Dark Empire is a trilogy of Star Wars comic book limited series produced by Dark Horse Comics. The trilogy consists of two six issue limited series books (Dark Empire and Dark Empire II, which were written and drawn by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy), and a two-issue limited series Empire's End, written by Veitch and drawn by Jim Baikie.
The "Dark Empire Trilogy" follows the post-trilogy adventures of the main characters from the original Star Wars franchise. The first installment (Dark Empire) in particular, is notable for being one of the very first Star Wars comic to be produced by Dark Horse Comics, who had acquired the comic rights to the Star Wars franchise in the early 90s. "Dark Empire" is also notable as being the first Star Wars comic to spin directly out of the events of Timothy Zahn's "Grand Admiral Thrawn" trilogy, which officially explored the post-movie fates of the main characters of the Star Wars films.
The "Dark Empire Trilogy" deals with the return of the villainous Palpatine, having successfully cheated death by becoming a spirit entity that is successfully "reincarnated" through cloning technology. Other themes include Luke Skywalker temporarily succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force, the official return of Boba Fett (who had seemingly died after being swallowed by the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi), and the first appearance of Princess Leia and Han Solo's son, Anakin Solo.
Before the Thrawn Crisis, Imperial forces were torn by civil war and harassed by Rebel attacks, who used captured Imperial Star Destroyers to sow further dissension among their ranks, and cherry-picked sectors: some sectors and systems fell peaceably, un-noticed by the Imperials in the chaotic communications and bureaucratic turmoil. Others did not—it was the Imperial forces fighting to the death under Lord Shadowspawn that finally made Luke Skywalker resign his commission as General for the Rebel Alliance. A possible compromise between the New Republic and the Empire, in which the New Republic would accept Palpatine's last relative, a grandniece named Ederlathh Pallopides, as a constitutional monarch, failed when the broker, Admiral Betl Oxtroe, died at the hands of a Noghri assassin. The Noghri never said who ordered him to kill the admiral.
However, in the chaos lurked a certain perverse order: some Imperials died, or seemed to; still others simply disappeared and never returned. Around the time of Thrawn, the gradual trend had grown to such magnitude that its effects grew noticeable; why else did Thrawn go to such great lengths to procure the antiquated Katana Fleet, if not because so many Star Destroyers were locked up in fortress systems, or in the Deep Core where Thrawn's writ did not hold? Further, despite the desperate need for war material and funds and regular capital starships of the line, Kuat Drive Yards never seemed to halt construction on the successor to the monster Executor-class Star Destroyers, the Eclipse-class, the prototype of which would be dubbed simply Eclipse. Orders were sometimes given, but they were never obeyed, and the issuers never tried a second time.
It was into this chaos that a number of messages came over the HoloNet to the ministers and Moffs bickering over succession to the throne. The codes were genuine, and extremely high-level; there was no question they had originated with a Grand Admiral, who revealed himself to be a certain Thrawn. Given his status as a war-hero (having notably defeated, among others, Grand Admiral Zaarin's attempted coup), the Imperials rallied behind him. During the Thrawn Crisis, the New Republic was too busy fighting for its life, and Thrawn apparently too busy prosecuting his campaign, to take any notice of these or many other series of troubling anomalies. Thrawn was a genius, however, and close to Palpatine before Palpatine dispatched him to conquer and unify the Unknown Regions. So as to whether Thrawn knew he was being used as a red herring by Palpatine to cover up the evidence of his return and his machinations (similar in scope and complexity to the ones by which he orchestrated the Clone Wars and became Emperor) is ultimately unanswerable.
None of this involved the Imperial Starfleet or Army in the process, who proceeded the demand that they be allowed to appoint a new Grand Admiral and finish off the Rebels. Backed up by regional forces and Moff-assigned fleets, as well as the military forces COMPNOR had built up, the Moffs and Advisors and COMPNOR and the Inquisitorius refused to allow the military any say.
With all this tension, war exploded among multiple factions, including Imperial Intelligence and its equally large and competent adversary, the Imperial Security Bureau (astoundingly, each assassinated the other's operatives and agents routinely, even going so far as to publish hitlists of the other's personnel).
Entire worlds were glassed by orbital bombardment, and Coruscant became the focus, ravaged by multiple forces, all fighting each other and ravaging the civilian populace. The multifarious nature of the conflict earned it as many names: generally, "The Mutiny," or "Rebellion" or "The Galactic Civil War" (ignoring the Rebel Alliance), or even most bizarrely, "The War of Purification" (by COMPNOR). Some merely described it as "The Time of Destruction."
