Good to see you, Rebelscum fans! This week we’re continuing our coverage to another cornerstone story arc within the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Our topic for the next series is the 1990s comic storyline Dark Empire and its follow ups Dark Empire II and Empire’s End. Today we’ll be delving into the history of the story with “Expand Your Mind,” but stay tuned later this week for our “Timeline Breakdown,” “Character Spotlight,” and “Force Casting” articles, as well as Bobby’s videos over on our YouTube channel.
1991 was a huge year for Star Wars and effectively relaunched the Expanded Universe after the franchise had been dormant for nearly a decade. After Return of the Jedi in 1983, fans only had the brief Ewoks and Droids cartoons, the Ewok television movies, and the ongoing Marvel Comics series that concluded in 1987. The franchise was slipping in the public eye as Lucasfilm focused on other projects like Indiana Jones, but in 1991 the franchise came back to readers with two big projects: Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire (the first in The Thrawn Trilogy of novels) and Dark Empire.
Dark Empire began its run in December 1991 and introduced Star Wars fans to a new publisher: Dark Horse Comics, who adopted rights to the Star Wars comics from Marvel. The first storyline under Dark Horse, Dark Empire had a limited six issue run, followed by six issues of Dark Empire II beginning in 1992, and concluded with the two issues of Empire’s End in 1995. Dark Horse would continue to launch Star Wars comics up until 2015 when Disney transitioned the rights back to its initial home at Marvel Comics.
Dark Empire is set six years after the events of Return of the Jedi and one year following the events of The Thrawn Trilogy (10 A.B.Y. in the Star Wars Legends timeline). The New Republic has been established and waged several conflicts against remnants of the Galactic Empire, and the now married Han Solo and Leia Organa have welcomed their twin children Jacen and Jaina Solo into the world. However, a sudden attack on Admiral Ackbar’s homeworld of Mon Calamari introduces the heroes to a familiar face that’s emerged from the shadows: Emperor Palpatine.
Palpatine has returned, utilizing cloning technology to transfer his soul to a new body. Now restored as the face of the Empire and renewed in his goals of galactic dominance, Palpatine aims to do what he failed to the first time: seduce Luke Skywalker to the dark side and adopt him as his new apprentice. Shockingly, for a brief moment he is successful.
The shock that the most sinister character from the original trilogy had returned certainly courted readers to check out the first of the Star Wars Dark Empire comics, and established the tone of the Expanded Universe going forward. Unlike the previous Marvel comics, which adapted the films and explored more frivolous adventures in between them, Dark Empire was a major storyline with significant ramifications for the rest of the franchise. It also targeted a matured audience who was already introduced to the characters, and took a darker approach than any previous Expanded Universe material.
Outside of the Emperor’s clone and Luke Skywalker’s brief dark turn, Dark Empire introduced several other recurring elements to the Expanded Universe. This was the first story to reveal that Boba Fett had survived his tumble into the Sarlacc Pit, and it featured the birth of Han and Leias’ third child Anakin Solo after the twins were born in The Thrawn Trilogy.
Dark Empire has inspired a lot of super cool Star Wars merch for collectors looking to broaden their Expanded Universe sections. The 90s “Power of the Force” action figure line featured Dark Empire characters in 1998, including a dark side Luke Skywalker, Leia, Palpatine, and an Imperial Sentinel. In 2008, the highly popular “Comic 2-Pack” series released a reissue of Dark Empire II issue #1 with dark side Luke and Palpatine in their “Legacy Collection” versions.
Dark Empire was integral in keeping the Expanded Universe moving forward, and given its importance in introducing this new phase of Star Wars media, any merchandise and copies of the comics are highly valuable to collectors. Interest in Dark Empire skyrocketed recently when many of the storylines were incorporated into the sequel trilogy, specifically the Emperor’s clone in 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
New Expanded Universe fans looking to broaden their Star Wars experience can see Dark Empire as a great starting point, particularly in establishing the tone of the Dark Horse comics moving forward. It’s one of the most frequently cited story arcs in Legends, and coupled with The Thrawn Trilogy it makes for an exciting sequel to Return of the Jedi. We’ll always believe that just because something is no longer canon doesn’t mean it's not a great story, so we encourage everyone to check out these great comics!
What are your thoughts? Did you read Dark Empire, and what did you think about its big story twists? What’s your take on Luke’s flirtation with the dark side and Palpatine’s return? Are you a fan of the Dark Horse Comics era? Let us know, and as always, may the Force be with you!