Dark Empire became increasingly present in my mind in 2015 when I got my first look at Supreme Leader Snoke, who looked far rougher than even the age-ravaged (and Force-lightning-reflected-off-a-light-saber-ravaged) Emperor Palpatine, who, in my own wondering of who from the third trilogy was connected to whom from the first trilogy, I suspected of being a failed clone of Palpatine.
And then, when Palpatine made audio appearances in the trailers for Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine's resurrection via cloning technology and Dark Side space-wizardry seemed all the more likely; that is, after all, how he made his return from his death at the end of Jedi in the pages of Dark Empire. Hell, as the final film, Rise of Skywalker started flickering before me in the theater, I even suspected that Rey herself was a clone, perhaps of Palpatine, but more likely of Anakin Skywalker, which I thought would explain a lot.
Well, as it turned out, Snoke was some sort of clone (although not necessarily of Palpatine; all we know for sure from the film is that Palpatine and his followers grew Snokes in vats); Palpatine himself was not some sort of clone, he just somehow survived his death in Jedi and then spent a few decades hanging out, constructing a plot so byzantine it doesn't make a lick of sense to me; and that Rey is not a clone either, but the biological daughter of Palpatine's biological child, that he made biologically, by having sex with a lady at some point. (Gross, I know.)
I didn't care for that out-of-left-field revelation at all, and actually preferred my pet cloning theory, as cloning at least is something that happened a lot in the Star Wars-iverse, in the Expanded Universe, sure, but, with the prequel trilogy, in the films themselves, as well. At any rate, it made me want to revisit Dark Empire, which I had previously experienced both as a comic book series and an "audio drama" on CD.
That comic book series, written by Tom Veitch and drawn by Cam Kennedy, was a six-issue miniseries released by Dark Horse in 1991, just eight years after the release of Return of The Jedi (although in my young life, that felt like a generation, as I was six-years-old when I saw Jedi in theaters, but a full-fledged teenager when Dark Empire began its release). While not the first of the post-Jedi expanded universe stories—re-reading it today, it's clear a bunch of stuff happened between the party on Endor and the first pages of Dark Empire—it's pretty close, following close on the heels of the events of the Thrawn trilogy (The first Thrawn book, Heir to The Empire, was released the same year as Dark Empire, and the Dark Empire comics and Thrawn books came out roughly concurrently, although I see that the three Thrawn books are now slotted into the timeline as having occurred a year before the Dark Empire stories).
It's a really beautiful-looking comic.
The most immediately striking aspect is the coloring, which Kennedy appears to have handled himself. It doesn't look a whole hell of a lot like any Star Wars film made before it or since, in large part because of how moody its lighting is, and how limited the palette. The comic looks hand-painted with watercolor, giving the shots of space and planets from orbit a more evocative, fantasy-illustration feel than anything attempting realism (It's a space fantasy, after all; why be real?). Each setting and scene seems to have a dominant color. An early battle shows blue machines and soldiers scrambling over brown terrain. Luke confronts the resurrected Palpatine in an all-green scenes with touches of yellow here and there. Once Luke has turned to the Dark Side and Leia confronts him, all is either black or a shade of red...all save the droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are blue.
Despite the excellent likeness of a mid-1980s Mark Hamill on Dave Dorman's cover for the collection (above), or of the Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and the various costumes and ships on the individual covers of the six issues, Veitch himself draws the characters, rather than the actors playing the characters, so in the pages within, Luke, Leia, Han and Lando don't stand out as celebrity likenesses. There's a lot of Kennedy in all of the characters and the art, and not a lot of photoreference.
That's extremely refreshing reading this after reading a Marvel Star Wars trade paperback every month or two, and I can't help but wonder if the fact that this was being conceived, designed and drawn back in the late 1980s and early 1990s had something to do with it. Surely Kennedy had access to an incredible amount of visual reference material of the actors in these roles available to him, but it wouldn't have been quite as easy to access back then as it would today.
