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Star Wars: Dark Empire Thoughts

(This was originally posted on my personal Star Wars Tumblr in March of 2016)

A few weeks ago, I started this blog with the intent of using it as a place to put my thoughts/feelings surrounding the material from the old Expanded Universe that I’ve been consuming (as well as stuff from the new canon). I don’t necessarily intend it to be super formal all the time, or even something that other people would want to read; I just wanted a place to write out my stream of consciousness surrounding this stuff and I figured I might as well subject the internet to it. The first series I wanted to cover was Dark Empire. Well, I’ve finally found time to finish it, so here it is.

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Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed Dark Empire (when I say Dark Empire, I’m referring to Dark Empire, Dark Empire II, and Empire’s End together). I know a lot of people take issue with certain things in this comic series, and I can’t really fault them for that. There are some characters that don’t really behave like themselves from time to time, some plot devices that seem a bit contrived, and a lot of general weirdness. Despite these things, it still manages to feel very much like classic Star Wars, which isn’t something that everything from the EU manages to do (though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

I’m not going to give a full plot summary, but the basic premise is that six years after the Battle of Endor (and a year after the New Republic defeats Grand Admiral Thrawn), Emperor Palpatine returns in a clone body to rule the Empire from the Deep Core world Byss, and he’s more intent on destroying the New Republic/Rebellion than ever. He manages to seduce Luke (who is in the process of trying to rebuild the Jedi Order) to the Dark Side of the Force (which was painful to read as a major Luke fanboy), but Leia is able to bring him back to the light. Working together, they manage to use the Emperor’s own Force storm to destroy his flagship, destroying him (or so they think). In Dark Empire II, the Emperor returns yet again, but the New Republic heroes are able to defeat him once more. That was super brief and leaves out a lot of important details and characters, but that’s the general idea. I’m more concerned with the characterization and themes than I am with plot points here.

At first glance, that short summary probably makes Dark Empire seem almost like a bad Star Wars soap opera or something. Villains coming back from the dead, heroes turning evil, untouchable superweapons, sibling drama… it feels like a mess. But you’ll just have to take my word that it doesn’t read like that (unless you want to go and read it yourself, which I highly encourage). To me, the most important thing in this series is the character development present in the Skywalker twins. Leia is depicted as a full-fledged Jedi Knight, which isn’t super rare in the EU, but it isn’t always the case either. To make this even more remarkable, she’s powerful enough to take on the reborn Palpatine, steal his Jedi holocron, and get away unscathed. Interestingly, in most chronologically-later material (such as the New Jedi Order), Leia is depicted as having more or less given up on actually training to become a Jedi Knight and instead uses the Force in a more utilitarian way. This is explained by her devoting all of her time to help set up the fledgling New Republic, and that’s more than understandable, but it could be interesting to see what would’ve happened if she had followed in Luke’s footsteps. However, the path that she chose gives her character a role and a certain individuality that wouldn’t exist had she not taken it, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

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I found Leia’s Force capabilities to be one of the more compelling parts of the series, but I don’t think I prefer it to her more passive use of the Force that we see in other material. Seeing as how Jedi are part of the mythology of Star Wars, they’re more or less all over the place in one way or another, and there’s always the villain that chooses to draw their power from the Dark Side as the counterpoint to that. By being a diplomat and politician that draws on the Force for guidance and comfort rather than a Jedi or Sith that embodies one of the two sides, she shows us another aspect of the Force, which helps it not appear so black and white. That being said, if Leia ever were to become a fully-trained Jedi Knight, it’d be pretty sick.

As corny as it might seem, I’m pretty sure that Luke Skywalker is my favorite Star Wars character, so I was most excited to read Dark Empire because of his character development that takes place in it. I had just finished reading Timothy Zahn’s Hand of Thrawn duology, and in the second book Vision of the Future, Luke’s future wife Mara Jade comments on the almost carefree way that he uses the Force and how that seems to have cut him off from the more subtle parts of it. They wonder if this could have something to do with his time spent under the Emperor, so naturally, I was super excited to jump into Dark Empire to figure out what was up with that.

However, this is where the story starts to get a bit strange. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke is very adamant about how he is never going to fall to the Dark Side and join Vader or Palpatine. Like. VERY adamant. In Dark Empire, he reaches the conclusion that he can only defeat the Dark Side from within awfully quickly for someone who was so opposed just a few years before. I mean, sure, a lot happened in those few years, but this is where I kind of had to suspend my disbelief a bit. It could’ve been worse, though. It felt almost like an Star Wars Infinities comic, which is another series that takes the events of the movies and plays them out if one major plot point changed, like if Luke died on Hoth or the Death Star destroyed Yavin IV. Luke falling to the Dark Side temporarily was an engaging plot point that definitely kept me interested, though the ease with which he both fell and was redeemed seemed a bit sketchy.

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Sketchiness aside, the events of Dark Empire have a massive effect on Luke’s future, and to an extent, the future of the galaxy as a whole (in case that wasn’t obvious). By delving into the Dark Side of the Force, he comes out with a deeper understanding of the Force as a whole, and that understanding coupled with what he learns on Ossus about the Jedi Order up to the end of the Clone Wars helps him set up his new Jedi Order. And thankfully, the rest of Luke’s character is pretty consistent with how he is in the movies and in the rest of EU.

All in all, Dark Empire poses a lot of interesting questions. At times it feels as though maybe those questions didn’t need to be asked, but they get answered all the same. Sometimes it even feels like a parody of itself (especially by the time you get to Empire’s End), but as I said way back at the beginning of this rambling “review” of sorts, it feels like Star Wars, and that’s enough for me.

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