Every Saga Has a Beginning?

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The movies may be over, but thanks to the Expanded Universe, Star Wars continues. For 29 years, comic books have played an important part in the Expanded Universe...

As the release of Star Wars drew near, Lucasfilm approached Marvel Comics about doing an adaptation of the film. Initially approved as a 6-part series (beginning July 1977), the first arc was written by Roy Thomas and featured art by Howard Chaykin.

Based on an earlier script of the movie, Marvel’s version of Star Wars featured several “lost scenes,” including interactions between Luke’s Tatooine friends and the infamous appearance by Jabba the Hut (depicted as a walrus-faced biped). Both the movie and comic proved to be hits, leading Marvel and Lucasfilm to continue the comic with all-new adventures. Thomas’ new tales primarily focused on Han Solo, providing an excuse for why the smuggler never paid off Jabba (his reward is stolen by a space pirate) and introducing Jaxxon (a 6 foot tall green rabbit, who has the distinction of being the only Marvel character Lucasfilm forbid the publisher from ever using again).

Beginning with issue #11 (May 1978), Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino took over the creative chores. As the second year of the series drew to a close, the Empire finally replaced space monsters and pirates as the primary villains, culminating with the re-appearance of Darth Vader in #21 (March 1979). Throughout Goodwin’s pre-Empire Strikes Back run, the writer introduced several memorable new characters to the Star Wars saga including the bounty hunter Valance and the Tagge family (related to the Imperial officer from the film). In the final pre-Empire story (discounting the fill-in issue #38), Darth Vader finally learned the identity of pilot who destroyed the Death Star. After 3 years, Luke Skywalker and Vader finally came face-to-face in the conclusion, which ended with Luke retreating.

Following the adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (#39-44, September 1980-February 1981), the series presented a number of stand-alone tales by a variety of creators. As of issue #51 (September 1981), David Michelinie (writer) and Walter Simonson (co-plotter/artist) came aboard as the new creative team. Their first arc was to involve the premise of the Empire building a second Death Star, a plot point quickly rejected by Lucasfilm (for reasons that became clear in 1983). The revised story instead featured a super weapon, called The Tarkin. Michelinie and Simonson were also responsible for introducing Plif and the Hoojibbs (#55, January 1982), small telepathic rodents that offered to let the Rebels make their headquarters on their homeworld.

Issue #55 also kicked off a major arc for the Marvel series with the introduction of Shira Brie, a member of Rogue Squadron and eventual romantic interest for Luke Skywalker. The budding romance between Luke and Shira was cut short however when, during a space battle in which he was relying purely on the Force, Luke shot down Shira’s ship. Discredited and drummed out of the Rebellion, Luke eventually learned not only that Shira had been an Imperial spy planted to discredit him, but also an apprentice of none other than Darth Vader. The arc ended with Luke clearing his name and readers learning that Brie, although severely injured, was alive and back in the hands of Darth Vader.

With issue #67 (January 1983), Marvel began moving their story into place for Return of the Jedi. Despite the fact that stories involving Boba Fett were strictly off limits, Michelinie finally sent the heroes on a quest to rescue Han Solo. Their search brought them in conflict with many of the other bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back, a story continued by the new creative team of Jo Duffy and Ron Frenz. During this run, Duffy introduced many new characters including the Zeltron Dani, the Force-sensitive water alien Kiro and the small furry aliens, the Lahsbees (Lucasfilm had Marvel alter the original appearance of the Lahsbees due to their apparent similarity to the soon-to-be-introduced Ewoks). Issues #74-80 were the last prior to Return of the Jedi, placed to ship during Jedi’s theatrical run to ensure the comic did not reveal any key plot points of the movie. The tale revolved around the Rebels trying to rescue a Rebel courier carrying important files, finally revealed to be the Death Star plans stolen by the Bothans. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to protect the secrets of Return of the Jedi proved to be moot as the Marvel adaptation of the film arrived in stores a full month prior to the film’s release due to a shipping error.

As of issue #81 (March 1984), Han Solo finally returned to the cast, as the book shifted forward to the events just after Return of the Jedi. The first year or so took a decidedly smaller view of the Star Wars universe, focusing on shorter stories spotlight fewer characters. By early 1985, Duffy and new penciller Cynthia Martin launched into a larger arc, pitting the heroes of the Rebellion against a new foe in the form the sadistic Nagai. Led by the mysterious new Dark Lady, Lumiya, the Nagai invasion sent the Star Wars comic in a decidedly darker direction (although the later introduction of the insect race known as the Hiromi did help lighten things up. Yay!). During a vicious duel against cybernetic Lumiya and her “lightwhip”, Luke Skywalker finally learned the identity of his foe in a clever twist that not only tied earlier issues of the series together, but also had echoes of Vader’s revelation in The Empire Strikes Back.

