Old Star Wars Comic Retrospectives

Here I am, doing a retrospective/review of some older Star Wars comic series. I might add more the more I read, but I’m not much into western comics, and I’m far from a professional reviewer, so these aren’t really comprehensive breakdowns, just my general thoughts and takeaways.

Dark Empire

Technical: Dark Empire (DE), Dark Empire II (DE2), and Empire’s End (EE) were released between 1991-1995. Spread over 14 total issues (6 each for the first two parts, 2 for EE), the series was written by Tom Veitch (with Mike Beidler contributing a bit for EE). DE and DE2 were illustrated by Cam Kennedy, while EE was illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Spoilers ahead.

First, the art. Cam Kennedy’s work on DE and DE2 is interesting, to say the least. Looking at some interviews and background, it seems like Kennedy was going for a slightly Gothic, stylized look. I can’t exactly say I like it overall, and its mostly brought down by the coloring. Almost everything is washed in something akin to water colors, with lots and lots of a seawater green-blue shade. Outside of the cover art, the closest any human character gets to a real human skin tone is a slightly greenish-yellow shade.

I will say, though, that Kennedy’s line art is pretty decent, and there are a few panels that do look good. Some of the panels would make nice-looking stylized posters. Overall, as I mentioned, the coloring really brings the quality down of the art, as characters are often indistinct and blurry, with no clear silhouette for many group shots to tell you who’s who. Thankfully, these art choices spare us from seeing Luke duel a naked Palpatine clone in a semi-realistic style. (I’ve read, although without sources, that Kennedy was suffering from some kind of eye problems that contributed to this, which explains but doesn’t really excuse it, in my opinion.)

EE, done by Baikie, is a clear step down in quality. While EE has a more true-to-life color pallet, the line art and backgrounds are much worse than Kennedy’s work, with several blank white backgrounds. Aside from the slightly better coloring in comparison to its predecessors, EE doesn’t really have any standout qualities.

Now, into the story. Overall, in my opinion, the story of Dark Empire is not very good. Let me talk about each.

Of the three, DE is probably the best, and if the series had ended here, it might have been better regarded. While there are low points to the story, and not very idea is well executed, DE is fine for a Star Wars story. One point I liked was how it largely followed Leia as she tries to redeem Luke, who has willingly joined the Emperor (kind of). The finale of Luke and Leia using the light side to disrupt the Emperor’s Force storm and destroy himself and the Eclipse works well with the larger Star Wars narrative and is quite poetic.

DE2, however, is not good and is largely unnecessary. As controversial as it may seem, without the subplot of Luke having gone dark side, DE2’s story is largely hollow. There’s not really any of the moral conflict that makes for a decent Star Wars story, and the antagonists are some of the worst antagonists in a Star Wars series. Sedriss and the other Dark Side Elite are barely more than minibosses, and have dumb character designs on top of it, with Sedriss looking like a punk rocker pastiche and the rest all looking interchangeably bland. All of them die like chumps. The subplot of Luke and Kam trying to rebuild the Jedi Order is not well done and mostly ends in failure, as 3 of Luke’s 5 recruits (including Kam but not counting Leia) end up dying. I’m pretty sure Jem was only introduced to spend, like, a page and a half as Luke’s love interest before unceremoniously dying.

DE2 also introduced the idea of steam-powered starships, which I’m choosing to believe is more like how a nuclear submarine is steam powered, rather than a coal-burning steam locomotive, even though that’s probably what the writer had in mind.

As for EE, there’s not much to say. It’s only two issues long, and basically only exists to wrap up some of the plot points introduced in DE2, like the Emperor not being dead again and also the two planet destroying weapons the Empire has. Whoopsie. From what I understand, Lightsider was a proposed story that would have provided Kam Solusar and the Dark Side Elites a backstory, but it was cancelled by George Lucas for contract reasons. This prompted Kennedy to quit.

EE’s is not good otherwise, and the Emperor’s final confrontation and death is a bit goofy and anticlimactic. The lead up is him sneaking into the house Leia is giving birth in by pretending to be a feeble old grandpa. His final death is kind of poetic, but the surrounding events heavily detract from any impact it may have.