The other striking thing about the book, beyond how beautiful the damn thing is, is just how much has changed since then. While the three films of the original trilogy still serve as the foundation for everything, so much more has been filled in since then in the other two trilogies, two spin-off films, several TV shows and God knows how many comics and novels and video games that it's weird to go back in time to see such an early Star Wars story that has since been proven "wrong" by later ones, in the same way that, say, re-reading Marvel's original Star Wars comics from the late 1970s and early 1980s, one comes across an adventure of Ben Kenobi as a Jedi Knight that looks nothing like what we would see in Episodes I-III and The Clone Wars, or seeing Jabba The Hutt appear as a weird-looking humanoid alien before the people drawing the comics knew he would end up being a giant slug monster two films later.
But let's get started, shall we? A long time ago, 29 years ago being pretty long I think, in a comic book...
(Play John Williams' fanfare in your imagination here)
The trade paperback collection I'm reading, opens with a lengthy recap of...stuff that happened between the end of Jedi and the point at which this story begins, I guess. It is arranged on the paper in a way that's suggestive of the films' crawl, with the words receding into the distance, but, because these words aren't actually moving, it's more suggestive of it than a completely faithful recreation. There are also a lot of words on these pages. More, I would guess, than in any of the crawls from any of the nine, numbered "episodes" of the Star Wars films.
The gist is that The New Republic has managed to wrest control of only three-fourths of the galaxy from the Empire, while the imperial remnants still control the remaining fourth. There was no real leader among these remnants though, despite Thrawn's "deft assault, nearly bringing the fledgling Republic to its knees." After Thrawn's defeat, the various Imperial factions were civil-warring, and the Rebels—I guess they're still called "rebels", despite now controlling more of the galaxy than not?—use captured Star Destroyers to "conduct hit-and-run sorties" into the war zones, and you know what, I'll just let The Crawl tell you the rest:
One such raid, over the raging Imperial City battleground, ended in disaster: the Alliance Star Destroyer Liberator, commanded by Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian, crash landed on the planet's surface. As our story opens, Princess Leia Organa and her husband Han Solo, together with the Wookiee Chewbacca and the protocol droid C-3PO, are on a daring mission to rescue their fallen comrades.So yeah, a lot of stuff must have happened elsewhere. Like, I missed Han and Leia's wedding, for example! How did that go? Was Chewbacca the best man? Did Luke give Leia away, or did the Force ghost of her dad do it...?
PAGES 1-3: The story opens on the Millennium Falcon, with lots of tight shots of the aforementioned characters' heads as they bark stuff at one another, preparing to come out of light-speed as they near Coruscant, where Luke and Lando are. Oddly, the first line in the story is Leia warning Han about the dangers of doing so too closely, which he shrugs off, followed by C-3PO warning him of the same, and Han threatens him. The Falcon comes out alright, as does one of the two "Alliance escort frigates" traveling with them, but not the other one. That ship immediately collides into some of that same battle debris and explodes, taking, as the dialogue notes, "a good frigate crew" with it.
It sure sounds like everyone was basically warning Han that their current course of action could get someone killed, and then it did.
Kind of an odd way to start the story.
PAGE 4: Han radios the remaining ship to stay in orbit while they take the Falcon down to look for Luke and Lando, and the pilot of that Frigate responds, "Nyeb Mlu, Solo--"
Hey look, it's...that guy! Wait, I have to look his name up. Oh. Yeah. It's Nein Nub! I hate that guy!
His face always bothered me as a child. (I was an easily bothered child, remember. Most of the first act of Return of The Jedi terrified me.) I didn't like the slick look of the space between his upper jowls and his lower jowls, which looked wet and sticky. And I didn't like the top of his head either. Or his all-pupil, black eyes.
Is it...species-ist to look at another alien race and be like, "I don't like that guy because of the way he looks...?" Like, if I were a Star Wars character and was like, "Ugh, Nein Nub is so gross; I hate him because of the way he was born looking" that would obviously be totally wrong. But is it okay to dislike an alien race because of its looks when that alien race was something some make-up effects people put together...? I don't know. It feels wrong. I guess it's something I should work on before we make contact with any alien races, in case they are gross ones like whatever Nein Nub is, and not sexy ones, like Twi'leks, or cute ones, like Ewoks or Baby Yodas.
