The Dark Empire I story was originally developed by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy for Marvel Comics. After difficulties with Marvel, the project was picked up by Dark Horse Comics.
Dark Empire I was a six-issue limited series published bimonthly in 1991 and 1992, Dark Empire II was also a six-issue limited series published from 1994 to 1995 and Empire's End, two-issue limited series published in 1995. All three series, plus a sourcebook, would be combined in a hardbound omnibus in 2010.
In the five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Galactic Empire is torn by strife among various factions that surfaced following the death of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. The Rebel Alliance also took advantage of this confusion to launch more offensives against Imperial holdouts while encouraging other star systems through diplomacy to join the New Republic.
The appearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn unites many of the squabbling Imperial factions to go to battle against the New Republic but Thrawn's death at Bilbringi brought back their divisions. Chief among this is a failure to choose a successor to Emperor Palpatine. A signal from the Imperial stronghold of Byss brings all the bickering leaders together only for them to discover that a reborn Palpatine called everybody there. He is able to unify the Imperial forces and launch a massive attack into the New Republic, with the old capital Coruscant as the first target. However, the factions revive their animosities once Coruscant is conquered, and Palpatine sees this as a chance to identify those who are truly loyal to the Empire. The planet itself is ravaged from the infighting, and the Rebels see this as an opportunity to sow further confusion, using captured Star Destroyers to broadcast false signals and play the Imperial forces against each other.
The series begins with the Millennium Falcon leading a Rebel task force to Coruscant. Han Solo, Leia Organa, Chewbacca and C-3PO are heading to the planet to rescue Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 and Lando Calrissian, who have spent the past several days holding out against Imperial attacks after an earlier raid using the captured Star Destroyer Liberator goes awry and the warship crashes. The Rebels successfully rescue the Liberator survivors, but a massive energy storm appears. Luke sees the storm as a large disturbance in the Force, and asks everybody to leave him behind; he lets himself be devoured by the storm.
The taskforce returns to the Rebel fleet in the Da Soocha system. Rebel commanders discuss the appearance of the Imperials coming out of the Deep Core and discover that Admiral Ackbar's homeworld of Mon Calamari is now under attack by a fleet of Imperial war machines. Called the World Devastators, the machines are designed to convert everything in their path into raw materials for building more war machines on the spot. Lando leads another taskforce with a second captured Star Destroyer leading the charge to aid in Mon Calamari's defense.
Meanwhile, Luke awakes from the light of the Force storm and finds out he is aboard an old Imperial prison ship heading to Byss. The ship docks and Luke is closely escorted to a chamber, where he is stunned to see Emperor Palpatine alive. The Emperor explains that he has revived himself in a clone body and makes Luke doubt any attempt to kill him knowing he will quickly manifest in another clone. Sensing the futility and seeing the horror of what is happening in Mon Calamari, Luke humbly surrenders to becoming the Emperor's new apprentice.
Leia has visions of Luke being corrupted into the Dark Side and wants to travel to Byss and save him. She and Han travel to Nar Shaddaa and try to arrange a ship to bring them past Byss' security network. Han reunites with smuggler friends Shug Ninx, Salla Zend, and Mako Spince to make it happen. Along the way, an old woman named Vima-da-Boda - a former Jedi who survived the Empire's crackdown - feels Leia's Force energy and gives her an old Jedi artifact. However, the Hutts have put a large bounty on Han and Leia, with Spince selling him out to Boba Fett (revealed to have survived being devoured by the Sarlacc during the events of Return of the Jedi); the two escape Nar Shaddaa aboard Salla's ship, the Starlight Intruder, with the Falcon attached. The Intruder has the proper codes to get inside Byss, and Imperial security lets them in (but lock out a pursuing Fett). Han Leia, Chewie, and the droids are brought before Luke and the Emperor.
Leia discovers that he holds hostage an even greater treasure: a mysterious and intelligent artifact called the Jedi Holocron, a holographic cube that contains historical information about the Jedi. When Leia discovers that the Emperor is interested in possessing her third child, she steals the Holocron and the group successfully breaks out of Byss while having to leave behind Luke again. Luke faces the already frail Emperor and destroys his clone tanks, but the Emperor possesses one living clone and subdues him to his will.
Han's group travels to Mon Calamari as Rebel commando forces lay siege to the World Devastators, which have been shut down by a special master code Luke was able to steal and give to R2 and C3PO for transmission to the machines. The Imperials aboard the machines still have the factories running and attack the Rebels. R2 rigs the World Devastators to destroy each other.
