Dark Empire, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy, was the first Star Wars comic series published after Dark Horse acquired the license. The series and its sequels, Dark Empire II and Empire's End, were published between 1991 and 1995.
Veitch and Kennedy originally took their idea for Dark Empire to Marvel, who intended to publish it as a three-issue limited series. The story would have followed the ongoing Marvel Star Wars series. The project was temporarily shelved, but picked up again after the license to publish Star wars comics passed from Marvel to Dark Horse.
Since Timothy Zahn refused to add references to the series in his Thrawn Trilogy, also published in 1991, the story was pushed later in the timeline, from 4 or 5 ABY (soon after the end of Return of the Jedi) to 10 ABY.
The story of Dark Empire revolves around the resurrected Emperor Palpatine, who has managed to cheat death by projecting his consciousness into cloned bodies. The dark side of the Force caused the clones to deteriorate quickly, however, and so he was forced to continually grow new bodies.
Luke Skywalker, trapped in the Emperor's secret base, saw no other choice but to declare his loyalty to Palpatine. After becoming the Emperor's dark apprentice, however, he soon found it impossible to escape the draw of the dark side. Only with the help of his sister, Leia, could he break free and fight Palpatine.
Only one of Palpatine's cloned bodies escaped at the end of Dark Empire, and he returns to battle the New Republic in Dark Empire II. They managed to hold him back temporarily; but the Emperor needed a new body to replace the decaying clone, and set his sights on Han and Leia's infant son, Anakin Solo. In Empire's End, Palpatine's spirit is finally destroyed for good.
Releases and Adaptations
Dark Empire and Dark Empire II were released as trade paperbacks in 1993 and 1995, respectively. Empire's End was added to the 2006 re-release of Dark Empire II. The entire trilogy was later collected in the hardcover release Star Wars: Dark Empire Trilogy (September 2010).
Time Warner published audio drama adaptations of Dark Empire and Dark Empire II in 1994 and 1995. The cast included Billy Dee Williams reprising his film role as Lando Calrissian. The Dark Empire trilogy of audio dramas was released as a 5-CD set, Dark Empire: The Collector's Edition, in 1995.
Dark Empire became the first comic referenced in a novel when its events played an important part of Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy. This marked one of the first steps in the early Expanded Universe towards creating a unified continuity.
The events of Dark Empire become more interesting in retrospect, considering what we learn about Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith (2005). In a conversation with Anakin, Palpatine reveals that his master, Darth Plagueis, learned to manipulate the Force to create life. In the same way, Palpatine learned to use the dark side to artificially sustain his life so that he could continue his pursuit of power.