There are many reasons to celebrate the worlds of George Lucas’s legendary STAR WARS, not the least of which worth mentioning would be the simple fact that the available canvas is so very vast. There are countless worlds worth exploring, endless characters worth meeting, and ceaseless wonders both social and political that can be utilized to give any if not all of these stories greater meaning. And while anyone could argue that a great catalyst is needed to launch any new tale, what provides the real substance to which all of the players can react is change.
If you know anything about the chronology of STAR WARS, then you know about the galaxy’s “dark times.” Learned Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi even references the ‘dark times’ of his world in the very first motion picture (from 1977), and that’s the fertile ground Dark Horse’s creators have decided to tap into with their popular DARK TIMES imprint. These are tales that take place just after the Prequel Trilogy – when the Republic turned into an Empire – and any surviving Jedis were on-the-run. Separatist worlds were being drawn back into the fold and well within the Emperor’s grasp. Entire civilizations were being pressured to submit to the rule of a tyrant.
Dark times, indeed.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
To put the galaxy on a path toward the end of the Clone Wars, Emperor Palpatine issued Order 66 – the directive that gave his troops the authority to slaughter the Jedi Order. By doing so, Palpatine also plunged innumerable worlds into chaos: still reeling from a conflict that had disturbed the political balance, many of the residents of these planets were forced into various compacts with one side or another. If the victor wasn’t pleased with such allegiances during the war, then these people were likely to suffer after it ended.
It’s exactly those sentiments that come heavily into play during these stories originally published under the DARK TIMES imprint and now collected into this Omnibus edition. The Jedi who remain alive following the decree are essentially forced into hiding; seeing how there are huge bounties for their capture, there are few places where these fallen warriors can seek refuge. Of course, those worlds who do harbor knights-in-hiding only earn the full might of a military assault from the Empire, and these skirmishes only lead to greater casualties and loss.
Stylistically, this is a far cry from the kid-friendly property Lucas initially created. Though the saga has always had its dark elements, DARK TIMES truly amps up the grimness and the pathos surrounding a whole new stable of characters. Some of them are Jedi, but many are the people left behind after such a conflict consumes a galaxy – worlds that had aligned themselves with the Jedi Council, warriors who trafficked in black market commerce during the Clone Wars, etc. – and, unlike the motion pictures, the body count in these 300+ pages remains high. In other words, don’t get too attached: about the time a new face emerges from the line-up and looks to be taking center stage, Imperial agents rise up and put them back in their place … if they’re left breathing.
Consequently, I wouldn’t necessarily endorse DARK TIMES for young readers. While the graphic (and graphical) violence never appears gratuitous or gruesome, it’s very clear that Dark Horse’s various writers and artists intended this imprint to stay what I’d call relatively ‘adult.’ Sure, there are some juvenile shenanigans which occasionally lighten the mood; but death, desperation, and despair remain near and dear to most of these tales. There’s even one narrative that deals with what lengths a Jedi Knight might have to do in order to survive when it seems everyone is out to get him; needless to say, he embraces a necessarily ‘dark’ approach to solving most of his problems, and it continues to eat away at his very soul even in the last vignette of the collection.
Like I said above: “dark times, indeed.”
STAR WARS OMNIBUS: DARK TIMES – VOLUME 1 is a publication of Dark Horse Comics, and STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas. As is the case in these Omnibus collections, there are a handful of writers, artists, and letterers that rotate throughout the various stories – this trade includes four extended storylines and a vignette setting up the tale that follows – so I’ll skip my usual summary of the talent and encourage you to check out this edition yourself for those particulars. It comes with the price tag of $24.99, and – at nearly 350 pages – that’s a bargain considering the wealth of material one gets from a single purchase.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. DARK TIMES is exactly the kind of material serious STAR WARS fans like myself clamor for: these are tales that explore the heartbreak and anguish of a galaxy being reshaped by a tyrannical government that’s been commandeered by a Sith Lord. Darth Vader has only taken the first few steps on his journey away from Anakin Skywalker. Even Clone troopers and commanders are struggling to find their place in the various worlds now struggling for peace. Granted, DARK TIMES might not bring all that many new fans to the franchise (though I’d argue it could); still, it’s an epic exploration of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away you’re not likely to see anywhere else but in the pages provided by Dark Horse.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of STAR WARS OMNIBUS: DARK TIMES – VOLUME 1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.