Retro Relapse: The Soon-To-Be Forgotten History of Star Wars

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2015. And looking at this now, I think I was right.

Tonight is the night where Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters. With the release of this film, everything we know changes for this franchise going forward. There is a lot of hype, a lot of hope and a lot of apprehension from those of us that never recovered from the awfulness of the Prequel Trilogy.

Fact is, there isn’t a single Star Wars fan that doesn’t want this to be as amazing as the original films. But we all thought The Phantom Menace, without question, was going to be an amazing film before we saw it. There really is no way to know if The Force Awakens will be as great as the Original Trilogy until we experience it.

Films with this much hype usually fail to live up to it. In my opinion, J.J. Abrams, the director, has a pretty crappy track record. He did destroy Star Trek for those of us who liked it when it was boring and mostly a bunch of talking to avoid conflict. But I get it, we can’t all be smart and Abrams catered to the broader, dumbed down audience. And well, he admitted that he wasn’t a fan of Star Trek and was really just a fan of Star Wars. Good for him.

But this isn’t about J.J. or my “lack of faith” in him. It is about what this film and Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has done to the vast wonderland that is the universe Star Wars exists in.

I was a huge Star Wars fan and I still am, even though I feel a bit of betrayal. Reason being, everything I have invested in the universe is mostly moot now, at least in regards to what the new owners of the intellectual property say.

Thirty-plus years of reading all the books I could get my hands on, playing all the video games I bought at hefty price tags and collecting all the toys and other random memorabilia and now, none of that fits into Disney’s vision of the franchise.

When they announced that they would be making Star Wars films yearly from now until the end of time, I knew that the Expanded Universe was dead. They didn’t come out and say it immediately, but knowing that an Episode VII just wouldn’t fit in anywhere with what was established in the books and video games of the Expanded Universe, I knew that Disney would take extreme liberties, ignore all that established mythos and just do what they want.

I understand why they have to do it but with as much as I love many of the stories and what the EU has become, there is that part of me that feels a stronger allegiance to it than to Disney, who really doesn’t give a crap about it. And this is the same Disney that keeps making mediocre Marvel films after buying them a few years earlier. They are on a mission to own and reshape my childhood. Once they acquire Hasbro and Nintendo, they will own the souls of every young boy who experienced childhood in the awesome ’80s.

If The Force Awakens is a stellar movie, I will accept it as the new canon. If it sucks, I will completely dismiss it and always consider the Expanded Universe to be my canon. I don’t have to turn my back on the EU just because Disney says so. It isn’t just Star Wars history, although soon-to-be forgotten, it is history for the millions of people who invested their time, heart and money into the Star Wars brand for several decades. And whether it is fair to Disney or not, people with knowledge of the EU will always compare Disney’s work to the tales they’ve held dear for years.

The EU fan base is certainly a small percentage of Earth’s population and Disney has to look at the bigger picture. And I guess all of us hoping for more movies one day, knew that something like this would have to happen, it just kind of sucks.

And it doesn’t suck in that the EU will be ignored and washed away, it won’t be for those of us who love those stories and characters, it sucks because there will be no new stories in the EU. It isn’t dying because Disney has to ignore it, it is dying because it can’t continue to live and grow going forward. What exists within the EU is all that it will ever be now. That world is cemented. That’s the hardest pill to swallow.

I know that a lot of the stuff in the EU was pretty awful. Many books were just bad or too bizarre or didn’t fit within the established mythos. Some of the earlier attempts at expanded fiction tales went in strange directions. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, one of the first Star Wars books ever written, doesn’t make much sense. But it is the great stories and great characters that people cherish and there was a lot more good than bad in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

So even if I dismiss the new movies, as I have dismissed the rebooted universe of Star Trek since J.J. Abrams took over that franchise, I still have nothing new to look forward to in the EU. Even if I were to treat the EU as my personal Star Wars canon till the end of time, it is dead. No more books to read, no more games to play and the fate of many characters will be unresolved.

