When the license for Star Wars comics became the purview of the Walt Disney Company — through its acquisition of Marvel Comics in 2009 — fans wondered how the move would impact their beloved franchise. This wasn’t the first time Star Wars would be published by Marvel, the company had produced the very first comics based upon the property to tremendous success, but Dark Horse Comics had spent two decades as the series caretaker, with good results. The move was no real surprise, though, and allowed for the sort of vertical integration that send media companies over the moon.
In the years following Marvel’s taking the reins, fans have been treated so some interesting stories that impact, expand, and change what we know about the characters. Part of what we love about the stories beyond the films is how they add detail and color to the movies’ world, painting a much wider picture of life in and around the Empire and the Republic. With this list, we highlight some of the ways the most recent Marvel Comics stories have changed Star Wars, in both good and not-so-good ways. We include mostly “in-story” shifts, but there are also some “real world” noteworthy changes.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ALL OF MARVEL’S STAR WARS SERIES AHEAD
15. THREEPIO LOSES AN ARM, BUT GAINS SOME FRIENDS
Sharped-eyed viewers of The Force Awakens noticed that the usually-all-golden droid C-3PO was sporting a new look for the film — his left arm was red. The droid mentioned the change in passing during the course of the movie, but it wasn’t until Star Wars Special: C-3PO was published nearly five months later that we learned the story behind the switch.
C-3PO wears the new appendage in memory of a droid who sacrificed himself to allow Threepio to complete a mission for the rebellion. The affectation is an interesting confirmation that Threepio and other droids are individual enough to go on important missions, and they have enough “consciousness” to desire keepsakes. It’s a touching story that makes you reconsider the nature of humanity and sentience in the Star Wars movies, something the Extended Universe played with a number of times.
14. DARTH MAUL IS A WILLFUL BRAT
One of the break-out characters in the prequel movies, Darth Maul gets a history in Star Wars: Darth Maul, a mini-series that dives into his earlier years as the apprentice to Darth Sidious. The movie depicts Maul as a silent, deadly killer, and though he retains these attributes in the comic, the book adds an element of bratty entitlement.
But the Emperor is nothing if not opportunistic, and takes advantage of Maul’s petty emotional outbursts to turn him into an even more effective weapon than before. This story expands on Maul’s backstory, and proves just how insidious the appropriately-named Darth Sidious is. We don’t get to learn about the lives of the Sith much before we know them as evil, and though Maul is evil, readers come to understand he’s also being taken advantage of.
13. K2SO HAS A REALLY HANDY KILL SWITCH
Robots should all have on/off switches, whether we’re taking Terminators, Teddy Ruxpins, or pseudo-sentient Star Wars droids. The fan-favorite from Rogue One, K2SO, is no different. What makes his kill switch noteworthy, however, is its placement, and the way it makes you wonder about kill switches across the Star Wars universe.
In Star Wars: Rogue One – Cassian and K2SO Annual, readers are treated to the origin story of how an Imperial security droid came into the employ and partnership of the rebellion. In another move that calls a droid’s sentience and agency into question, Cassian has K2SO reprogrammed. To do that, the droid needs to be turned off. Where’s the button? On his hand. It’s a detail that makes you wonder about the foresight of droid manufacturers. Why are kill switches in different places? And why put the button on a place where it can be accidentally accessed?
12. DROIDS CAN BE SADISTIC
We continue our list still thinking about droids. In this case, the wonderful, delightful, murderous droids in the service of archeologist Dr. Chelli Aphra, 0-0-0 and BT-1. From the pages of Star Wars: Darth Vader, these droids are torture and assassination robots, respectively, brought into service as Aphra struggles to keep Darth Vader happy and herself alive.
Assassin and torture droids were not new concepts when these two breakout characters were first introduced. IG-88 famously appeared on the Executor alongside the other bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, for example. How this pair changes Star Wars is more subtle. These are droids who enjoy death and destruction, as if they’d engage in murder as entertainment, not merely as an end result of their programming algorithm. So if your toaster is looking at you funny, you might want to check its programming.