Dark Empire, overall, is kind of interesting and I read it out of a kind of morbid curiosity, but it’s not something I would recommend to somebody who has never read it and is looking for some good Star Wars. It’s also kind of ignored by the bulk of the EU that takes place after, with only the occasional broad strokes reference.

Crimson Empire

I’ve always kind of wondered why you don’t see much discussion about Crimson Empire. Now I know why (it’s mediocre).

The Art

Crimson Empire’s art is bad. There are two main issues: the character design, and how the panels are laid out.

All the characters are slightly off. The series goes for a somewhat realistic depiction, but the design of the characters is always slightly “off” in some way. Stormtroopers look slightly squashed, characters look strangely lanky, faces appear distorted. The other issue is that the (mostly human) characters show next to zero range in facial expression. While the characters don’t suffer from Same Face Syndrome, they mostly all have the same exact expression of “mouth in a thin line while staring neutrally slightly off panel”. Sometimes characters narrow their eyes or furrow their brows slightly, but not to the extent of implying anger or suspicion, but mild irritation. And you see this expression a lot. Additionally, in almost every instance, at least a quarter of the character’s face is obscured in shadow. Characters never seem to speak, either, they just have talk bubbles pointing in the direction of their rigidly carved mouths.

The other issue, the layout, accentuates many of these issues. CE’s idea of a dramatic moment is to draw a character’s head from the neck up with the above facial expression while they “say” something “impactful.” You can almost hear the “dun dun DUN” sound effect going off. The panels also feel claustrophobic, focusing almost exclusively on the characters in the frame but not giving the reader any idea of what’s going on in the room. If this were a movie, it would be like the cameraman zoomed in way to much and the character’s are all standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The other issue is that panels never quite center on any one character; everyone in a panel is slightly off to the side, or sometimes even seems to just peaking over the edge of the panel. I remember one panel that focuses on the should and back of the head of one character, and the feet of another, with neither character’s face being visible.

Most everything else, from backgrounds to vehicle designs, are very mediocre and not really memorable. Except I think the author really mis-scaled something. One character has what looks like a Marauder-class corvette, but it seems to be drawn the size of the Millennium Falcon. Not really important, but irritating if you see it.

The Story/Characters

CE’s two main protagonists, Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn, are boring and I don’t care about them. None of the villains are really memorable either, other than being your typical Imperial warlord/wannabe new emperor type. In fact, Carnor Jax, the main villain of the first series, is supposedly this super bad dude, but he rarely interacts with anyone that’s not an Imperial, so his villainy is mostly directed to other bad guys. Devian is basically just Jax again, except the writers forgot they killed him off in part one; he also looks like a bad Bond villain. Nom Anor is also around, for reasons.

As for the story, some Imperial warlords do some things and then Kanos murders them, times three. It’s not really something that hasn’t been done elsewhere, and better. Amazingly, too, this series fails to show and not tell, despite being a highly visual medium. Action scenes are boring and uninteresting, with most of the plot being characters talking to each other and explaining what’s going on. CE3, being released over a decade after CE2 ended, is probably the “best” overall, and is only mediocre. I guess it’s a Star Wars story that doesn’t feature a superweapon, so that’s kind of nice? The writing is also really awkward at times, particularly in CE2, with characters frequently referring to each other by their full names; I don’t think there’s a time when they don’t refer to the main character as just “Kir” or “Kanos”, it’s always “Kir Kanos”.

As an aside, I feel like this story was written by an unironic “the Empire did nothing wrong” fan for unironic “the Empire did nothing wrong” fans, heavily implying that Palpatine’s Empire was honorable and just or something.

Honestly, while I think Dark Empire is bad, it at least tries for the scope of the original films (and there are fragments of decent art somewhere in there), Crimson Empire is worse simply because it’s so bland.

Hmm, very interesting. I am only familiar with the series from reading Wookiepedia articles as part of my general universal exploration, and found those characters quite interesting. Perhaps an example of a good idea executed horribly, or perhaps it was simply saved by my imagination.

I suppose I shall be content with my mental images, in that case.

