While Tuesday's blockbuster $4.05 billion sale of LucasFilm to Disney may have answered some questions for the film franchise—yes, there will be Episodes VII through IX—it left the Star Wars publishing licenses in doubt, in particular Dark Horse's comics program. Dark Horse has been publishing Star Wars comics in the "Expanded Universe" story lines for over 20 years, but Disney could take back the license and assign it to its own Marvel Comics division, which would result in a big gap in Dark Horse's output.
According to Diamond's most recent sales figures and last year's BookScan numbers, Star Wars-related comics make up approximately 20% of Dark Horse's line, including both comics periodicals and graphic novels. Dark Horse's books have covered both the pre-trilogy era in Knights of the Old Republic and the pre-trilogy time line established by bestselling authors such as Timothy Zahn and Brian Anderson.
Following the announcement of the Disney/LucasFilm deal, Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson released a statement. "Dark Horse and LucasFilm have a strong partnership which spans over 20 years and has produced multiple characters and story lines which are now part of the Star Wars lore," Richardson said. "Star Wars will be with us for the near future. Obviously, this deal changes the landscape, so we'll all have to see what it means for the future."
A precedent for Disney taking back the license goes back to 2009's purchase of Marvel, when Disney did not renew Boom! Studios license for kids comics based on various Disney properties including Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. However, Marvel didn't pick up those licenses either—most have been handled in-house via Disney's own worldwide magazine publishing arm.
While losing the license would have an impact on Dark Horse, it isn't clear that it's inevitable, either. LucasFilm will operate as its own Disney division, led by Kathleen Kennedy, and the company is known to stick with loyal licensors. Indeed, an eagerly awaited new comics series called simply Star Wars will launch in January, written by fan favorite Brian Wood.
LucasFilm's other publishing licenses include a longstanding deal for novels with DelRey and many other projects with publishers from Scholastic to Chronicle. In what is perhaps a preview of how Disney's industry-leading licensed publishing program might treat the Star Wars universe, LucasFilm recently began approving such quirky "official" spinoffs as Jeffrey Brown's bestselling Darth Vader and Son, which is already in its fifth printing. The Star Wars universe is definitely expanding.