Star Wars: Dark Empire

"And now, my young apprentice... Your father is dead. Have you come to join me? Will you take the place that rightfully belongs to you–at my side."
- Emperor Palpatine

I first saw an advertisement for Star Wars: Dark Empire in a book previewing upcoming Marvel comics, either in 1989 or 1990. Marvel had  produced a Star Wars comic until 1986 and kept their Ewoks and Droids comics going until around 1987. And then nothing. So I was greatly looking forward to Marvel's Dark Empire. As it turned out, Marvel wound up not releasing Dark Empire and Dark Horse Comics gained the license to Star Wars. For the most part, they did some great stuff with it (along with a few misses). When Marvel and Lucasfilm both under the Disney corporate umbrella it was no surprise that the license went back to Marvel after over two decades at Dark Horse. Overall I think Marvel has done a good job with the license - the Darth Vader comic especially has been fantastic.

What about Dark Empire itself? At the time, starved for new Star Wars, I thought it was great. It was released around the time the lean years  of Star Wars materials were ending.

I'm hoping I can safely avoid spoiler warnings cor a comic over twenty years old, but suffice it to say I'll be giving some plot details... Let's give ourselves a little gap.

Dark Empire took place about six years after Return of the Jedi. The Empire had regained much of its power and driven the New Republic off of Coruscant. And then proceeded to fight over leadership of the Empire. However, this is soon to be rendered moot as Palpatine has returned, armed with a new superweapon, the World Devastators. While the Death Stars destroyed planets, the World Devastators tore them apart and used the parts to build new World Devastators. Self-sustaining planetary destruction.

Luke Skywalker has sensed the return of Palpatine and allows himself to be taken by Imperial forces so he can be brought before him. He learns that Palpatine is effectively immortal, as when a body dies his consciousness goes to a specially prepared clone. Supplemental text (which is no longer published with reprints) indicated this is why Palpatine was so ready for Luke to strike him down in Return of the Jedi - even his own death would not be permanent. Finding himself trapped with no way to defeat the Emperor, Luke agreed to give into the Dark Side of the Force and pledged himself to the Emperor, hoping to learn the secrets of the Dark Side from within and find a way to defeat the Emperor. Han, Leia, and Chewbacca end up pursuing Luke in an attempt to bring him back from the Dark Side of the Force.

The artwork of Dark Empire was memorable - it was a drawn in dark, harsh lines and featured gorgeously painted covers. It introduced parts of the expanded universe like the Smuggler's Moon of Nar Shadda which has survived into the new Star Wars continuity. It featured the second return of Boba Fett - he also appeared in one of the post-Return of the Jedi Marvel comics.

Probably the biggest points of contention with this story are the return of Palpatine and Luke going over to the Dark Side. On the first point, one can hardly blame author Tom Veitch for not knowing that Anakin Skywalker was supposed to bring balance to the Force. I've seen arguments that Dark Empire makes his sacrifice meaningless. I see their point, though without this sacrifice its uncertain the Rebel Alliance would have triumphed in Return of the Jedi and Luke would surely have been killed. The idea of Palpatine making use of rapidly aging clone bodies seemed a reasonable one, especially given we knew nothing of the Clone Wars at the time the comic was published.

Luke going over to the Dark Side seems a bit tougher to swallow. It is noteworthy that as I write this there is some speculation that Luke does just this in Star Wars - The Force Awakens. I tend to doubt this is the case, but the scenario Veitch shows in Dark Empire does seem plausible - Luke feels trapped, needing to defeat the Emperor. Moreover, Palpatine ensnares Luke with his own confidence that he won't be held sway by the Dark Side - not "really". And it's reasonable that Luke might be overconfident - he defeated the Emperor once before after all, albeit with his father's help. 
Though in the Legends continuity, Dark Empire does present an interesting look at the dawn of what became known as the "Expanded Universe". Even within the EU, there was some debate as to just how "canon" the story was - a later story had Mara Jade commenting that she wasn't convinced that clone of the Emperor was truly Palpatine. Regardless, the story and art make for an enjoyable experience. 


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