Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened in theaters this week, bringing the Skywalker saga to an end. It also caps off Disney's Star Wars sequel trilogy. The Rise of Skywalker involves many twists and turns, but fans of pre-Disney era Star Wars may have found some of those beats familiar. That's because many of them resemble moments from one of the most beloved installments of the defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe. The film bears a striking resemblance to Star Wars: Dark Empire by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy. SPOILERS follow.
Dark Horse Comics published Star Wars: Dark Empire in 1992. Veitch and Kennedy had first pitched it to Marvel Comics in the hopes of reviving the publisher's Star Wars comics line. Star Wars had once been Marvel's biggest success, keeping the publisher afloat during tough years. By 1986, three years after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, interest in the franchise had waned. With sales dwindling, Marvel canceled its Star Wars comic after 107 issues. Marvel declined, but Veitch and Kennedy maintained the rights to the story they had pitched and brought it to Dark Horse.
Dark Empire was a bold vision. Rather than tell a story set between the events of the movies, like Marvel's series, Dark Empire was a sequel to Return of the Jedi. It continued the story of Luke, Leia, and Han after the Battle of Endor. It also served as a follow-up to Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy novels, which were being published by Bantam Spectra around the same time. Dark Empire acknowledged events and characters introduced in The Thrawn Trilogy, such as Leia and Han's twin children. These links would form the basis for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, now published under the Star Wars Legends banner.
The basic plot of Dark Empire may sound familiar if you've seen The Rise of Skywalker (if not, this is where the SPOILERS start. Here's your warning). The Rebel Alliance is still dealing with the remnants of the fallen Galactic Empire. They learn that a massive fleet is assembling in Imperial space. What's worse is Emperor Palpatine has somehow returned from the dead. Palpatine seeks out "young Skywalker" and lures Luke to the Dark Side. It isn't long before "Supreme Commander Skywalker" is commanding Palaptine's fleet of new ships. These Devastators have massive destructive power like no ship before.
In it's broadest strokes, this is the setup of The Rise of Skywalker. You have the Supreme Commander Skywalker role fulfilled by Ben Solo, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker. Supreme Commander Snoke lured Ben to the Dark Side, where he became Kylo Ren. In The Rise of Skywalker, we learn that Snoke was a puppet created by Palpatine. The Emperor has been lying in wait in on a secret planet for decades, building his fleet of destructive new ships.
The parallels go deeper. As in The Rise of Skywalker, Dark Empire reveals that Palpatine has a measure of immortality. He has cloning technology and the Dark Side's power to transfer his essence into another body. In The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine seeks his granddaughter, Rey, so that he can turn her to the Dark Side and take her body. In Dark Empire, Palpatine seeks out Leia and tries to seduce her to the Dark Side, though it's her unborn child that he seeks to implant his essence into.
The way in which these conflicts resolve parallel each other as well. In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey comes into possession of Leia's lightsaber, revealed for the first time in this film. Ben Solo escapes the Dark Side's hold. The last descendant of Skywalker and Palpatine's granddaughter stand together against the Emperor. One wields Leia's lightsaber while the other holds the lightsaber that belonged to Anakin and Luke.
In Dark Empire, Leia gets her first lightsaber by an elderly Jedi who escaped the Jedi purge. She takes that lightsaber and goes to the citadel where Palpatine has Luke. She stands side-by-side with Luke. By sharing their force connection, much as Rey and Ben shared theirs, Leia able to save Luke from the dark side and together they defeat Palpatine.
And those fancy ships the Emperor built? They're defeated by the ever-plucky Rebel Alliance. The final battle sees the Rebels targeting certain important towers on the ships, like in the final battle of The Rise of Skywalker.
We can't say whether J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio were borrowing bits and pieces from Dark Empire. It could be that their ideas (or that of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who received story credits on the film) happened to run in a similar direction by coincidence. It doesn't take a unique point of view to think of Palpatine as the big bad of the entire Star Wars franchise. It then makes a certain sense that he should make a comeback in the saga's finale. But some of the other similarities and parallels are striking and less obvious.
If you've never Star Wars: Dark Empire, it's worth checking out even if it isn't canon. It's one of the best Star Wars comics ever made, and it changed the game for what licensed comics could do. If you weren't satisfied with the storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker, you can experience a similar tale told with a much different tone and style. Marvel hasn't reprinted Dark Empire since regaining the Star Wars rights in 2015 (though Dark Empire and its two sequels should form the bulk of the content in the next volume of Marvel's Star Wars: The New Republic Epic Collection series). The series is available to buy via ComiXology and is a part of the Marvel Unlimited library.
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