Friday, December 4, 2015

Recommended Reading for 12/4: Star Wars: Dark Times

For this week's Force Friday, I'm bringing back guest columnist and fellow Star Wars enthusiast, Brandon Borzelli, for a recommended reading for one of his favorite Star Wars series...

"For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire."

Ben Kenobi uttered these words to Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars film. Some thirty years later Dark Horse comics produced a comic that ran for thirty-three issues that carried that phrase, Dark Times across the top.

Over the years, between Dark Horse and Marvel, hundreds of Star Wars comics have been published, mostly dealing with the original trilogy characters. There was a lengthy run called Legacy that took place in the far future, a lengthy run called Knights of the Old Republic that covered the distant past and a ton of Clone Wars centered comics, mostly notably, Republic. Two areas were always lacking: comics around the Phantom Menace (either Obi-Wan as a padawan or as a young master to Skywalker) and comics dealing with those dark times.

At the tail end of the Republic series there were seven comics published that centered around Order 66. Most of the characters are unknown to the movies, but a prominent comic character, Quinlan Vos, got a closing arc and three other Jedi got an introduction as they survived Order 66. One such character was Dass Jennir.

When Republic ended there was a one-shot, entitled "Purge" (which is my all-time favorite Star Wars comic), immediately followed by Dark Times. These comics were all seen as a continuation of the Republic series. The comic suffered long delays throughout its run and never really found any consistent schedule. However, when binge read, the comic is even better than read as it was published. It is an absolute classic from start to finish.

The first arc is quite a departure from anything that you might expect from Star Wars. Jennir fails at assisting some locals fight off the Empire. One of the locals, Bomo, survives with Jennir only to watch as the rest of the townspeople, including Bomo's wife and young daughter, are rounded up into slavery by the Empire.

The arc is revolutionary for Star Wars because it deals heavily with slavery, child abuse, and cannibalism. It's a powerful arc without a happy ending. This arc also introduces a cast of characters that find themselves helping Jennir and Bomo in their quest to locate Bomo's family.

Jennir and Bomo get involved with the misfits that call the ship, The Uhumele, home. In the beginning there are a wide range of characters and creatures (there is only one human) and as the series progresses the crew gets thinned out and those that are left by the end are changed in some way, physically or mentally from the beginning of the series. Jennir loses favor with the crew with his questionable actions at the conclusion of the first arc.

The second arc is appropriately named "Parallels." This arc re-introduces another surviving Jedi, K'Kruhk. It shows how he survived Order 66 and how he ended up with a bunch of padawans. While this story is unfolding we get more of Bomo with the crew of the Uhumele as they try to make a bargain with some shady characters for a mysterious case they found.

The arc is fantastic because lives are lost in dramatic ways and the two stories tie directly into each other. Bomo and company shake loose some pirates that crash on the planet that K'Kruhk is living on with his padawans. There are other little plot points in here that tie some of the Uhumele to the surviving Jedi that make this a really tightly constructed arc. The arc ends with both Bomo and K'Kruhk going on killing rampages. One gains the trust of his companions while the other completely loses the trust of his.

The tenth and eleventh issues deal with the Star Wars comic crossover, “Vector.” The two issues pit the Old Republic Jedi against Darth Vader with the crew of the Uhumele. The mini-arc has repercussions for the crew but it is otherwise an unrelated arc to the overall Dark Times story line. They are fun reads though if you like Darth Vader in action.

Dass Jennir returns for a solo arc in "Blue Harvest" which ran from issues thirteen through seventeen with a zero issue thrown in there. Dass puts himself in a bad spot when he tries to act as a hired muscleman to intercede between a gang of spicers and a gang of slavers. This story is a classic western with Dass playing the role of the man-with-no-name. He finds a shady situation and makes it worse by his actions. By the arc's end Dass has found himself again and decides on a path to take. The resolution happens after the curtain falls. However, the reader knows Dass wins without needing to see it unfold.

The final three arcs, each five issues, act as their own trilogy in a way. "Out of the Wilderness" has Dass stranded on a planet where he finds more pirates/slavers. This while a mysterious assassin tracks him. Vader, tracks both the assassin and Jennir. The crew of the Uhumele find another Jedi. This Jedi also seeks Jennir. This arc is great because Jennir grows as a character as he finds himself attached when he knows the old Jedi order forbids it.

"Fire Carrier" has some Vader as he is determined to find and kill Jennir. This arc is mostly a sendoff to K'Kruhk, though. This arc re-introduces another Jedi, the Blind Master Tao and is an arc that brings K'Kruhk's character back into finding himself, just as Jennir had done previously. The book cements that the Jedi teachings live on despite the dark times.

"A Spark Remains" brings a third Jedi into the fold as Jennir brings in more muscle to attempt to stop Vader. As much as K'Kruhk avoided disaster with the Imperials, Jennir is resigned to face them head-on and stop running. This arc is among the very best of any of the Star Wars comics. This has Vader in all his glory and has surprise endings to three of the five issues. This is a brilliant way to end the series.

The series isn't simply about the Jedi. Vader and the Emperor get plenty of panel time. Vader is filled with doubt in the beginning. He then tries to find an apprentice of his own. When that fails he embarks on his own mission to kill Jedi because he simply wants to defy the Emperor's direct orders. The Emperor, aware of everything, helps Vader's investigation behind Vader's back, just to mess with him. The Emperor seems to be the puppet master of everyone. The series makes fantastic use of these two characters.

The series is loaded and I mean loaded with outstanding supporting character. It has an arrogant droid, a lying lover, a drunk captain, a loyal mechanic, a twisted Jedi, a dark side-leaning padawan and on and on. This series could very well have more of a wide range of supporting characters than any of the comics or novels. There is simply a treasure trove of characters to follow in here and I haven't even touched upon the villains

While Randy Stradley wrote all of the issues (most under a pen name or two) the comics have a variety of artists. Doug Wheatley is the primary artist but delays and then alternating arcs add other artists to the mix. The comic series is very emotional and the artwork depicts that well. This is not your standard Star Wars stuff and the artwork's serious tone helps convey that well.

Dark Times is no ordinary comic series. It tackles difficult subjects and twists the reader by providing shocking deaths and awful acts. Many of the arc have horrific endings and while the series doesn’t end in a way that you probably expect, it does provide a satisfactory ending for all of the primary characters. This series represents the very best in Star Wars storytelling.

Brandon Borzelli first saw Star Wars in the 1979 re-release at a drive in theater with his family. A year later he saw Empire Strikes Back and after a sleepless night he was hooked and has been ever since. Brandon writes comic reviews over at and holds his Star Wars comics as the pride of his collection. He looks to pass on what he has learned.

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