Monday, August 1, 2016

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

When The Force Awakens was released to theaters in December 2015, it changed several traditions that Star Wars fans had come to expect.  One tradition broken is the movie's release date.  The first 6 Star Wars movies had all been released during the summer in May, so releasing The Force Awakens in December was slightly controversial.  Star Wars has always been a juggernaut when it comes to merchandising and timing the movie's release to coincide with the gift giving holiday of Christmas had to figure into Disney's decision.  Another changed tradition was less controversial and has to do with the title of the movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  For the prequel trilogy, to emphasize these stories happened before the original trilogy, it became common to use roman numerals when identifying the movies.  Over the years, Star Wars became known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, followed by Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, and finally Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi.  Interestingly, if you look at posters and merchandise for the original trilogy, they simply use the main title without the roman numerals.  While The Force Awakens is sometimes referred to as Episode VII, most notably during the opening crawl, it makes sense that Disney has de-emphasized the numeric order of the movies.  After all, there are going to be anthology films like Rogue One, which tell stories between trilogies, which makes the numeric ordering confusing.  Another tradition that was missed by Star Wars comic fans was the publication of a comic book adaptation to coincide with the release of the movie.

In many ways, it makes sense a comic book for The Force Awakens was not available when the movie came out.  Since it is likely changes to the movie were being made up to the very end, a comic would undoubtedly have slight differences from the film.  The original Star Wars comic has several famous differences like appearances from Biggs Darklighter and Jabba the Hutt that were cut from the final film.  Since Lucasfilm has put together a story group in 2013 to create a cohesive continuity across all media, it would make no sense to have publications that differ from what appears on the screen.  Another reason to not release the comic when the movie came out is to avoid spoilers.  In 1977, Star Wars #1 was released two months prior to the movie to help advertise the movie to likely audience goers, the comic book reader.  For The Force Awakens, no such advertising was needed as Star Wars is a well known brand.  Another reason that probably made the decision easier is movie adaptation do not sell well in comics.  The last Star Wars movie, Star Wars: Episode VI - Revenge of the Sith, had a 4-issue mini-series adaptation in 2005 which only had original orders per issue of between 26,000 and 29,000 copies to comic specialty shops.  It also had initial orders of another 8,700+ trade paperbacks to specialty shops and you have to figure the movie adaptation sold more than a few copies through bookstores.  But when you consider the original Star Wars adaptation sold north of 1 million copies in the form of comics, paperbacks, and treasuries, these numbers for the Revenge of the Sith comic pale in comparison.  Marvel is publishing a 5-issue mini-series adaptation of The Force Awakens with the first issue already available in June 2016.  That first issue did sell much better than Dark Horse's Revenge of the Sith, but Marvel did entice shops into ordering more copies by offering variant cover incentives and it had no way of knowing it would sell as well as it did.  This makes the Revenge of the Sith title the lowest selling Star Wars movie comic book adaptation.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (March 2005)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith #2a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (March 2005)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith #3a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (April 2005)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith #4a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (April 2005)
One possible reason for the low number of sales for the Revenge of the Sith issues has to do with the fact no variant covers were available for this title.  When Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was published, the number of initial orders per issue was between 81,000 and 89,000 copies, but there was both an art and a photo cover for each issue.  The same was true for Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones with initial orders per issue between 35,000 and 41,000 copies.  There are probably less copies of the different Attack of the Clones covers when you consider the split in sales between the variants, but overall, there are less copies of the Revenge of the Sith comics available.  An estimated 79,626 copies of The Force Awakens #1 were ordered in June 2016.

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