PAGE 5-8: After two pages that are basically splash pages of the Falcon zooming into the Coruscant battle zone from orbit, with a few inset panels and dialogue balloons explaining what's going on, we get a glorious two-page spread I regret being unable to scan. Veitch's excited narration box tells us that "mutinous Imperials are deadlocked with forces loyal to the Emperor's inner circle" for control of the planet, and Kennedy has filled the pages with Storm Troopers and Imperial war machines, all rendered in a cool blue, engaged in a zig-zagging ground fight that the direction of which is impenetrable from the outside.
Kennedy mixes things familiar from the movies with things summoned from his imagination and strange crosses between the two. So in this image, we see two giant, dog-like AT-ATs walking across the uneven brown and gray ground, while in the background the Millennium Falcon whizzes by, and TIE fighters and an AT-ST are also visible.
In the foreground are a couple of strange tanks, one of them appears to be something like a metal fortress on treads, with a gigantic gun turret on top, and small guns placed along its sides. There's something that looks a bit like a TIE tank, although since its smoking on the ground, it's possible it's really just a TIE fighter so destroyed that its wings now resemble tank treads.
Crouched behind big, ruined metal pieces that appear to be parts of destroyed vehicles are armored soldiers firing laser beams at one another. Some look like standard issue Storm Troopers, some look like Scout Troopers, some look like new creations of Kennedy's own, with squarish helmets. Some of these have red circles atop their helmets, presumable marking them as members of one team or the other.
I think these are the sorts of images that are all too rare in Star Wars comics today, as here there is just so much brought by the artist into the extant setting. I'm sure there are perfectly good, perfectly logical reasons why we see less and less of creators just making their own shit up all the time in Star Wars comics these days, but it is one of the fun aspects of the older comics; there's a real wildness to them. (The further back you go, the truer this is, too.)
PAGE 9-12: Dialogue tells us that Imperial walkers have Luke and Lando pinned down, and so the Falcon begins the business of shooting down walkers. The most interesting bit on this first page isn't necessarily the group of indistinguishable humans firing blue lasers from their blasters in all directions, but the pair of figures crouched off to the left. Apparently some Ewoks signed up with the Rebellion/Republic after Endor.
They can be seen again on the foreground on page 11, and then shaking hands withe Chewbacca once the Falcon lands and the crew meets up with Lando. Luke, we're told, ran off to investigate some Dark Side shit, and now that the Walkers are down, a small army of scavengers roll up in what looks like a window-less SUV (one with wheels,no less! Its makers obviously aren't taking advantage of the seemingly ubiquitous anti-gravity technology.)
PAGES 13-14: The scavengers rush to strip the Falcon, releasing a pack of "cyborrean battle dogs" to stop our heroes. Leia poses like she's flicking water off her hands, saying she's going to try to use the Force to stop them, when suddenly they go flying...! But it wasn't her, it was "a shadowy figure, menacingly familiar" that steps out of a hole in a wall. The caped figure, just a smokey blue silhouette on the other side of a curtain of dust, has a hand raised, in the next panel, we see the black gloved hand of the figure emerge from the curtain of shadow and smoke, and all of the attacking droids explode:
Here's a good example of Kennedy just doing his own thing. Obviously, all of the various varieties of imperial battle droids we'll meet in the prequel trilogy and the security droids from Rogue One haven't been introduced, so Kennedy just makes up his own droids that look vaguely like ones that might exist int he same place that the likes of C-3PO and that doctor droid thing exist. They are with the scavengers though, so they might be assembled from broken droids and other junk. Note the foot of the one on the far right; it's the same basic shape as a walker's foot, although I would guess somewhat smaller.
PAGES 15-17: Ha ha, did you think that Darth Vader shape was Darth Vader? Don't be silly. He's dead. It was Luke Skywalker all along. Apparently from just the right angle, his hood looks like Vader's helmet in silhouette.
