Star Wars fans made sure to set their alarms so they wouldn't miss this year's Star Wars comics panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Dark Horse Comics, the publisher which has been responsible for bringing Star Wars comics to its passionate fan base for over twenty years, has been on a roll as of late. New series like Brian Wood's "Star Wars" and the adaptation of George Lucas' initial rough draft illustrate that, when it comes to Star Wars, the comic book company is playing for keeps.
The panel consisted of Dark Horse comics editor and "Star Wars: Dark Times" writer Randy Stradley, "Star Wars" artist Carlos D'Anda, "Dark Times" artist Doug Wheatley, "Star Wars: Legacy" creative team Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, "Star Wars" colorist Gabe Eltaeb, " Star Wars: Ewoks - Shadows of Endor" writer/artist Zack Giallongo, and upcoming "Star Wars: Legacy artist" Brian Thies. Dark Horse's PR director, Jeremy Atkins, moderated the panel.
The creators, led by Stradley, ran through a slideshow of art, highlighting the upcoming developments in the various Star Wars miniseries and ongoings. First up was "Dawn of the Jedi" and the book's upcoming story, "Force Wars."
"[The Force Hound] Xesh is in the defense of the Tython system, because the Rakata are coming in force," said Stradley. "They're blowing up lots of stuff, and they've got these guys called flesh raiders who, after they kill you, they eat you --or sometimes they just eat you." The five-issue story starts in November.
The next arc of "Star Wars: Dark Times" --entitled "A Spark Remains" --was previewed next, with both action packed and "mushy" preview art.
"This 'Dark Times' story arc has probably been one of my favorites, simply because [Jedi] Dass Jennir has learned Darth Vader's identity --and that's all I can really say about that," said artist Doug Wheatley. "We've been building to this in 'Dark Times' and it's going to be an amazing story. Vader gets his butt kicked!"
With writer Brian Wood spending the weekend in New York City, Stradley filled in the audience on what's coming up in the flagship "Star Wars" series. "In the upcoming issues, Luke and Wedge sneak aboard a Star Destroyer on a secret mission, and everything works out pretty good until it comes to getting off the Star Destroyer," revealed Stradley.
"['Star Wars'] is a task that is equal parts excitement and terror," said artist Carlos D'Anda, who returns to the series halfway through its second arc. "Something that I realized, now that I'm older, was the reason I didn't draw Darth Vader when I was a kid was because he was a pain in the ass to draw. That hasn't changed much."
Fuzzy little aliens received a bit of love from the audience when the focus moved on to "Star Wars: Ewoks - Shadows of Endor."
"It's about the Ewoks living in a bright tree village," said writer and artist Zack Giallongo. "It's all the Ewoks you remember from 'Return of the Jedi,' and there are also Ewoks from the cartoon series." Giallongo ran through the premise of the comic, which follows the Ewoks as they first come face-to-face with the Empire on their home planet. Set during the build-up to "Return of the Jedi," the comic shows the Ewoks rallying against a legendary monster the Empire has unknowingly startled awake. "The story is about them learning how to defend themselves from this creature," said Giallongo.
Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman shed some light on "Star Wars: Legacy," the series that follows the descendant of Han Solo and Princess Leia.
"'Legacy' is about Ania Solo," explained Hardman. "She's sort of a nobody in the Star Wars universe, and she's drawn into this conspiracy and a lot of action happens… It's a series that's set in the future but we really want it to have that 'Star Wars' feel."
The last book previewed was "The Star Wars," Dark Horse Comics' adaptation of George Lucas' original rough draft. This bold new presentation of the Star Wars mythos, written by J.W. Rinzler with art by Mike Mayhew, has been in the making for years.
"Years ago, we talked to our contacts at Lucasfilm and said, 'You think we could ever do an adaptation of George's original screenplay?'" Stradley said. "We were told that, no, George would never want anyone to do that. So ten years pass, and J.W. Rinzler who has opportunities that allow him to speak to George, asked him, 'What would you think about a comics adaptation of your original screenplay?'" After providing Lucas with ten pages of concept art for the project, they got the greenlight.
Attendees were treated to two never before seen trailers for "The Star Wars," which mashed up Mayhew's crisp and imaginative visuals with John Williams' epic score. Following a title card with the phrase "longer ago, in a galaxy even further away," images of Annikin Starkiller, a reptilian Han Solo and Princess Leia of Aquilae engaged in training sequences and fight scenes.
"I'll never get tired of seeing Han Solo as a six foot lizard," said moderator Atkins. Atkins then asked the panel what it is about Star Wars that has kept it relevant all these years.
"I've thought a lot about why, since the age of eight, I have been fixated on this story," said Wheatley. "There are two big major parts: the light side and the dark side, and for me, 'Star Wars' taps into that struggle inside us all between our light and dark sides."
"Speaking just as someone who saw it first as a little girl, it was great seeing a female hero [like Princess Leia] who was heroic and did stuff," said Bechko. "That's very important and something that I didn't see a lot of, and also the basic message of loyalty to your friends and bringing the best parts of yourself forward.
"The idea of big versus small," said Eltaeb. "I grew up feeling very much like an outsider, and that's what resonated to me. It was just the rebels, this tiny little army, versus the giant Empire. There was no way they should have been able to overcome them. But if you believe in yourself and get together with people who support and love you, that's why 'Star Wars' resonates."
When the floor opened up to questions, the one thing that has been on every Star Wars fans mind was asked: what will happen to Dark Horse's Star Wars line now that Disney owns the property? Will Marvel Comics, also owned by Disney, take over?
"We haven't experienced any changes [since Disney's acquisition]," Stradley assured the room. "We are on pins and needles waiting to find out about what the future holds for us. We'll find out sometime this year." Jeremy Atkins did reassure fans, though, that there are still plenty of Dark Horse "Star Wars" comics to come.
"We can tell you for certain that we will be publishing ['Star Wars'] comics through 2014."