C2E2 EXCLUSIVE: "Star Wars: Dark Times" Strikes Back

Set in an era just after the death of the Republic and the birth of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, Dark Horse's "Star Wars: Dark Times" chronicled the bleak era when remnants of the Jedi Order were hunted to extinction, with many of the proud and noble Jedi forced to compromise their ideals when the Force seemed to desert them. Dass Jennir, one such Jedi Master, found himself utterly defeated and on the run before joining up with the crew of the Uhumele, a ship smuggling mysterious and valuable cargo. Their paths parted when Jennir revealed his Jedi training, and "Dark Times" alternated between the two casts -- with Darth Vader playing an ever-ominous role.

This August, "Dark Times" returns in a new five-issue miniseries by the original creative team of writer Mick Harrison and artist Doug Wheatley, continuing in the series-of-miniseries format once the initial story reaches its conclusion. CBR News spoke with Harrison, Wheatley, and editor Randy Stradley about "Star Wars: Dark Times - Out of the Wilderness," which was announced Friday at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.

CBR News: The last issue of the ongoing "Star Wars: Dark Times" series was released in June of last year. What made this a good time to return to the "Dark Times" era?

Randy Stradley: There's a bad time?

Mick Harrison: Doug and I are always working on "Dark Times," to one extent or another. The timing of the release of this new arc is a function of Doug's schedule. Due to other commitments, he wasn't able to start work on the arc until January. But we've already plotted the arc that will follow "Out of the Wilderness."

I know the complete "Star Wars" Blu-ray collection comes out in September -- are you hoping that generates a bit of excitement of these near-contemporary stories?

Harrison: That would be great, but I don't expect it. I think "casual" "Star Wars" fans -- the ones who have seen the films, but haven't delved into any of the comics or novels -- would find a lot to like in the comics. We've got Vader and the Empire, we've got a Jedi or two and a bunch of interesting aliens. Most importantly, you can figure out what's going on without wading through miles of continuity. Right now, though, we're focused on giving our current audience the most for their money.

Randy, "Dark Times" had been an ongoing series, but this arc is being launched as a mini, as we've seen happen with some other "SW" titles, including "Legacy." What makes this the best approach for the "Star Wars" line moving forward?

Stradley: We're not changing the way the stories have been told in "Dark Times," just changing the presentation. From the beginning, each arc has been a self-contained story. Each of the arcs is interconnected, one leading to the next, but each can be read independent of the others -- readers aren't "forced" to start at the beginning to understand what's happening. For instance, the start of the previous arc ("Blue Harvest") was issue #13 of "Dark Times," but someone seeing the book for the first time might not realize that issue #13 was a perfect jumping-on point. We're just making it easier for new readers to locate a point of entry to the stories.

The title "Out of the Wilderness," of course, might allude to a number of themes. How does this describe or fit with the story of this miniseries?

Harrison: Like all of the arcs focusing on Jedi Master Dass Jennir, this one has him struggling with how to stay true to his Jedi roots in a galaxy where the Jedi Order has been destroyed and all Jedi are fugitives. After "Blue Harvest," Jennir feels that he's back on the right track, but he's not completely out of the woods -- or wilderness -- as far as reconnecting with the Force. Also, Jennir is stuck in an actual wilderness in this story.

Will "Out of the Wilderness" tie-in to the Vader series currently in progress?

Harrison: If I have my timeline straight, "Out of the Wilderness" takes place shortly after "Darth Vader and the Lost Command." Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine appear in both stories, but there's no cause-and-effect link between them.

From what we've seen, it sounds like this story begins with Vader wanting to interrogate a prisoner -- only to find the prisoner has been killed. What sort of information is Vader looking for in his thwarted interrogation?

Harrison: Without getting too specific, Vader is kinda obsessed with finding and killing any Jedi who might have survived the events of "Revenge of the Sith." In "Blue Harvest," Palpatine taunted Vader with a mention of Dass Jennir, and now Vader has his sights set on Jennir. But what Vader will discover -- and it will come as just as much of a surprise to Palpatine -- is somebody else is also looking for Jennir, and they're willing to kill for information about his location. The whole arc is about everybody -- good guys and bad guys -- trying to find Jennir, even as Jennir is struggling to find himself.

The structure of the "Dark Times" series is interesting in that it alternates between the crew of the Uhumele and Dass Jennir's exploits. Are their paths set to converge any time soon?

Harrison: I'll just say this: the crew of the Uhumele, along with their newest companion, a Verpine (a species of insect aliens) Jedi named Beyghor Sahdett, are looking for Jennir.

From what you're saying, there appear to be several different story threads at work in this mini. What else can you tell us about the adventures we'll be seeing?

Harrison: This is a challenge! How much can I say without spoiling the story? There are four separate threads running through this arc, all of them converging with at least one of the other threads. You've got Vader on Jennir's trail, the crew of the Uhumele also tracking Jennir, the mysterious newcomer who is killing his way toward Jennir, and then you have Jennir himself, who is chasing -- well, that's got to remain a secret for now. I will tell you this: you'll get to see Dass Jennir use his lightsaber in this arc. That's something we've refrained from showing previously.

Doug, we've seen some visual changes in the "Dark Times" characters in the past, notably Dass Jennir in "Blue Harvest" growing his beard out and so forth. Will there be any subtle or larger redesigns in "Out of the Wilderness?"

Doug Wheatley: No, not with any of the main characters. Oh, Jennir grows out his beard again. But it's only because he's not in a situation where he can shave. You'll see.

For Doug again: the "Star Wars" universe has some amazing sci-fi tech, ships and so on, plus, of course, some really fun possibilities for fight scenes. Is there anything you especially enjoy drawing in this universe, or are there certain bits that always give you trouble?

Wheatley: I like drawing it all -- everything from fight scenes to conversations. Nothing stands out for me as problematic with regard to the drawing, other than the usual challenges of doing my best to get better at it -- both the drawing and the storytelling.

Stradley: I want to jump in here and give a plug to this arc's cover artist, Pablo Correa. Pablo is a "real" artist, a fine arts painter from Paris who happens to also be a huge "Star Wars" fan. He's bringing something really interesting to the covers -- they're almost like impressionist portraits of the main characters.

"Star Wars: Dark Times - Out of the Wilderness" #1 hits stores August 3.

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