Everybody knows Dark Empire. Well, not quite everybody, because, as a comic, it has the tendency to fly below the radar of newcomers to the universe — until they read something about Emperor Palpatine’s resurrection and Luke’s turn to the dark side, prompting outcries of, “Whaaaaaaaaat?” But among those fans who have graduated to familiarity with the web of the Expanded Universe, Dark Empire is among the highest-profile comics. Less familiar is the Dark Empire Sourcebook.
West End Games, the original masters of Star Wars lore, effectively built the Expanded Universe in the eighties, releasing a wealth of foundational information about the Star Wars galaxy and its many characters in their role-playing game sourcebooks. When Timothy Zahn revitalized public interest in Star Wars, he did so by building on the base of WEG’s material, which remained a crucial and ever-growing part of the fabric of the galaxy, even though its effects were mostly behind the scenes to those only reading books and comics. In response to the EU flurry of the early nineties, WEG released sourcebooks tailored to the big new novel and comic releases, providing a wealth of background information about the characters, worlds, and events of the stories for gamers to use. These resources are also invaluable to the true devotee of the Expanded Universe. Anyone interested in digging beyond the books and comics into the backstory and nitty-gritty of universe-expanding facts will find tremendous joy in WEG’s sourcebooks, and the Dark Empire Sourcebook is among the best of those releases.
Dark Empire was a seminal comic, but its timeline placement was always awkward; it was conceived as a directly post-Return of the Jedi storyline, only to run into Zahn’s trilogy during development. The comic was booted past Zahn’s trilogy, six years after the end of the films, creating some issues. Most significantly, the flourishing New Republic of Zahn’s trilogy was now a ragged Rebellion once more. Rather than dance around that issue, the sourcebook tackles the matter head-on, going into great depth to explain precisely how the resurgent Empire under Palpatine’s secret guidance drove the New Republic back before its factions split into the messy civil war seen in Dark Empire‘s opening.
That is only one aspect of the rich fabric that the Dark Empire Sourcebook weaves. Want to know the secrets of Palpatine’s recovery, about his secret machinations behind the scenes while he regained his strength, about his arcane explorations of the dark side of the Force? All there. Want to read about his mysterious throneworld Byss and learn its story, or that of the criminal warren Nar Shaddaa? They’re there. The sourcebook takes pains to set up the background of the entire New Republic era, explaining the New Republic’s rise and fall and the Empire’s fragmentation and inner workings. The treasure trove of background goes beyond that, all the way to Han’s past in the Imperial Academy and as a smuggler, the state and nature of the criminal underworld, and ancient Jedi history. If the ships appearing in the comics are your interest, there are profiles full of interesting facts. The book includes fleshed-out and poignant biographies for minor characters with tiny appearances in the comic. General Veers’s Rebel son, a New Republic soldier’s doomed college romance, a speeder thief conscripted into the Imperial motor pool, Palpatine’s personal assistant Grand Vizier Sate Pestage; all get their stories told. And let’s not forget its use of Ars Dangor, the most important yet most obscure political figure in the Empire.
The Dark Empire Sourcebook offers more than pure information drops, too. It reprints a New Republic proclamation explaining why it continues to battle the Empire in its darkest days, complete with signatures from senior officials. There is a personal letter between New Republic historians. The sourcebook contains Ackbar’s inner thoughts about the struggle against the Empire and the rebuilding of his homeworld after the attacks shown in Dark Empire. There is a transcript of expulsion proceedings against Han’s Academy friend Mako Spince (featuring a “Dean Wyrmyr”) for blowing up a moon during a prank gone wrong, and an extract from a book by Palpatine. Vignettes tell short stories, including one about Boba Fett’s escape from the sarlacc. And that is only a sampling of the in-universe and narrative delights available nowhere else.
Richly packed with all kinds of fascinating and obscure information, laying out crucial background for the entire setting, and offering all kinds of curiosities for the dedicated fan, the Dark Empire Sourcebook is a must-read. Even among the many excellent West End Games sourcebooks, it stands out for its ambition, scope, and excellent job tying together and setting down the foundation for the then-infant New Republic era. It makes the comic itself a far more rewarding and intriguing read, meshing it into the rest of the stories around it. Any fan interested in the nitty-gritty of the universe owes it to him- or herself to look into the WEG sourcebooks, and the Dark Empire Sourcebook is among the first ones to seek out.