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Marvel Reclaims the Star Wars license from Dark Horse

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When it comes to licensing, Star Wars is one of the most sought after brands out there. From toys to video games, comics to product tie-ins, Star Wars has been one of, if not the most financially lucrative film franchises of all time. When The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, and with it, all of the rights associated with Star Wars, it was only a matter of time until Disney, who also owns Marvel Comics would take back the Star Wars comics license as well. The license has been with Dark Horse Comics for over twenty years, so while not unexpected, Disney’s announcement last week that it is moving the comics back to Marvel in 2015 is certainly big news.

“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.”

Before superhero films were dominating the box-office and comic book sales were at record highs, Marvel, the pioneer of the industry was struggling to near ruin. We all now how the Marvel story panned out, but back in the mid-1970’s, when the newsstand model of comics distribution was collapsing, Marvel was saved by a decision that almost didn’t come to pass. When approached by Lucasfilm in 1975, two years prior to Star Wars’ release, Stan Lee declined the studios request for Marvel to run a comic book companion series to the film. Movie licensed comics were notoriously unsuccessful, so Lee’s apprehension was understandable. Two years later however, Lee changed his mind and Marvel released the first Star Wars comic in March of 1977.  The initial Star Wars series ran 107 issues from 1977 through 1986. The series was a smash hit that gave Marvel the solid-footing needed to continue producing comics into the wave of direct market distribution that saved the industry in the 1980’s.

In 1991, Dark Horse Comics took over the Star Wars license and launched the Dark Empire series by Tom Veitch. From there, Dark Horse would go on to publish scores of new Star Wars tales including memorable runs of Droids, Legacy and a comic adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Dark Horse released loads of Star Wars comics over the past twenty years, even republishing Marvel’s original run of comics in Omnibus form.

In 2010, Dark Horse decided to forgo long form Star Wars comics, choosing instead to launch a number of new stories in mini-series form. Included among the most recent and memorable Star Wars series’ from Dark Horse are The Star Wars, the J.W. Rinzler led adaptation of George Lucas’ original draft for Star Wars, as well as the Dark Times, Dawn of the Jedi and Old Republic titles. Perhaps the best and most memorable of the recent comics is Brian Wood’s Star Wars, set between the first film and The Empire Strikes Back and starring the familiar faces of Han, Leia, Luke and Chewie.

Most of the Star Wars comics have been set in the Expanded Universe, where the storylines are considered secondary canon to the films. Unfortunately, many of the Dark Horse comics have been hit or miss and suffered from a lack of consistency that has in some ways watered the brand down over the years. Only over the past two years, with stories like the one Wood created have Star Wars comics come back in a big way. But alas, just as Star Wars comics are regaining speed, Dark Horse has only one year left with the franchise.

“2014 may be our last year at the helm of the Star Wars comics franchise, but we plan to make it a memorable one,” explained Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson. ”We know that fans of the franchise will expect no less. The Force is with us still.”

The indie sensibilities of Dark Horse worked well enough for the Star Wars brand, but now, with the bigger guns of Marvel behind it, great things may be coming. There is no doubt Marvel will use the new comics to tie into and around the new trilogy of films coming in 2015. Surprisingly, the best space opera comic out there right now is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. With Guardians, Brian Michael Bendis has written an incredible world of intergalactic action that is consistently exciting, full of character and rich with incredible artwork by Steve McNiven. Imagine if Bendis were to helm a new Star Wars series? Better yet, Marvel could bring Brian Wood back as well. Wood announced that his run on Star Wars would end with the conclusion of the series later this year. Wood also writes for Marvel (X-Men Vol. 4), so it would be great to see him have a chance to continue writing Star Wars titles into 2015. There are so many great resources at Marvel’s disposal and with a new era of Star Wars media upon us, the best Star Wars comics are likely still to come.

With such a major shift from a smaller comics company like Dark Horse to the biggest in Marvel, a newfound focus on original Star Wars storytelling is upon us. To date there have been a total of 937 standard issue Star Wars comics and 35 graphic novels printed between Marvel and Dark Horse. Judging from Marvel’s consistent deluge of new titles and spinoffs in superhero comics, I expect many more to come.


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