If there is one area in which George Lucas excels beyond anything else, it is world-building. The Star Wars universe is the ultimate sandbox for the creative mind. For decades it has provided writers, designers and artists the opportunity to explore a vast number of planets, cultures and traditions. Whether your interests lie in the intricacies of Mandalorean warrior-politics or the rise and fall of the legendary Cantina Band, you can guarantee that there is some Expanded Universe work to satisfy your curiosity. Comics have played an important role in contributing to the Star Wars universe since its inception. In 1977, the original Marvel adaptation proved to be a vital component of the pre-release marketing campaign and 107-issue helped to cement Star Wars in the cultural hive-mind. In the 1990s the comic-license passed to Dark Horse Comics with the release of Dark Empire. Despite featuring an utterly underwhelming story, fans responded well to Dark Empire and the series launched two decades of good quality story-telling from Dark Horse. Beginning in 1994, the publisher began releasing Tales of the Jedi, a prequel series set 5000 years before Episode IV: A New Hope in the era known simply as “The Old Republic”. Needless to say, C-3PO won’t be turning up to say “hi”.
Comprised of eight story-arcs over thirty-five issues, Tales of the Jedi delved deep into galactic history covering the Great Hyperspace War, the Golden of the Sith along with the rise and fall of Jedi Knights Ulic Kel-Droma and Exar Kun. For many years, this series marked the earliest point in the Star Wars time-line with stories set even longer ago and in a galaxy very different than what we had come to expect. Indeed, the early story-arcs look more like Conan the Barbarian with a cyber-fantasy twist than the traditional spaghetti western in space of Star Wars past. Indeed, the darksiders that appear throughout the series are presented as more or less insane religious cultists ruling their culture through fear. They are certainly not scheming Sith of the Prequels. At times, this can be problematic as their designs are reminiscent of the Mayan priests and priestesses of ancient times.
The two principle characters are Ulic Qel-Droma, a young padawan destined to fall the Dark Side, and Nomi Sunrider, a young woman trying to come to terms with her connection to the Force all while raising her young daughter alone. The two develop an intimate bond as the series progresses, but Ulic’s tragic fall to the Dark Side forces Nomi in the spotlight as ostensibly the main character. This focus on Nomi leads to the series best moments, providing a truly impressive female character that Star Wars has often lacked or underused. Nomi is a character who suffers from her introduction. Reluctant to be fight or become a Jedi, the death of the husband forces her to take up his Lightsaber and defend what’s left of her family. In doing so, she must learn to overcome her insecurities and find her place in the universe once more. Its pretty shameful that it wouldn’t be until The Force Awakens that the notion of a female lead in a Star Wars story would be reflected on the big screen.
The characters featured in this series are not your typical protagonists. Their designs challenge traditional notions of what we thought a Jedi to be. The Jedi Order is decentralised, spread across the galaxy with masters teaching padawans without any strict central guiding authority. What is particularly noteworthy is the diversity of Jedi that we encounted. Master Thon is a triceratops-esque quadruped who uses the Force to communicate and to wield his Lightsaber. To the uninitiated he is a mindless creature, to those willing to learn and look beyond the physical, he is a bastion of wisdom. Master Ooroo on the other is hand is literally a giant jellyfish floating in a jar. You can tell the artist were having a great laugh designing a lot of these characters. Its an originality in concept that cantina scene had once pioneered and perhaps, hasn’t been seen since.
Crude is only word to describe the look and aesthetic of the comic. The technology of the Original Trilogy may have appeared worn and used compared to the sleek designs of the Prequels, but Tales of the Jedi showcased a galaxy that had yet to find its footing. A key example of this divergence of style are the Lightsabers which are a much more primitive design than we would later see. Indeed, the energy their blades release is rather unstable when compared to their contemporaries. Indeed, eagle eyed readers would do well to note the similarities with Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber. Similarly the droids are quite basic in appearance, demonstrating a minimalist style reminiscent of early Star Wars concept art.
Let’s talk a bit about the men behind this series. Tom Veitch is an infamous comic-book writer who was a central player in the “underground comix movement” of the 70s, although he is primarily known for his work within the Star Wars universe. He created the Light and Darkness War series and has done extensive work with DC He is also the man behind the Dark Empire trilogy, but we won’t hold that against him. His Tales of the Jedi arcs represent not only his finest work in terms of story-telling and characters, but his biggest contribution to the canon. However, he is also responsible for those atrocious Superman at Earth’s End and deserves whatever slagging comes his way in that regard. Kevin J. Anderson is a sci-fi author of some note and a recipient of the Bram Stoker Award his debut novel; Resurrection Inc. Anderson would go on to write the incredibly enjoyable Jedi Academy trilogy of novels which focus on the legacy on a certain character featured in Tales. His arcs find their targets moreso than Veitch’s. The closing arc; “Redemption”, is particularly deserving of praise acting as a perfect albeit heartbreaking culmination to the story-line.
This series is the precursor to the legendary Knights of the Old Republic with many of the events of this comic informing its story-line as well as establishing the look, feel and atmosphere of that game series. While this branch of the Expanded Universe is now considered to be part of the Legends timeline, “the Old Republic” is the era least impacted by the great purge. Regardless of its official status, it is essential reading for those who want to a story steeped in mythos, with strong female characters and an arc of redemption rivaling Vader himself.
Join us tomorrow as we go back to the future and discuss Star Wars: Legacy. In the meantime, why not check out yesterday’s article on our Top 5 Lightsaber Duels.