are disloyal to Vader and jealous of the favored status he has with the Emperor.
  • Luke volunteers for the mission, in part to get away from the Han/Leia situation.  He becomes a droid mechanic aboard the new battleship.  R2-D2 and C-3PO tag along.
  • Our handsome young hero draws the admiration of the flirtatious Tanith Shire, a beautiful supply tug operator.
  • Griff makes direct contact with Luke and recruits him into the bogus plan to sabotage the new battleship.


  1. I remember these Ewoks, fuzzy little critters just plum daft beggars who didn't speak either, lol. Why Star Wars got bigger audiences with this palava melted my head - anyway I think JJ Abrams tried putting something resembling Ewoks into Star Trek Into Darkness only fans probably hated it, so hilariously rubbish but magnificently Ewoked Squid pity Abrams defected and made Star Wars a smash hit... if only eh?

    1. For many, the Ewoks ruin Return of the Jedi. I wouldn't go that far. I was still young enough in 1983 to think they were cute. But they certainly didn't work beyond the one movie.

  2. I just pulled out one of my Dark Empire: Gold series to sell.
    I remember when those came out and how excited everyone was. That comic series, combined with the Zahn trilogy of novels which came out around the same time, served to re-energize Star Wars fans and is what lead to Lucas deciding to make the prequels.

    I have those reprints of the comic strip somewhere, but I've never gotten around to reading them.

    1. Dark Empire is a good story, answering a lot of the what-ifs left over from Jedi. I can see why it made people eager for more.