As the Rebels celebrate on Mon Calamari, Alliance command determines that the World Devastators are part of a larger Imperial offensive to conquer the galaxy. Leia studies the Holocron and sees an old prophecy about a pregnant woman coming to save the Jedi from doom. At the same time, a small Imperial fleet, led by the massive flagship Eclipse, appears above Da Soocha. The Emperor demands that the Alliance surrender Leia to him and Luke. Leia travels on her own and appeals to Luke to break away from the Emperor. Palpatine creates a large Force storm to destroy the Rebel fleet, but Leia and Luke work together to amplify the storm beyond the Emperor's power and turn it against him. The siblings escape the doomed warship, and as Luke sees the last remnants of the Eclipse being vaporized, he declares the Jedi Knights will rise again.
With Emperor Palpatine apparently perishing aboard the Eclipse, more worlds defy Imperial edicts, especially those that have been recently reconquered. One of these is the arms manufacturing planet Balmorra, whose planetary governor, Beltane, has begun supplying the Rebels with the latest military vehicles, such as the Viper X1 Automadon, a war droid designed to convert energy from enemy laser fire into power for its own turbolaser cannons. The Emperor's Dark Side Executor Sedriss leads a force to subdue the planet, but Beltane's troops hold the line and Sedriss is compelled to negotiate a supply agreement with him. Sedriss returns to Byss, where he kills two Dark Side Adepts who've been killing other clones of Emperor Palpatine that Luke missed. Palpatine possesses one clone to Sedriss' surprise and orders the Imperial offensive to continue.
Having pledged to reestablish the Jedi Order by finding any surviving Jedi in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker returns to Pinnacle Base on Da Soocha V with Kam Solusar, a former Dark Jedi. Beltane tips the Rebel Alliance of a shipment of new Vipers bound for the Empire's Deep Core stronghold of Byss, and Alliance commanders accept Wedge Antilles' suggestion of intercepting the shipment for a surgical strike using the droids, with Rebel commandos in the attack. Although Luke presses for liberating more worlds to provide more staging areas for an all-out strike on Byss, Mon Mothma asks him to concentrate on rebuilding the Jedi Order instead. The Jedi Holocron educates Luke about the planet Ossus, a former Jedi-populated world destroyed by the Sith thousands of years earlier.
Han, Leia and Chewie fly back to Nar Shaddaa to find Vima-da-Boda, at least where Leia last saw her. However, Vima has disappeared and every bounty hunter on the moon is still out for them, including Boba Fett, as well as an Imperial force led by two Dark Side Elites. Leia successfully fetches Vima after flying into the deeper reaches of Nar Shaddaa. Aboard Nar Shaddaa's traffic control tower, Mako Spince sees Han and guides an Imperial Star Destroyer's tractor beam on him. Han turns the tables by flying close to the tower, forcing the tractor beam to lock onto the structure and pull it instead at full power. The tower impales the Star Destroyer and it crashes into Nar Shaddaa. Fett, back in his old ship Slave I, chases the Millennium Falcon into a nearby acidic gas cloud. Han takes the risk and flies into the cloud, surprisingly appearing on the other side and stumbling onto the long-lost world of Ganath. Ganathan engineers repair the Falcon and equip it with a lightning cannon while the team meets Ganath's ruler, Empatojayos Brand, a veteran Jedi who survived the Empire's Jedi Purge. Inspired by the possibility of a Jedi rebirth, Brand joins Han's party while leaving Ganath in the hands of a military officer. Han takes out Fett and heads to a secret hideout on New Alderaan, where Han and Leia's twin children are under care.
Luke and Kam fly to Ossus and chances upon the Ysanna, a warrior tribe which has rudimentary Force powers. They fight off the Ysanna attacks and sensing they are indeed Jedi, the Ysanna chief welcomes them. Having known about the trip, the Emperor orders Sedriss and fellow Dark Side Elite Vill Goir to capture them. Solusar kills Goir, but Sedriss takes one of the Ysanna hostage and leans against a tree. To everybody's surprise, the tree is a millennia-old Neti Jedi Master named Ood Bnar, who wraps Sedriss in a fatal embrace and they die in an explosion of Force energy. Bnar's heroic sacrifice leaves a part of him in the soil and a hole underneath his location reveals an old cache of lightsabers; Luke successfully discovers an old Jedi library. Two Ysanna tribe members, siblings Ralf and Jem, join Luke and Kam in leaving the planet with their elders' blessing.
Lando leads the Rebel infiltration into Byss and start the attack when the Viper droids are offloaded. The droids prove superior to existing Imperial defenses until the Emperor releases an army of Dark Side-mutated monsters on the attackers. The Vipers, which are attuned against energy attacks, are cut to shreds under the monsters' mauling. Salla Zend and Shug Ninx mobilizes fellow smugglers nearby to rescue the Rebel strike group and escape Byss.
