Dark Empire Trilogy by Tom Veitch, Cam Kennedy (Dark Empire I and II), and Jim Baikie (Empire’s End) (1991-1992; 1994-1995, Dark Horse)
Calling Dark Empire, Dark Empire II, and Empire’s End a “trilogy” is questionable, since the last of the three is a grand total of two issues long, and reads mostly like a hasty climax to Dark Empire II. Nevertheless, in 2010, Dark Horse collected all three in a rather beautifully presented hardcover edition whose smell I find curiously enjoyable.
As with my review of The Lando Calrissian Adventures (which about five of you will remember), I’ll review each of the works in this collection individually, rather than as a single piece.
Along with Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire was the beginning of the Star Wars expanded universe as we know it today, and like the Thrawn trilogy, it was widely read even by more casual fans. It was also the first Star Wars series published after Dark Horse acquired the license, which they have held ever since. Innumerable Star Wars comics from Dark Horse have followed in the past twenty years. Incidentally, the background on the Stolen Data Tapes page is artwork from Dark Empire.
The action of Dark Empire’s first issue begins in medias res, with the Millennium Falcon landing on a war-torn Coruscant, which has apparently been recaptured by the Empire.
Luke—a huge badass now, with the power to singlehandedly take down an AT-AT—senses a disturbance in the Force just before a “hyperspace wormhole” appears in the sky. Luke insists on walking right into it with only Artoo to accompany him.
It turns out that the disturbance Luke felt was caused by none other than Emperor Palpatine, who has transferred his spirit into one of the many clone bodies he’d had created for himself. Palpatine convinces Luke that the only chance for the Jedi to defeat the Emperor is by agreeing to stay with Palpatine on his new throne world, commanding the Empire’s troops and learning the secrets of the dark side.
What follows is a battle to fend off the Empire’s new World Devastators—weapons that are touted by various characters as being more powerful than a Death Star, despite the fact that their performance indicates that this isn’t true at all.
This, of course, is coupled with the battle for Luke’s soul, as he attempts to resist the pull of Palpatine’s seduction while trying to come up with a way to defeat him.
It’s an engaging and entertaining story, but it’s not without flaw. Dark Empire is built on a premise—that is, the Emperor’s new clones—that I find rather silly. The notion of Palpatine surviving the events of Return of the Jedi undercuts the power of the Emperor’s defeat in that film.
Furthermore, the narrative seems a little disconnected at times. At one point in particular as the book reaches its climax, Luke seems to move dramatically closer to the dark side than he’d appeared to be only a few pages previously. This does make for a pretty effective final scene in which Leia pulls him back from the proverbial brink, but given the nature of this spiritual conflict, it would have been preferable to get inside Luke’s head more and see this progression.
Veitch skimps on Luke’s inner turmoil, but writes far too much in the way of expository captions that explain the action that we can clearly see in Cam Kennedy’s artwork. While on that subject, Kennedy’s art is, for my money, the best element of Dark Empire and its first sequel. Folks who judge all artwork by the standard of photo-realism probably won’t be pleased, but I love the blocky, Frank Miller-esque character designs and the surreal colors; together, they lend the book what I think is a rather unique feel. Furthermore, Kennedy draws spaceships space battles exceptionally well.
I don’t want to sell Veitch too short, either. While Dark Empire is overwritten in many places, one should keep in mind that this is in keeping with the heavily narrated style that still prevailed in mainstream comics at the time. Also, Veitch writes dialogue that is, on the whole, solid and true to the characters (though Luke is generally too somber, and his speech is often too formal and stilted); Han is written particularly well. Even a lot of those unnecessary captions pack a good, dramatic punch.
Whatever your thoughts on Dark Empire, it certainly made a lasting impact on the Star Wars universe. Many story elements—like the “smuggler’s moon” of Nar Shadda and Boba Fett’s having survived the sarlacc—originated here. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but I enjoyed the piss out of it, warts and all.
In Dark Empire II, published a couple years later, Veitch and Kennedy seize upon Luke’s final declaration in the first book—“The Jedi Knights will rise again”—and use it, in part, as the basis for another story. Luke has been busy in the intervening months trying to reestablish the Jedi Order.
Instantly added to the cast without any preamble is Kam Solusar, who was apparently one of Palpatine’s “dark side adepts” before Luke brought him back to the light. Solusar, whose personality seems to consist of an appealing combination of Luke’s earnestness and Han Solo’s wry wit, is pretty likable. Still, Luke’s winning this convert from the dark side is a pretty huge thing to happen “off-panel.”
