In celebration of Star Wars week, Panenology presents another Casualty of the 90s; Star Wars. What? Star Wars? Was Star Wars a true casualty of the glut-and-bust 1990s? Not really, but what did happen in the 1990s for the Star Wars property was truly odd in a sense. Bucking the trend, the Star Wars line actually succeeded and made it through the 90s.
The Real Dark Times
In many way, one could argue that Star Wars was a casualty of the 80s. Though the Star Wars films of the early to mid part of the decade solidified the property's iconic pop culture status, it would be overly kind to say that the last few issues of the Star Wars title published by Marvel were sheer fluff. The writing and art were lackluster at best. If you ever want to feel shame as a Star Wars fan, watch the Holiday Special or pick up a few of the final issues. That tremor in the Force you feel? Yeah, that's not natural. Marvel would ultimately lose the license due to slumping sales and waning fan interest. The comic book prospects for Star Wars looked pretty grim at this point.
Dark Horse picked up the license and published Dark Empire in 1991. 1991 was a benchmark year for Star Wars. The expanded universe was really kicking into gear with novels like Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire. The expanded universe, or in Star Wars speak the EU, is the all inclusive term used to describe anything that basically doesn't happen on-screen that continue the story of Star Wars. This includes novels, comics, video games, and other forms of media. Dark Empire, though originally started for Marvel, was decidedly different in tone and quality of work than the old Marvel series. The story followed Luke Skywalker turning to a now cloned Emperor for further training. The series was very successful and remains a fan favorite to many. The success would span two sequels, Dark Empire II (1994) and Empire's End (1995).
The tour of the EU would continue with the Tales of the Jedi in 1993. This series initially followed the rise, fall, and eventual redemption of Jedi Ulic Quel-Droma. In this era, Jedi Knights and Sith warlords squared off frequently. The Rule of Two didn't exist yet, so you could literally throw an Ewok into a crowded bar and hit a Sith or two. There were seven miniseries that fell under the Tales of the Jedi moniker between 1993 to 1998. Several of the series would remain fairly rare until the recent publication of the Star Wars Omnibuses by Dark Horse. The series would prove to be so popular that it would influence the Knights of the Old Republic franchise, including video games and the current comic book.
To say that the Star Wars line was rife with titles is a bit of an understatement. The X-Wing squadron, Rogue Squadron, which had gained fame from video game and from the novels, populated their own miniseries and ongoing title. The Crimson Empire books chronicled the misadventures of the Red Guard. There were a few original graphic novels like Vader's Quest too. The original films were also further explored. New adaptations of the original trilogy were created to coincide with the release of Special Editions in 1997. The original films would also get a manga makeover from 1998-1999.
The Prequel Era Begins
In 1998, Dark Horse began gearing up for the prequel era. It's hard to believe now, but there actually was a lot of initial excitement for the prequels. Information was closely guarded and fans clung onto every shred of information let out about Episode 1. I'm not making that up. Before jar-Jar could ruin it for most of us, Dark Horse began publishing Star Wars, a new ongoing title that would chronicle the time before, during, and after the prequel trilogy.
The first two arcs would feature Ki-Adi-Mundi, the freaky long headed guy who occupied valuable space and consumed useless amounts of air on the Jedi Council. The third arc, Emissaries of Malastare, focused more on the Jedi Council. Like The Phantom menace, the stories would prove to be less than enjoyable to many fans, causing a shift in focus in 2000 to the Wolverine of the Star Wars universe, Quinlan Vos.
Also in 1999, Star Wars Tales would start. Sadly lasting for only 24 issues, this anthology series presented some canon stories, but many fell under the Infinities banner. Infinities? Think Elseworlds, but with Star Wars characters.
The 2000s and Beyond
Comparatively speaking, Star Wars eked out of the 1990s relatively unscathed. Like any title, there were a few duds to be produced in the time, but for the most part the stories were enjoyable and still enjoyed by many fans today. The Star Wars ongoing would morph into Republic and the later Dark Times in the 2000s to reflect the start and end of the Clone Wars. Three more ongoing titles would be started in the 2000s; Sat Wars Empire (Later Rebellion), Knights of the Old Republic, and Legacy. A new Clone Wars title is also coming out soon from Dark Horse. Star Wars fans can enjoy titles from the Old Republic, Imperial, and New Republic Eras.
The bottom line is that Star Wars was one of the few licensed properties to actually flourish in the 90s. Though some changes have been made, the comic books have remained enjoyable and successful for Dark Horse.