Despite my reservations, I am going into The Force Awakens with an open mind. I am trying to keep my expectations at bay. I just want to sit there and experience it. And yes, it will certainly drum up some nostalgia, because that’s the point of carrying this franchise on, but I’m going to be as objective as possible.

I want this new movie to be good. I want everything Star Wars to be good going forward. But I remember how I felt waiting for The Phantom Menace to start and how I felt after it and the next two films ended. Again, films with this much hype typically can’t live up to it but we shall see.

And maybe I will be pleasantly surprised to the point where the blow of losing the EU won’t sting as bad. I guess I’ll know in about twelve hours.

Comic Review: Star Wars: The Last Command

Published: 1999
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Edvin Biukovic, Eric Shanower, Ellie DeVille, Pamela Rambo, Mathieu Lauffray (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 149 Pages

Review:

This is the third and final installment of the comic book adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s fantastic Thrawn Trilogy. And just like the previous two entries into this series, this adaptation was well done and breathed new life into these stories.

Overall, this is probably the slowest of the three chapters. I find that surprising as it is the conclusion. But don’t get me wrong, the last issue is action packed and a great finale with a solid space battle and the defeat of one of the greatest Imperial threats of all-time, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

This also sees Luke and Mara’s story evolve past her wanting to murder him. She finds a peace that she has never had and eventually relents in her dark side fueled drive and decides to train and become a Jedi.

Additionally, this is a good resolution to the Noghri story, which I loved. They get their just desserts, just as we, the audience, did in seeing them get justice against Imperial oppression.

This is also the first appearance of the Jedi twins, Jaina and Jacen Solo. For fans of the Expanded Universe, you know how pivotal these characters were to the future of the franchise before Disney came along and said, “Screw these well developed, great, dynamic characters! We’ve got Kylo Ren now!”

Like the two previous adaptations of The Thrawn Trilogy, this one has some great art and looks fantastic and timeless. I love the art style that Dark Horse had in these ’90s Star Wars comics.

The Last Command is a great read for those of you who still prefer the EU to the new Disneyverse or whatever you want to call the new “official” continuity. I call it “poop” but I guess some of you like the new stuff for some reason.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Published: 1997
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Terry Dodson, Kevin Nowlan, Ellie DeVille, Pamela Rambo, Kilian Plunkett (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 149 Pages

Review:

Dark Force Rising is the second chapter in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. It’s kind of like his Empire Strikes Back, as it builds off of what he established in Heir to the Empire and pushes things forward before the big crescendo that is The Last Command.

It’s really cool revisiting these stories and in comic book form for the first time. I love all the plot threads in this tale, especially in this chapter. I forgot how awesome the plot where Leia, Chewie and Threepio go to the Noghri homeworld was, as well as the team ups of Han and Lando, as well as Luke and Mara. Everything here is just a lot of fun. Plus, you get to see Thrawn up the ante on how sinister he can get.

I also forgot how much I liked the characters of Gilad Pellaeon and Talon Karrde, two men far from the New Republic side but, through this story, find ways into the former Rebellion, where they become strong leaders going forward.

A big part of the story here also deals with politics. There is a plant in the New Republic that is working to disrupt and distract them while Thrawn moves in against them, squeezing his fist of power around the fledgling government. I would point to how politics are handled and presented here, as a better use of political storytelling than what everyone complains about with The Phantom Menace, which had a convoluted political narrative that made most people want to hit their heads against the theater chair in front of them.

The art in this was solid and I liked it better than the work in Heir to the Empire. Also, the lettering was much more legible, as the writing style of the letters in the previous chapter had stylized “H”s that looked like stylized “U”s, which slowed you down as you read.

I like this act in the trilogy better than the previous one but just slightly. Things start to feel more real with this chapter, the ante is upped and you truly start to see why Thrawn is such a formidable foe for the heroes and maybe more so than any other Grand Admiral in the history of the Galactic Empire.