The mutual orgies of destruction eventually came to an end when the combatants wore themselves out, and Palpatine began cleaning up the debris with agents like Lord Cronal, testing the survivors for loyalty and eliminating the incapable or disloyal.
On one of these raids to the Coruscant system is the Star Destroyer Liberator (formerly the HIMS Adjudicator), an Imperial-class Star Destroyer captured at the Battle of Endor and, over a five-year period, repaired and beefed-up for covert missions, and its sister ship, the Emancipator (originally the Accuser). The Emancipator would have better luck in its later missions, destroying the Allegiance in the Battle of Calamari but then devoured by the World Devastator Silencer-7. The Rebels emerge into the Coruscant system, where three Star Destroyers demand novel and unusual codes for clearance. The codes the Alliance had stolen or bartered for with slicers for do not work, and Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian are shot down over the former Imperial City. They should have perished, but in a curious parallel to the opening of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Luke, like his father, manages to successfully land the gargantuan vessel without too many casualties on the surface of Coruscant. For the next several days, Luke and Lando and their forces hide and fight Imperial forces.
When the news reaches Han Solo and Leia Organa, they rush to the rescue along with Wookiee Chewbacca and droid C-3PO. But while they arrive in the nick of time to rescue Lando and the crew of the Liberator, they are too late to save Luke, as the Reborn Emperor had initiated Operation Shadow Hand, his master plan to retake the galaxy, destroy the Rebel Alliance, and ensure that another rebellion could never occur again.
The first step requires that he find someone to take Anakin Skywalker's place at his side - preferably his son. Palpatine has had several years to continue studying the Dark Side, in a healthy and strong clone body, and he has made considerable progress: uniquely among all Sith or Jedi, he was capable of calling and commanding "Force storms", destructive distortions in the very fabric of space-time. Across the interstellar distances, he conjures a small Force storm around Skywalker on Coruscant, which transports him into an Imperial dungeon ship.
This blow to the Alliance is followed by the initial phase of Operation Shadow Hand: attacks by fleets of World Devastators, creations of Umak Leth that destroy everything in their path, plunging defeated enemies into vast furnaces, in turn which produce weapons and raw materials capable of repairing or building new World Devastators. The first target Palpatine selects, for its long and steadfast support of the Rebellion, is the planet Mon Calamari.
The recently rescued Lando and his crew are dispatched aboard the Emancipator to fight a holding battle while the main Rebel fleets are assembled. By this time, Luke Skywalker has reached Byss. There he meets face-to-face with the Emperor Reborn; Skywalker's attempt at killing him is thwarted when Palpatine reveals that his vigorous fresh clone body is even more skilled at lightsaber combat than is Luke himself. Faced with an impossible situation and deeply impressed by the power of the Emperor, his charismatic presence, his undoubted genius, and his deep knowledge of both sides of the Force, Luke acquiesces to becoming his apprentice. At this time, R2-D2 is modified to carry the Master Signal for the World Devastators.
With Luke gone, Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo travel to Nar Shaddaa, pursuing rumors of an old Jedi Master named Vima-da-boda. Betrayed by their friends (Mako Spince) and pursued by the bounty hunter Boba Fett (long thought dead, eaten by the Sarlacc during the events of Return of the Jedi), Han and Leia try to escape from Nar Shaddaa. Meanwhile, the Rebels in combat over the planet Mon Calamari receive aid from an unexpected source, and Luke falls deeper into the grip of the Dark Side.
Captured by the Emperor, Leia discovers that he holds hostage an even greater treasure: a mysterious and intelligent artifact called the Jedi Holocron, which the Emperor had stolen during the Great Jedi Purge from Ashka Boda. With both the Holocron and Luke Skywalker under his control, the Emperor appears to reign supreme in the Force.
Meanwhile, on Mon Calamari, the Devastators still appear invincible. Luckily, Luke had managed to install a code into R2's memory banks to shut down the Devastators. Though the great war machines are down, their crew somehow powers up the factories until control is restored, but R2 creates a new code to make the Devastators recycle each other.
Unfortunately, this is only half of the Emperor's plan; great new fleets of the Empire are spreading across the Galactic Core, and soon the entire galaxy will fall under the sway of the dark side.
