Stradley Strategizes Dark Horse's "Star Wars" Empire

It's been more than three months since The Walt Disney Company broke the internet with news that the House of Mouse had purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. -- and its complete Star Wars Empire -- from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. The story continues to remain a prominent one for everyone in the Galactic Republic thanks to daily Hollywood updates on everything from promised sequels and prequels, to J.J. Abrams taking the pilot seat next to Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon.

This is all good news for Dark Horse Comics as the publisher holds the license for official Star Wars comics. By delivering one of its strongest slates of titles since the alliance was formed back in 1991, its Star Wars Zone is becoming more popular than Chalmun's Cantina.

Within a month of its initial release, the first issue of Brian Wood's all-new "Star Wars" ongoing series, which is set in the era of the original trilogy directly following the events of "Episode IV: A New Hope," has already scored a third printing for February 27. Further bolstering the Star Wars stable are the forthcoming titles "Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin" miniseries and a new installment of "Star Wars: Legacy." "Ninth Assassin" is an original concept by Tim Siedell who's a newcomer to comics, and Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are returning to the time of the last living Skywalker with a second volume of "Star Wars: Legacy," which now features a descendent of Han Solo.

Legendary Star Wars comic creators John Ostrander and Jan Duursema have returned to Dark Horse with their latest series titled, "Dawn of the Jedi: Prisoner of Bogan" and finally, long-time editor and writer Randy Stradley is telling an epic tale set between the two movie trilogies in "Dark Times: Fire Carrier."

CBR News connected with Stradley, who also serves as Dark Horse's Vice President of Publishing, about the publisher's lineup for 2013 and the always candid comic veteran shared exciting news on forthcoming plans, as well as exclusive cover art for upcoming titles. He also teased a "huge" announcement and a whole lot more Wedge Antilles.

CBR News: Randy, with all the excitement surrounding Star Wars these days with daily news regarding the upcoming sequels, stand-alone movies and theme parks, has Dark Horse experienced any bumps in sales or industry noise for its collection of Star Wars titles?

Randy Stradley: To be honest with you, I have enough work on my plate just getting the books out each month that I pay little attention to sales numbers. The exceptions are when someone alerts me that a title has done better than expected, or worse. Obviously, with "Star Wars" #1 selling out in the first 24 hours and the second printing selling out before it even shipped, we are experiencing sales bumps. I'm expecting we'll see something similar with the return of "Legacy" -- a title many retailers specifically asked about -- and "Dawn of the Jedi" also continues to do well.

They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and since virtually all of the news lately has been good, I'm expecting some higher-than-average sales numbers in the near future.

With Marvel and Star Wars both moving to the House of Mouse, the assumption is Star Wars comics will move to the House of Ideas at some point. Is there an imminent deadline brewing and if so, how does that impact storytelling?

I think you're making assumptions based on, well, nothing. Or unsubstantiated rumors. While it's certainly a possibility that the license could move to Marvel at some point in the future, as of this date nothing has changed.

The series grabbing big headlines is "Star Wars" by Brian Wood, Carlos D'Anda, Gabe Eltaeb and Alex Ross. How did this book originate, and how exciting is it for Dark Horse to have a series in print starring the characters from the original trilogy that's set in a timeline Star Wars fans know and love?

Obviously, I'm happy with and excited about the work everyone has done on the "Star Wars" title. The title came about as collaboration between the team at Lucas Licensing and Dark Horse's editorial team -- a kind of back-and-forth, high-concept discussion that eventually landed us where we are today.

I would hasten to point out that within the body of Star Wars fans, there are a number of subgroups. While you, I and other older fans love the characters from the original trilogy, there is also a huge component of younger fans whose first exposure to the franchise was the prequel films or "The Clone Wars" on television. Remember, that show has been airing for five years now so a whole generation of new fans have grown up watching the adventures of Obi-Wan and Anakin instead of Luke, Leia and Han.

The new films will spawn yet another generation of fans with their own character touchstones for the franchise. I love that the orders on "Star Wars" are so robust, but I also realize one of the reasons for that is that comics retailers -- most of whom came of age in the '70s -- are responding to the Star Wars they know and love. It's a huge galaxy with a timeline currently spanning over 25,000 years. There are lots to love and plenty of room for fans of all stripes.

We've only seen one issue so far, but Brian Wood seems to have his fingers firmly on the Star Wars pulse. What do you like most about his brand of storytelling and can you tease where the opening arc is headed?

What I like most about what Brian is doing is that it's almost all character driven. There are a few basic situations to which the characters are reacting, but in general the characters are proactive. They're pursuing their own goals and desires, which means, the conflicts aren't just arising from the good Rebels encountering the bad Empire, but from Leia's needs colliding with Luke's expectations; Han and Chewie becoming wrapped up in the goals of the Rebellion despite themselves; and Vader being manipulated by the Emperor.

Brian has put a lot of thought into the characters -- how they think, what they want and what they know about the paths they're on at this juncture. Early on, Brian mentioned he was trying to keep in mind that the characters don't know what lies ahead -- for them there is no "The Empire Strikes Back" or "Return of the Jedi." A number of fans wrongly took that to mean Brian was rewriting Star Wars continuity. I think they saw with the first issue, and will see in upcoming issues, this is not the case.

As far as teasing the future, I hesitate to say much for fear of spoiling the surprises. I'll say Wedge plays a larger part in what's going on than you might imagine; Leia displays both strategic brilliance and emotional vulnerability; Luke follows his heart; and Han, well, Han displays a knack for getting into trouble.