In all honesty, it’s just a delight to revisit these stories, as Disney has pretty much created a new canon that I don’t want anything to do with. This is and will always be my official canon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire Trilogy, The Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

Published: 1995-1996
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Fred Blanchard, Olivier Vatine, Mathieu Lauffray (covers)
Based on:  Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 150 Pages

Review:

Heir to the Empire is the first story in what has come to be known as The Thrawn Trilogy. It was also the first story to follow the events of Return of the Jedi. This was the first true sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy and it was so good that it really spawned what became the Expanded Universe or EU. However, it was originally released as a novel along with it’s two followups: Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. This comic book adaptation came a few years later and this is the first time I have read these stories in this medium.

I have to say, this is a great adaptation. Sure, it lacks the details of the novel but everything you need to know is really here and it represents Zahn’s story well.

It also has a great art style that has actually aged well but now has a more pulpy vibe to it than it would have had in 1995.

The story picks up five years after the destruction of the second Death Star over Endor and the death of Emperor Palpatine. We discover that the big victory wasn’t the end of the conflict, as there are segments of the galaxy still ruled by factions of the Galactic Empire. It doesn’t matter that the Rebel Alliance evolved into the New Republic, there is still work to be done and wars to fight.

This story is really important and significant because it was the debut of two major characters that would have a massive impact on Star Wars canon before Disney bought the franchise and threw the EU away. Those characters are Luke’s would be wife Mara Jade and the powerful Chiss and new leader of the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Luckily, Thrawn has been made a character in Disney’s new canon. However, Mara Jade still doesn’t exist in the Disney-verse.

Since this is the first part of a trilogy, there isn’t a real resolution. We do get an exciting battle at the end and the story itself is also engaging and does a good job of building tension between Luke and Mara as well as just about everyone and Thrawn.

This is just such a great Star Wars tale and certainly better than any of the films that Disney has put out. This is one example of why the EU will always be what I perceive as canon, as opposed to whatever the franchise’s new owner says.

And reading this now, makes me remember how I felt about Star Wars when there were just three movies and still not a lot of books and comics.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire Trilogy, The Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire – Evolution

Published: 1998
Written by: Steve Perry
Art by: Ron Randall, Duncan Fegredo
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 123 Pages

Review:

Out of the Shadows of the Empire trilogy of comics, this is my least favorite. However, it is more of a direct sequel to the original Shadows of the Empire than Mara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand.

The story primarily follows Guri, who was the sexy android assassin that worked for Prince Xizor. You also get to meet another cunning Falleen, out to bring the Black Sun organization back to galactic prominence. This Falleen warlord is actually Xizor’s niece, Savan.

This also picks up with Luke, Leia, Lando and Han Solo, as he is no longer frozen in carbonite in this chapter. The events take place after Return of the Jedi where the original Shadows of the Empire took place before.

This tale was severely lacking in Boba Fett and Dash Rendar. I guess it’s assumed that Boba Fett was being digested by the Sarlacc Pit and Dash only shows up in a cameo at the very end.

This was written by Steve Perry, who wrote Shadows of the Empire, but it lacked the level of excitement and just wasn’t as engaging or interesting. This puts a lot of focus on Guri but she just wasn’t that cool of a character in Shadows of the Empire. In fact, she’d be pretty forgettable in the big scheme of things if she wasn’t made such a big part of this story. And with Xizor dead, we didn’t need another Falleen that was just wedged in to milk the Xizor thing, especially when she wouldn’t go on to have any real engagement with the Expanded Universe beyond this story.

Ultimately, this is a decent Star Wars comic for its era but it lacks the things that made many ’90s Dark Horse stories great but it also is at least enjoyable enough not to be a waste of time. But there isn’t much here that holds any real weight outside of this story. And frankly, you can read Shadows of the Empire without ever needing to pick this up for more story or context.

This was probably just a cash grab, if I’m being honest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s, most notably: Shadows of the EmpireMara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand and The Thrawn Trilogy.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Mara Jade – By the Emperor’s Hand

Published: 1998-1999
Written by: Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Jan Duursema, John Ostrander
Art by: Carlos Ezquerra, Kilian Plunkett
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 141 Pages

Review:

This six issue series is the middle part of the Shadows of the Empire trilogy. It is wedged between Shadows of the Empire and Shadows of the Empire – Evolution in the Shadows of the Empire Omnibus.

