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Emperor Palpatine Clone and Luke Skywalker

SW: Dark Empire
by yo go re

We've talked before about how Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire was the first real "Expanded Universe" story and kickstarted the modern interest in Star Wars. But it almost didn't work out that way.

Luke Skywalker has discovered the existence of another Jedi, helping him further his goal of reestablishing the Jedi Knights. While he makes plans to go to Ossus to locate important Jedi artifacts, Emperor Palpatine is reborn in the body of another clone, and he makes immediate plans to crush the Alliance and the fledgling Jedi Knight.

When Dark Empire came out, apparently some fans thought it was doing a disservice to the Star Wars movies. They claimed that it invalidated Vader's sacrifice, that it contradicted the prophecy of the Chosen One, blah blah blah. More proof that Star Wars fanboys will bitch about anything and everything. Did they care that George Lucas loved it so much that he gave out copies of the book as Christmas gifts? Nope, they just unilaterally decided it was ruining his perfect vision. Dumbasses.

The thing that got them so up in arms, apparently, was the rebirth of the Emperor. Remember, this was years before the prequels introduced Palpatine's desire for immortality. Since he's inhabiting a clone body (which, I think, would technically make him "Paalpaatiine" or something - that's the Expanded Universe's answer to naming clones: doubling vowels), Palpatine looks much younger than he did in any of the movies. He does not, however, particularly look like a younger Ian McDiarmid.

Palpatine's wearing black robes, of course, but he also has a high, up-turned collar and shoulder armor similar to what Vader always wore under his cape. There's a strange sash of some sort holding the robe closed, and it's a good thing there is, for beneath that robe lies one of the most horrible things ever seen in the Star Wars galaxy: a nude Emperor Palpatine.

Okay, technically he's not nude - he's got some sort of strange straps on his body. Though the clones were "born" nude in the comics, this was probably done for decency's sake on the toy. Whatever the things are, they're not clothes, just bands of cloth clinging to him - assume it's either the tatters of his robes after a battle, or something designed to hold clones in place in their tanks. The body is pale and covered in dark blemishes, evidence of the way the Dark Side is swiftly consuming him.

The Clone Emperor is very nicely articulated, with a ball and socket head, balljoints at the shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles, and swivels at the wrists, waist and hips. He has a blue lightsaber, unexpectedly, and a bit of snap-on Force lightning. Of course, the robe and shoulder armor are removable, as well.

Clone Palpatine has seen release as an action figure before, and so has the other toy in this comic pack, Luke Skywalker.

You know how in Return of the Jedi Luke started wearing black to signify how close he was coming to the Dark Side, to following in his father's footsteps? Well, Dark Empire (which, technically, is used as the title for the entire trilogy, not just the first book in the series) took that a step further, since Luke's clothes are apparently hand-me-downs: his outfit looks to be made of the same ribbed material as Darth Vader's suit, which would seem to indicate that he's wearing his dad's pants. He's even wearing a huge, billowing (molded plastic) cape, with the high collar mirroring the one Palpatine has in this set.

Hasbro did a good job on the Luke likeness. Dark Empire starts six years after the end of the movies, so Luke needs to look older than we're used to - in other words, like Mark Hamill circa 1989. That was just about the time Batman the Animated Series was starting up, so there are plenty of photos of him at that age to show what Luke would look like, and this figure follows suit. He's aging, but not old, and still has a quintessential "Luke-ness" about him.

Luke is armed with his green lightsaber, and has all the same articulation as Palpatine did, so he can pose nicely with it. The cape hinders the legs a bit, but not terribly so. He's also got what looks like a cloud of blue smoke pouring out of a Hellraiser puzzle cube, but is actually a Jedi Holocron, sort of a holographic search engine of Jedi lore. The blue thing is Bodo Bass, the insect-like previous owner of the holocron, acting as a guide for current users. Of course, in every appearance the image of Bodo was green, not blue, but you get the idea.

This comic pack, #33 by whatever inexplicable numbering Hasbro is using, includes a reprint of Dark Empire II #1, which isn't really the best choice. Yes, we see Luke and the Emperor (and the Tedryn Holocron besides), but the two characters never interact, and really aren't in the book that much. Might as well have used something from the original Dark Empire, since they all looked exactly the same in it. The art will probably turn some readers off, with its blocky, stylized look and the very moody coloring.

The idea for Dark Empire began at Marvel Comics. In the late '80s, Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy did a series called The Light and Darkness War. It was a big outer space story, and so the creators got the idea to do some Star Wars stuff. They got the go-ahead from Lucasfilm, and even started work on the book, but then things fell apart at Marvel, and Dark Horse picked up the license.

That switch slowed things down by about a year, so Dark Empire ended up coming out five months after Heir to the Empire. Originally DE was meant to take place shortly after the Battle of Endor, and Zahn was asked to include some references to it in his novel. He refused, so the story was moved back slightly to happen after Heir. If not for all that, Dark Empire would have been the one that started the ball rolling again.

-- 04/19/09

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