Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Star Wars: The Dark Empire Trilogy

What did the
iFanboy
community think?

39
Pulls
Avg Rating: 4.8
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 0.0%
 
Users who pulled this comic:
Writer: Tom Veitch
Artist: Cam Kennedy, Jim Baikie
Cover: Dave Dorman

Size: 352 pages
Price: 29.99

There is a lot of truth in the old saying, “You can’t go home again.” The pop culture entrenched majority of comic book readers nevertheless tries again and again. We’re immersed in attempt after attempt at recapturing something from our childhoods, whether it’s buying a box set of the X-Men cartoon we loved as an 11 year old, or getting your hands on a Secret Wars Omnibus, comic book readers are fairly well obsessed with their personal nostalgia. George Lucas has built a ridiculous fortune on this tendency, and while he lost a lot of the old guard with his prequels, he gained a new generation and lost no ground. Personally, I don’t go for all that very often. I think it’s OK to outgrow something, and just because you liked The Goonies a whole lot when you were young, doesn’t mean you have to still think it’s a great movie today. It’s OK to grow up, and it’s OK for your tastes to change.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune to the effect, however.

I am a Star Wars fan. In truth, I’m probably a second-generation Star Wars fan, since I was born in 1977, and it’s not like I could have gone to the theater for episode IV. Still, they’re the first movies I remember watching, and they’re the first pop culture obsession I had. They were the common parlance among a certain kind of kid in college, and Star Wars is likely as responsible for me making the friends I did that ended up forming this very website and my career. The prequels, well those were bad movies. I don’t hate George Lucas for ruining my childhood, because he did no such thing. In fact, he did the opposite. Still, one of my favorite experiences with the Star Wars world was reading the Timothy Zahn novels while I was in college. I didn’t even know they’d existed, but when found out, I tore through them with a reckless abandon. I got carried away, and perhaps read too many Star Wars novels, and before I knew it, I’d gone too deep, and that good feeling had worn away. Then came the prequels, and I thought it would be just as well to let sleeping dogs lie. But I’d heard about these comics, and that they were straight out of what Timothy Zahn had done, and that they were pretty good. But I was tainted. I didn’t believe it.

Then Dark Horse went and collected all of the Dark Empire Trilogy into this pretty hardcover package late in 2010, and my good friend saw fit to buy it for me as a Christmas gift.

My very first thought was that this Cam Kennedy had produced some fantastic art. I recognized the characters, but they weren’t creepy tracings of photos. They were artistic renditions of the actors who played those famous roles, and it worked very well. I was surprised at how loose and stylistic the renderings were, considering the gravity of the licensed material in question and its value. It was almost like reading an indie comic version of Star Wars. All the weapons and vehicles, some classic and some new, looked 100% accurate and detailed, but there was a real cartooning flair going on at the same time. Of the 14 issues included in this comprehensive volume, Cam Kennedy did the art on 12. The final 2 issues by Jim Baikie are definitely different, and in a very good decision, it’s not trying to ape Kennedy’s very specific style. What Baikie does do, just like Kennedy, is use a much more representative style than realistic. It’s straight up cartooning, and I love the contrast to the “real” film images with comic book pages that are so free to be stylistic.

If I had any complaints against the art is that, and this is going to sound ridiculous, the styles, especially in the costume designs, plant this work firmly in the early 90’s. Where the clothing from the Star Wars movies is fairly timeless, there’s something about the poofy shoulders and pegged pants in this comic book that screams of the era it was devised in. That’s not such a big drawback in the overall picture, but it is noticeable.

Then there’s the coloring. If you were to ask me the most important thing about this book, I’d tell you it’s the coloring. Most of Kennedy’s pages have only one color, two at most.  Scenes with the Emperor, when the dark side is strongest, are a sickly pale green. Some panels might have a red hue. But there’s no technicolor palate at work here. It’s incredibly reserved, and incredibly mature. For all I know, it was done to save on printing costs, but it also signals that this wasn’t produced for children. It’s real artwork, and regardless of the fact that there are Wookiees and lightsabers, you’ve got a comic book artist doing A-level work all the way through.

The story and writing is a little harder to describe using any objectivity. How much you enjoy this will probably depend on what sort of relationship you have with Star Wars. If you’re reading this, you probably have some sort of connection to the work, just to hazard a guess. The basic idea is that this is the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion, several years after the end of Return of the Jedi. The Zahn trilogy took place prior to this, but is part of this story’s canon. It was fun and enjoyable. It was certainly a hell of a lot better than the prequel films.  That being said, this isn’t Eisner winning writing. It suffers from a great deal of exposition, as did many comics in the past. In order to connect to the original, in a time before re-releases and prequels, or even Kevin Smith movies, there are a few too many exact quotes from the original trilogy shoehorned into the text. Some of the situations are fairly coincidental, and the plot even a bit repetitive at times. But as far as my enjoyment of reading this went, none of that mattered. I was having a ball reading it. I couldn’t get through it fast enough, and hokey dialog and overly lucky plot twists did nothing to dissuade me. The world building was strong, adding in new characters and worlds, and expanding on what had come before in a way that was both new and worked. Writer Tom Veitch took chances in bringing in Jedi characters that would never be used today. There was a lot of imagination on tap, and it made me remember what it was like to rediscover Star Wars through the eyes of another author than George Lucas. Dark Empire brought back the feeling that The Phantom Menace only slightly skimmed. Will you roll your eyes while reading this? Probably. Will you keep turning the pages, and end up plenty happy for having read it? Very likely.