Hey, remember that part in The Last Jedi where it looked like Luke might use his Force powers to take on a bunch of First Order walkers all by himself...? Well, here we takes on one walker all by himself.
He uses the Force to generate a force field (or should that be Force field?) to block a few laser blasts, and then he reflects a blast back into it (I don't know; is this the first time a lightsaber is used to bat blaster fire back at a shooter? I know it happened on the regular during the prequel trilogy and Clone Wars period, and Luke seemed to block some blaster shots during the Sarlacc Pit fight in Jedi, but not necessarily lob them back in the way that common in the prequels).
It may also be worth noting that Luke's lightsaber is here blue, as opposed to green or yellow. This was before lightsaber color was such a thing, of course, and, I suppose, the blue was likely an artistic choice made by Kennedy, as opposed to anything meant as a symbolic reflection of the moral alignment of a Force user. All of the laser blasts have been blue so far, too, rather than red. We'll return to the matter of lightsaber color later.
PAGES 18-23: This whole sequence is a great example of Kennedy's use of color. On the first page, a spooky-looking Luke tells Leia, Han and the others to get lost because it's his destiny to stay here and face a vast evil and so on, and the scene is all green, save for the black of the lines Kennedy has placed on the pages and the dark coloration of Luke's cloak.
The palette adds a few more colors as the scene shifts to orbit, where what looks like a huge portal in space embedded in a dark cloud travels like a comet, and then lands on the surface, eating its way towards them. Inset panels continue to show Luke, bathed in green.
The characters then shift to a pink, as Luke eventually prevails on his pals to all get the hell out of Dodge—Leia, for her part, reluctantly—while only Luke and R2-D2 remain. On the last page, everything is now red as the mouth of the storm comet portal reaches Luke.
PAGES 24-28: As Luke, R2 and a bunch of wreckage get raptured up into the sky, our heroes return to Pinnacle Base, and then there's some catch-up business, with various Rebellion leaders making talking-head appearances: Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, The Guy With The Beard.
We get a look at the current Rebel base, built on a world with enormous red spires, and then everyone gets together for a meeting about the state of the bad guys. While various factions were civil-warring, "someone...or something...has been biding its time" and they have reason to believe "a dark side genius is at work...creating new technologies that go beyond all previous conception...."
On this particular moon, the ships are guided through the big red rock formations by "curious creatures" called Ixlls, and I assume is that bat-like thing there is an example of one. I've puzzled over them for a while, and I can't tell if it his holding a large round object in its hands (there appear to be small clawed thumbs clutching something), or if that's part of the creature. I also can't guess at its size, if it's mean to be as big as the ships are or much, much smaller, and only look big due to how close it is the reader's persepective.
PAGES 29-32: Over a series of four splash pages, dialogue in narration boxes name and reveal the new imperial super-weapons, called "World Devastators." They appear to be gigantic ships, far, far larger than Star Destroyers, that function sort of like titanic vacuum cleaners. They "consume everything in their path.. ...In their holds great furnaces and factories process the cataclysmic feast into raw elements... and new weapons of destruction!"
We won't see it for a while, but what that colorful language means is that not only do these machines carve swathes of destruction, but the stuff they suck up gets turned into fully robotic TIE fighters that they can then spit out to defend them; they are, in essence, mobile, self-sustaining spaceship factories.
I would like to here take a moment to point out how nice it is to encounter a Star Wars story in which the Empire comes up with a super-weapon that isn't just some form of planet-destroying laser beam. Episode IV had its Death Star battle station. Episode VI had a second Death Star that was in-progress, but fully operational. When Episode VII came along 32 years later, the new Empire, the First Order, had "Starkiller Base," which was just a bigger version of a Death Star. And when the saga finally ended (or "ended") last year, it was revealed that the new new Empire, The Final Order, had a fleet of Star Destroyers, each equipped with a special laser cannon that could blow up a whole planet in one shot.
I mean, get a new trick guys.
PAGE 35: This page features one of those examples of something in the book that reads as wrong today, on the other side of the prequel trilogy. Luke refers to am imperial dungeon ship as, "The kind they used to transport Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars..."
