In the hazy afterglow of The Force Awakens, Brian and Paul discuss their two favorite Star Wars Legends comics. Legends is now the banner under which comics, novels, videogames, and more, produced before April 2014 are collected. It indicates that these stories were part of the previous Expanded Universe, before the The Force Awakens was conceived, and now present a different tack the Star Wars universe could have taken.
Star Wars: Dark Empire I & II by Tom Veitch, Cam Kennedy and Todd Klein
Brian McNamara: I came to Dark Empire through an odd trajectory. I picked up the cassettes of the full cast audio adaptation of Dark Empire II a long time ago in a B. Dalton far, far away. I listened to those tapes a dozen times before finally stumbling upon the collected version of the comic years later. Finally, my curiosity drove me to look for Dark Empire itself, an adventure that culminated in bringing me back to comics. So these two stories hold a lot of emotional weight for me, in terms of how they connected me to full cast audio and comics and Star Wars. It’s my major touchstone for the franchise, in some ways more so than the movies. Tracing a post-Return of the Jedi arc that sees Luke follow his father down a dark path, only for Leia to rise to do what her brother couldn’t – pull away from the dark side. It’s an epic story that moves at breakneck speed but that does a lot to build a mythology for the franchise at a time when there wasn’t a lot beside the movies. Dark Jedi, clones, glimpses of Coruscant, Vader’s castle, cybernetic battle dogs, Jedi witchcraft and even a cybernetically enhanced dude who floats: It’s all novel.
Cam Kennedy’s art and the European-style coloring – half-colored panels washed in deep reds, neon greens, sickly yellows – blew my mind as a kid. I never saw comics that looked like this. The Dark Side felt dirty, lurid; the Rebels ruddy from constant up and down battle. The World Devastators remain one of my favorite super-weapons and have an amazing design aesthetic that at once repels associations with the Death Star but makes total sense. As well, Dark Empire II introduces one of my favorite Expanded Universe characters, Kam Solusar. Kam’s father was a Jedi cut down in the Clone Wars, who trained Kam in the ways of the Force before Kam was turned to the Dark Side. Luke saves Kam and takes on the older, fallen Jedi as an apprentice. Dark Empire is the book that I suggest most often to fans looking for a good Star Wars story. It can feel a bit dated and sometimes rushed, but the story feels like the perfect next step in the Star Wars universe, even on the path to The Force Awakens.
Paul Montgomery: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dark Empire–aside from the franchise’s first nude lightsaber combatant–is its place in the expanded universe publication timeline. Not only is it one of the earliest Star Wars epics outside of the original trilogy, it was written during a period when no one could imagine a trilogy of prequels were in the offing. Clones play a major role in this story, but the concept and ultimate purpose of cloning as it exists in these pages is worlds apart from Commander Cody, Captain Rex, and the rain-drunk seas of Kamino. It’s fun to look back at these glimpses of a galactic conflict and its massive “world devastator” floating dungeons ultimately rendered redundant by subsequent canon. I often miss those years when “the clone wars” were on that vast swath of the map beset by sea serpents and uncertainty. Plus, those ancient ships look like stuff out of Dune! The “real” version of events seems pretty tame in comparison.
Star Wars: Legacy II by Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Rachelle Rosenberg, Brian Albert Thies and Jordan Boyd
Paul: If The Force Awakens feels like a brave new world in its 30 year removal from the previous episode, this next pick sets even that on its head. The Dark Horse era of Star Wars fiction ended with an oddly prophetic tale set thousands of years after the pivotal Battle of Yavin. The Empire, Rebel Alliance, and Republic are no longer at war, but that’s only because they all go by different names and have slightly different agendas. How about our heroes? Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. Ania Solo is a scavenger thrust into an interplanetary political conflict right around the time she discovers a lost lightsaber. Eh? Mind you, this story came out well before Rey and Finn captured out hearts, likely before they were even names flickering in a Final Draft document. Star Wars: Legacy II captured the tone of Star Wars in a way few of the many comics in the franchise had. And it mustered that heart and bravado with a rich cast of diverse characters, a terrific female lead, and an inventive new setting.
Note: Star Wars: Legacy II requires no investment in the previous volumes of Star Wars: Legacy, which focused on a rough and tumble descendant of Luke Skywalker, and feels very, very Mountain Dew in 2015.
Brian: Legacy II came out at a time when Dark Horse’s Star Wars line was going through a resurgence. They’d pared down, reevaluated and took more chances in terms of art and storytelling, feeling akin to the early Dark Horse days that gave us Tales of the Jedi and Dark Empire. Hardman and Bechko’s Legacy was a breath of fresh air, introducing us to a galaxy totally different but still necessarily the same as the one we’d visited countless times before. Ania Solo was the best parts of her predecessors – Luke, Leia, Han – with an attitude and personality that shone like nothing before. With the Force now truly awoken, Legacy II does feel prophetic. A scavenger separated from her family, unaware of the path before her. An Imperial Knight questioning his role in the universe. While telling its own distinct tale and utilizing a great extended cast, it speaks to the legacy of Star Wars while marching to the beat of its own drum. It stands out as one of the strongest stories Dark Horse produced with the license.