Star Wars has been in the news recently for the announcement of the new cast for Episode VII. Many fans are excited that their beloved characters are coming back to the silver screen, albeit a bit older. It may be the natural tendency for some die-hard fans to reach for one of the many novels while waiting for the new movie to come out. However, there are other options for Star Wars literature. Star Wars comics are nothing new, but they are one of the Star Wars universe’s best kept secrets. Typically grittier in tone, the comics expand upon the Star Wars universe, and their plots are interwoven between the novels. One of the darker series is the Star Wars: Dark Empire Trilogy. Set six years after Return of the Jedi, Dark Empire explores Luke Skywalker’s decent into the dark side.
The Dark Empire series was originally a bi-monthly series that started in late 1991. Published by Dark Horse Comics, the trilogy consists of Dark Empire I (six issues), Dark Empire II (six issues), and Empire’s End (2 issues). The series is written by Tom Veitch. However, there was an artist change between Cam Kennedy, who did Dark Empire I and II, to Jim Balkie, who drew for Empire’s End. The trilogy was published in a hardcover edition in 2010, which unfortunately appears to not be in print at the moment, which has caused the price of this edition to skyrocket. However, buyers can still purchase the individual paperback books fairly cheaply. Another alternative is purchasing in e-book format. For the purposes of this review, the hardcover addition will be highlighted.
Dark Empire begins after Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. The New Republic is desperately trying to battle the last remnants of the Empire. However, they have even more to deal with than they had bargained for: a new type of weapon, called “World Devastators” are wrecking havoc all over the galaxy. Not only that, but Emperor Palpatine is back in a cloned body. Wanting to smash the rebels once and for all, he develops his power even more by studying the Sith. The Emperor, however, has plans in mind for Luke, who this new Emperor “Reborn” hopes to turn to the dark side.
The story is especially fun, since Luke turns into a much darker character.
The story is faster-paced when compared to some of the novels and highlights the “core” Star Wars characters: Luke’s struggle with the dark side, Han and Leia’s relationship, and the Emperor, a bad guy that readers just love to hate. The tone is dark, serious, and desperate. For Star Wars fans who want to see the darker side of the series, it is a must-read. If reading as a stand-alone from the rest of the novels, the story could become a bit confusing at times, as it assumes that the reader had prior knowledge of many of the plot lines that have happened in previous books and movies. These comics are not recommended for casual Star Wars fans. If reading the hardcover edition, it does include the Dark Empire Handbook that walks through all of the characters, places, and terms. It still might be a little daunting, though. However, many die-hard fans will enjoy the direction that Veitch takes with the storyline and tone.
Both Kennedy and Balkie are amazing artists. Although their styles are different, the overall tone was kept the same, making the transition from Dark Empire I and II to Empire’s End pretty easy. Kennedy’s drawings are a little sharper, focusing on sharper lines. Balkie’s art is a little softer both in the way that he draws the characters and scenes. Both are enjoyable to go through, although probably the best piece in the hardcover edition is the cover art by Dave Dorman, which features Luke Skywalker in his “dark side” outfit.
Here Luke and the cloned Emperor fight. Kennedy is a bit more sharp in his images.
Overall, this series is a must-have for hard-core Star Wars fans, especially ones who have all of the rest of the novels lining their bookshelves but haven’t dabbled into the comics. The writing, storyline, and art are top-notch. Star Wars: Episode VII writers and producers might want to take note of this one. This is the way to do a good Star Wars plot. Dark Empire is a series that takes the fantasy of Star Wars and adds a more artistic element to it, not only in the artwork but also the story. Here’s hoping that Episode VII is half as good.