The whole package is very nicely presented in a novel sized hardback that would fit right in on your shelf next to prose books. The pages are roughly digest size, and the paper is wonderful with nice, crisp color reproduction. At 352 pages, and 30 bucks, you’ll take your time reading through the whole thing, and have plenty of reason to go back in later.

As the Lucas era rumbles on, juggernaut like, the hold that these stories have in the actual Star Wars timeline could very well disappear. If that’s the case, then this will just have to be very well produced fan fiction, and so what? These are some of the stories that lead to the resurgence Star Wars had in the late 90’s. These are why you can go into stores now, and still find newer versions of the toys many of us bought three decades prior. It’s a major mark on pop culture, and like so many other things, it had a strong start in comics, where imaginations are often so free to create, with little risk. Dark Empire will remind you of an earlier time, in more ways than one. It’s nostalgia done right.

Josh Flanagan
King Empatojayos!
josh@ifanboy.com

 

Buy Star Wars: Dark Empire Trilogy at Amazon or In Stock Trades!

 

Comments

  1. These comics don’t exactly track with the Zahn trilogy because they were developed independently at the same time. Shortly after the first six-issue series, they were retconned to take place in the same universe. Some contradictory plot points had to be explained later (like why Coruscant is abandoned in DE when it was intact in the first Zahn trilogy.)

    Both are consistent with the West End Games source material from the time, so it didn’t take much twisting to get them to go together.

  2. I enjoyed most of this, but every thought bubble or narrative ended with an exclamation point.  That really started to grind on me to the point to where it took away from my experience.  Interesting story and art though. Good review

  3. I think I have a few issues of this from way back in the day but never read the whole thing.

  4. Awesome! Got this and the Thrawn Trilogy at Christmas time.

  5. Cool–I’ve been curious about checking out some of the Star Wars comics, but had no idea where to begin.  I picked up the collection that Dark Horse put out of the original Star Wars comics from like post-Star Wars pre-Empire, but it felt really dated and was just kind of unreadable.  This book sounds more promising, I’ll check it out.

  6. I was entirely engrossed in the first part of this, but I haven’t been able to make my way through the second.  I don’t know if it’s the story that’s boring or if I just didn’t feel like reading more Star Wars at the time, but it is great to look at, particularly for the excellent coloring and all the technology, from ships to weapons, is simply great.  Maybe I’ll take it off the shelf and give it another go.

  7. Dark Empire was the first comic trade collection I ever owned; I got it during the late 90’s Star Wars resurgence as I started Junior High. I am pretty sure the Zahn Trilogy takes place about 1 year before this story (which drops you right into the middle of the battle for Coruscant).

    I can remeber as a kid thinking that the art and especially the color was so wierd but it also was easy to recognize all the characters. I am pretty sure I saw a lot of the original artwork for sale last year by Mr Kennedy to help him with medical expenses; i would love to own the pages of Luke and the Reborn Emperor’s lightsaber battle. Good stuff. . .

  8. I got this and Shadows of the Empire Omnibus for Christmas and I can wait to read them.

  9. so surprised that daytripper was not book of the month, but cool

  10. Nice! I remember reading this  back in the day and coincidentally I just started reading              Star Wars: Legacy by John Ostrander

  11. I just bought this because of it’s mention on a show a while back. I haven’t read it yet but look forward to it!

  12. Art looks a little DKRish. If only I liked Star Wars…

  13. Absolutely.

  14. As much as I loved Star Wars, I never got drawn into the “Expanded Universe.” Your review has done the impossible: made me excited about the prospect of checking out a Star Wars comic. It never even occurred to me that the art would be so idiosyncratic.

    The timing of this recommendation couldn’t be better. For a couple of years, I’ve thought, “I never need to see Star Wars again as long as I live.” The enthusiasm had been knocked right out of me. Then this week, as luck would have it, I saw on Youtube a “remix” of the movie made entirely out of alternate takes, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes clips. Suddenly, my interest in all this is rekindled, and then came the Book of the Month as if by magic.

  15. I’m so buying this. Thanks for reminding me that it existed.

  16. Cam Kennedy Star Wars work is amazing.

  17. I’m about 100 pages in.  I knew these existed and had an idea of what it was about having gobbled up Star Wars reference books and a handful of the novels as a kid.  I was going chronologically from Return of the Jedi, so I never got to the Thrawn books.  it is as much fun as Josh describes in the review.

    however, I am really not liking the coloring at all.  I’m finding the single color palette pages to really affect the storytelling.  maybe it’s just me.