Luke travels with the Emperor aboard the recently completed and christened flagship, the Eclipse, to capture his sister. Prior to the Eclipse's arrival, the Holocron Leia had stolen from the Emperor delivers a thousand-year-old prophecy to Leia, which refers to her battle against the young Emperor:
...A brother and sister born to walk the sky
But reckless brother falls-into dark side's eye!
Jedi sister carries hope for future in her womb
Only SHE can save the Skywalkers from certain doom!
A Jedi-killer wants to tame her
Now the Dark Side lord comes to claim her
She must battle join against this thief
Or the dynasty of ALL the Jedi will come to grief.
It is Leia who boarded the Emperor's Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyer during its assault on the Pinnacle Moon of Da Soocha. It is she who appeals to the goodness inside Luke, redeeming him, and who, together with him, assaults Palpatine with the Light Side of the Force, cutting him off from the Dark Side and control of the titanic Force storm he had exerted himself to the utmost to conjure, intending to utterly obliterate the Rebel Alliance fleet. Luke and Leia escape the doomed Super Star Destroyer, and the end result is the complete destruction of the Eclipse I and the presumed death of Palpatine.
Executor Sedriss leads an attack force on Balmorra, the Empire's main producer of AT-STs after the Battle of Endor. In order to not damage Balmorra's factories, Sedriss lands AT-STs, stormtroopers, and Umak Leth's SD-9s on the planet. Governor Beltane of Balmorra sends out SD-10s, which contain all of the SD-9s' attack strategies in their databanks. When Balmorra has thrown seemingly everything against Sedriss, Sedriss unleashes Shadow Droids, another of Umak Leth's creations: droids fighters with the brains of fallen Imperial aces augmented by the power of the Dark Side. After they rout the SD-10s, Beltane sends out his hidden project, the X-1 Viper Automadon: a droid with molecular shielding capable of absorbing enemy fire and redirecting it through the droid's turbolasers. Beltane sells it to the Empire in exchange for freedom. Sedriss plans to destroy Beltane once he has control of the droids and their creators.
At Pinnacle Base, Luke brings in Kam. Mon Mothma issues a meeting to discuss Beltane's arrangement for the Alliance to intercept the shipment of his droids en route to Byss, but Wedge has a better plan: let the shipment go to Byss with loads of Rebel troops inside the droids. Luke suggests that the droids be used to liberate worlds so the Alliance can launch an all-out attack, but everyone else votes for Wedge's plan. Mothma tells Luke that they must strike at the heart of the Empire while he tries to restore the Jedi Knights. The Holocron reveals the location Ossus, an ancient Jedi world that was beautiful until it was destroyed by the Dark Side. Knowing there might be some Jedi artifacts lying there, Luke departs for Ossus. Han and Leia depart as well, back to Nar Shaddaa. They hope to track down Vima-Da-Boda, and draw upon her ancient knowledge, then head for seclusion with their children on New Alderaan.
On Byss, the Executor Sedriss returns from his inconclusive battle against Balmorra to discover the Dark side adepts Nefta and Sa-Di killing the remaining clones of Palpatine. Slaying them for their treason, Sedriss discovers that their killings had been futile: the Emperor has already been reborn, exceeding everyone's expectations. Upon his return, the Emperor orders Operation Shadow Hand re-commenced.
On Nar Shaddaa, Boba Fett discovers the Solos after they escape the Imperial Star Destroyer and the Blackhole/Imperial stormtoopers led by two of the Dark Side Elite, Zasm Katth and Baddon Fass. They had fled to the underworld of the Smuggler's Moon after their initial haven, the hidden repair center ran by Shug Ninx, was taken over by storm troopers. Confronted by an array of bounty hunters, including a clan of Gank killers, and the news that the Hutt clans had doubled the bounty on them, they had little choice but to leave the moon - where Boba Fett had patiently waited for the Millennium Falcon to take off. Their second attempt at penetrating the depths has greater luck; they have just found Vima-Da-Boda when Fett attacks. His assault is defeated when Chewbacca ignited his jet-pack (in a replay of Fett's undoing in Return of the Jedi), and the Falcon soon takes off again. However, their immediate departure is sabotaged by Mako Spince, who, from his perch in the Traffic Control spire, had forwarded their location to the waiting Dark Siders aboard the Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer soon locks a tractor beam on the Millennium Falcon, catching the ship in its firm grip. Taunted by Spince, Han figures out a clever escape: he pilots the Falcon under the spire - the officers do not realize the tractor beam is now locked on the spire - and the beams inexorably rip off the spire and pull it into the Star Destroyer itself, killing Spince and destroying the engines of the ISD. Bereft of impetus and in a decaying orbit, the Destroyer plunges into the surface of Nar Shaddaa, killing millions and all hands aboard.
