Marking a significant change after 20 years, Disney has assigned the rights to publish Star Wars comic and graphic novels from Dark Horse to their own Marvel subsidiary. While the move—which becomes effective in 2015—did not come as a surprise, it left open many questions.
The news was jointly announced by Marvel and Dark Horse. Marvel publisher Dan Buckley announced his excitement to have acquired the license, and added “The perennial brand of Star Wars is one of the most iconic in entertainment history and we are honored to have the opportunity to bring our creative talent pool to continue, and expand Star Wars into galaxies far, far away.”
Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson was more elegiac in his own statement, noting, “Our goal was to create sequels and prequels to the films we loved, paying careful attention to quality and detail, essentially treating those films as though they were our own. Star Wars has been the crown jewel of this approach. We began chasing the title as far back as 1989, and with the launch of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire, a new era in comics was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that we were Star Wars geeks, and we have been determined to spare neither effort nor expense in the pursuit of excellence.”
While Marvel originally had the license to Star Wars all the way back in 1977—notoriously publishing a storyline featuring a seven-foot tall green rabbit as a follow-up to the story in the first Star Wars film—in 1994 Dark Horse got the license and forged a strong relationship with Lucasfilm, publishing a steady stream of ongoing series and minis that tied in with the Star Wars expanded universe, which consists of various novels, video games and animated series which are considered an ongoing story line. This year they had launched a successful ongoing series called simply Star Wars, written by Brian Wood, as well as a title called The Star Wars adapting George Lucas’s original screenplay for the film.
While no exact sales figures are available for Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics, the line makes up approximately 6% or less of the company's revenues. Since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, it was expected they would be moving the Star Wars comics line to Marvel, so Dark Horse has been preparing for the loss of the books for a while, according to Richardson.
The move also came as Disney is prepping its own Star Wars movies, under the guidance of JJ Abrams, with a new trilogy of films following up directly from the original adventures of Luke, Leia and Han. Dark Horse Star Wars editor Randy Stradley noted in a Facebook post that this seemed a likely time to take a break. “From my perspective, the upcoming films will mean less freedom to do what we at Dark Horse have always done best: expanding the universe,” he wrote. “With a new film scheduled every year, and a new television series, it is likely that there will be a lot of comics pages devoted to adaptations and direct spin-off stories in support of the films and TV shows.”
While Marvel, currently the #1 publisher in the comics direct market, would seem to be well suited to continuing a franchised comic—especially with Marvel and Lucasfilm both owned by the highly vertically integrated Disney—there is still the matter of the enormous backlist of Star Wars stories that Dark Horse published and has kept mostly in print. The rights to these are now going to Marvel, which has de-emphasized backlist in its own book publishing plans in recent years.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the Star Wars comics make up 20% of Dark Horse's revenues. The correct figure, per the publisher is 6% or less.