Star Wars as a saga is all about hope, yet Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back from Dark Horse Comics imagines an alternate universe where hope has died — or more specifically, that Luke Skywalker died on Hoth.
It’s surreal to consider that the bleakest entry in the Infinities line was headed up by Dave Land, lead editor of the Star Wars parody comic Tag & Bink and the comic IP at large. He’s accompanied by Tag & Bink’s colorist Dan Jackson and letterer Steve Dutro, each of them twisting their expressive, excited energies into a world gone wrong as the galaxy falls to pieces. Paired with Davidé Fabbri’s soft, expressive visuals, every page pops with a cartoonish life that belies the harrowing storyline, and gorgeous covers by Chris Bachalo bring it all together.
Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back is not a sequel to Infinites: A New Hope. Rather, it follows from the film A New Hope, but it deviates with Han’s tauntaun dying before he can find Luke, leaving the farm boy with just enough breath to plead with Han to go to the Dagobah system in his stead to become a Jedi.
Rebel defenses subsequently become distracted preparing Luke’s funeral, enabling TIE fighters to slip in and wipe out Rogue Squadron as the Rebels desperately put on a last-minute defense. An entire page depicts Wedge Antilles and Wes Janson going out in a blaze of fire, never even reaching the AT-ATs as General Veers takes aim at the power generator.
The Rebel Alliance flees in desperate shambles, transports being taken by Star Destroyers in low orbit as Han manages to escape with Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids. The crew ultimately reaches Cloud City on the way to Dagobah, and though Lando is initially dubious of Han’s claims he’s the new hero of the Rebellion, Leia fervently has his back.
Notably, instead of Darth Vader, it is Boba Fett who soon ambushes Lando in Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back. Fett pulls off some John Wick moves while Han, Chewie, and Lando lead Bespin security against him. Fett gives as good as he gets, but Chewbacca ultimately knocks him out cold.
Little does Lando realize, in helping Han escape Boba Fett’s clutches, he’s incurred a far greater debt than expected. All Fett had said to Lando was that his “employer” would be there soon. Everyone assumes this is Jabba the Hutt, until several Star Destroyers exit hyperspace mere moments after the Falcon is repaired and has flown the coop. Lando has Fett frozen in carbonite to become his new desk, but it doesn’t matter when the Empire opens fire on Cloud City.
Orbital bombardments rain down as Lando desperately tries to evacuate his citizens. Then Vader orders his fleet to target the repulsor lifts keeping Cloud City afloat. Our last image of Cloud City is its support spire severed, the dome in flames, as Lando’s cape is flung off ominously with no idea if he managed to escape in time.
The silver lining is that the remaining heroes reach Yoda, who behaves more in line with his original depiction than he did in Infinites: A New Hope. He’s an extremely cranky yet wise old hermit, cutting straight to the point when they arrive: He disregards Han as nothing more than a conman marked for death, and Yoda ultimately selects Leia, up to this point sold as a supporting character, as his new apprentice. It’s meant to be a plot twist on the level of “No, I am your father!”, but since it involves Han taking up more of the limelight than necessary, the setup isn’t perfect.
But speaking of which, Yoda also pointedly reveals to Leia that her father is Darth Vader, which solicits a hysterical, Luke-like “That’s impossible!” response. Meanwhile, Han becomes filled with despair. He’s desperate for Leia to stay with him, but Yoda rightly notes that Leia is far safer on Dagobah than being chased by bounty hunters.
In an interesting turn of events, Leia receives a lightsaber resembling Luke’s, but it emits a purple blade — there’s a clear implication that it belonged to Mace Windu. What follows in the subsequent Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back issues is easily the most divergent plot of the Infinities trilogy. While there are still some comical errors along the way, Leia’s training goes far more easily than Luke’s. She wields a blade gracefully, her instincts guiding her while her patience leads to a “More sublime” approach, as Yoda puts it. Watching their relationship grow is refreshing, and whenever Yoda and Leia engage with one another, a serene calm seeps in, capturing the wonder fans felt the first time Luke ventured to Dagobah.
