Interview: Dark Horse Comics’ “Star Wars” Editors (Part I)

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Over the past couple of decades, Dark Horse Comics has published hundreds of Star Wars comics and graphic novels, spanning millennia of the saga, and their publishing plans are ramping up for a big year next year. We went out to the company’s Milwaukie, Oregon headquarters to chat with editors Randy Stradley and Dave Marshall about the history and the future of Star Wars comic books. (Episode I of this interview appears today; Episode II will appear tomorrow.)

TECHLAND: How did Dark Horse get involved with publishing Star Wars comics in the first place?

RANDY STRADLEY: The history of Star Wars comics and Dark Horse actually starts at Marvel. My very first job in comics was writing Star Wars for Marvel back in 1983. In ’86, we started Dark Horse, and somewhere not too long after that, ’88 or ’89, Marvel had let the license lapse, and at the point when it lapsed Cam Kennedy and Tom Veitch had already begun work on what became “Dark Empire.” We started pursuing the Star Wars license, and “Dark Empire,” which had kind of been started at Marvel, became our first book. I think originally it was called “The Light and Darkness War,” something like that.

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To make it clear, I wasn’t involved in our Star Wars comics until later. But we did things based on some of the Ballantine novels at the time; we did some series that went way back in time to thousands of years before the Star Wars of the movies. So Star Wars was a going concern here for at least ten years before I took over.

What have been some of the peaks of Dark Horse’s Star Wars publications?

RS: We had a lot of success with “Dark Empire,” and a lot of success with our adaptations of the Timothy Zahn novels. We went through a period when we were doing series of miniseries–one thing we did was called “Crimson Empire,” which focused on one of the last surviving Imperial Guards. We did an X-Wing series that followed the members of Rogue Squadron after Luke had left the squadron. And then we started a series that was just called Star Wars, as part of a lead-up to Episode I being released. After Episode II, we changed the title of that to Republic, and started focusing on the events in the Clone Wars. That kind of led us to where we are today.

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So what projects do you have coming up?

DAVE MARSHALL: Right now we’re working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is a series that ties into the LucasArts MMO that’s planned to launch next year; that’s being written by one of the writers on the game. Our first story arc was written by Rob Chesney, and our second story arc is written by Alexander Freed, both writers on the game. And we’re launching a new series in October, Star Wars: Knight Errant, which is written by John Jackson Miller, who wrote a 50-issue run on Knights of the Old Republic, which ended earlier this year. Knight Errant is going to introduce this new character, Kerra Holt. It’s a relatively uncharted time period for Star Wars–a thousand years before Episode I–and John will then be taking that character and that time period and writing a novel for Del Rey as well, which is going to come out in February. So the plan there is to integrate the stories of the comics and the novels, all under a single author. We’re pretty excited about that.

RS: We’ve also got Invasion. Del Rey, back about ten years ago, did a series of 19 novels set approximately 25 years after “A New Hope,” which details this invasion by aliens from another galaxy called the Yuuzhan Vong. And at the time that was rolling out, it was 19 novels by a bunch of different authors, and we thought “this is too fraught with danger for us to try to jump into this ongoing continuity, we’re going to screw something up for somebody.” So we waited until they were all done with that, and now we’re doing to do our own story which weaves between the novels and tells a sidebar story to the main story. Luke, Leia and Han all make cameo appearances in this story, but it’s really about the ruling family from one of the first planets attacked. It’s written by Tom Taylor, who is a playwright and has written TV in Australia, and the artist is Colin Wilson, who I tried for years to get to do something for us, and now he says he’s kicking himself he didn’t accept sooner, because he’s having such a good time. He’s from New Zealand originally, but he’s lived in Europe and has done all kinds of graphic albums in Europe, including working with Moebius and stuff like that.

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Coming up, we’re launching a series of miniseries called Blood Ties; each four- or five-issue segment is going to be focusing on two characters from the Star Wars mythos who are related in some way. The first one is Jango Fett and Boba Fett, but the next arc will be somebody else. It’s kind of open-ended right now.

A series that’s very popular is called Legacy, set approximately 140 years after “A New Hope,” with Luke’s last known heir, this upstart, whiny bad boy who refuses to be a Jedi, named Cade Skywalker. The series is coming to an end, but there’s a six-issue miniseries that starts in December called Legacy War. As the current series ends, there’s this big war brewing between the Sith Empire and the Jedi and the last remnants of the Galactic Alliance, so War will obviously tell the story of what happens in that.

Coming up in October or November, “The Force Unleashed II” (following “The Force Unleashed I”) video game is coming out, and we have a graphic novel for that one. Haden Blackman, who wrote both games, has written a story for us that is not exactly an adaptation of the game–it tells a side story that weaves in and out of the events of the game. Its main character is Boba Fett, and Fett appears in the game, but not to the same extent that he does in the graphic novel.

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And we’ve got Star Wars Adventures and Clone Wars stories, both of which are more aimed at kids, and by “aimed at kids,” I mean that they’re parent-friendly. We try to write them with the same emotional content and excitement that we would any of our Star Wars books, but the art is just more aimed at kids.

Are there guides that you use to keep the timelines for everything straight?

RS: One thing that we try to do is keep all of our series separated from each other by enough time that we don’t have to worry about them running into each other so much. There are individual guidelines that Lucasfilm has put together for different eras. Plus, we are in almost daily contact with people there to make sure–“if we have this happen, that’s not going to screw something else up.”

Is there a single grand timeline that’s publicly accessible?

RS: There are a number of fan-run timelines out there that are so complete as to be mindboggling. If I really get stuck for something, I’ll go and look at those, but they are so intricate and minute in their focus on detail that it’s more than I want to know sometimes. I just need to know if I can work in this general area, and they’ve got it broken down by what happened on what day.

Do you have dreams about Star Wars continuity?

RS: Sometimes!

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