At the end of the year, Dark Horse will cease publishing Star Wars comics and end over two decades of stewardship. Most of their catalogue will fall out of print, not forever, I’m sure, but for a time. After all, we’re looking to the future now – new movies, new television shows, new funny books.
It might be fair to ask why this matters. No, that’s a poor sentence, it suggests I think anyone without at least some love for this long-ago, far-away galaxy will be reading this. It might be fair to ask why this matters so much. Why it matters when Star Wars comics have never experienced the popularity or commercial success of their counterparts on consoles and in print. It might be fair to ask why it matters when Marvel were the original licensees. It might be fair to ask what particular mark Dark Horse left on the Expanded Universe that we should mourn its loss.
In a very real way, Dark Horse built the Expanded Universe.
In response to the loss of the license, Randy Stradley, Senior Editor for the Star Wars line had this to say –
“From my perspective, the upcoming films will mean less freedom to do what we at Dark Horse have always done best: expanding the universe. With a new film scheduled every year, and a new television series, it is likely that there will be a lot of comics pages devoted to adaptations and direct spin-off stories in support of the films and TV shows. That’s not where my interests lie, and it has never been Dark Horse’s strong suit.” [source]
Dark Horse didn’t extend the stories of the core film characters. It didn’t inflate the movies by adding hidden motives to minor characters or slipping side-stories into every scene change. It expanded the universe.
Without Tales of the Jedi there would be no Knights of the Old Republic selling over a million copies on Xbox. Without Jedi vs Sith there would be no Darth Bane novel on the New York Times bestseller list. Without Legacy we might never have seen the long-term effects of the Yuuzhan Vong War. Without Republic, we would not have seen Aayla Secura or Quinlan Vos on our television screens. It gave us 24 issues of a series based around the premise that we were renting in-universe entertainment holos. It turned Luke Skywalker’s descendant into a pirate. It decided to tell the story of enormous interstellar war of good and evil through the eyes of a fish-out-of-water would-be Padawan and a fast-talking conman. It took a good look at the universe and decided what we really needed were series about droids and X-Wing pilots, not Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.
Every era not directly related to the movies and their protagonists exists because Dark Horse invented it.
Their commitment to a broad, inclusive publishing schedule stretched beyond fictional borders of the Star Wars universe. They delayed the publication of Dark Times to accommodate the slow, but brilliantly lifelike artwork of Doug Wheatley. They let Sergio Aragonés Stomp Star Wars like it was Mad Magazine. Comics from the 70s and 80s were lovingly reprinted in an Omnibus endeavour I am personally sad to see end unfinished. It nurtured John Ostrander and Jan Duursema’s creative partnership. We actually got the concept-art adventures of Annikin Starkiller.
They weren’t the most successful part of the Star Wars business machine, but without them quietly and consistently expanding the universe, I wonder how expansive it would be?
Would The Old Republic have been based around the Clone Wars? Would The Clone Wars have had as much rich background to draw from, selective though it may have been? Would a novel set before the birth of Darth Vader ever have been published?
If you’re reading this, you probably love Star Wars the way I love Star Wars; borderline irrationally. I imagine I’ll never entirely escape it; I’ll always find things I love even in its most absurd outings. So with that sentiment tempering my next statement: I feel like I’m witnessing the slow dismantling of something important.
I cannot think of another fictional experiment that sprawled so widely yet kept such a consistent canon. Everything counted. Everything was real, no matter how strange. It treated the truth as if it were history, and mistakes as if they were conflicting accounts.
What an extraordinarily powerful statement of caring for its fans.
Everything matters. Your investment matters. You matter.
Dark Horse mattered. It was the backbone of something truly unique. And whether the Expanded Universe survives or not, we owe an acknowledgement of its passing. We owe raised glasses. Sad farewells.
Goodbye, Dark Horse. I will miss you.
So will Lucas Jackson. He will be here tomorrow. I suspect you will not want to miss it.