On New Alderaan, Leia prepares for the birth of her third child as Han and Chewie attempt to rendezvous with Lando's group. Luke's party arrives with grim news: he had reached Da Soocha to see a large missile appear and destroy the planet, with the Rebel Alliance command presumably killed. He uses the time to train the Ysanna siblings as Kam and Empatojayos practice their Jedi skills as well. Unknown to them, the Emperor's Dark Side Elites have tortured a Rebel pilot into revealing the location of New Alderaan. The Emperor sees this as an opportunity to capture the Skywalker siblings and Leia's offspring in one fell swoop. The Darksiders attempt to poison Luke, but Vima saves him as the entire settlement goes into action to fight the Imperials, who have deployed AT-ATs as backup. In the course of the fighting, Jem is killed and Rayf saves Leia's twins from being kidnapped. The Millennium Falcon and Lando's forces arrive and defeat the Imperial assault, then evacuate the New Alderaan survivors.
The Rebels relocate to the space stations of Nespis VIII, where they discover that the Alliance had evacuated Pinnacle Base before it was destroyed. On Nespis VIII, Anakin Solo is born and the Alliance plots the final destruction of the Empire.
After perishing in battle with Luke and Leia Skywalker in Dark Empire I, Emperor Palpatine is forced to occupy an inferior clone body, since it was the last clone body that remained. Unknown to him, his personal physician had been corrupted by Carnor Jax, backed by a number of other high-ranking Imperial personnel. The physician had deliberately inserted genetic material and contaminants into all stored samples of the Emperor's original body, to the effect that the resulting bodies would be nowhere as resistant to the ravaging effects of the Dark Side as the original.
The last clone body not destroyed by Skywalker or traitorous Imperials is now aging rapidly, and Palpatine's final end is near, unless he can either fix his genetic material (an impossibility since no unaltered samples remain) or insert his spirit into another body. After consulting with ancient Sith Lords on the mausoleum planet Korriban, Palpatine learns that Han and Leia's youngest child, named Anakin after his deceased grandfather, has the only workable body.
Palpatine follows the Solos to Onderon in order to gain a new body, to ensure the future of his rule. A fierce duel occurs between Luke Skywalker and his Jedi team and Palpatine; finally, Han Solo wrongly shoots the Emperor, allowing him to be out of his physical form and get what he wanted: Anakin's body. He desperately tries to send his spirit into the infant Anakin Solo, but he is blocked by the soul of the dying Jedi, Empatojayos Brand, who makes the ultimate sacrifice in willingly sending his eternal soul into the "madness beyond death" that is the Dark Side, to ensure Palpatine would go as well and can never return. Luke then vows to revive the Jedi Order. After Palpatine's death, Vima mysteriously disappears. After the death of Palpatine, a projectile from the Galaxy Gun is shot into Byss (since the crew were frightened by the potential collision, and also misfired), utterly destroying Byss, and destroying the second Eclipse-class Star Destroyer, Eclipse II, which was steered into a collision course with the Galaxy Gun by R2-D2, thus ending the Empire's harsh rule.Rayf Ysanna
The various series have been collected into trade paperbacks:Dark Empire (1993, ISBN 1-56971-073-2)
Dark Empire II (1995, ISBN 1-56971-119-4)
Empire's End (1997, ISBN 1-56971-306-5)
The metaseries has been collected into a single hardcover:Dark Empire Trilogy (352 pages, Dark Horse Comics, September 2010, ISBN 1-59582-612-2, Titan Books, December 2010, ISBN 1-84856-887-8)
In 1994 and 1995 respectively, Time Warner Audio Publishing released audio dramas of the first and second volumes of Dark Empire. The cast was:John Cygan - as Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, Vill Goir, Okko and Umak Leth
Joe Hacker - as Han Solo, Boba Fett, Empatojayos Brand and Lo Khan
Ann Patricio - as Princess Leia and Mon Mothma
Nick Jameson - as Emperor Palpatine and Governor Beltane
Jim Ward - as C-3PO, Kam Solusar and Executor Sedriss
Glynnis Talken - as Salla Zend, Vima-Da-Boda and Jem Ysanna
Andy Cowan - as Admiral Ackbar, Zevulon Veers and Baddon Fass
Billy Dee Williams - as Lando Calrissian
Later in 1995, a Dark Empire: Collector's Edition CD set was released that collected the 2 Dark Empire audio dramas as well as an exclusive adaptation of Empire's End, the final chapter of the Dark Empire saga.