Quick confession time. I am not the biggest fan of Dark Horse’s Dark Empire Trilogy. Released just six months after Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel, Dark Empire told the story of Luke joining the dark side, now under the control of clones of Emperor Palpatine, and Leia’s attempts to pull him out. The idea is great, and I love the heck out of those Dave Dorman covers (whatever happened to that guy?), but the story never really felt like Star Wars to me. I don’t know if the Tom Veitch story just felt too dark, or if it was the Cam Wagner art that was a little too stylized. It’s not a bad book, but in 1991 (for those of you old enough to remember it) was a pretty great time for Star Wars fans.
Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was like a reminder to fans that Star Wars was still alive and well. Heck, I’d venture to say that, without that novel, there would be no prequel trilogy (for better or worse). Though we’d had animated series, some novels, and even some comics (remember Star Wars 3D from Blackthorne Publishing?), until Heir, Star Wars had become somewhat of an inactive franchise since Return of the Jedi. However, Heir, which captured the feel of the original trilogy so well, and featured the characters we know and love in exactly the same manner that we remembered them, was the spark of life that reinvigorated Star Wars in fandom everywhere as something active and continuing.
Even with the recent announcement of JJ Abrams taking on Star Wars Episode VII, you can be sure fans are already wondering how it’ll compare to the episode VII they’ve had in their minds for the last 22 years.
That’s right…22 years. Heir to the Empire was released to universal acclaim and appreciation back in 1991, and it was once again a great time to be a Star Wars fan. Though the frenzy obviously wasn’t as crazy as it was when Episode I came out in 1999, it had started to pick up, and when Dark Empire from Dark Horse came out months later, with that gorgeous Dave Dorman cover, everything was right in the world.
Except that Dark Empire never quite sat well with me. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t capture the feel I wanted from Star Wars. It had the name on the cover and the characters inside, so I bought it and still have a soft spot for it, but it’s far inferior to the Heir to the Empire trilogy, which was actually beautifully adapted by Dark Horse years later.
My favorite SW Expanded Universe stories are the ones that feature the original trilogy cast. I mean, sure, I love the Clone Wars TV series (more on that in a future article), but I think almost everyone can agree that the characters in the original trilogy, and the feel of the movie itself, are truly what captivates them about the franchise. And when done right, the story can sing. I’ve not read a ton of the EU novels past the Zahn trilogy (and Shadows of the Empire, also a topic for a future article), but I look forward to chatting about what kept us as fans in the years where there was no Star Wars movie right here on Ideology of Madness.