The "Dark Times" saga running through Dark Horse Comics' "Star Wars" titles rages on February 6 with the first installment of "Star Wars: Dark Times - Fire Carrier." The five-issue miniseries written by Randy Stradley and featuring art by Gabriel Guzman reconnects readers with the fan-favorite Whipid Jedi Master K'Kruhk. On the run from Darth Vader and his Imperial army, K'Kruhk is struggling to protect a group of young Padawans he's taken under his wing.
In "Fire Carrier" K'Kruhk will face some formidable adversaries as he finds himself and his Padawan students forced to land and take refuge on an Imperial planet. Comic Book Resources recently spoke with Stradley about returning to the character, the continuously evolving mythology of the Star Wars Universe, and the growing darkness in "Dark Times."
K'Kruhk is a character originally created by Stradley in "Jedi Council: Acts of War." A massive, fur-covered, tusk-mouthed Whipid, K'Kruhk exhibits a personality that is uncharacteristic of his kind. This struggle, perhaps between his cultural predilections and his training as a Jedi, has led to some inner conflict for the Jedi and lent him an aura of, as Stradley describes it, "sad nobility."
"K'Kruhk is a dutiful and dedicated Jedi, but he is also an individual who is riddled with doubts and regrets," Stradley told CBR News. "Maybe his uncertainty began with the death of his master when he was still a Padawan. Perhaps he saw his master's death as a case of 'Do the right thing, and get punished anyway.' When the Clone Wars broke out, he was one of a handful of Jedi who temporarily sided with the Separatists ('Clone Wars Omnibus,' volume 1). They were won back to the side of the Jedi and the Republic, but we all know how that turned out. So he carries the weight of that decision, as well."
This conflict occasionally gets the better of K'Kruhk, causing him to lash out.
"The last time he was called upon to act as a Jedi and save a group of Padawans from pirates ('Dark Times: Parallels'), he went too far -- he allowed his emotions to get the better of him -- and slaughtered all of the pirates," said Stradley. "Now he worries that he has emotionally scarred the Padawans, and himself."
With "Fire Carrier," K'Kruhk has something of an opportunity to turn things around for himself and, in the act of protecting his Padawan apprentices, instruct them as well.
"This is the story of a second chance for K'Kruhk," said Stradley. "[It's] an opportunity for him to redeem himself, not only to the group of young Padawans he's protecting, but to himself as well. He's going to get a chance to see that not every decision he has made was wrong, and that there is even some good from the Rebellion that will maybe carry over to the Empire."
Familiar faces will also be popping up in "Fire Carrier," with K'Kruhk joined once again by Chase Piru, the teenage Padawan who was there alongside the Whipid in his last adventure. The duo and the young Padawans will run into another familiar Jedi face, though Stradley declined to mention him by name. The Jedis will undoubtedly face tough odds, however, with Darth Vader and the young lieutenant he took under his wing in "Out of the Wilderness" giving chase.
"There's also the assassin Falco Sang from ['Out of the Wilderness']," said Stradley. "Vader captured Sang at the end of the previous story, and he's putting the assassin through his paces, training him for an as-yet-unannounced mission. But I hasten to point out that Vader and the others are secondary to this story. They're in the background, driving some of the situations, but they stay in the background.
"There's a group of new players who are K'Kruhk's direct adversaries," Stradley continued. "An Imperial Commander, and a Captain in the local militia on the planet where the action takes place."
Stradley has a breadth of experience with the "Star Wars" universe, dating back to issue #86 of the original "Star Wars" comic books published by Marvel Comics, "The Alderaan Factor." Stradley has been writing "Star Wars" for Dark Horse since 1997's "Crimson Empire," and he knows his way around these far away worlds. In part, Stradley says, it's the wealth of worlds to explore that makes "Star Wars" and its characters so enduring.
"We're able to deal with a whole galaxy," said Stradley. "There are characters, settings, and situations to suit any kind of story a writer and an artist want to tell. However big you want to go, there's room to do it. And if you want to scale things down to a personal level, the galaxy far, far away can provide you with the tools you need. After all, what's more personal than the conflicts between a father and son, or a sister and a brother, or two lovers?
"I've seen writers (myself included) who have felt constrained to replay or replicate the events in the films," he continued. "But once you get past that, you realize that 'Star Wars' offers you unlimited freedom."
Despite that freedom, "Star Wars" and the associated stories take place in a firmly established universe, with its own physics, chemistry, and parameters. It's working within these rules that allows the conflict necessary for a story to take hold.
"I have dealt with writers in the past who wanted to show Jedi using their Force powers to pull spaceships out of the sky, and that sort of thing -- feats that just seemed too powerful compared to the kinds of things we see Jedi do in the films," said Stradley. "But a smart Jedi, someone like K'Kruhk, might find a way to do it that doesn't require a great deal of, er, Force. You'll see."
Artist Gabriel Guzman is doing his part to keep the story of "Fire Carrier" grounded, pulling the humanity out of alien characters. His work on this story arc confronts the emotional core of the story, bringing out the conflicting emotions of characters under pursuit.
"The Force is strong with Gabriel. His work is very clean, very clear, and all of the characters' emotions come to the forefront," Stradley said of his partner on the miniseries. "He has all of the 'Star Wars' tech down pat, but he never lets the reader forget that these are people dealing with doubt, anger, fear and so on. In a medium where all too often clenched teeth are used to represent every emotion, Gabriel deals in shades of feelings that are at once subtle and dramatic."
While the story is in part a one of hope and redemption, "Fire Carriers" also lingers in that darker end of the emotional spectrum where doubt and fear cloud the skies.
"There's a secondary theme of how evil begets evil," said Stradley. "How revenge can become a poison -- not just in individuals, but throughout a whole society. This is possibly the darkest of the 'Dark Times' arcs -- and there are some scenes that Lucasfilm required us to depict very delicately. Still -- though it won't seem like it until near the end -- it is a story about redemption and hope."
"Star Wars: Dark Times - Fire Carrier" #1 goes on sale February 6, 2013.