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Comics Today's Date:

A Shift In The Balance Of The Force
Disney Takes Star Wars Back To Marve
l; Dark Horse Responds

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm last year, the big question for discerning comics fans was "what will happen to Dark Horse's Star Wars comics?"

At the time, everybody just kept quiet and hoped things would go on as they had been, since Dark Horse had done some great books exploring various corners of that galaxy far far away. And if we had fears that the license would disappear from them, Dark Horse only moved forward with a great title set in the aftermath of A New Hope, titled simply Star Wars, and even an adaptation of George Lucas' original draft of the story, here titled The Star Wars.

Look, if it doesn't confuse X-Men fans...

Anyway, today the other four-color shoe dropped, with an announcement out of San Francisco, the nominal headquarters of "Disney's Lucasfilm." Paying respect to the work done by Dark Horse, the press release details Marvel's new exclusive worldwide publishing rights to Star Wars comics and graphic novels, which will begin in 2015.

The agreement marks a homecoming for the Star Wars comic books. Marvel Comics published the first Star Wars comic book, Star Wars #1, in March 1977, which went on to sell more than 1 million copies. Marvel Comics published its Star Wars series for nine years. In 1991, Dark Horse Comics took over the license, publishing fan-favorite titles like Dark Empire and Star Wars: Legacy. Last year, Dark Horse released The Star Wars #1, an adaptation of George Lucas’ original rough-draft screenplay for the film, garnering rave reviews and national media attention and ranking among the top-selling Star Wars comics of all time.

“Dark Horse Comics published exceptional Star Wars comics for over 20 years, and we will always be grateful for their enormous contributions to the mythos, and the terrific partnership that we had,” said Carol Roeder, director of Lucasfilm franchise publishing, Disney Publishing Worldwide.  “In 2015, the cosmic adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca will make the lightspeed jump back to Marvel, to begin a new age of adventures within the Star Wars universe.”

“We here at Marvel could not be more excited to continue the publication of Star Wars comic books and graphic novels,” said Marvel Worldwide Publisher and President, Dan Buckley.

The perennial brand of Star Wars is one of the most iconic in entertainment history and we are honored to have the opportunity to bring our creative talent pool to continue, and expand Star Wars into galaxies far, far away.”

“We’re incredibly excited by this next chapter in the Star Wars saga,” said Andrew B. Sugerman, executive vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. “Bringing together the iconic Lucasfilm and Marvel brands to tell new stories will allow us to continue to thrill lovers of the original Star Wars comic books and entertain generations to come.”

Ten minutes later, a letter arrived from Mike Richardson, founder and president of Dark Horse.

All things come to pass. So too, do all licensed deals. I am sad to report that Disney, the new owner of Lucasfilm, has notified us here at Dark Horse of their intention to move the Star Wars publishing license to another of their recent acquisitions, Marvel Comics, beginning in 2015. This will end a partnership that has lasted more than two decades.

For those who are new to the industry, Dark Horse revolutionized the treatment of comics based on films. After a history of movie properties being poorly handled with little regard for execution and continuity, Dark Horse took a new approach, carefully choosing licenses and approaching them with excitement and creative energy. Our goal was to create sequels and prequels to the films we loved, paying careful attention to quality and detail, essentially treating those films as though they were our own. Star Wars has been the crown jewel of this approach. We began chasing the title as far back as 1989, and with the launch of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire, a new era in comics was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that we were Star Wars geeks, and we have been determined to spare neither effort nor expense in the pursuit of excellence.

It is ironic that this announcement comes at a time when Dark Horse is experiencing its most successful year ever. For obvious reasons, we have prepared for this eventuality by finding new and exciting projects to place on our schedule for 2015 and beyond. Will they take the place of Star Wars? That’s a tall order, but we will do our best to make that happen. In the meantime, 2014 may be our last year at the helm of the Star Wars comics franchise, but we plan to make it a memorable one. We know that fans of the franchise will expect no less. The Force is with us still.

Richardson is right; Dark Horse really did revolutionize how comics treated film adaptations, once just a throwaway tie-in to keep a franchise name in people's minds. With Dark Empire, Dark Horse dared move the story forward in the way the novels had been allowed to, building its own continuity and using top creators such as Paul Gulacy and Jan Duursema. (Yes, Marvel launched the first Star Wars comic with Howard Chaykin, but he had not yet become HOWARD CHAYKIN.)

That impact can still be felt today with Joss Whedon's continuations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, both for Dark Horse and not accidentally, either. The publisher will also be furthering (or perhaps outright making sense of) 20th Century Fox's Aliens/Predator/Prometheus franchise this summer.

But despite that revolution, let us look at the positive possibilities. Yes, we had to figure that even though it took Disney a couple of years after its purchase of Marvel to start taking advantage of the publishing opportunities (the Imagineering-influenced Seekers of the Weird coming this Spring), Star Wars had an expiration date at Dark Horse.

It's just business sense, even though Dark Horse has done tremendous work with the franchise.

And though Marvel's original Star Wars comics seem pretty outdated, well, that was the style of the time. We have no reason to suppose Marvel wouldn't put top talent on it -- imagine, say, Brian Michael Bendis letting rip on a Mara Jade story, or Jim Starlin exploring the cosmos with Yoda. So we can withhold judgment until we see it.

As for Dark Horse, they are on firm footing as a publisher of their own original material, and I'd bet that the licensing fee for Star Wars, though worth it to them, was pretty hefty. They can now divert some budget to developing more original content in-house, and that could very well be a win for them.

In the meantime, look to 2014. The other part of their promise will no doubt come through -- Dark Horse will release some terrific books set in the Star Wars galaxy before giving it up.

Derek McCaw

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