In a new point of view, we see Vader’s increasing descent into paranoid madness. He’s charging through Rebel bases, browbeating his officers over why they haven’t found “Skywalker,” how he “sensed his presence” and that “he does live.” Vader is issuing probe droids by the hundred, with crops of bounty hunters shipped in by the truckload. What was originally a rare turn of events has become pedestrian. His denial of the truth is chipping away at his psyche, bringing back the same desperation that drove him to the Dark Side all those years ago.
Han and Chewbacca also go through a fun but generally unsurprising retread of the Jabba’s Palace breakout. The only difference is that Jabba doesn’t have a rancor yet, instead unleashing a pair of Nexu lions. Han, Chewie, and R2 manage to escape by unleashing the Nexu on Jabba’s patrons, with the slug barely surviving as his beasts are unleashed. They have to leave C-3PO behind in the chaos, the trio hurrying back to reclaim the Falcon and reunite with Leia.
Bright in the morning after, Vader tears into Jabba’s palace seeking answers and ultimately captures C-3PO, torturing his old friend until he gives up the location of “Skywalker.” Finally with a course heading, Vader leaves C-3PO like a broken toy, another casualty to Infinities’ body count. A final duel lingers on the horizon for the Dark Lord of the Sith in issue #4 of Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back.
However, what first follows is a duel many have imagined but never saw — Vader versus Yoda. Rather than hopping around like a frog on espresso, Yoda turns Anakin’s mind against him. Vader is confronted by all his past demons, dueling with his former Jedi comrades as Yoda gives the fallen Jedi a much needed dressing down. Vader tries to dismiss the strategy, saying that his whole life has been about pain, but Yoda retorts that the pain has been of his own choosing:
Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and finally Qui-Gon Jinn dismantle Vader in his mind, bit by bit. The closer they reach the heart of the issue, the more Vader’s armor tears away, revealing the tortured young man beneath. He can’t even strike down Qui-Gon, his first master simply fading away as he collapses. All the while, Leia is off assembling her lightsaber, claiming her crystal. Once she glimpses a vision of how the duel will end, she frantically charges back, heedless of whether she’s ready to confront her father.
As she dashes into the fray, Han and Chewbacca fly in none the wiser. Han’s just hopeful that Leia’s training is done, missing her greatly. Meanwhile, Yoda nearly reaches Vader, stripping him down to the child from Tatooine — before Vader turns the tables, with all his raw fury ripped open by the pain. The Sith cleaves Yoda’s right arm clean off before Leia can intercede, but she catches him off guard, cutting off Vader’s arm as well.
Though Leia’s training still has far to go, she holds her ground. It’s only with brute strength that Vader catches her off guard, and then he makes a familiar offer: “Join me, and we shall rule the galaxy together!” But Leia responds, “I never wanted to rule the galaxy. I only want peace. Father…”
Vader then begins a familiar speech about the “power of the Dark Side” — but he is cut off by shots to the head and chest by Chewbacca and Han. So distracted and ripped raw by Yoda and the sight of his daughter, the Sith Lord is brought low by a pair of common smugglers. In his dying breaths, Leia removes his mask, with his final words being joyful at simply learning he had a daughter all along.
Yoda fades on shortly after, encouraging her that she has restored the balance and truly become a Jedi. Even in the face of death, she acted out of compassion, determination, and mercy. Though the Emperor may still live, she’s poised to train a new generation of Jedi Knights. As they leave Vader’s body on a funeral pyre, Leia regains her grounding, finally declaring that they have “a galaxy to save.” Meanwhile, Luke’s spirit looks on from beyond the grave.
So, yeah, Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back gets a bit intense. Dave Land was a brilliant pick for Infinities, having edited an absurd amount of Star Wars comics. The man knows his Star Wars, including how to break everything while making it all flow naturally. Where Infinities: A New Hope’s twist saw an effectively original tale, Empire Strikes Back offers a compelling argument for how just a few slight differences in timing can cause massive ripples in a story.
Though it could’ve given Leia more time to develop as a Jedi, it’s the ending that truly leaves me wanting more. I want to see where this story goes. Rather than ending the saga, the ending here is highly evocative of the closing moments of The Last Jedi: There’s an open realm of possibilities as a handful of determined heroes set out to save the galaxy. Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t have to be canon to leave an impact on readers.