In 1986, the Marvel Star Wars line went through a brief expansion with the addition of Ewoks (May 1985-July 1987) and Droids (April 1986-June 1987). Based on the Saturday morning cartoons of the same name, these two short-lived series were part of Marvel’s all-ages line of books, Star Comics.

By this point however, interest and sales of Star Wars had begun to wane, leading the series to go bimonthly beginning with issue #103 (January 1986). Unfortunately, as a licensed title, Marvel’s Star Wars was bound to respect Lucasfilm’s wishes, meaning many stories that likely could have rekindled interest in the book were off limits (Marvel was not allowed to address any of Vader’s back-story, nor could they revive the Empire or Jedi Knights). Marvel decided to cancel Star Wars, even as Duffy was midway through scripting what turned out to be the final issue, #107 (July 1986).

A new licensor, Dark Horse Comics, triumphantly brought Star Wars back to comic shops in December 1991 with the release of Star Wars: Dark Empire. Set a decade after the events of Return of the Jedi, the six-issue saga by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy opened as the New Republic found themselves caught in the middle of a civil war between surviving factions of the Empire. Shot down behind enemy lines Luke Skywalker single handedly topples an AT-AT with the power of the Force, little knowing that an old evil is seeking him out. By the end of the series, which climaxed with the fledgling Jedi Leia facing down the clone of the Emperor, it was clear that fans were hungry for more Star Wars comics. 

As the publisher worked on preparing new material, Dark Horse launched Classic Star Wars (1992-1994), a series that reprinted the newspaper serial by Goodwin and Williamson. Originally designed to bridge the gap between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, the strips were slightly edited, omitting recap panels and occasionally adding new material to let them fit in a comic book format. 

By the end of 1993, Dark Horse was fleshing out a new era for the saga. Tales of the Jedi (October 1993-February 1994 – although parts of the story had been serialized earlier that year in the anthology title, Dark Horse Comics) introduced two new Jedi protagonists, Ulic Qel-Droma and Nomi Sunrider, in their adventures set 3998 years before the Battle of Yavin. Tales of the Jedi spun off into several sequels, including The Freedon Nadd Uprising (August-September 1994), Dark Lords of the Sith (October 1994 – March 1995), The Sith War (August 1995-January 1996) and Redemption (July-August 1998). In addition to being a successful series in it’s own right, Tales of the Jedi also introduced some major concepts into the saga, ranging from one used in the Knights of the Old Republic video game to the double-bladed lightsaber made popular by Darth Maul.

Not turning their back on the classic Star Wars characters, Dark Horse also produced Dark Empire II (December 1994-May 1995) and its direct sequel, Empire’s End (October – November 1995), which saw the final defeat of Palpatine and Luke establishing the foundation of the New Jedi Order. Another series of note was the four-part Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1995/1996). Adapting the very first “Expanded Universe” novel (written by Alan Dean Foster in 1978), Dark Horse took the opportunity to tweak some scenes which had later been invalidated by Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and later Expanded Universe sources.

The comic company also experimented with other Star Wars titles including a number of Droids mini-series and specials (geared towards younger readers), a series of Jabba the Hutt specials and X-Wing Rogue Squadron (July 1995 – November 1998), a series that chronicled the adventures of perennial secondary character, Wedge Antilles. Dark Horse also continued chronicling the post-movie Star Wars universe with Crimson Empire (1997) and Council of Blood (1998/99). These two mini-series introduced popular Kir Kanos, one of the Emperor’s former Royal Guard, based on a pitch co-writer Randy Stradley had made while Marvel still held the Star Wars license (at the time, the Royal Guard were another “off-limits” idea). From 1995 to 1998, Dark Horse also adapted the trilogy of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn novels. The novels, which had debuted around the same time as Dark Empire, had been commercial successes with Star Wars fans and created a strong foundation for the new Expanded Universe concept. 