This takes place after Shadows. In fact, the first third of the story takes place alongside the events of Return of the Jedi. Mara Jade is in Jabba’s Palace when Luke Skywalker arrives and she also witnesses the death of her master at the hands of Luke and his father, Darth Vader. She then must carry out the Emperor’s revenge mission and kill Luke herself.

However, the rest of the story shows Mara get captured and imprisoned by Ysanne Isard, one of the best EU characters from the era, go on to get revenge on some other characters and pretty much just fill in the blanks between Return of the Jedi and where she is once she appears in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where she does finally encounter Luke. That all comes in the Zahn stories later though but this was a solid setup for that moment and since Zahn was one of the writers of this comic series, he painted the picture that he intended for Mara Jade.

At the time that this was published, Mara Jade was really popular with fans because of her first appearance in those Zahn novels (and later comic adaptations). This book served to flesh out her backstory and to strengthen her character. Jade would eventually marry Skywalker and become one of the most powerful Jedis in Star Wars lore. Although, none of that matters now because Disney erased this continuity to give us terrible bullshit like The Last Jedi.

Anyway, for old school fans of the EU, which is still my canon, this is a pivotal chapter in the franchise post-Original Trilogy.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s, most notably: Shadows of the Empire, Shadows of the Empire – Evolution and The Thrawn Trilogy.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Published: May 7th, 1996 – October 1st, 1996
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Kilian Plunkett, Hugh Fleming, John Nadeau
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 158 Pages

Review:

Shadows of the Empire was a massive multimedia event in 1996. There was a novel, this comic series, a super popular video game, action figures and even a soundtrack. It was the biggest Star Wars event outside of the movies themselves and it was used to get the public hyped for the special editions of the Original Trilogy, which came out a year later. This also probably helped generate momentum as George Lucas went into production on 1999’s The Phantom Menace.

I haven’t read this story in comic book or novel form in at least ten years. Being that I have been dealing with a sense of Star Wars fatigue, at least in regards to Disney’s mismanagement of the property, I didn’t want the candle to fully burn out. I decided to go back and reconnect with the stories I loved the most from the past, as the Expanded Universe will always be the canon I choose to accept. I invested too much time and money into it and even if there are some terrible installments in the massive Expanded Universe, there are still great stories like this one that I will always be able to go back to and enjoy.

I forgot how much I loved this. The art was really good for the time. Also, the writers did a nice job of filling in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which is when this takes place. It’s kind of like Episode V.5.

We get to see Luke experiment with the Force, which just adds some depth to how his powers evolved between the two films. We also get to see him use the green lightsaber for the very first time, as he thinks about how difficult the process of building it was.

Additionally, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and a large portion of this epic tale revolves around Boba Fett transporting Han from Bespin to Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine. Fett faces a lot of challenges and ends up in an all out war with all the other famous bounty hunters, as they want to claim the prize that is Han Solo. This was actually my favorite plot in this large story, as it served to really develop Fett as a character and truly shows why he is the “best of the best” because in the movies, he went out like a bitch.

We also see friction between the Emperor and Vader and the seeds of Vader’s betrayal against his master are planted. This plot thread also brings Prince Xizor into the picture, as he is a professional adversary to Vader and sort of a lapdog for the Emperor.

Other things of note are that we get to see how Leia gets the Boushh disguise, how heroic Lando actually is and we meet Dash Rendar, who would go on to be the most popular Star Wars character of the ’90s that wasn’t featured in a film.

Reading this now, brought me back to where my head was at in 1996, when I was still obsessed over everything Star Wars. Back before I was a jaded prick and had immense love for these characters and this universe. It was awesome feeling like that about Star Wars again.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Wars comics put out by Dark Horse in the ’90s. The Dark Horse stuff was so damn enjoyable before Disney bought the franchise and killed the Expanded Universe.