Nearly three decades before The Rise of Skywalker, the cloned Emperor returned from certain death to continue his infinite reign upon the galaxy.
It’s true! Emperor Palpatine has returned! Once thought cast down the core shaft of the second Death Star, the Emperor has reappeared as a clone on the dark side world of Byss. After his “death,” Emperor Palpatine created his clones to preserve eternal life. The Emperor had dozens of clones at the ready, waiting for his failing physical form to embody a new younger version of himself. Six years after the Battle of Endor, a cloned emperor lured the Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to the dark side to serve as his father, Darth Vader, once did. What’s that? This doesn’t sound familiar? Don’t you remember this being in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? No?
That’s because it wasn’t. This cloned Emperor appeared nearly three decades before his appearance on Exegol. In 1991, Dark Horse Comics published a 6-issue miniseries entitled Star Wars: Dark Empire, written by Tom Veitch with art by Cam Kennedy. Dark Empire took place 6 years after the Return of the Jedi, during a time when the Empire was at war with the Palpatine’s loyalists with each side vying for control. Meanwhile, Luke and Lando teamed up to command a captured Star Destroyer, and spearhead hit and run missions against the Empire.
Bring in the Clones!
That’s not even the half of it! The most intriguing part of the series (depending on your opinion) is the cloned Emperor Palpatine. When Palpatine’s return was announced during Celebration Chicago, how much he would actually be in the film was still an unknown, so comparisons to Dark Empire weren’t quite a thing yet. But since the release of The Rise of Skywalker, some Star Wars fans immediately drew connections to Palpatine’s return in Dark Empire, understandably so, since this is the first time his comeback happens.
There’s no question, Star Wars loves to bring back characters, that much is obvious. And doing so unsurprisingly attracts the ire of some fans. Some may see it as a copout (I did when Maul made his miraculous return. Fortunately, Maul’s story was so well told I gladly ate crow). In The Rise of Skywalker, it took ole-Palpy 30 years to make his encore appearance, while in Dark Empire, it took him only 6 years. And instead of recruiting the grandson of Vader, Palpatine’s presence attracted Luke Skywalker, who is by now a mighty Jedi Master, and someone who is still very much in the fight. A far cry from the recluse seen in the sequel trilogy. While conducting missions with Lando, Luke senses a dark presence and embarks on a lone mission to the core world of Byss.
Palpatine in Dark Empire is no one’s granddad. He’s just a power-hungry master planner who uses his laboratory clones when his current self grows old and weak. In effect, becoming immortal. If his clones are expended, his fallback plan is to pass his essence into Luke’s body, or even into Leia’s unborn child (how perverted is that?).
It isn’t just the idea of a cloned emperor that made its way from the pages of Dark Empire onto the movie screen. Oh no, my young apprentice. As you can see here, the dialogue is also very similar in most respects. Kylo tells the cloned Emperor that he will kill him, to which the Emperor replies, “I have died before.” In Dark Empire, the Emperor explains to Luke, “It was not the first time I died…nor will it be the last! Such are the mysteries of the Dark Side of the Force.” Implying that the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.
When Rey arrives on Exegol and stands before the dark throne, the faint whispering of the dark side is audible. Those robed figures or the Sith Eternal are similar to the dark side adepts in Dark Empire. Their sole purpose is to bow to Palpatine’s dark wishes. One of the wishes is for Rey to kill Palpatine so she can take his place on the throne. In The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine tells Rey, “Kill me, and my spirit will pass into you.” In Dark Empire, Palpatine talks about transitioning into a new clone, “The transition is not an enjoyable experience. But the suffering is a small price to pay for eternal life!”
Besides the return of the cloned Emperor and his lust for eternal life, the dyad of Rey and Ben has got to be one of the most talked-about plot points in The Rise of Skywalker. An event unseen in generations. The power of two that restores the one true Emperor. In Dark Empire, it isn’t quite a dyad that confronts the Sith incarnate, but Luke and Leia. Leia, in Dark Empire, is much further along in her training that in the sequel trilogy. The twins’ powerful Force bond is too much for the young clone, and he is engulfed in his own storm of dark side energy.
While with the Emperor on Byss, Luke projects his likeness across the galaxy to warns his friends to stay away. This Force projection is a precursor to what we see Luke accomplish in The Last Jedi. The only difference is the act does not kill Luke in Dark Empire. This is one of the criticisms of how Legends handled Luke. They made Luke so powerful, he was virtually unbeatable. A superhero. Luke, in The Last Jedi, talks about the hubris of the Jedi. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have the prequels, and we didn’t know how the Jedi fell, so Jedi hubris was not a consideration. In Legends circa 1991, the Jedi fell because the dark side defeated them. Now we know they beat themselves, which is a much more compelling story.
It’s been years since I’ve read Dark Empire, and I was astonished at how many similarities there are between it and The Rise of Skywalker. Cam Kennedy’s art is polarizing. He uses watercolors, which isn’t easy, and he does a remarkable job with them. For those who aren’t fans of the monotone colors, I say look at the bright colors used in Silver and Bronze Age comics. Did those always make sense? It’s all a matter of taste. I agree, though, that it’s more effective with the surroundings, but it doesn’t work well for the faces.
In an era when comics are still wordy, Dark Empire has the right mix of subtext and description per panel. But considering this is just the beginning of the return of Star Wars out of the dark times, there is a fair amount of exposition reminding us of what happened in Jedi eight years prior.
In an epilogue of sorts, it states that Mon Mothma ignored the fact that the stability the Jedi provided was gone, but wanted to build the Republic based on old models. Mon Mothma wouldn’t overlook that. A government would be in flux until it figures itself out. See Star Wars Bloodline. Handing over power without question to a person who is ignoring the lessons of the past is ignorance pure and simple.
I also found it interesting that credit wasn’t given to Lucasfilm for helping to develop the story or any input at all. Credit was solely given to West End Games, the publisher of Star Wars roleplaying games for providing specs and tidbits of information.