11. MORE JEDI THAN WE KNOW SURVIVED ORDER 66
The execution of Order 66, the programmed response which pushed the Clone Army to murder their Jedi allies, is depicted in Revenge of the Sith. In one of the saddest sequences in any of the movies, Jedi are brutally gunned down across the galaxy. Yoda and Obi-Wan are forced into exile, to be found by members of the nascent Rebels in later movies.
Marvel have shown us that there are plenty of Jedi who escaped Order 66. For example, Darth Vader recently hunted down a veteran Jedi knight in the Darth Vader series. Set just after Anakin’s rebirth, the issues show Vader’s quest to kill a Jedi and capture his lightsaber so Vader can fashion it into his own Sith blade. So, while it’s true that the Jedi were slaughtered, whenever the story requires it, you can be sure there’s a Jedi crouching in some dark corner of the galaxy.
10. THE REBELS HAD A NETWORK OF SPIES ON CORUSCANT
The movies are limited in how much space they can devote to the war between the Rebellion and the Empire. Like a bad history book, the movies focus on the big battles and the famous leaders who manipulate the pieces on the chessboard. Though Rogue One shows fans a little glimpse behind the scenes of the conflict, Star Wars Annual #1 pulls the veil back even more.
Eneb Ray is a Rebellion spy embedded in the Imperial capital of Coruscant. He’s a master of his craft, deep undercover as a tax collector. When Princess Leia assigns him a mission to save senators loyal to the Rebellion from execution, he swings into action. Though the mission doesn’t go well, the story reveals just how deep and organized the Rebellion’s agents are. We know of the Bothans, of course, but there are numerous, unnamed spies working for the good guys in Coruscant.
9. GIANT SPACE WHALES CAN BE USED AS SHIPS
The latter issues of the first volume of Darth Vader focus on an Imperial cybernetics specialist, Cylo, and his quest to usurp Vader in the eyes of the Emperor. Though Star Wars has featured cybernetics and technological adaption of organic material since day one, these issues take body modification one step further.
Cylo himself is modified with a Rodian eye implanted into his human skull (Greedo was a Rodian, for the record). Cylo is the mad genius behind Anakin’s evolution into Vader, a dark techno-wizard with a jonesing for jamming electronics into flesh. The biggest examples of Cylo’s experiments are the large, enhanced space whales that get used for interstellar travel in these stories. Giant animals are new to Star Wars (they make great toys, after all), but these books are the first we see of open space beasts.
8. POE HAS A BACKSTORY
Here’s another example of Marvel changing Star Wars by adding to its history. In Star Wars: Poe Dameron, this generation’s Han Solo receives a background story that reveals how he came to be one of the best pilots in the Resistance and one-half of the the galaxy’s favorite bromance. Poe’s cocky reassurance that he can “fly anything” makes another appearance in this story, as does his plucky droid sidekick BB-8.
This series built upon what we learned about Poe during Star Wars: Shattered Empire, which introduced Poe’s parents. One of the joys of being a Star Wars fan has always been learning the histories of the smaller characters that populate the movies’ scenes, and given that Poe arrived in The Force Awakens nearly fully formed, gaining his backstory is a welcome change through addition to the Star Wars universe.
7. CHEWBACCA GOT A MEDAL (BUT GAVE IT AWAY)
One of Star Wars’s most-iconic images is that of the medal ceremony at the end of the first film. Han and Luke are shown wearing their medals of bravery, while Chewbacca, every bit a hero, stands on the stage nearby, sans medal. Fans rightly complained about the neglect of the Wookie’s heroics deeds.
Later stories remedied that oversight, though with the move of the property to Disney and Marvel, those stories wouldn’t count (more on that later). Thankfully, Star Wars: Chewbacca reveals that he did receive his medal, though he gives it away to a friend he meets while stranded during the story. Turns out, he received his medal sometime after the main ceremony, and he’s happy to give it away because it doesn’t go with the rest of his “outfit.” Interestingly, Chewie doesn’t speak during these issues, except in his usual roars and barks.
6. SPACE VAMPIRES
One of the best aspects of new Star Wars material after the motion pictures is the ability of new creators to introduce new concepts and new genres into the stories and universe. Similar to the body modification stories featuring Cylo, “The Screaming Citadel” crossover introduces the concepts of vampires to the Star Wars universe.
