“For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
When Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinnes) said these words to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the first Star Wars movie (later renamed “A New Hope”) in 1977, most people could not imagine how these few sentences would influence the imagination of the upcoming generation of writers and authors of the science fiction club in the 21st century. Although the prequel trilogy starting with the “first” episode called The Phantom Menace in 1999 could answer a lot of questions concerning the origin of the Jedi Order, the Clone Wars, and most importantly the birth of Darth Vader; there were still mysteries to be dealt with. One of these riddles is the dark era which followed the fall of the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Oder. Although several writers explored different timelines of the Star Wars universe, not until 2006 were any clues how this era affected the life of different people and races of the galaxy far, far away.
In 2006, the American comic book publisher Dark Horse (owner of the Star Wars comic book license since the 1980s) recruited a team of extraordinary writers, pencilers, inkers, and the lead writers of Lucasarts in order to create their vision of the era connecting the two trilogies which (until that point) was not revealed. Their final product, the ‘Dark Times’ series was born which received an extraordinary gratitude of both fans and critics in a few months. What was the key to the success of the series, one might ask. Well, in this review my purpose is to introduce not just a Star Wars series from many but to convince the reader that ‘Dark Times’ is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise and to the fans in the last ten years.
The story unfolds in the very last issues of the preceding series called ‘Republic’. Dass Jennir, former jedi master of the republic and the protagonist of the story, to escape Order 66 (the order which authorized the mass murder of jedi knights by their own troopers) is trying to find refugee among the people he previously was fighting against. Although it is not an easy task, he comes across a fellow inhabitant called Bomo Greenbark who is willing to aid him and hide him from the Empire. After a series of events happening in the first story arc called ‘The Path to Nowhere’, Jennir has to face tough reality: all that he had fought for, all that he had sacrificed is lost. The Empire led by the evil Emperor (who happens to be the dark lord of the Sith) is urging a cruel purge against all remaining jedi knights throughout the galaxy. In this new world order Jennir questions everything he once held dear: friendship, morality, the meaning of life, and what is more important, his own creed. Being a jedi in this era is not the same as being one in the Republic. Instead of saving lives widely he has to remain in the background among shadows; he has to conceal his abilities and his connection with the Force in order to survive. In the upcoming story arcs Jennir finally finds his place with the crew of the spaceship Uhumele and he also discovers something unknown to him, love. Beside his story arc ‘Dark Times’ unravels the hardship of a former jedi master who is on the run to save his younglings from massacre. Former jedi master K’Krukh just like Dass Jennir must face the tainted ideals this new galaxy has started to adopt. Since the Empire pushes everyone on their personal edges people behave differently driven by their fear of the regime. The third and final protagonist of the series (who is actually not always present) is Darth Vader, the chosen one, whose fate was to bring balance to the Force. Vader is currently suffering from his anguish of losing his love and he is still seeking his place by the side of his master. The way he reacts upon things and his questionable obedience of the commands of his dark lord makes the reader realize the true motivations of his character. With the mixture of these different but somehow common characters ‘Dark Times’ seizes the true aspect of this era: defenseless uncertainty.
In order to create a palpable vision Dark Horse collected a fresh new team of artists. Welles Hartley (also known Randy Stradley, the previous lead writer of the series ‘Republic’) and Mick Harrison make sure that the events occurring in ‘Dark Times’ perfectly fit into the Star Wars universe by writing scripts for the series. To imagine how life in a galaxy far, far away looks like, Douglas Wheatley, Dave Ross, and Lui Antonio dazzle the reader with their work. I must highlight the role of Douglas Wheatley (‘Dark Times’ is his first job at Dark Horse) because he gives the series a whole new meaning. The storytelling indicates a darker galaxy and his drawings define the depth of this desperate helplessness. As a result of doing their best, ‘Dark Times’ is not an ongoing (monthly) saga but a mini-series. The reason for this is that there are only five to six issues in a story arc and Dark Horse publishes only one such arc in a year. What is the aim of this scarce publication? Well, the explanation might sound a bit flattering but the creator staff is not willing to publish their work to the printer until they ascertain it a 100%.
In the last 7 years ‘Dark Times’ has become the best comic book series I have ever read. First of all, as I mentioned before, it fills the chronological gap between the movies by acquainting us with whole new yet familiar characters. In addition, the script writers fill these personalities with so much life and frequently controversial acts and beliefs that we can actually imagine ourselves in their place. In this way we can understand their goals, their motivations, and their simple needs as well. For me, the best part of this series is that it gives a whole new meaning of the already-known universe by redefining its basic concepts. People still fight for truth and justice but in this era there is not much to hold onto. The age of rebellion and hope is yet to be born and the instinct of survival is usually more powerful than demonstrating our willingness to keep our creed. In conclusion, to justify the changed universe and its dark uncertainty drifting amidst doubts, I’d like to grasp the chaotic beauty of the series by quoting the narrator who says, “So what if the future is a path that leads to nowhere? All he can do is walk that path one step at a time…”
Ádám Bata (Lhardon)