Execution is everything. While the details on how the Royal Guards are trained is interesting from a encyclopedic POV, the way the story is told is largely emotionless. That’s why I think it fails the “show, don’t tell” principle.

1 Like

Tales of the Jedi

The Art

The art for TotJ is rather unique. If you’ve seen any images from Wookieepedia, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I know there’s a term for that particular somewhere, but the series (with one exception) has a very strong storybook feel to it, which fits the theme of Tales quite well. Best I can figure from looking at the people who worked on it, the main factor behind the color choice is probably colorist Pamela Rambo, who worked on the majority of the series. She’s not the only colorist, but most of the other colorists seemed to follow her lead and mimic her storybook style. If you read the whole series continuously, you probably won’t notice the change (again, with one exception), but looking at the work of the different colorists side by side will reveal subtle differences in technique. The pencilers change more frequently, but I didn’t really take the time to compare their individual styles.

The artwork, overall, is pretty good, although not without its faults. While I’m fond of the idea behind making the technology look significantly older than the movies, there’s no denying that it looks messy and even ugly. I like it, personally, but there’s nothing sleek or stylish about these vehicle designs. Furthermore, while the character design mostly works, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who’s who. That said, the combination of art and background/environment design tells an evocative story. If I was grading the art, I’d give it a B or B+.

However, the one exception I kept mentioning is Redemption. Honestly, Redemption is a downgrade in the art department in many ways. It looks vastly different from the rest of the series. Colorist Dave Nestelle has a very different style than Pamela Rambo does and doesn’t really appear to try to make it look similar. To me, Redemption loses some of the storybook style for a more conventional look that makes the rest of the series so fun to look at. Additionally, most of the characters got significant redesigns. Sylvar got the worst, looking like a completely different character (or even species; Cathars haven’t had a consistent design at all). The proportions of the characters also look off to me, with Nomi looking very thin and fragile, while Hoggon just looks weird.

The Story/Characters

Star Wars is a frat boy’s cocktail of genres, ranging in flavor from military science fiction to fantasy. While the mystical elements of the movies is in addition to it’s more traditional sci-fi, TotJ goes heavy into high fantasy. Terms like “magic” and “sorcerer” are thrown around frequently, interplanetary armies are carrying around spears and riding around on dragons, the Jedi are treated as very common and even highly respected, and there’s tons and tons of Force mysticism going on. This is all to the benefit of the story, as it’s very fun and adventurous and fantastical. Although if you’re idea of Star Wars is a deep dive into the Empire’s military industrial complex, it might not be to your preference.

That said, while the overall story is good, not all of the characters always land or are particularly memorable. They’re not bad characters, per se, but you’re probably not going to put any of them into your top 5 favorite Star Wars characters list. (Outside of Redemption, which is much more character focused than the rest of the series, and does a pretty good job of it, although I think Nomi got the short end of the stick.)

I will say that the story set around the Great Sith War (Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma’s era) is better than the story set during the Great Hyperspace War (Naga Sadow’s era). (If you’ve never read it, you might assume that Naga Sadow is an effective Dark Lord of the Sith.)

In the end, I had a lot of fun with Tales of the Jedi, which is what really maters, right?

1 Like

I enjoy reading these, very interesting and informative. Please keep it up!

Knights of the Old Republic

(I’m also including Knights of the Old Republic: War in this, which is technically a different series but continues the story.)

The Art

The art of Knights of the Old Republic fluctuates a lot, ranging from nice to look at to pretty bad. While backgrounds remain pretty decent, the characters suffer the most, with different artists sometimes having wildly different appearances. Zayne, for example, is only 18 during the series, but some artists make him look like he’s in his 30s. Brian Ching draws most of the major story arcs including the beginning and the climaxes of several major portions of the series has a pretty consistent art style and probably looks the best overall (first impressions and all), although his faces can be indistinct sometimes.

The inconsistency of the art can make it a difficult read at times, especially when a radically different art style pops up. Vector (issues 25-28), for example, has very cartoonish character designs that contrast terribly with the plot of that arc, making it hard to take seriously. This happens a few different times, with a particular artist who does a (thankfully) small number of issues that really, really doesn’t work well with the series (or Star Wars at all, IMO). I really struggled to pay attention to the dialogue when this happened, and I mostly skimmed these issues.