The high concept driving "Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin" sounds promising. For unaware readers, can you set the stage for us?

The Empire has become aware of a threat to its hold on the galaxy and Vader has discovered an ancient power that rivals the Sith. The temptation to take it and use it for his own ends is almost too much to resist. Meanwhile, a wealthy businessman whose son was killed by Vader has hired a cadre of assassins to kill the Dark Lord. Eight of them have failed, but the ninth, well, the ninth assassin is something special.

Was this Tim Siedell's pitch or did you go after him? He seems like the right fit -- his tweets from @badbanana are hailed as one of "Time's" 140 Best Twitter Feeds.

I've been following Tim on Twitter for years. I'm amazed that three or four times a day he can come up with a quip or observation that literally makes me laugh out loud. Then, one day, I noticed Tim was following me on Twitter. Consider this, Tim has nearly 700,000 followers; I had at the time just over 700. I sent him a message, asking if he'd ever thought about writing comics. Turns out, Tim had been thinking about writing comics and had searched his followers for the names of senior editors at all of the major comics companies. I was the only one following him, so he began following me. The rest is history.

To be honest, I hadn't expected Tim to want to write comics, let alone Star Wars. It turns out he's a big fan and he jumped at the chance. Sometimes the stars align.

I spoke with Corinna and Gabriel about "Star Wars Legacy" not too long ago and their plans for the series are exciting. Why is it time to return to the "Legacy" era? Were fans and retailers begging for more Cade Skywalker? What makes Ania Solo a potential breakout character in 2013?

I think I mentioned earlier that retailers had been asking for more "Legacy." I think what they really wanted was a regular monthly series. I tried to convince John Ostrander and Jan Duursema to go monthly with "Dawn of the Jedi," but both felt strongly they were a team and needed to be involved in every issue. Since a month-in, month-out schedule will kill any artist, we looked at resurrecting "Legacy."

For a number of reasons I didn't want to go back and pick up where the previous series had left off. For one thing, I felt too many direct comparisons between creative teams would dilute fan enthusiasm for the series. I also felt that by the end of his arc, Cade Skywalker had become too involved with the movers and shakers within the galaxy. I couldn't see where to take him. That's when it struck me there had been no Solos in "Legacy." What were the Solo descendents doing 140 years after "A New Hope?"

I immediately pictured a young woman who might be a chip off the Han Solo block. I also thought about how, barring any Force powers or Jedi legacy, who your great or great-great-grandparents might have been is of virtually no consequence in most people's lives. Are you Abraham Lincoln's great-great-grandson? Good for you. That and a buck or maybe more will get you a cup of coffee.

So Corinna and Gabe came up with Ania Solo, a feisty junk dealer whose best friends are an ice miner and an old assassin droid. She's about as far as you can get from the seats of power, and she likes that just fine. However, this being Star Wars, and her being a Solo, trouble has a way of finding her.

You mentioned John and Jan -- they never disappoint and "Dawn of the Jedi" is no exception. What is it about this dream team that has endured over the years and with "Dawn of the Jedi: Prisoner of Bogan" coming to an end, is their next Star Wars project already in the works?

They have already begun work on a story for the third arc of "Dawn." As of right now, I don't yet have an inkling of what it's about, or even what the title is, but it's coming.

I've often said the best kind of team for a Star Wars comic is a writer who's familiar with the property, but can remain dispassionate about the franchise, and an artist who loves -- and knows -- everything about it. I want the writer to be able to concentrate on telling a good story without getting caught up in minutiae or bogged down in fan service. I want an artist who can't wait to wallow in all of the details. With John and Jan you have that. John comes from a 30-year background of writing comics and Jan would love nothing better than to draw Star Wars. Like I said, the stars align.

We have to give your own series a plug -- what is it about "Dark Times: Fire Carrier" that drew you back to the Dark Side as a writer instead of an editor?

Actually, after Doug Wheatley and I finished last year's "Dark Times: Out of the Wilderness" arc, we went right into working on a story called "A Spark Remains." Partway into the first issue, Doug had an opportunity for another project allowing him to provide more financial security for his family. So, we put that arc on hold and I started in on "Fire Carrier" with Gabriel Guzman.

"Fire Carrier" deals with the Jedi K' Kruhk of the Whiphid species and the group of young Padawans he 'inherited' at the end of "The Clone Wars." I left the fate of the group in question at the end of "Dark Times" volume 2, but it was a story Doug and I always planned to tell. Due to Doug being unavailable, it simply was moved up on the schedule.

K' Kruhk is a character who lived through the Clone Wars, disappeared for a 100 or so years and then returned in the "Legacy" series. His whereabouts during the Rebellion and the following years have remained a mystery.

The events in "Fire Carrier" give K' Kruhk a mission of life or death, leaving him in a place where it makes perfect sense that he would sit out the events in the original trilogy, possibly without ever being aware they transpired. That's the big picture, but in essence "Fire Carrier" is about how revenge can poison someone's life and what it takes to come back from the worst thing you've ever done.

I think Gabriel has done an amazing job -- especially given the large number of alien characters he brings to life. How many times has it been during the course of this interview that the stars have aligned? I'm a lucky boy.

Finally, is Dark Horse launching any more new Star Wars titles in 2013?

Oh, we have a huge announcement coming up in the next few weeks. I'm not even going to hint at it here. You'll just have to wait. You know, until the stars align.

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