I can't say I recognize it from the Clone Wars, but then I did skip the TV show...
PAGES 36-40: The dungeons ship lands on a pale red planet identified as Byss, surrounded by long, blue imperial ships. Luke and R2-D2 are taken directly from the ship into a floating energy cage, and transported through a strange blue city full of bizarre architecture and sentient beings in elaborate robes. None of them look particularly Star Wars-y...for example, despite some these appearing to be Emperor Palpatine's personal guard, they don't resemble the bright, red Imperial Royal Guard from Jedi. Aside from the fact that they wear robes, of course.
Among the most interesting looking are those that seem to perform some sort of sentry-like duty. They are giants:
Anyway, Luke Force-shoves some dudes out of his way and tells them he's here under his own free will, and then he marches to meet someone in a swivel chair, the chair's back to him, as the scene shifts from blue to green and, who could it be?
PAGES 41-45: That's right, it's Palpatine.
Palpatine explains that he has lived for a very long time, and "died" repeatedly, each time his body decays under the power of the dark side, he moves into a new clone of his original self. "I live primarily as energy...formlessness... and power!" he explains. This...makes much more sense than whatever the fuck happened in Rise of Skywalker, where the film just sort of glosses over the fact that Palpatine has been alive since the end of Jedi, living as some sort of burnt-up, mummy of a marionette attached to some sort of life support thingamajig or something.
J.J. Abrams should have read more comics!
Anyway, Palpatine would like to seduce Luke to the dark side, and while he turns his chair to a porthole and starts explaining how cool the World Devastators are, R2-D2 hands Luke his lightsaber and asks him "Boop?" (Which is, I guess, droid for "You want to stab this guy or what?") But! Palpatine has laid a trap for Luke, as while Luke tries to decide whether he should saber the old guy or not, Palpatine tells him "Surely you know that if you strike me down, in anger, I will live again!...Perhaps I will even live as you!"
So Luke has no choice but apprentice himself to Palpatine, learn the secrets of the dark side, and then try to defeat him. The sequence ends with Luke taking a knee before Palpatine, and R2 asking "WEEE BDEEP?", which is probably droid for "WTF?"
Han says "I've got a bad feeling about this." Leia's been having magic Jedi feelings about how much trouble Luke is in, and so the gang is going to go and try to rescue him.
Lando and Wedge lead the rebel fleet to Calamari (not Mon Calamari, just Calamari), where they engage the devastators, and learn that they are actually giant mobile robot TIE fighter factories. These pages contain some pretty cool battle imagery from Kennedy, once again mixing old Star Wars stuff with new, original stuff that nevertheless looks like it fits. Things aren't going great for the rebels, as Lando loses his second Star Destroyer, when it gets eaten by one of the devastators. He also says that he has a bad feeling about something, which is overkill; once a movie (or, here, "movie") is enough, thanks.
Of note here is that when the rebel fleet shows up, one of the imperial officers orders an underling to "Inform Supreme Commander Skywalker of their presence." So I guess it didn't take too long for Palpatine to install Luke as the Boss of The Empire, and for the the whole Empire to get on board with it.
I'm not master strategist like Palpatine, but I have a feeling there's a fairy high likelihood that making his greatest enemy his right-hand man might backfire.
Leia is visited by a vision of Darth Vader, which slowly morphs into a spooky-looking Luke, who warns her not to look for him. Luke is just a face floating in a cloak, which is all splotchy blue and green water color, surrounded in an aura of white lighting. Their communication is interrupted by the Emperor, and when Luke's specter disappears, he seems to turn into pure, white lightning and shoot out in every direction of the room. It's another great image in a comic full of them.
After some conversation, preparation and a costume change for Leia, she, Han, Chewie and C-3PO board the Millennium Falcon, heading for a port moon that is a haven for smugglers, and where Han hopes to find help arranging transport to "the deep galactic core," where Leia's Force powers tell her Luke is.