In their quest to unlock ancient Jedi knowledge, Luke and Kam are hounded by more “darksiders” (a truly eye-roll inducing moniker). These are the highest-ranking individuals in the Empire, answerable only to… Palpatine, reborn (again) in a younger clone body.
Despite the kick-ass Christopher Lee Dracula look he’s got going on, it’s hard for me to get behind the decision to resurrect Palpatine a second time as the primary villain of the series. Some interest is added by the fact that his current and only surviving clone body is genetically imperfect and quickly deteriorating. Nevertheless, Palpatine’s second rebirth makes this sequel feel, in large part, like a rehash of the first.
More ridiculous than the Emperor’s presence is the Emperor’s doomsday weapon of the week, the Galaxy Gun.
This is essentially a giant rifle that fires giant, planet-destroying bullets through hyperspace. Oh, and it has shields that are apparently impervious to everything. There’s something that seems inherently and obnoxiously silly about this concept to me, but maybe I’m alone.
Again, the characters are handled well for the most part, and Luke, free from the Emperor’s clutches, is also free to act a little more like the Luke Skywalker we know. Kam Solusar, despite his abrupt appearance, is a good addition to the cast, as are Han’s jilted ex-girlfriend Salla Zend and mechanic Shug Ninx, who first appeared in the previous series.
Also returning from the first Dark Empire is aging, senile Jedi Vima-Da-Boda, who I mistook for Palpatine at least three times while reading this.
New in this book are a brother and sister hailing from a planet of Force-users who have forgotten the Jedi past of their ancestors. This is a cool idea, but it was used later to much better effect in The Courtship of Princess Leia; these characters aren’t that interesting, which makes it difficult to feel anything when Luke and the sister, Jem, instantly fall for one another.
Dark Empire II is certainly inferior to its predecessor, but it isn’t without merit. I’m a sucker for stories that deal with the exploration of the distant, shrouded past, and Veitch and Kennedy succeed in creating that type of quiet mystique when it’s called for. Furthermore, we get another great Boba Fett chase sequence, along with more expertly drawn lightsaber duels and space battles. Despite the Galaxy Gun silliness, the book’s cliffhanger strikes a good balance between the bleak Imperial victory meant to hook the reader for the next series and a silver lining in the form of Anakin Solo’s birth.
The final entry in the Dark Empire “trilogy” is Empire’s End, a two-issue conclusion to the events of Dark Empire II. I could find nothing to confirm this, but it seems as though the series must have originally been planned to be another six issues—or at least more than two—but cut back for one reason or another.
Also for reasons I was unable to ascertain, Cam Kennedy is not the artist for this two-parter. This may have been because he was working on a Boba Fett series during the year of Empire’s End’s release, but that’s pure conjecture. Instead, Jim Baikie is on art. Baikie is a great artist who has worked with Alan Moore (among others) on a number of occasions. Here, however, the art appears somewhat rushed in places.
That said, Baikie’s art is most certainly the best and least rushed element of Empire’s End. The story—presumably to accommodate the two-issue format—moves along at ludicrous speed. Palpatine’s last clone body is deteriorating and decrepit again, so that he’s back to being the kindly old man we all know and love.
He’s determined to destroy the Rebellion (as it’s always called in these books) with that silly Galaxy Gun weapon and to move his spirit into the body of baby Anakin, as depicted in this panel, which I found unintentionally hilarious:
The final confrontation with Palpatine happens very abruptly and very quickly. Both Palpatine’s final demise and the resolution of the Galaxy Gun plot are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affairs, and the book ends immediately after the final victory is accomplished with zero falling action, denying the reader any chance to soak that victory in and celebrate with the characters.
There are some cool things here. In one short scene, Palpatine consults the long-dead Sith entombed on the planet Korriban. These three pages have a cool pulp horror vibe.
…Okay, that’s about the only part of Empire’s End that really grabbed me. Its ultra-compact, slapdash pacing highlights all of the worst elements about the previous Dark Empire books, with very little of the good in evidence.
This hardcover edition of the Dark Empire trilogy also includes a reprint of a “Dark Empire Handbook” originally published in 2000. It provides some information the reader couldn’t get just from reading the series, but I would have much preferred more (or better yet, all) of Dave Dorman’s cover art.
The Dark Empire trilogy is a flawed, but mostly entertaining, work. In the first two series, at least, it maintains a moody—but not too moody—vibe, and it’s generally a good time with the Star Wars gang. Despite my complaints, it’s definitely worth a look for casual fans and pretty much essential for hardcore ones.
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- cypress-tree said:wow…that panel with Palpatine and the baby is just…so funny to me.
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