Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines the announcement that Dark Horse Comics will once again publish new Star Wars stories. Hell, yeah.
For over a thousand generations (or at least what felt like it), Dark Horse Comics was the guardian of peace and justice in the old Republic…before the dark times…before the empire…before The Walt Disney Company.
Okay, forgive my Obi-Wan Kenobi cribbing. Disney and the Emperor are not a one-to-one comparison (maybe), but I yank that Star Wars line as a means of underscoring how incredibly dry the years were between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. For a Jedi junkie craving new adventures with the Skywalker fam, the late ’80s and early ’90s were an excruciating period until the comics publisher got to work.
A Long Time Ago…
From 1991 to 2014, Dark Horse put out a wide array of titles, exploring Star Wars in a way that the movies could never allow. With series such as Dark Empire and X–Wing Rogue Squadron, the comics company stretched beyond Return of the Jedi, providing a logical path where Luke Skywalker would take the New Republic and a reemerging Jedi order, and it did not look anything like The Force Awakens.
Then, comics such as Tales of the Jedi cracked open the galactic history books, exposing how the Star Wars universe came to be as we first met it in A New Hope. These were tomes we would happily investigate, ditching schoolwork to study Millennium Falcon blueprints and Sith family trees.
The End of an Era
When Disney acquired Star Wars in 2012, the mouse house gave the comic book chore to their other franchise jewel, Marvel. Eventually, new titles started flooding the market, preparing audiences for the arrival of The Force Awakens three years later.
The Dark Horse comics were labeled non-canon, and their post-Return of the Jedi plots were eradicated so they wouldn’t interfere with future cinematic sequels. Marvel created the Legends brand, a publishing umbrella where the company could reprint the old stories for new readers, but in a manner that clearly defined them as non-consequential.
The publisher then threw its top talent at their rebooted in-canon stories. The results were quality, but a lingering sting remained as popular characters like Tag and Bink blinked from existence.
Dark Horse Comics was there for us Star Wars geeks when no one else was. As a result, this era occupies tremendous nostalgic value for many. Marvel is cool and all, but they never had our back.
Star Wars is Back at Dark Horse Comics!
Now comes word that Dark Horse Comics will once again produce Star Wars comics. The headline sent shivers throughout the fandom, even though the press release is not as revolutionary on closer inspection. According to Dark Horse founder and CEO Mike Richardson, the publisher will focus on the all-ages Star Wars line, including comics from every era in the franchise. So, Marvel will still be responsible for their current titles where lightsabers can happily sever limbs from torsos.
Currently, IDW Publishing is in charge of the kiddie Star Wars comics. While the Dark Horse news makes no mention of that relationship coming to an end, there have been rumors saying as much. They’re the new old guys and Dark Horse is the old new guys.
There are some gems within the IDW line. The anthology Tales from Vader‘s Castle is a playground where various artists could tell spooky stories centered around the Dark Lord’s domicile on Mustafar. Their Clone Wars: Battle Tales also offers a realm for fans of the animated adventures to continue their obsession with light, fluffy, palatable action. Not bad, but also, not great. Can Dark Horse do better?
The High Republic is Where It’s At
Mike Richardson seems like he wants to do what IDW has been doing, only faster and more expansive. Dark Horse has plans for an ongoing series as well as an anthology. Sprinkled between these two concepts will also be “one-shots and specials.” Maybe most significantly, Richardson says the company’s main focus is the High Republic.
Set 200 years before The Phantom Menace and 800 years after the Old Republic, the High Republic became a massive focus for Lucasfilm in 2018. While we have not seen it in live-action, this previously unexplored Star Wars era is already the focus of several prose novels and comic books from Marvel and IDW.
These stories read radically fresh, unconcerned with the usual narrative hangups ignited by George Lucas and carried on by his torchbearers ever since. In the High Republic, the reader feels untethered from expectation. These stories are not building toward an Imperial rise or downfall. They’ve got their own thing going on.
The excitement around Dark Horse Comics is the confidence it brings to the material. The company knows, and we know, that it can kick butt with Star Wars comics. The IDW books are fun enough, but they feel second-tier to what Marvel is doing. Dark Horse has already proven itself many times over, not only with the Star Wars franchise but with young readers too. For decades, it was the home of Usagi Yojimbo. All-ages comics have never been better.
The All-Ages Gauntlet is Dropped
Thanks to its past work with Aliens, Predator, and Aliens vs. Predator, we tend to think of Dark Horse Comics as this hardcore publisher. When the ’90s were at their most extreme, Mike Richardson’s books were at their bloodiest, and teenagers squeed with delight. The Dark Empire comics were never as gnarly, but they did have a serious edge. The cloned Emperor (yep, take that, The Rise of Skywalker) was somehow more terrifying than his wrinkly, elder self.
Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics came with danger. And since The Phantom Menace and The Force Awakens were not even a dream at that point, readers thought Luke Skywalker could actually kick the bucket. Richardson’s crew had some fun threatening heroic murder.
The Dark Horse Comics all-ages line will not produce the same dread. That’s impossible for many reasons. However, the memory of what the company did in the ’90s injects glee into their future possibilities. The expanded universe is where you go to tread uncertain ground. The not-knowing is an addictive excitement, and the faith that Dark Horse will plunge its ’90s energy into the High Republic saga is tangible.
As a former keeper of the flame, Mike Richardson exudes a sense of competition. When some folks hear “all-ages,” they are compelled to dismiss the project as lesser. Richardson hopefully sees that as a challenge. He wants to beat Marvel at their game. He wants to reclaim Star Wars supremacy. And my 10-year-old self wants that for him too.
Dark Horse Comics will bring new all-ages Star Wars to racks in 2022.