Dark Horse Prepares the Star Wars Universe for an Invasion

Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion

Every now and again Newsarama likes to check in with Dark Horse Vice-President of Publishing, Randy Stradley. As Senior Editor of the publisher's Star Wars line, he's one of the most influential voices for one of entertainment's most popular fictional franchises, and perhaps arguably the most popular.

But with vast popularity comes intense expectations, and DHC always has to balance satisfying a fervent fan-base with maintaining the balance of the Force – in this case the "Force" being the company's own comic book plans and overall plans of the larger franchise with arms in TV, movies, toys, video games and novels.

Stradley catches us up with what's been happening on his watch of late, and tells us about a couple of new projects Dark Horse announced this past week.

Newsarama: Randy, before we talk about the new Star Wars projects coming in the next year, let's set the stage by talking about what you have been doing the last year or so.

First of all, how would you describe the status of interest in the Star Wars universe in 2008-’09?

Randy Stradley: Interest in Star Wars seems healthy, strong. Our sales are steady, and certain segments of the market are growing. In addition to our comic book shops and bookstore sales, we do a lot of specialty projects -- retasking past material for new markets that have never seen those stories.

NRAMA: Do you see a bump in interest and sales line-wide when a new major property like The Clone Wars launches, or do the overall comics line and the other media spin on differences axis?

RS: It goes in cycles. When the prequel films were coming out, we actually experienced a dip in sales. After the third film, sales shot back up. It’s clearly a function of supply and demand. When people can get absolutely as much Star Wars as they want -- films, toys, games, comics, novels, etc., -- they make different choices. Once the films stopped coming and some of the ancillary merchandise went away, fans focused on the comics once again.

The Clone Wars is unusual in that it has attracted new (and younger) readers. Obviously, there is an audience crossover with our other titles, but talking to parents at conventions and such, we’re hearing over and over how grateful they are for the Clone Wars comics, because their kids want to read them. This bodes well for library placements.

Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion

But we also take steps to shake up the status quo every once in a while. Six months after the release of Revenge of the Sith, we revamped our whole line -- introduced all-new series. Last year we had our big “Vector” crossover. We try to keep things exciting for the readers. We love the attention something like The Clone Wars brings us, but we never want to rely solely on a media project for our sales. We’re always striving to make our books “important” in and of themselves.

NRAMA: I’m sure you answered this question before, how much of Dark Horse’s comic book plans are self-contained and for the pure sake of telling new Star War stories, and how much of it is coordinated with Lucasfilm in accordance to their overall long-term multi-media plans?

RS: Most of what we do is unique to the comics, although we do work with Lucasfilm and its other licensees to coordinate plans from time to time. A good example of this happened last year in a story arc in Rebellion. Representatives from Hasbro approached us about our plans -- and filled us in on some of their plans -- and as a result some characters introduced in our comics became part of Hasbro’s toy line. The pilots and distinctive B-wing fighters in “Small Victories” came about because of a collaboration with Hasbro, and now those characters and ships are also a part of their toy line.

And, of course, we work with the folks at Lucasfilm on a daily basis to make sure that we don’t contradict existing continuity or inadvertently create a roadblock for another licensee’s plans. And we keep them in the loop about where we’re going so that they can prevent others from messing up our plans.

With The Clone Wars we have been lucky enough to have Henry Gilroy writing much of what we’ve done. Since he was also the head writer on the first season of the show, it would be pretty hard to go wrong.

NRAMA: This may be like asking a dad to pick his favorite child, but is there a Star Wars era you particularly enjoy exploring and/or you think is ripe for fleshing out right now?

RS: Tricky. I don’t know that I have a favorite era. Each holds its own appeal. But it’s really more about the characters. The thing to keep in mind about Star Wars is that as much as it seems to be about battles, political machinations, shifting alliances, and big, galaxy-shaking events, those things are only important in how they impact the characters. And, conversely, if you have good characters you needn’t destroy the galaxy around them to have affecting stories.

Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion

Right now I think we have some great characters in play. In Legacy you’ve got Cade Skywalker, the poster boy for rebellious youth, who’s a pirate, smuggler, and just possibly a good guy; in Knights of the Old Republic there’s ex-fugitive, Jedi Zayne Carrick, who is on his way to being a kind of galactic Robin Hood, teamed with Gryph, a fast-talking conman; and in Dark Times you’ve got Bomo Greenbark, an unlucky little alien with a chip on his shoulder, and ex-Jedi Dass Jennir, trying hard not to become an outlaw. It’s all good stuff -- and every one of those books is moving into territory relatively free of existing continuity.

NRAMA: Can you talk about each of your existing properties and anything new and noteworthy coming up in 2009?

