The Dark Times series of Star Wars is, mostly, as what the title says: a darker era of the saga. This largely unexplored epoch of the history of the galaxy is ripe for exploration, examining the events of those two decades between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. While the series has largely followed new personalities, two of the dramatis personae are known to many fans: Darth Vader (of course), and Jedi Master K’Kruhk, first introduced in the Dark Horse comics.
I have a soft spot for K’Kruhk, and he has become one of my favorite characters, mainly because (like the droids C-3PO and R2-D2) he is a metatextual symbol of the followers of the Star Wars saga, be they viewers of the films, readers of the Expanded Universe, or both. He is ever-present in the galaxy, first surfacing in the prequel era of the comics, and not only outlasts Order 66, but lives on in the Star Wars: Legacy series, which is over 100 years after Return of the Jedi. It seems that K’Kruhk’s species of Whiphids also have very long life spans like Wookiees or Yoda’s species.
In Fire Carrier, while still a dark chapter of the Star Wars cosmos, we have a story that heads towards a conclusion that is vastly ironic for the series, but a welcome one. Having rescued a group of Jedi Younglings from Order 66, K’Kruhk takes the children with him, exploring for a safe haven to hide in the galaxy. After many dangerous adventures that move the Jedi Master perilously close to the Dark Side, the group of wanderers arrives on Arkinnea, a planet still suffering from the memory of the Separatists and resentfully taking refugees in.
With an Imperial garrison on-planet to supervise the local authorities’ administration of the post-war refugees, K’Kruhk and his younglings hide among the displaced peoples, only to be reunited with another Jedi Master (Zao) who also is in search of a safe place to be concealed from the elongated reach of the Empire.
Yet the Arkinnean authorities have a negative perception of the illegal immigrants requesting refugee status, believing them to be Separatist leftovers, or perhaps potential threats. K’Kruhk and his new family witness the Arkinneans murdering refugees in a gruesome manner, and when spotted, are trailed by them. While the Force proves to have an advantage over the authorities, a surprising turn of events may find K’Kruhk accepting help and support from an unexpected source.
Fire Carrier, like a vast majority of the Dark Times story arcs, is a considerably consolidated model of writing; offering a gleam of hope in the darkened epoch, and at the same time opening up many other threads for potential exploration in future arcs. Randy Stradley, as always, is running a tight ship with this series, and his exploration of K’Kruhk’s period between the trilogies fulfills many (okay, well then, a few) queries fans have had of this character for many years. The closing pages of this final issue in the arc do feel a little rushed and take place over a period of years – but in doing so, Stradley opens several more doors for potential stories as well.
The artwork in Dark Times continues to be of a good quality, with Gabriel Guzman projecting a unique class, but taking influence from not only this line of the series, but also from classic Star Wars comics as well. Some of the frames and panels have slight tips-of-the-hat to the ancient Marvel days, and to the newspaper comic strip period as well, giving bold inked outlines to highlight and enhance character definition. The coloring in this issue, and this story arc, by Garry Henderson, is very SW-esque, with the main plot zeroing in on earthy colors; and the Imperials in a colorless realm of greys, blacks, and whites.
What has been a letdown in this arc, however, has been the lettering. I’m not sure whether it is something Michael Heisler is doing differently, or whether this translates differently in the digital PDF preview publication I read, but the lettering height is mixed and uneven. In this fifth issue, it is not as pronounced as earlier issues, but the pronounced differing levels are quite a distraction, taking away from the impact of the story, I’m afraid.
Dark Times: Fire Carrier #5 is a brilliant Star Wars comic – and fans of the Expanded Universe will absolutely love it. Regrettably, there are a lot of in-universe EU references to long-ago issues, and while fans that mainly follow films and books might catch on quick; I don’t think that your casual comic book reader will find the series of relevance. It IS an ongoing story after all. In spite of this, the Star Wars fans will love it, particularly those who have followed Master K’Kruhk, and they will be satisfied with elements of the conclusion as we ultimately find a few answers to this wonderful Jedi’s whereabouts during this era of the Star Wars galaxy.