Back in 1992, the world was getting ready to get excited about Star Wars again. Technically, this resurgence began in 1991 with the novel Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, but it all started to get really exciting when Dark Horse Comics published the first Dark Empire series. This began a wave of Star Wars comics by the publisher, which was exciting because for the most part, there hadn't been any since 1986 when Marvel stopped publishing them.
It was also going to be another seven years until The Phantom Menace, and it was looking less and less likely that we'd ever get to see what happened beyond Return of the Jedi. With this series, we got to see the next step in the evolution of Luke Skywalker, as he fully embraces the dark side of the Force just as his father did before him. Why would he do such a thing? He figures that it's the only way to learn the secrets of a resurrected Emperor and ultimately defeat him. Unfortunately, he gets in too far, and it takes his sister, Leia, to bring him back to the light.
Lucas always declared that all of the novels, comic books, etc. were officially "non-canon". In other words, if he wanted to make movies that contradicted what happened in them, then it was the movies that were the official version. That's a bit different now that Disney owns the property, and everything fits into one large continuity. One way or the other, by the time the prequel trilogy came along, this story really doesn't work for a few reasons:
- Clones - The Emperor resurrects himself using clone technology. There are references to the Clone Wars, but they don't really jive with what happened in the prequel trilogy.
- The nature of the Emperor - In this series, Palpatine seems like more of a force (no pun intended) of nature rather than just the latest in a long line of Sith Lords. His power is almost god-like, being able to not only resurrect (although with the aid of technology) but to summon vast "force storms" that swallow everything in their path.
- The ambiguity - Part of the appeal of this series is the references to what went down with Luke's father. Since we didn't know the official version of those events, the reader is left to wonder if maybe Anakin Skywalker tried to join the dark side just to defeat it as well. (Turns out, not so much.)
There were two things that were somewhat controversial in this series, and I've heard fans complain about them. The first one is the resurrection of The Emperor. I have to admit that I kinda liked it. It makes a lot less sense now that we know what we know about how Sith Lords work, but I liked the idea of Palpatine being an embodiment of evil rather than just an evil guy, and to defeat him was to completely eradicate all evil - which is impossible. Plus, whenever I'd play with my action figures as a kid, I'd often do a story where The Emperor had returned, and it was going to have to be Luke himself who would have to defeat him once and for all.
The other problem was the return of Boba Fett. All he said was that the sarlaac found him "indigestible". (Later stories would elaborate on this.) I didn't have a problem with this one either. For starters, we didn't see him "die" so much as enter the mouth of the monster. Second, the sarlaac was said to take 1000 years to digest his victims. Looking at that monster, it was obviously gravity and some tentacles keeping people (and aliens) inside of it, and it didn't seem to chew its food at all. Lastly, Fett was wearing a jet pack. It had a malfunction, but with all of his body armor protecting him while he was inside the belly of the beast, I could easily see him rocketing his way out of there.
Re-reading the series recently, I was also struck by what a distinct artistic style artist Cam Kennedy employed. He not only did the art but the colors as well. As much as I like the new Star Wars books that Marvel is doing, they all have a very traditional look about them. Dark Horse let Kennedy employ some interesting color choices, giving the book a very distinct mood that went along with its rather grim theme.
Basically this story has become a "What If?" or "Imaginary Story" or "apocrypha" if you want to sound more religious. It's worth a look, or a re-look for long time fans. You might have to do some searching if you want to find it. Oh, and for the record, go ahead and skip the two sequels. I didn't even bother to keep those in my collection.