Thursday, December 22, 2011
Lesser-Known EU: Dark Empire I&II and Empire's End
Next up I'll discuss another comic series, Dark Empire. These I think should be almost essential reading along with the usual EU timeline. The things that happen I feel are so integral to the characters that I wish they would actually write a novelization of them. In the most basic sense, Luke basically turns to the dark side and acts like the new Emperor and Leia and Han have to save him. The Emperor wants to come back and Leia is pregnant with Anakin and he wants to use him as a vessel to be reborn. Yuck. Poor Leia.
The first series of comics, which you can easily now aquire as the full collection in one paperback, is Dark Empire. These comics came out in the early 90's, some of the first EU, and one of the first to introduce the use of clones. The Emperor had been using clones basically as a way to live forever, and he entices Luke over to the dark side to become his pawn. It is shocking how easily he is turned, in fact. So of course it is up to Leia, as always the strong one, to bring him back. Leia senses something is wrong with Luke but he forcefully tells her not to follow him. Leia continues to worry and Han continues to assure her that Luke can take care of himself.
Han and Leia go on a mission of their own to Nar Shaddaa, home of the Hutts.... who basically all want them dead. It's actually kind of a fun in-joke for them how romantic it is that both of them are wanted dead by the Hutts for their own personal reasons. While there, they run into some old friends you might remember from The Han Solo trilogy, Shug Ninx and ex-girlfriend Salla Zend. These comics actually came out long before those books, so you didn't know their history until much later. Based on the artwork, Salla is kind of a sassy black lady. Don't worry, there are no old feelings rushing back and no threats to the relationship. She openly teases him a bit, telling Leia that she's sorry she had to marry him because he's a scoundrel and he'll break her heart. Han's response, "She likes scoundrels." That she does.
There is a sort of weird combination of good Han and Leia moments where they banter and tease and work well as a team and other, not-so-good moments where Leia mostly talks down to Han and suddenly starts acting like some wise old sage Jedi. Is there some Jedi law that once you learn you have the Force your entire personality has to change? I'd hope that doesn't have to be the case. When they disagree on certain things Leia just uses the whole Force thing to win arguments and actually tells him at one point, "Han, sometimes the actions of a Jedi don't make sense to an ordinary man." Gee, Leia, condescending much? Of course I don't see Leia talking about the Force like Obi Wan might and I certainly don't see her putting Han down because he doesn't have it or discounting his feelings or opinions. I think she's known him long enough to trust his instincts on some level. Sure, you can disagree, and I'm sure they would. But I don't see her pulling the Jedi card and I definitely don't see Han backing down when she does.
Anyway, what other old friends do we run into? Why, it's Boba Fett! Hiding out in Han's old, abandoned apartment. I swear, this guy is "killed" at least a dozen times throughout the EU, and he just won't die. But like usual, they escape. You'd think the supposed greatest and most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy could take down Han Solo just one of the twenty times he encounters him, but this is not the case.
See? Boba Fett never goes away.
Eventually they do go to find Luke and have a less-than-cordial greeting involving a lot of trying to kill each other. Han is really, really mad. So mad, in fact, that he spouts off a lot of stuff about Luke deserving to die because of what he's done now that he's gone all Emperor. I guess I can see him being mad, and I can certainly see him willing to kill Luke if he's turned evil and wants to hurt Leia, but I'd at least expect him to seem more torn about it instead of so black and white on the issue. Although much later he acts the same way toward his son when he turns to the dark side. But we can pretend that never happened...
Anyway, there is some fighting, there is the Emperor there to make matters worse - or at least the cloned, reborn version of the Emperor. Han is nearly killed by some evil force and Leia gets to use her lightsaber to save him, but unfortunately soon after falls captive to the Emperor, who wants her baby. The one who is stirring in her womb. Jaina and Jacen are off with Winter because of that EU atrocity of sending them away to be raised by someone else. Han is locked up with Chewie, but not before one last interaction with Luke where Luke tells Han to stay out of the way and Han once again tells Luke he deserves to die and he's just like Vader, all while Luke is holding Han up in the air by his throat and strangling him. Did the dark side make Luke taller? Because I don't think that would actually work.
The Emperor tells Leia how he wants to possess her baby, which you can imagine she isn't too happy about. At this point it is not common knowledge that she's pregnant. Of course Leia eventually gets Luke to come around and they destroy the Emperor clone and all escape, but not before some more condescending talk to Han, even though he helped save them all.
The top right is somehow supposed to be Leia. That is probably the worst offender of the versions of her in here, but I thought you should have an idea. Fortunately, much of the time she is mercifully hidden a little under a hat.
In spite of Leia's wise old Jedi talk, I do think it is an enjoyable comic. The artwork I'll admit is not the best. Han is given his own look which, while definitely not Harrison Ford, is at least consistent throughout. Leia, however, is the worst. It's not just inconsistent, but she's just drawn really unattractive for the most part, with some weird, boxy-looking head and a face that only occasionally sort of resembles Carrie Fisher. So I'll tell you right now, that aspect is probably going to be disappointing to you. Although at least there are a few panels early on where Han and Leia are hugging and it's dark and far away, so it doesn't matter that it doesn't really look like them.
Dark Empire II has a whole lot of the same stuff. It picks up immediately afterward, and now Leia is very apparently pregnant. In fact, her whole body seems to expand horizontally even if her stomach doesn't get that big. If you have ever seen pictures of her in the comics version of the Thrawn trilogy as pregnant with twins though somehow miraculously not really looking that pregnant at all, it's amazing how this one baby has caused her to expand so much.