  18. For me, this collection felt like a step down after reading The Thrawn trilogy HC Dark Horse put out before this, but I think that was more from wanting to see more of the Expande Universe characters Zahn created that obviously weren’t going to be in it. Still, it’s a solid read for Star Wars fans.

  19. A pleasant surprise to see this as Book of the Month.  I haven’t pick up this volume yet but I do enjoy the story.  When I first read the comic I read it as Star Wars fan, not a comic book reader.  Later, having become a massive comic fan and reader I re-read it and loved even more.  That’s a rare thing with Star Wars comics.

  20. Cam Kennedy, straight out of Judge Dredd comics, kills it here. The Veitch story? Not so much. I don’t know why Dark Horse didn’t go with a craftier, more well-establshed name to carry the first SW comic series since the 1980s Marvel run.

  21. Excellent choice!

    Loved reading this back in the 90s when it was first released in issues, definitely got me excited about Star Wars again after a long hiatus since 83′

  22. Huh. I recently got this because you guys talked about it on the show. It is still pretty cool, but the second half of the book is weak and there are a lot of weird bits that don’t mesh so well with the EU anymore.

  23. I loved this trilogy growing up and I was happy to ad this to my collection in HC format. The second mini which features that terrific weapon the Galaxy Gun, introduces my favorite EU character, Kam Solusar. I really just enjoyed the tone of it compared to other star wars books. I was first introduced to the stories through Full Cast Audio Dramas they did based off the comics! They’re actually pretty good, if you can past the wibbley, woobly of converting Pictures and Words into Words and Noises!

    George Lucas is said to have enjoyed Dark Empire so much on first reading that he bought them for every LucasArts employee for Christmas in the 90s. 

  24. My observation about reading “Dark Empire” for the first time a few weeks ago is that, in the post-prequel world, we had three additional films (which I don’t really like) featuring Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine.  He was one of the few things I enjoyed about the prequels, even if he didn’t have much internal conflict (yeah, evil through and through), and having those additional performances really influenced my reading of the character in “Dark Empire”.  His voice, his characterization, really worked, which is interesting since the creators of “Dark Empire” are drawing solely from one appearance in “Return of the Jedi”.

  25. A great set of stories. A surprising BOTM pick though. Fully expected Josh to pick Daytripper.

  26. Haden Blackman and John Ostrander, in my opinion, are the best current writers of Star WArs comics.

  27. Wow, a great choice.  I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, and this stands as one of the most unique and well told stories in all of the EU.  

  28. Picked this up today for $7 at my LCS. Already halfway through it and love it. 

  29. I remember getting all 6 issues of Dark Empire at once from a 7-11. I think they were shrink wrapped together and around $15. I had just seen the trilogy for the first time and begged my mom to buy these for me. I soon devoured the Zahn trilogy and those things combined to firm plant Star Wars in the obsession section of my pop culture conciousness. I had no idea that there was a Dark Empire II or Empire’s End until I heard about this HC being solicited as the Dark Empire Trilogy. I actually couldn’t wait for it to come out, so I hit up 4 different shops that weekend (thank the Force that I live in a major city) to complete my single issues collection! This was a great pick Josh, and I couldn’t agree with your review more if I had written it myself.

  30. I do wish Veitch and Kennedy had been allowed to do the “middle chapter” of the Trilogy that they planned on. It was going to be called “Lightsider” and would deal with Luke “healing” after DE1 and how he met Kam before DE2. Basically, with the success of DE1, Dark Horse asked them to do a more direct sequel using similar elements and they put Lightsider on the backburner and were going to come back to it later. It never materialized and now it’s most likely never going to show up. Parts of it were used for the FCADs they did to fles out where the hell Kam came from. 

  31. A shocking, but awesome choice.  Finding out that this comic book existed back in high school was like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky.  What do you mean they’re making NEW Star Wars comics?  I remember the series fondly. 

  32. I swear, I’m the only person I know who read the Zahn novels and just didn’t give a fuck. They were pretty unimpressive, honestly, especially compared to the prequels movies, which I actually liked (for the most part).

    I’d still be willing to give these a shot, though.

  33. This is a Classic. They are very good and the Zahn novels are great. As a matter of fact I am going to buy them today and read them.

  34. “Your skin is soft. Not like sand. Sand is hard and unpleasant to be around. Not like your skin.”

    Yeah, who can forget those great prequel movies?

  35. Goonies is an excellant movie! take it back! TAKE IT BACK YOU BAAAASTARD!

    Seriously, it’s right up there with Raiders.

  36. The Star Wars Infinities series is a good read.  They’re like the “What If?” series for Star Wars.  I also remember really liking the Darth Maul mini.

  37. you made a great case for this book on the podcast. i just ordered it through the amazon link on this page to thank you. good job!

  38. If you watched any of the first trilogies you’re a first gen star wars fan.

    Maybe I’ll pick this up as long as it has “real” artwork.

  39. Josh, I was born in ’77 as well, and I would call us 1st generation Star Wars fans.