Told across the Star Wars and Doctor Aphra books, and starring most of the most-famous Star Wars characters, “The Screaming Citadel” introduces the Queen of the Citadel of Ktath’atn. The Queen stages an audience where people attempt to curry her favor, but she’s a vampire that lives off of life energy. Lucky for her, the most delicious life energy belongs to force-sensitive farm boys, and one just walked through the door.
5. THE GREATEST CHARACTER IN THE UNIVERSE IS DOCTOR APHRA
One of the biggest in-story changes to the Star Wars galaxy arrived with little fanfare, but has become one of the brightest stars in Marvel’s recent Star Wars comics. Doctor Chelli Aphra, who debuted within the Darth Vader books, is smart, talented, and practical. She’s very good at the things she’s good at, but at the same time vulnerable and human. Her successes are hard-won, her confidence well-placed, and the dangers she faces realistic.
While one of the criticisms of Rey from The Force Awakens was the she was great at everything for no good reason — earning her the label of “Mary Sue,” from some commentators — Aphra’s abilities don’t ever seem convenient or forced. She pals around with Star Wars luminaries, but doesn’t feel overshadowed. As far as new characters go, Aphra is the best change to the Star Wars universe that Marvel has made.
4. LEAVING DARK HORSE
Dark Horse Comics published over 100 different Star Wars titles from 1991 until 2014. During that time, the Star Wars universe was fleshed out in nearly every possible direction. Dark Horse was one of the first publishers to explore what happened after Return of the Jedi, and popularized many secondary characters through their mini-series and arcs that ran through their ongoings.
In many ways, Dark Horse was responsible for keeping the Star Wars flame burning bright, allowing for the big productions and ultimate acquisition that would take the license back to the House of Mouse. Along with Timothy Zahn, Dark Horse kept the franchise fresh and relevant after the cartoons and the towline came to their ends. Is there a bigger example of a franchise jumping publishing companies with such an impact on fans, creators, or retailers? We can’t think of one.
3. VADER LEARNS TO BE VADER
At the end of Revenge of the Sith, we see Darth Vader posed on the bridge of a spaceship watching the construction of the Death Star. In Rogue One, Vader is shown already at the height of his powers. What happened in between? We know how Anakin became Darth Vader, but how did a cyborg, fresh off the operating table, learn to become one of the most-feared people in the galaxy?
Those questions are answered in Star Wars: Darth Vader. The second volume that premiered this year takes place immediately following the events of Revenge, and tracks Vader as he seeks out a Jedi’s lightsaber. This Vader is ruthless, filled with rage, but he’s also learning to adjust to being as much machine as man. It’s an incredible insight into what happens under the mask, and adds to the journey that concludes when he turns on the Emperor.
2. BLOWN UP CANON
As much as the Star Wars canon has been changed by what Marvel have added to the universe, the biggest change in the franchise has to be what it’s lost as a result. All those stories, told by previous assorted publishers, were considered the “Star Wars Expanded Universe,” held up as “real” by fans as an elaborate tapestry of voices. Well, in April of 2014, Lucasfilm renamed the Expanded Universe “Star Wars Legends,” and those stories were declared to be non-canon. So as far as the “world” of Star Wars is concerned, those stories never happened.
While some of those characters, notably Admiral Thrawn, have begun appearing in canon works, fans have lost a lot of material. While you don’t need to throw away your old copies of Rogue Squadron, many fans despaired at the lost of some great material. Does that mean Boba Fett never escaped the sarlacc?
1. HAN WAS MARRIED
Before we conclude we need to include another new character, but what makes her interesting is her connection to a well-known Star Wars star. Star Wars #4 introduces the character Sana Starros-Solo, though we don’t see her in full view disembarking from her ship, the Volt Cobra, until issue six. Upon her unveiling, Sana reveals her big secret: she is the wife of Han Solo, from the time before what’s depicted in the original trilogy.
Sana tracks Han across the galaxy with the help of a band of Rodians (remember, for the record, Greedo was a Rodian) and confronts him. Leia is there, too, so you can imagine how uncomfortable the encounter is without laser rifles being involved. Eventually, the animosity between Sana and Han dissipates enough that Sana is folded into the Rebellion.
What changes to Star Wars do you find noteworthy? Let us know in the comments!
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