This is not the only setback for the Empire: Palpatine had dispatched Sedriss and Vill Goir to capture Skywalker and Solusar. Solusar quickly kills Goir, but Sedriss, outmatched by Skywalker, takes one of the Force-sensitive natives hostage and leans against a tree. To all of the combatants' immense surprise, the tree turns out to be a millennia-old Neti Jedi Master named Ood Bnar. Sedriss and Bnar face off, and the two perish in an explosion of Force energy. But even in his death, Bnar protects his cache of ancient lightsabers, a gift to the would-be Jedi and a future Neti in his place. With the aid of the Ysanna, Luke discovers precisely what he had hoped for: an intact Jedi library.
Elsewhere, Lando Calrissian and a team of Rebel commandos, including Zev Veers, are hiding aboard a shipment of War Droids space-bound for the Emperor's throneworld. The droids prove superior to even the defenses of the Citadel until the Emperor releases an army of monstrous creatures - "chrysalis monsters" - rancors mutated by the dark side and Sith alchemy into crazed and nigh-invulnerable beasts of destruction. Since the creatures use brute force to destroy the droids, the droids' ability to absorb the blasts of laser weapons proves useless. The Rebel force is decimated, but they are rescued at the last moment by a force of smugglers led by Salla Zend and Shug Ninx. The Emperor allows them to escape, but they do not know that the Empire is tracking them and that its new superweapon, the Galaxy Gun is ready. The Emperor fires the weapon, which reaches Da Soocha V and destroys it, while Luke's Jedi Explorer (with the other Jedi aboard), which would have landed shortly had its crew not seen its projectile, narrowly escapes destruction.
Meanwhile, on the forgotten and nebula-hidden world of Ganath, Han Solo has to equip his damaged Millennium Falcon with an antique weapon called the Lightning Gun, hopefully sufficient to defeat Slave I and Boba Fett, who lurks beyond the cloud, waiting for Solo to escape. Defeating Fett yet again, with the former Jedi Knight and ruler of Ganath, Empatojayos Brand, Han Solo and Princess Leia take refuge with their infant twins on the planet New Alderaan. There, Luke explains about a great Jedi power known as Battle Meditation. They must regroup with Lando and Wedge if their comrades are still alive, and Han and Chewbacca leave the planet to search for them. During the night, Luke has a terrible nightmare that he and Vader are one, not knowing that robotic bugs are injecting poison into his veins as he sleeps. He wakes up and sees two Darksiders ready to kill him. Jem Ysanna and Leia kill two of the Darksiders, but Jem is killed. Vima sees what has happened and saves Luke. Meanwhile, three other Darksiders kidnap Leia's twins. Luckily, Brand, Kam and Rayf are on the scene and duel them. After the fighting ends, Jem joins the Force as Rayf cries over her lost form. Then, they find an AT-AT attack is destroying the settlement. Thankfully, Han arrives with Salla and Shug, accompanied by an X-wing group based in a nearby system. Once the village's population is rescued and evacuated, the four freighters and three X-wings jump into hyperspace. The Rebels relocate to the space stations of Nespis VIII, where Luke and Kam had had their initial confrontation, and they find that the Alliance had evacuated Pinnacle Base before it was destroyed. On Nespis VIII, Anakin Solo is born and the Alliance plots the final destruction of the Empire.
The last clone body not destroyed by Skywalker or traitorous Imperials is now aging rapidly, and Palpatine's final end is near unless he can either fix his genetic material (an impossibility since no unadulterated samples remain) or insert his spirit into another body. After consulting with ancient Sith Lords on the mausoleum planet Korriban, Palpatine learns that Han and Leia's youngest child, named Anakin after his deceased grandfather, has the only workable body.
After an attack on Byss, where a projectile from the Gun is shot into Byss, utterly destroying Byss, and the second Eclipse-class Star Destroyer, the Eclipse II, is steered into the Galaxy Gun by R2-D2, Palpatine follows the Solos to Onderon. He is killed by an unexpected blaster bolt from Han Solo; he desperately tries to force his spirit into the infant Anakin Solo but is blocked by the dying soul of Empatojayos Brand, who makes the ultimate sacrifice in willingly sending his eternal soul into the "madness beyond death" that is the Dark Side to ensure Palpatine would go as well and can never return.