However, the series maintains the same colorist for the majority of it, which helps a lot in maintaining some level of consistency, so you never quite lose track of who’s who.

The Story/Characters

Despite my ambivalent opinion on the art, the story and characters more than make up for any deficiencies. While a couple issues felt like filler and one I felt went on a bit longer than necessary, the story remains consistent and entertaining from start to finish, with a decent mix of levity and drama. It’s probably the only Star Wars story that tries to be a little more funny/humorous and is able to nail it without falling flat or feeling overly childish.

Additionally, the story is both able to expand on the KotOR games’ lore and setting without detracting from them, and it doesn’t rely on cameos and fan favorites to keep people interested. To me, this series, as well as Tales of the Jedi and a few other books and games, show that Star Wars is often at its best when it bucks the dynamic introduced in the OT, whether that be the fate of the galaxy or the rebels vs empire status quo. Not that those are inherently bad, but this series is able to try new things and feel different without losing its “Star Wars-ness”.

The characters are also fun and likeable. Zayne is, honestly, probably one of the best main protagonists in Star Wars in general. I can’t really pick a character where removing them would improve the story, although I imagine Gryph may be a contentious character to some people. I don’t mind him, personally. And if you’re not a fan of the super awesome ultra badass samurai warrior god interpretation of the Mandalorians, don’t worry, this series has a far more even handed approach to their depiction.


Just as an aside, Knights of the Old Republic: War is a 5-part sequel to the main series. It has the same writer so everything flows well, but it’s definitely sequestered off from the main series, and is framed slightly differently, and the story mostly focuses on Zayne with only a handful appearances from the rest of the ensemble. The art is also good, although the artist must not like drawing faces, because I noticed quite a lot of shadowing on the faces. It came out right before the Disney buyout, so I don’t know if Dark Horse was intending to release more sequels or what. (I feel like there’s one or two plot threads that were left dangling because of the sale, and it’s possible they were hoping to conclude them, but I guess we’ll never know.) It’s a fine addition to KotOR, but if you were satisfied with the conclusion of the original series, you probably won’t miss anything. It also has probably one of the funniest scenes in Star Wars, which reads like something you’d only ever see in a RPG session.


I found Knights of the Old Republic to be a fun read despite the hit-or-miss quality of the artwork. I would definitely check it out if you’re a fan of the Old Republic era.

(These four series (Dark Empire, Crimson Empire, Tales of the Jedi, Knights of the Old Republic) are all I’ve read as of this posting, and I’m not sure what I’m going to try to read next. This will probably be the last retrospective for a while.)

1 Like

I enjoyed reading various articles on that one from Wookiepedia while researching various things, and it’s nice to know that the execution was better than Crimson Empire!

If memory serves, that was the story that introduced Demagol, one of my favorite villains in Star Wars for his connection to the Mandalorians, and the impact he has as a monster/devil/bogeyman in their culture.

I think the jab about over the top Mandalorians comes from post-Endor works? Because that hasn’t been my experience at all, and I’m pretty deep into (pre-Endor) Mandalorian lore. Not looking to pick a fight on the topic or anything, but just a thought. I’ve never understood the criticisms.

Worth noting too that most of the Mandos we see are supposed to be elite even by Mandalorian standards, like the Cuy’val Dar.

More of a jab at certain writers and their contentious depiction of the Mandos.

Like I said, I don’t understand.

Karen Traviss was a writer for the EU who was a real big fan of the Mandalorians. Like real big. She included the Mandalorians in a lot of her work and created tons of lore for them. However, her work is contentious, as a lot of people don’t like her take and consider it overly worshipful of them. That’s what I was referencing.

Huh, okay. I’m a huge fan of the Mandos, particularly as described by Traviss in her article on their culture etc. The only books I’ve read of hers are the Republic Commando novels which I absolutely loved, for a multitude of reasons. I can’t understand the objections based on the content of that series, but perhaps they stem from other books.