Luke is doing some Jedi stuff and Han and Leia have to go back to Nar Shaddaa (told you, lots of the same stuff) to find Vima-Da-Boda, the ancient old Jedi lady who they had seen in the prior comic and who you also may remember from the Han Solo trilogy. One of Han's friends wonders if Leia wants to go there since she's wanted by the Hutts and Han asks her if she's worried about that. Leia replies, "Who's [Shug Ninx] kidding? Have I stopped to worry about anything in the last ten years? Let's get moving!" Now that sounds like Leia.
Like I said, there's a lot of similar stuff so I'm not going to go into detail here. They run into Boba Fett again, Han needs help from his old smuggler friends again. The big difference is that Luke isn't evil in this and he even gets himself a Jedi girlfriend named Jem who he finds on some planet. Hna and Leia do finally go to visit Jaina and Jacen, and once again the artwork makes you wonder why those two people wouldn't have had cuter kids. They get to share some normal family time.
This all doesn't last that long as some of the Emperor's cronies come to steal the babies (recurring theme) but of course they don't get them, though unfortunately Jem dies helping Leia to save them. But there is happiness in the end, as Anakin Solo is born. Han is super excited and takes his other kids in to see them along with everyone else, where he announces that it is Han Solo, Jr and Leia promptly tells him that no, his name is Anakin and he will be a great Jedi like his grandfather. Ugh, my stomach hurts. So many things wrong with just two bits of dialogue. Not that I need to explain why, but I will anyway.
First, we know she wouldn't name her son Anakin. I mean, maybe she'd learn to come to terms with what happened, but to be so okay with things that you'll name your son after Darth Vader? I don't think so. Second, I don't think they would want to name their kid Han, Jr either, nor would Han just stand up and announce it like that. Third, doesn't this seem like something they would've talked about beforehand and not been giving conflicting reports now? I've never had a kid, but should that happen, I'd like to think that at some point I'd have a conversation with his/her father on what the name is going to be. Fourth, just the way Leia immediately jumps in and shoots down Han's name announcement - not that I don't think it was a bad idea either, but still - just makes her sound like she's talking down to him again, like he shouldn't have any say in what the kid's name is and it's just obvious that they should name him after that horrible man who destroyed her planet and tortured both of them brutally. Lastly, the fact that right away Leia talks about him being a great Jedi. I don't see Leia as the kind of mother who would predetermine what she wants her kids to be or do with their lives. Maybe she should let him make his own decisions?
Okay, sorry for that little rant, it's the last thing that happens in the comic and it just takes what should be a nice little moment and ruins it!
Lastly, we have Empire's End. This comic "series" is exceedingly short: two little issues. I don't think it even comes in a collection, though I haven't looked. I think I got my mint condition copy on ebay for like $5 and you can probably do the same. There is even an Apple Jacks coupon in the back that expired in 1995, think they'll take it? Once again, lots of the same. We have a new artist though, and Leia looks a lot better. It still doesn't often really look like Leia, but it is at least consistent and she looks like a normal woman. Han in this one I'm not such a fan of.
Awww... Leia holding her little baby.
So what is this one about? Well, we have yet another clone of the Emperor - supposedly his last remaining one as he had a stockpile - and he needs a new body to go into. Think of it like the end of Ghostbusters II. This new body has to be Anakin's because for some reason Jaina and Jacen's won't work. At least in this comic Han and Leia keep all of their kids with them. In fact, Leia is rarely seen without an infant Anakin cradled in her arms. Han and Leia have to play badass superhero Mom and Dad and save their kids and of course everyone winds up okay in the end. Except the last clone of the Emperor, which they swear really is the last one. The only reason I believe them this time is because there were no more comics about any more Emperor clones.
Aside from just the comics adaptation of these there is also a radio drama of all three. I'd recommend trying to get your hands on a copy if you can. I just have to warn you now though that it is not something you can get on Amazon. You may have to find some alternative methods, if you know what I mean. Listening to it all is kind of fun once you get used to the voices not being the ones from the movies. Except Lando, who is in fact Lando, and gets really, really into it. And once you get used to it I actually got to enjoy this version of Han and Leia, at least when Leia wasn't talking down to Han. Honestly the only reason I sought it out in the first place was because I had heard that there was a scene in which the conception of Anakin Solo is quite heavily implied, and whoever I had heard that from was right. In the comics there is no indication that anything took place that would've led to Leia getting pregnant. I'm not saying they cross into any R-rated territory, but one minute there is some playful banter, some heavy breathing on Leia's part, and Han mentioning the possibility of trouble with a beautiful princess and a notorious scoundrel, and the next, Leia is exhausted and not feeling well and totally knocked up. These worked quite well for me when I had to do any extended driving and needed something other than music. Fun to have something different and that you probably never knew existed.
Overall, like I said, yes, some of it is repetitive, but this series is fairly enjoyable and you can obtain them fairly inexpensively. Just look around though because I just checked and there are some people selling these for an awful lot of money while others on ebay are selling them for like $3. And once again, after so much recent EU going so dark and everyone being so old, it's nice to see them all back in their prime, and even though they're not drawn very well, it's also kind of cute to see Han and Leia playing with or holding their kids or Jaina and Jacen hugging Han's legs. I'm sure he prefers them to Wicket.