They make it to the port, although they are immediately met with angry bounty hunters. Apparently, having killed Jabba The Hutt in Jedi made Han, Chewie and now Leia far more wanted then they were before. They reconnect with some friends of Han's from back in the day, Shug Ninx and Salla, and they plan to borrow their ship The Starlight Intruder for their rescue mission, as soon as it's ready.
During their stroll, Leia meets an extremely old woman who introduces herself as Vima, a former Jedi of two hundred years who, "In the time of the dying...Vima hurled herself down among the lost...to escape the great scourge." So jeez, here's another Jedi who survived Order 66 and Vader and company's hunt for surviving Jedi. How many is it total? A dozen? Thirty-five?
Anyway, Vima senses the Force in Leia, tells her that she contains "the spark that will rekindle the fire," and gives her a small, decrepit, rectangular box. When Han and Leia look away, Vima disappears.
Han then takes Leia to his ruined apartment, where his old busted-up droid butler is waiting for him, repeating "FZT...A Mr. Fett to see you, sir..." over and over.
Hey, it's Mr. Fett!
Kennedy draws a pretty great Boba Fett, and would go on to draw several Boba Fett comics for Dark Horse after this. Boba is here allied with Dengar and a couple of other, non-name bounty hunters. Han and Leia escape pretty easily from them, by simply turning around and running out the door. A running gun battle through the streets follows, terminating when they see the Starlight Intruder rising up from its...garage, I guess...?
Safely aboard the ship, Leia opens the package she got from "Vima-Da-Boda," the narrator giving us her full, sillier name, and finds that it is a light saber. Holding it, Leia suddenly get s a vision of Luke commanding the Empire's forces, and it's a super-cool image. I like that better than any of the available covers for this series or its collections, really.
—time seems to move at different paces in different story lines.
More battle over Calimari. Lando, Wedge and the good guys are getting their asses kicked when one of the world devastators receives a signal from "The master control computer on Byss" and then self-destructs.
"Whoever's in charge of those monsters is an idiot!" Lando tells Wedge. "You'd almost think he wants to lose!"
Perhaps he is an idiot...an idiot like a fox!
Fett's triumphant return is a brief one. As Han and company arrive at Byss, the Falcon parked atop the Starlight Intruder, security lowers the planet's force fields just long enough for the ship to get through. Fett and Dengar follow in Slave II, which is not as cool a ship as Slave I, attempting to sneak in right behind the intruder. Instead, the shield slams shut and their ship breaks into pieces, spiraling away as they trade insults. This is the spaceship-flying equivalent of Boba Fett running into a closed door.
Using The Force, Leia pilots the Falcon right to The Emperor's base, evades a patrol with a Jedi mind trick, and then she, Han, Chewie and C-3PO surrender, while Salla and Ninx, still aboard the ship, use its guns to blast Stormtroopers and escape.
Luke appears to them in another cool, spectral, water-color hologram (initially appearing with a halo of Kirby dots), and he then sends the giant sentinels to accompany them to a clone lab, where they meet Luke and The Emperor.
Leia ignites her new light saber, and does what Jedis generally do with them. She cuts off someone's hand:
Leia again uses The Force to try and kill him, knocking a piece of some equipment free to crush him, but it bounces off a force field he erects around himself, and then Force-lightnings her for discipline. Luke and Han have words.
Salla and Ninx have stashed the Falcon aboard another space trucker's ship to hide it, and they are hanging out in a rather unsanitary-looking space diner when an Imperial Hunter-Killer droid finds them. This looks pretty much like the probe droid from the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, but gigantic. Like, big enough that it's torso opens up and sucks the Falcon into it when our heroes' new friends try to make a break for it.
The Emperor is in full frail old man mode as he has his guards leave Leia and him alone in his room, as he's clutching his heart and walking with a cane and everything. He shows her a Jedi holochron, which Kennedy draws as a perfect, featureless cube, the blue and green-yellow light shifting in it as its handled by each of them.
He asks her, "Please...help a dying old man into his bed," and as he explains that upon his death that he, "like all great Jedis...like your own father...will drop this fragile flesh." The difference here is that rather than just become a Force ghost, he can inhabit a new body. Like one of his clones, or, and this seems relevant for Rise of Skywalker, "Indeed, I can enter anyone... I can overshadow the soul that dwells therein."
