Long before we even had the prequels, the Star Wars universe was expanded upon by numerous novels and comics. Dark Empire is set in the years following the battle of Endor. Tom Veitch picks up the story of the Rebellion as they struggle to bring order to the galaxy. This trilogy of comics is looked on fondly by die-hard fans, but is its iconic status earned?
Perhaps comics have changed a lot since the early nineties (the first of the Dark Empire books was published in 1993) – or maybe that’s what fans tell themselves – but the writing in the series reads like the first attempts of a comic fan trying to write fan-fiction. From the constant exposition, lack of action sequences, plot holes galore, and general nonsensical behaviour from, well, everyone, the Dark Empire trilogy shows us that the original Expanded Universe had plenty of dud storylines that Disney was right to jettison.
Stuck for ideas? Just repeat what went before!
When approaching the story, it seems Veitch’s entire thought process was – who was the baddie in the films? The Emperor? Great! Let’s have him! Wait… he’s dead? No problem! We’ll clone him. Yep, if alarm bells aren’t a-ringing for you right now, they should be. It goes without saying that ‘the dark side of the force’ will be the true ‘villain’ in any Star Wars story, but the dark side can manifest in more than one old wrinkly fella. Veitch effectively sets up a premise where Luke and the rebels can never win – the Emperor will always be reborn.
Not only is this a major cop-out when it comes to coming up with a new and interesting threat, it makes most of our heroes’ actions completely pointless. It also feels like Luke has become supremely stupid – and no, not just for deciding to ‘destroy the dark side from within the dark side’ (yeah, that’s a thing he does) – but because he ‘kills’ the Emperor and quickly tries to do away with the clones held nearby and carries on as though he has definitely killed the Emperor for good this time. Really? You don’t think he has backups of backups? Farms of clones everywhere? And if his conscious can just hitch a ride in any living body, how is killing all living bodies nearby (except yourself) a good plan? Why didn’t the Emperor simply jump into Luke? That might have made a more interesting story than the one we got.
If Luke’s stupidity weren’t enough, Han and Leia take it to another level. They see Luke being a class A dickhead and just leave him to it. Han uses pathetic logic like ‘he can take care of himself’ and he ‘knows what he’s doing’ to justify it but anyone can see this is simply poor plotting and ridiculous behaviour for characters whose personalities are already well established. Puh-lease.
It feels like Veitch misunderstood the nature of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars has never really been a science fiction story. It is mostly fantasy, heading towards scifi within the space opera genre. But instead of carrying on the feel of the original trilogy, Veitch drops these tropes in favour of a more hard sci-fi approach. We have computer hacking, unmanned weapons, and more. But wait – this technologically heavy approach isn’t even clung to as a central thread, with previously unheard of and crazy powerful force-style magic making an appearance as well!
The dregs of the Empire are still a powerful force in the universe because of their technological prowess, with their latest weapons striking fear into the hearts of planets across the galaxy. Forget the Death Star, or the second, this is so much worse. However, while the rebels scramble to fight these tech-monsters, Luke and the Emperor play out a far deadlier game using dark force magic. So why set up the technological advancement of the Empire and reliance on new weaponry if the Emperor and his cronies were simply going to force magic the shit out the rebellion? So many questions…
The one thing it does right
Before the prequels introduced the idea of only two Sith being in existence at any one time, it made sense that anyone could fall prey to the dark side. This is the premise of much of the Jedi history. The presentation of more Sith in Dark Empire is about the only thing that actually makes sense. Honestly, I hope that moving forward we drop the idea that there is only ever two Sith – master and apprentice – because, quite frankly, it is dumb. Why could we have hundreds/thousands of Jedi and only two Sith? Yes, they are an organization (how hard could it be to get a membership?!), but they are also Jedi who have simply welcomed the dark side into their lives. However, given The Force Awakens only gave us Kylo Ren and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, it would seem that they are continuing with the ‘only two of them’ approach.
Verdict: Many of us die-hard fans might lament the expanded universe we grew up on, but the loss of Dark Empire from the canon is not one I will mourn.