Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith is the first half of a Star Wars epic. Together with The Sith War, it creates a twelve part voyage from Jedi Apprentice to a Sith Lord at the end of his days – or not. In fact, it takes the story backward, from a media perspective. Ignoring release dates, the saga of Darth Palpatine starts with a novel followed by six films and is wrapped up with a comic epilogue. The tale of Exar Kun starts with a twelve page comic epic, follows up with a cinematic video game about the aftermath of his war, and wraps up with a novel epilogue.
Dark Lords of the Sith tells the beginning of the story, essentially Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but not exactly. In fact, elements of what would eventually make up the prequels are scattered throughout both Dark Lords and The Sith War, which gave us a great version of what the prequels could have been in the years that LucasFilm was hyping the idea of the prequels up. Dark Lords tells the story of Exar Kun, a charismatic young Jedi with a taste for forbidden knowledge and an enjoyment of wielding power that even he acknowledges is too strong for his own good.
This was a culmination of two projects that each had a massive impact on the Star Wars universe. Like the first three arcs of Tales of the Jedi, Dark Lords is written by Tom Veitch, writer of Dark Empire, the story that introduced Dark Jedi, falling to the Dark Side on-screen, Sith alchemy, and numerous other elements to the Star Wars universe. Unlike the earlier arcs, Dark Lords of the Sith is also written by Kevin J. Anderson, writer of a trilogy of novels that act as a sequel to Dark Empire, in which Luke Skywalker faces off against the long-dead spirit of a Sith Lord in his efforts to revive the Jedi Order. In case I haven’t made it painfully obvious, the long-dead Sith Lord in the Jedi Academy trilogy is Exar Kun.
So what we have here is the culmination after years of continued writing (and fan feedback) from the writer of a multi-part story about a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side and was redeemed while encountering numerous Dark Jedi and a man who wrote a multi-part story about a single Master teaching several Jedi students, with one falling to the Dark Side as a result of a malevolent spirit. The result is as though the stars aligned, bringing these two writers to Star Wars specifically to write this comic about how Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma came together as Master and Apprentice.
It may seem like I’m building this comic up too much, and for some of you I might be. Still, if I had to pick my must-read sagas within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi Civil War arc would certainly be near the top. Of the two parts of the arc, Dark Lords of the Sith has more creativity and the more compelling story. It features Exar Kun as misguided but well-meaning, forced into the trappings of the Dark Side by the trickery of Freedon Nadd. As he becomes more and more entrapped by the spirits of long dead Sith Lords – the components, I would argue, that give the Force a Dark Side – to the point where he must either embrace the powers and emotions that the Sith want him to or die at the hands of their traps and descendants.
All while this is going on, Ulic Qel-Droma is falling into the darkness in his own way: as a double agent infiltrating the Krath, the society of Sith sorcerers led by the brother and sister that rule the Empress Teta system. At least an issue’s worth of time is spent explaining to Ulic what a bad idea this is, but he goes along with it. He has a noble cause, but when he’s forced to support a public execution of political targets for the sake of selling himself to the Krath, he may have already lost without knowing it yet.
If I have to pick one problem with this story (it’s only fair) it’s that the writers are given just enough rope to hang themselves. Ulic’s story gets a bit repetitive, perhaps in an effort to keep the page time even between him and the new blood. No less than seven scenes of other Jedi trying to sway Ulic from his mission are featured in the book, some of them multi-page missions. I would deem three of these scenes as necessary (not to mention traditional), and perhaps as many of five of them would have been appropriate. By the time each person close to Ulic has had their say twice, though, it starts to feel like too much. That’s when they decide to group together and make their third go-round at once.
The artwork in this book is gorgeous. The entire art team has been switched out for this, save the letterer, and it shows. Everything has improved. The pencils are more realistic than I’ve seen in Star Wars prior to this, with inking to match and vibrant colors. The at evokes a mood of terror at just the right moments, and emphasizes every bit of action. Every complaint that I had about the art in the first two volumes is rectified here, driving the point home that something really worth reading is happening.
As I mentioned earlier, Dark Lords of the Sith is part of a two parter, albeit the part that I grew up intimately familiar with. The story ends with Exar Kun being appointed Dark Lord of the Sith, with Ulic Qel-Droma as his apprentice. The next volume, The Sith War, tells the story of their work together, and is a review for another day. Still, I recommend any Star Wars fan to pick up any collection of them, separately or together. They make up Act II of the second volume of the Tales of the Jedi Omnibus, which is good enough reason to pick that up.