So that plot point from the climax of Skywalker, the one that retroactively made it seem as if that's what the whole final trilogy was about? The groundwork for that was laid out in the expanded universe decades ago, Abrams and company just needed to, like, toss in a few lines of dialogue in one of the, like, nine hours of those films.
When Palps mentions to Leia that he can even enter her unborn child, we get the best part of the whole series:
What I wouldn't have given to have seen Carrie Fisher throwing around an old man on the big screen...
Meanwhile, in an all-red room, and Imperial officer reports to Lord Skywalker that now three devastators have been destroyed due to the tampered-with control signal, and Luke tells him to keep it under his goofy-looking, over-sized hat.
A low point in Chewbacca's career:
Han and Chewie are in the process of escaping, just as Nynx and Salla arrive to rescue them, a couple of seconds before Han and Leia arrive to free them. All our heroes board the Millennium Falcon and jump to the safety of light-speed, at which point Luke dissolves before their very eyes; he was never really with them, but was still on Byss.
"He used a dark side power to trick us," Leia says.
Interestingly, Luke does something pretty similar in Last Jedi, during his climactic duel with Kylo Ren.
Palpatine has recovered from being flipped out of his bed by Leia, and is now seated in a chair in his green-lit clone lab. Luke comes to prevent the transference of the Emperor's mind and power into a new clone body, so before Luke can do anything, he...self destructs...?
It does so, and slowly a young, muscular young clone with slicked-back hair and green mottled skin rises up from a puddle of goo to stand nude before Skywalker.
Luke, unfazed by either Palpatine's threats or the sight of the penis that was used to bone Rey's grandmother, Force-shoves Palaptine into a wall. He ignites a light saber from a nearby rack, and it's on!
The fight doesn't last long, just three panels and Palpatine is the victor, but there's a couple of interesting things to consider.
—you'll note this page is all pale blue, sickly yellow-green and black and white—but I suspect this was also before there was much meaning assigned to light saber color, with the Sith always using red, the Jedi blue or yellow, and Sam Jackson purple.
I once had it explained to me by a fan who had three light sabers tattooed on her arm that red is the color of the dark side, yellow or blue is the color of the light, and so-called "gray Jedi" like Qui-Gon Jin used green light sabers. So did Luke in Return of The Jedi. But, this being the '90s, I think this was well before people thought so damn much about every detail of every aspect of Star Wars.
The other interesting bit is that in his dialogue, the Young Emperor says that the Jedi will soon be extinct, and thus "how fitting that one of their precious lightsabers brings an end to the Jedi delusion!"
This seems to not only imply some sort of separation between himself and the Jedi, but to associate lightsabers with the Jedi specifically, rather than also being a Sith weapon. The expanded universe of the novels at this point in Star Wars history is completely unknown to me. Did the word "Sith" even exist yet...? Did they use lightsabers too? Certainly in the original films, Vader does, but not The Emperor, and the films make a point of identifying Vader as a Jedi who turned to the dark side. In the films at that point then, lightsabers are definitely a Jedi thing, exclusively.
At the end of the fight, Luke is sitting on his ass in a puddle of clone afterbirth goo with a lightsaber pointed at him, and a pissed-off Palps tells him that they're going to go get his holochron back from Leia, as well as her unborn child.
The Millennium Falcon speeds toward the still ongoing battle on Calamari, R2-D2 first freezing the world devastators and then making them crash into one another. Kennedy draws lots of cool shit in these pages, including rebel ships with wings that terminate in pontoons, skimming across the water, and boat loads of rebel soldiers using jet packs and powerful grappling hook-guns to engage with Stormtroopers on the decks of the devastators.
Among the dialogue throughout these scenes, Han yells at 3PO, R2 yells at 3PO and 3PO snaps back at his little friend, Salla mentions making the Kesel run in the Falcon with Lando (Man, don't these people ever shut up about the Kesel run?), Han asks Chewie to call the troops on the the devastators and tell them to evacuate (which seems an odd task to assign the one character that doesn't speak English/Basic) and, in the best part, Han apologizes to Leia for doubting Luke:
"I guess I'll just never figure ol' Luke out."