By 1996, Star Wars was regaining momentum, not only through comics and novels, but also with the a new series of action figures, the impending re-release of the Special Edition films and, of course, the news of a “prequel” trilogy of films in the work. In an ambitious move, Lucasfilm approved and coordinated a massive, multi-media project called Shadows of the Empire. Set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the backbone of Shadows of the Empire was formed through a novel, a video game and a Dark Horse comic mini-series. Each part of the saga told a complete tale on its own, but experiencing all three was the only way Star Wars fans could learn the entire story.

As the release of The Phantom Menace drew near, Dark Horse launched a new ongoing Star Wars series in December 1998. The first arc, set shortly before Episode I, introduced Ki-Adi-Mundi in a tale that explained how he came to be part of the Jedi Council. Following the first arc, the comic timeline moved to shortly after The Phantom Menace, initially with Ki-Adi-Mundi as the star, but later focusing on such characters as Quinlan Vos and Aayla Secura (who, after her appearances in the comic, was written into Episode II).

In the tradition established by Marvel, Dark Horse naturally produced a 4-part adaptation of the latest Star Wars film (by scripter Henry Gilroy and artists Rodolfo Damaggio and Al Williamson), in addition to several one-shots spotlighting the lead characters (Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker).

Dark Horse also worked on adding to the Expanded Universe of the other Star Wars eras with comics such as Star Wars Tales (1999-2005, an anthology title), Darth Maul (September-December 2000, set 6 months prior to The Phantom Menace), Vader’s Quest (February-April 1999, which chronicled how Vader learned who was responsible for destroying the first Death Star), among others. In 2000, Chewbacca received his own 4-issue mini-series, set 25 years following Return of the Jedi. Written by Darkco Macan and drawn by a score of artists, Chewbacca was a eulogy to the character, who had died in one of the Star Wars novels, gathering several stories as told from the perspective of the other Star Wars characters. Finally, Dark Horse also produced Union, a four-part series set 20 years after Return of the Jedi that wed Luke Skywalker to former rival, Mara Jade. 

Dark Horse also launched a series of re-imagined classic trilogy stories in 2001. Under the umbrella title of Infinities, each series re-told one of the motion pictures, beginning with an alteration to one critical event (Luke fails to destroy the Death Star, Han fails to save Luke from Hoth and the heroes are unable to rescue Han from Jabba’s palace). The same year, Dark Horse also released Tag & Bink Are Dead, a 2-part series written by Kevin Rubio (creator of the internet Star Wars parody, Troops). Tag & Bink follows two wisecracking protagonists who bumble their way through the periphery of the classic trilogy. 

2002 saw the release of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. To coincide with the event, Dark Horse launched a “re-branding” of their ongoing Star Wars comic. Following issue #45, the comic was re-titled Star Wars: Republic, but continued the same general chronology, this time bridging the gap between Episodes II and III. A companion series, Star Wars: Empire, debuted chronicling tales set in and around the time of the original movie. As part of the multi-media sensation that was known as the Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars cartoon, Dark Horse created a series of Clone War Adventures specials, done in the style of the animated series. 

Following the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Dark Horse began announcing their plans for the Star Wars line post-movies. Beginning with issue #78, Star Wars: Republic moved the storyline to a point shortly after Episode III in what proved to be an extended epilogue for the series. Shortly after, Dark Horse announced the conclusion of Star Wars: Republic with #83, as well as Empire with #40. With the dawning of 2006, the first year with the cinematic cycle of films complete (and also the 20th anniversary of Dark Horse Comics), the board was cleared for a complete re-launch of the Star Wars comic books.

The first of the new comics was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a comic “prequel” to the popular video game series of the same name. The series, by John Jackson Miller and Brian Ching, features an under-achieving Jedi Padawan named Zayne Carrick who is framed for a horrible crime against the Jedi Order. March launches a 2-part sequel to the Tag & Bink story, beginning with Star Wars: The Return of Tag & Bink – The Special Edition. In April, Star Wars: Rebellion will debut, set shortly before the events of The Empire Strikes Back. The first arc, by Rob Williams and Brandon Badeaux, focuses on Luke Skywalker and his old friend from Tatooine, Tank (who readers learned had gone on to become an Imperial officer in the pages of Star Wars: Empire).

Most recently, Dark Horse announced Star Wars: Legacy for a June 2006 debut (a 25-cent primer will ship in April). Written by John Ostrander with art by Jan Duursema, this series plans to open an entirely new era for the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Set “100 Years beyond everything you know about Star Wars,” the series will star Cade Skywalker, a pirate who has turned away from the Jedi Order and his family’s legacy.

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