RS: When we unveiled our “Vector” crossover, we promised that the story would leave its marks in each of the series through which it passed, and we meant it. In KOTOR, readers have already seen how clues given to him by Celeste Morne (the main character in “Vector”) have enabled Zayne Carrick to regain his good standing with the Jedi Order and to thwart a major plot to overthrow it. The resolution to Zayne’s previous dilemma is now propelling him in a whole new direction. Rather than reacting to his situation, Zayne is now in control of his own destiny, and the galaxy is his oyster (assuming they have oysters in the galaxy far, far away).

The same sort of thing is happening in Legacy: in the aftermath of the events in “Vector,” the whole Sith Empire has been shaken up, the door has been opened to cooperation between the Fel Empire and the Galactic Alliance, and Cade Skywalker has managed to burn just about every one of his bridges. It’s a recipe for big changes.

As indicated by the introductory story currently online (http://www.myspace.com/darkhorsepresents), the next arc of Dark Times focuses primarily on Dass Jennir. He was not involved in the “Vector” story, but we’ll see scenes of Darth Vader and the outlaw crew of the Uhumele who were, and the fallout from their encounters with Celeste Morne will be evident.

Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion

Meanwhile, we’ve added another six issues (at least) to the run of The Clone Wars comics series, and we’re continuing with the quarterly digest-sized graphic novellas of The Clone Wars. The Clone Wars even shows up during Free Comic Book Day this year.

And, since the digests have been such a success, we’ve added Star Wars Adventures to our lineup. Each volume is a standalone adventure featuring classic Star Wars characters. First up are Han Solo and Chewbacca.

NRAMA: One last question to satisfy our curiosity before moving onto the new stuff, but Dark Horse is well known for crossovers of media properties. Starting at 0.00% what are the odds of fans ever seeing Star Wars crossover with another property, leaving the field wide open as for with who? Still 0.00%?

RS: The odds of this happening will vary wildly depending on what day you ask me. Today I’d say somewhere between zero and 50%…

NRAMA: Okay, you recently announced two new projects at New York Comic Con..?

RS: Well, first the bad news: Rebellion, our series set during the classic time of Luke, Leia, and Han, will not be returning. The good news is we will be unveiling a new series which will feature Luke, Leia, and Han -- set in what is known as the New Jedi Era, about twenty-four years after the events in Rebellion. This new series, Star Wars: Invasion, deals with the invasion by the extragalactic aliens known as the Yuuzhan Vong.

Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion
Image from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Invasion

The overarching New Jedi Order story was chronicled over the course of nineteen novels published by Del Rey. Dark Horse’s story happens around and between the events in the novels and focuses on the exploits of four members of a family from the planet Artorius. This is a big action series, with lots of moments of heroism and sacrifice.

Invasion is written by Tom Taylor and illustrated by Colin Wilson (late of Rebellion). The story will debut online in May on starwars.com, then jump to the printed page in July. Planned as a series of story arcs, Invasion will alternate position on the publishing schedule with the similarly structured Dark Times -- five months on, five months off.

NRAMA: And that second bit of news?

RS: This is a great year for Star Wars fans to get free stuff online. Starting February 27 (15 days from now!), a new serialized story of The Old Republic will debut at http://www.swtor.com. Based on the situations in the highly anticipated massive multi-player online game currently being developed by BioWare and LucasArts, the story of The Old Republic will be told in biweekly (every other week) installments leading up to the release of the game.

Image from the new online series Star Wars: The Old Republic
Image from the new online series Star Wars: The Old Republic
Image from the new online series Star Wars: The Old Republic

Written by Rob Chestney, one of the game’s writers, and illustrated by Alex Sanchez, the online comics will provide fans with their first glimpses of the kinds of characters, situations, and conflicts they will find themselves facing in the game.

I can’t reveal much about the story now, but fans won’t have to wait long to find out for themselves.

NRAMA: I’m not going to ask why an online comics for The Old Republic, that’s pretty clear, but give us your thoughts on the future of comic books online? Is this purely marketing support for the game? Do you consider it a viable form or publishing for profit right now? Or is the format speculative at this stage?

RS: At this point, the online comics we’re doing are primarily promotional in nature. I haven’t yet seen a viable model for delivering online comics for profit. I’m not saying it’ll never happen, just that I haven’t seen anyone do it effectively yet.

NRAMA: All right then, that's s broader topic for another day. Any last parting thoughts for Star Wars fans moving forward? Something you’re looking forward to particularly or peering into your crystal ball and a hint or tease of things to come?

RS: Dark Horse has been publishing Star Wars comics for sixteen years now, and I’m always looking for where we want to go next. Fortunately, we have a whole galaxy in which to play, and the best writers I’ve ever worked with to call the shots. Coordinating everything is a challenge, but it’s never drudgery. There are so many possibilities, so many character notes to play, so many themes to explore, it feel like an embarrassment of riches at times. It’s not really a question of what’s new, because it’s always going to be

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