*Note: There were some comics released in-between Marvel’s Sw being cancelled and the revival of the line by “Dark Horse”-Droids, Ewoks, and a 3D series. However, I’ll cover those a bit later.
In 1991, there arose new interest in the expanded “Star Wars” universe, due to the publication of Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire” novel trilogy. Dark Horse-who had some success with “Aliens” “Predator” “Robocop” and “Terminator” comics, among others, got the comics rights to Star Wars, first publishing a story that had been in development at Marvel, but was sidelined. This new and ambitious saga would be “Dark Empire”.
“Dark Empire” takes place six years after Return of the Jedi, and a few months to a year after the Thrawn trilogy. In that trilogy, it was established that the Rebellion had taken the Imperial capital world of Coruscant, and had developed a new galactic republic. However, the schemes of a former Imperial admiral had weakened the new government, and in-between that trilogy and this series, other Imperials were emboldened to chase the rebels off the planet. However, the various Imperial factions then start to splinter, erupting into civil war. Luke and Lando lead an ambitious mission to retake the capital with a captured Star Destroyer, but they fail. The first issue of DE has Han and Leia searching for Luke among the war-torn city planet.
Both Luke and Lando are Okay, but Luke senses something’s not right, and allows himself to be taken by a mysterious “force storm” to Byss, where several Imperial fleets are massing. Turns out the Emperor is alive-his “force ghost” managed to find a clone body, and transport itself to it. Palpatine is now using a new weapon-“World Devastators”-basically giant city-sucking vacuum cleaners which take the ruined material and fashion it into new Imperial fighters-to fight back against the rebellion and restore his Empire. Luke figures the only way to fight back in this situation? Become Palpatine’s apprentice and defeat him from within. So much for “I’ll never turn to the Dark side”.
Leia senses something is wrong with Luke, and she and Han must travel to Byss-first stopping by the “Smugglers moon” of Nar Shadaa to find some transport apart from just the Falcon, and the right codes to locate the planet. Meanwhile, Lando and Wedge head to Mon Calamari to fight back against the Empire’s devastators.
Unfortunately, on Nar Shadda they also run into another old foe back from the dead:
Eventually escaping Fett and the Smuggler’s moon-along with an elderly woman claiming to be a Jedi survivor-they finally find Byss-but Luke doesn’t really want to leave just yet-and what’s worse, seems to be sucuumbing to the lure of the dark side. He provides Leia and Han though, with the codes to destroy the Devastators encased in R2-D2. Luke then appears to kill Palpatine, and destroy his clones. However, one remains-a younger version complete with a lightsaber-who quickly disarms Luke and places the now very dark-sided Luke under his control.
He then arrives, with the really, really big Eclipse Super Star Destroyer at the Rebel’s new base, the Pinnacle moon, to capture Leia and turn her to the Dark side, bringing both Skywalkers under his control.
However, Leia manages to find and draw out the good and Luke turns against his master, much like his father did before. Palpatine attempts to draw out another ‘force storm’ to kill them, but Luke and Leia turn it against him, destroying the clone and presumably, the Emperor’s evil forever….or have they?
Leia also senses that she is now pregnant with her and Han’s third offspring-who will become the character Anakin Solo, and appear in future books and comics. However, the threat is not over yet, and indeed future “Dark Empire” series would trouble our heroes further down the line, before reaching the point in the novels where Luke decides to rebuild the Jedi.
However, this would mark a new era in Star Wars comics nonetheless-Dark Horse would hold the title for nearly twenty years, with a variety of ongoing, limited series, and others to follow.
First off would be their color reprint/re-edit of the Archie Goodwin Star Wars strips, which told part of the Star Wars story between A New Hope and Empire, and since it was partially published after Return of the Jedi, was able to build on the whole trilogy as a result. Many tackled some of the elements of the gap between the films, such as Vader’s new Super Star Destroyer being constructed:
As well as the rebels fleeing the jungle moon of Yavin IV and setting up on Hoth, and even the Bounty Hunter Han ran into on Ord Mantell.
Next up would be of the “Tales of the Jedi” series, which would be a prequel series forming some of the foundation for “Dark Empire”‘s backstory, as well as the Jedi Academy arc in the novels. It would also form the setting for the Knights of the Old Republic video game series, including the current “Old Republic” series, but that’s for another article.