Star Wars The Force Awakens sidelines more than just one creative influence. Last time I checked, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a Friday take of $120.5 million, and was on track to rake in anywhere from $220-250 million, over the whole weekend. This would convincingly topple Jurassic World’s single weekend opening record ($208M), after doing the same to the last Harry Potter film’s Thursday preview screening record ($57M to Potter’s $43.5). That said, at no point would I consider the Star Wars franchise as ever being a dark horse – heck, even the prequels were 800lb turkeys (fouls, for sure; but still too big to mess with). No, the dark horse in this case is Dark Horse comics.
When Disney took a $4B gamble on the franchise, creator George Lucas wasn’t the only one losing the keys to this latest wing of the (Magic) Kingdom. Even as Lucas’ legacy was handed over to J.J. Abrams, Dark Horse publishing saw not only the loss of the keystone, to the licensing niche it had carved out for itself, but also something of a legacy all its own. This was a done deal almost a year ago; The Force Awakens release just sort of brought the finality of it home to me, is all.
Somewhere between Return of the Jedi, the end of Marvel’s licensed run of comics, and The Phantom Menace, Dark Horse took up the challenge of keeping fresh material coming (yes, I’m ignoring the novels – too many lit fuses over canon). What they brought to the franchise surpassed most expectations. Beginning with a plausible follow up to the middle trilogy, the Dark Horse run wasn’t content to fill in the gaps, or speculate on the future, as Marvel had done. They were encouraged enough – supposedly by the Lucas estate, itself – to fill in the backstory of the entire mythology. For a lot of younger fans (prior to the internet) the Dark Horse run would be their introduction to the Sith, the Old Republic, and the role of clones in the greater mythology. Unfortunately, much of that prep was taken into the first trilogy prequels, and interest shifted sharply back to the second trilogy era. Whether or not Dark Horse had any real influence on how the prequels were prefaced, it remained the only accepted outlet. Genndy Tartakovsky & Lucasfilm would help keep things alive, by way of games & animated series; but with the sale to Disney, all licensing/ distribution issues (which, in addition to Dark Horse, involved 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.) were resolved. That other Disney acquisition, some other comic publishing outfit called Marvel, would provide in-house comic adaptation.
I felt tempted to go over the Dark Horse Star Wars library, recount all that ground that stands to be rendered moot; but these rants get long enough, as it is.
With much of its material remaining canon, Dark Horse will always have a place in the franchise timeline. There may be a temptation (by the new management) to expand the franchise retroactively, as well as going forward. The desire to salvage the prequels kept The Clone Wars (2nd series) running longer than it probably should have (the original Tartakovsky series was a concise bridge, between Episodes II & III), and Disney has made it clear that they will milk the heck out the current trilogy’s setting. This leaves me wondering if figures of the mythology’s history, like Ulic Qel-Droma, will stay the way I remembered them – as Dark Horse characterizations. For that matter, I did wonder if parts of the film history will be subject to a new round of revisions (#HanShotFirst, #KeepWalkingNewHopeBobbaFett, #BobbaSoundsLikeJangoNow, #WhereDid HaydenChristensenGhostComeFrom, #IHateThatIMissTheYubNubSong)
The combination of Abrams & Lawrence Kasdan, however, left me confident that film mythology could both survive & thrive without Lucas & Dark Horse’s influences. Kasdan remains one of my all-time favorite film scribes (Empire Strikes Back. ‘Nuff said), and say what you will about Alias, Lost, or Mission Impossible 3, I wasn’t all that surprised when Abrams was put in charge of the twin tent poles of sci-fi franchises: Star Wars & Star Trek. There were some concerned that no one man should have all that power – citing Abrams’ revision of Star Trek mythology as a faith shaker. While I didn’t find that lack of faith disturbing, in-of-itself, I did find myself pointing out that the continuation/ expansion of a franchise isn’t the same as rebooting one. Trekkies can scream Khan all they want – Abrams has earned the wheel (of course we’re only one film in – no trying to pop my Force field).
Although I wholly expect Marvel to take good care of the property, this second time around, I doubt it will recapture the breath of life that was Dark Horse’s Star Wars: Dark Empire. How could it? Dark Empire – and the Dark Horse run, in general – just sort of happened; while we were made to see Disney’s Star Wars projects coming from years away. Call me nostalgic (just smile when you do), but I just miss that unexpected sense of discovery that came with the Dark Horse works. Abrams & co. have an entirely new timeline, with which to provide us with discovery moments, but I doubt anyone expected any less.
With Disney & Abrams in the process of expanding Star Wars’ financial & cultural empire, and sending this imagination/ cash machine into overdrive, I just thought I’d take the time to acknowledge the outfit that kept the engine running.
R.I.P., Dark Horse run.
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