"Luke is sacrificing his life for us, Han...for our children. Sometimes the actions of a Jedi make no sense to ordinary men."Ouch. Leia totally just called her husband ordinary, huh?
"Yeah, who would have thought? Me...father of Jedi. I guess an ordinary guy can do somethin' right sometimes."I think what he's saying is that he may not be a special magic Jedi like Luke, but at least he fucks.
(For what it's worth, Luke will kiss a lady in the sequel to this, Dark Empire II, but the relationship is short-lived, and about as romantic as Luke's dad's courting of his mom in Attack of The Clones.)
The battle over, Mon Mothma, The Guy With The Beard and the rebel leaders have a meeting, while Leia retires alone to a bedroom, talking to the Jedi spirit in the holochron. The spirit, Bodo-Baas, gives her a dumb prophetic rhyming poem that starts out somewhat subtly, mentioning "A brother and sister/born to walk the sky", but, a few lines later just straight up refers to them as "the Skywalkers."
Veitch's narration tells us that "Leia ponders the mysterious prophecy," although there's nothing all that mysterious about it: It says she has to help Luke defeat The Emperor.
The Emperor has an all-black Star Destroyer that is ten miles long. It's just...ridiculously big. Here it is next to some regular-sized Star Destroyers:
He holograms into the Rebel meeting and says if Leia brings him back his holochron he will discuss a truce with them. Leia's like, hell yeah, I'll go. She must have figured out the final lines of Bado-Baas' "mysterious" prophecy:
A Jedi-killer wants to tame her.PAGES 135-136:
Now the Darkside lord
comes to claim her.
She must battle join
against this thief,
or the dynasty of all the
Jedi will come to grief!
Leia arrives aboard the 10-mile long black ship wearing what appears to be a Supreme Court Justice's robe. The Emperor is now wearing clothes, a long black robe with a pointy-upturned collar, making him look as much like Space Dracula as possible. He's busy fondling a floating space sculpture while Luke, wearing a matching black robe, lurks nearby, a red light saber lit in his hand.
So now there are red lightsabers, I guess.
Palpatine starts talking to Leia about how he's going to raise her unborn child and maybe take its body for his own one day and...
Luke and Leia almost have a lightsaber duel, but the closest they get is briefly crossing swords, until she talks him down a bit.
Palpatine is now full-on Dracula, I think I can even detect a glimpse of fangs:
Palpatine calls Vader impotent, in a very Star Wars-specific way:
This begins the best and longest lightsaber battle in the whole series, although there's only about three blows in it. There's a great panel where Palpatine raises his lightsaber to strike, and it's infused with Force lightning, but it ends, as it must, with someone getting their hand chopped off. Here, Palpatine.
Is it just me, or does someone lose a hand every time a lightsaber ignites...?
The fight over, Palpatine summons his evil Force storm from the beginning of the story, the one that sucked Luke and R2-D2 up off the surface of Coruscant, to eat his very big ship. Luke and Leia close their eyes, unite their Force power and...somehow send light energy at Palpatine, who is now drooling. He screams as the Force storm starts disintegrating his ship, and our heroes escape in a shuttle, the end. It's quite abrupt.
I think if this were a film, the drama with the Skywalkers aboard Palpatine's giant ship probably would have been intercut with the battle scenes on Calimari, and there would have been some sort of denouement, but then, this is not a film.
This leads directly into a sequel by the same creative team, 1994's aforementioned Dark Empire II, and an abbreviated third installment written by Veitch and drawn by Jim Baikie, 1995's Empire's End, but let's call it quits here.
In conclusion: J.J. Abrams should have made the Palpatine of the Rise of Skywalker a clone and he should have made Rey a clone of Anakin Skywalker.
Or, at the very least, he should have sought more inspiration from this comic which, whatever its faults, featured a better, easier-to-follow return of The Emperor.