A couple of days ago Disney confirmed the news that pretty much any fan with some degree of pop culture awareness has seen coming for a year and a half now: this year the Star Wars property will end its longstanding stay at Dark Horse Comics and be handed off to Marvel Comics in 2015. As I said, given that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, once the Mouse House acquired the latter, it really became a question of “when” and not “if” the license would end up with the former. Thus, the announcement couldn’t help but feel a bit anticlimactic. Here’s the relevant bit from Disney’s press release on the matter:
“Dark Horse Comics published exceptional Star Wars comics for over 20 years, and we will always be grateful for their enormous contributions to the mythos, and the terrific partnership that we had,” said Carol Roeder, director of Lucasfilm franchise publishing, Disney Publishing Worldwide. “In 2015, the cosmic adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca will make the lightspeed jump back to Marvel, to begin a new age of adventures within the Star Wars universe.”
This marks a homecoming of sorts for the brand, given the key role that Star Wars played in the history of Marvel Comics during the late ’70s and into the mid-’80s. Despite repeated entreaties from Star Wars marketing honcho Charlie Lippincott, then-publisher Stan Lee was famously recalcitrant about picking up the license and was only goaded into doing so after cajoling from writer Roy Thomas, who’d previously reaped a goldmine for the publisher vis-a-vis Conan the Barbarian. (Thomas would go on to write the first several issues of the Marvel Star Wars run, including the adaptation of the first movie.)
With record-breaking comic sales to go right along with the movies’ record-breaking box office, Marvel’s Star Wars enjoyed a run of more than 100 issues (no small thing, especially in the world of licensed books), even as it kind of petered out story-wise after Return of the Jedi closed out the original trilogy and took the series’ main baddies off the table. That said, I think it’s fair to say that Dark Horse played an equally (if not more) integral role in making Star Wars the ubiquitous mass marketing empire it is today.
While the brand was pretty much dead in space the since Marvel’s cancellation, Dark Horse’s 1991 debut offering, the miniseries Dark Empire (along with Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire), birthed an entire Expanded Universe of stories, characters, and continuity that helped lay the pipe both in terms of interest and expectation for the prequel trilogy. (Whether that’s good or bad, I’ll reserve judgment on.) By enriching the universe with multiple titles, one-shots, miniseries, tie-ins, and extended storylines spanning the distant past, the far future, and everything in between, Dark Horse was as good for Star Wars as Star Wars was for them.
Marvel’s next turn at the helm of the Millenium Falcon is set to begin in 2015, timed to the impending ballyhoo surrounding the release of Episode VII in December of that year. That gives Dark Horse enough runway to wind things down, while Marvel starts to ramp things up. Though I doubt we’ll see very much change in terms of content and style (Dark Horse editorial worked closely with Lucasfilm to make sure all their material was of a piece), what I’ll miss more than anything are the great omnibuses Dark Horse cranked out with regularity which managed to collect (in nice pocket-sized chunks) huge swaths of their output from a galaxy far, far away. Get ‘em while you can!