So, it's been a few weeks since "The Last Jedi" was released, and the reviews from fans are mixed. Though critics loved the film, which has a decidedly different feel from the rest of the franchise, many long-time Star Wars fans out there hated the movie. Many fans complained that it doesn't feel like a Star Wars movie, and that the use of new Jedi powers and the idea of Luke falling from grace were changes that were too big to handle. These complaints certainly have some merit, given that they're presented with very little buildup. However, for fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, "The Last Jedi" seems that it may have been heavily influenced by one of the most beloved pieces of Expanded Universe fiction--the Dark Horse Comics story, Dark Empire.
Dark Empire is set a few years after the events of "Return of the Jedi", and it follows Luke, Leia, and Han as they struggle to defeat the Emperor Palpatine, whom we discover, has cloned himself, and used his dark side powers to inhabit the cloned body. It's a great story for Star Wars fans, and even has 2 sequels: "Dark Empire II", and "Empire's End". The stories in the Dark Empire series certainly diverge from what Disney has now made canon, but writer Rian Johnson has likely taken hints from "Dark Empire" in particular in writing the film. What follows is a list of the elements of the story that have parallels with "Dark Empire".
Luke being tempted by the dark side for a good cause:
Luke is the Hero of the Star Wars films, well, episodes 4-6 at least. That's why many fans were upset to see that Luke had become a failed Jedi in self-imposed exile hiding from his discraces. The idea of Luke turning to the dark side is the main focus of "Dark Empire", in which Luke agrees to become the Emperor's apprentice with the intention of overthrowing Palpatine to end his rule of the galaxy. Luke travels to the planet Byss and undertakes Sith training before attempting to kill the emperor and his backup clone bodies at the end of the story. "The Last Jedi" shows us a flashback of Luke considering killing Ben Solo in his sleep in a moment of weakness after discovering that he had become Snoke's apprentice with incredible dark side powers. Sure, Luke didn't go full-Sith in TLJ, but his flirtation with evil isn't entirely evil, just as his turn to the dark side in "Dark Empire".
Luke projecting an image of himself across space:
In the final battle of "The Last Jedi", Luke shows up out of nowhere, takes on gunfire that seems to have no effect on him, and then appears to do battle with Kylo Ren, who discovers that he was never really there in the first place. This has similarities to a scene in "Dark Empire", in which Luke was on the planet Byss serving as the dark side apprentice of Palpatine. Leia came to rescue him and get him away from the emperor. Luke goes along, with her, until after they've safely made their way off planet, when Luke reveals that he never actually left. He had used a force power to project his image. Similar to the scene in "The Last Jedi", Luke had interacted with his friends, including his force-sensitive sister before making the big reveal, and no one seemed to notice.
Leia using force powers:
We all know by now that Leia has an affinity for the force. This fact was hinted at all the way back in "The Empire Strikes Back" when she has some sort of telepathic connection to Luke, and when Yoda hints that there is another hope for the Jedi besides Luke. But in "Dark Empire" we see her go full-on Jedi. The cloned emperor actually tries to move his consciousness into her unborn child, who is supposed to have incredible force potential. As far as we see in "The Last Jedi", she isn't the force user that she was in "Dark Empire", but at least we finally get to see her use her force powers on-screen.
The Jedi tree:
The force seems to have some sort of mysterious connection to trees going back some time in the expanded universe stories. The "Clone Wars" TV series showed us the great
tree on the planet Coruscant that the Jedi kept at their temple. The comic series "Shattered Empire" from Marvel in recent years has expanded on this idea of trees that are connected to the force as well. Of course, we've also seen Yoda living inside of a tree not unlike the one that holds the Jedi library on Ach-to in "The Last Jedi". One of the earliest references to this Jedi/tree connection was in "Dark Empire II", the second story in the trilogy, there is a curious a sentient tree named Ood, who is himself an ancient Jedi on a planet that has an innate connection to the force and is related to the origins of the Jedi. Though Ood is definitely a living, talking being and not a library, Ood is oddly like that library on Ach-to in a couple of ways. During a battle with dark-side adepts, Ood uses force powers to basically blow himself up in something that looks like a lightning strike. In what's left of his roots, Luke finds a cache of lightsabers belonging to ancient Jedi. So, Ood ends up being a tree holding an ancient Jedi secret that burns down through the use of force powers. Sounds a lot like the scene with Luke and Yoda in "The Last Jedi".
Blowing up the imperial flagship:
Welll, this isn't something that's totally shocking. Some big spaceship gets blown up every other Star Wars movie/book/story, etc. But it is interesting to note that "Dark Empire I" ends with the destruction of Palpatine's imperial flagship, not entirely unlike the destruction of Snoke's flagship in "The Last Jedi".
In the end, It's not entirely clear how much "The Last Jedi" director, Rian Johnson borrowed from the Star Wars extended universe--and Dark Empire in particular. But the similarities are striking in a lot of places. For the fans, we can only hope to see more of this in the future. Maybe some day we'll get to see Palpatine's clone or Jedi holocrons on the big screen. Or perhaps even more from the extended universe some day.