First off, there’s the first episode of Baxter Building, our long-awaited Fantastic Four readthrough, right below this post. I’ll cut the main part of this off under the jump and let you scroll down and enjoy it. Secondly, look at me — my fear about having to delay this until Wednesday this week turned out not to be the case!
As a testament to how on top of things I am, I have to confess that, while I’ve still not managed to get myself a copy of Marvel’s Star Wars #1, I did spend this weekend reading the collected versions of both Star Wars: Dark Empire — including both Dark Empire II and Empire’s End — and Star Wars: The Crimson Empire Saga. Look at me: I’ve got my finger on the pulse of comics that came out two decades ago and are pretty much swept under the carpet by all and sundry these days!
Of the two, Dark Empire was by far my favorite, because it managed to feel very faithful to the movies — Tom Veitch writes great George Lucas, surprisingly; I think it’s the latent hippie in both finding common purpose in the Force — without really delving too deeply into the larger mythology of the franchise. That’s definitely where the three Crimson Empire series fell down for me; as much as I’m a fan of the movie, I don’t really have the depth of passion for the larger Star Wars world that’s required to care about the honor system that motivated the Emperor’s bodyguards, nor do I inherently find the idea of “double-crossing inside the remains of the Empire” fascinating when it doesn’t have any true characterization to fill it out.
(Crimson Empire also features more original characters, which is always a problem for me when it comes to Star Wars; I was exposed to the original movies at a young enough age that, even now, “Luke Skywalker” and “Han Solo” — even “Chewbacca” and “Greedo” — just sound right in a way that almost every single Star Wars expanded universe character’s name doesn’t. I can appreciate that things like “Kir Kanos” or “Mirith Sinn” might follow in the footsteps of those earlier names, but part of me instinctively recoils upon reading them, thinking that they’re ridiculous and silly. It’s an entirely arbitrary complaint, I know, but it’s there nonetheless.)
Dark Empire is also the book that manages to suggest the scope of the movies, which feels particularly essential to anything called Star Wars, to me — each of the movies lives up to the “space opera” tag with overblown stories in which the fate of the galaxy is constantly in the balance (That’s arguably untrue about Empire Strikes Back, come to think about it; hmm), and so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the “one man out for revenge against folk who did his sense of honor wrong” plot of the Crimson Empire books feels too small and inessential by comparison, despite the fate of the Empire ostensibly being at stake. (Crimson Empire also lacks a sense of humor that I similarly find oddly essential to Star Wars, even though I wouldn’t necessarily call them particularly funny movies.)
Despite this, both collections felt over-extended and increasingly inconsequential. The drop in quality between Dark Empire and its sequel is noticeable, and Empire’s End, in theory the third part of the trilogy, feels more like a contractual obligation on behalf of Veitch, with Cam Kennedy — whose art for Dark Empire and Dark Empire II is just staggeringly good, and something that makes you wonder why he never broke through in the States properly — entirely absent. The gap between the three Crimson Empires is less pronounced, but each installment nevertheless feels weaker and less interesting, as if the original passion is being replaced by professionalism and cynicism. Insert your own isn’t that what happened to the movies as well joke here, I know.
Of the six series, only the first Dark Empire is something that I’d easily recommend to anyone other than a hardcore fan of Star Wars, which both makes me wonder about the nature of the extended Star Wars franchise/universe as a whole, and the Jason Aaron/John Cassaday Star Wars title in particular. The thing about Star Wars, more than almost any other massive franchise to me, is that it’s defined by a very small amount of “core” material, leaving almost impossibly high standards for any ancillary material to reach in order to work. I don’t know if that’s something that’s particular to me, or more generally the case — and if it’s the latter, what that says about the strength of Star Wars as an ongoing franchise, and the potential of all the various Marvel series that we’re going to see over the next few months.
For those who read the Marvel book, use the comments to tell me what you thought — and for those who read more of the Dark Horse material, tell me what else I should be looking for in there, too.
So, I had your reaction when I tried to read these waaaayyyy back because a bunch of my friends at school were reading these (and ONLY these) comics, and I just wanted something to talk about because nobody else was willing to read anything outside of the Star Wars section. And yeah, Dark Empire was the only one I could ever get into.
But. There’s another one that’s worth checking out, and that’s Star Wars: Legacy. The first run by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema (I’m a little curious about the Gabriel Hardman run, but nnnnnnot quite enough to work too hard to read it). Honestly, it was everything that made me love the original trilogy, mingled with the more complex plots that Ostrander does so incredibly well. There was a sense of danger to the characters, too, because hey, none of them had movies to be in, so who knows who was going to bite it next? Cade Skywalker’s a far more complex Skywalker than any of his forebears, the three-way conflict between the Sith, the Galactic Alliance (think new Rebels), and the Empire was surprisingly interesting, and Ostrander used his fill-in issues wisely, telling stories about side characters who just play in and around the sidelines. There’s a sense of wonder to it, too, as you’re learning about this strange world for the first time (apparently, the Yuuzhan Vong were from books? But I never read those, so they were new and weird and interesting to me). Absolutely worth reading.
Two stories I’d recommend.
1) The Tales of the Jedi story that originally ran right after Dark Empire is well worth picking up. Gorgeous Art and Veitch does a great job getting the tone of Star Wars right, while also giving us something very different than a retread of the Star Wars story of fall and redemption. Fall and redemption are there, but it feels more “British” or more “Knightly” than the Star Wars story. It is the Ur document of how Star Wars would be later adapted to video games and MMOs down the line.
2) As for the Marvel Star Wars stuff, the story of Shira Elan Colla Brie/Lumiya is worth digging for because it gives us a different sort of character for the Star Wars gang to interact with, spinning her story as the Star Wars equivalent of Judas Contract. Another Marvel Star Wars that might be fun is the Star Wars: Eight for Aduba-3, which is a rather strange send-up of 7 Samurai involving Sergio Argnoes, Cthuhulu, Green Bugs Bunny, and Godzilla.
Graeme, weren’t you and Jeff saying on the last podcast of 2014 that Marvel’s Star Wars #1 would be a bad thing for the industry? From all reports a smashing success, and if anything has engaged the fabled non-regular comic reading reader.
The key word you’re missing here is “Marvel”. As far as he’s concerned, nothing they do is right, and in fact evil- notice he had to say Ms. Marvel was a “refutation” of Marvel (the HELL?) before he could admit he was… gasp- choke- ENJOYING it.
So don’t expect Graeme ever to say Marvel’s doing something write, or if he does, immediately qualify it by saying DC is doing it better, or has nicer people working for him, and Steve Wacker was mean to him once.