Star Wars has never shied away from the darker, sinister parts of the galaxy. Heck, it seems like in the last few years, between Vader: Dark Visions and The Rise of Skywalker, they’ve embraced some of the more horrific potentials of storytelling. Well, Dark Legends by George Mann dives even deeper into the shadows with some truly disturbing tales, all set in the galaxy far, far away. Just as Mann’s Myths & Fables offered a variety of folklore which was both original while also resembling terror-inducing tales from our own world, Dark Legends does the same. This review will contain SPOILERS as there really isn’t any way to discuss this collection of stories without getting into the details.
I really enjoyed Myths & Fables. Mann did a great job of making me feel like I could’ve been on Batuu, sitting around a campfire, listening to the lore spanning both time and space in the vast galaxy and its history. Artist Grant Griffin’s dreamlike illustrations helped, though in Dark Legends they go in the opposite direction, becoming much more nightmarish than surreal. One of the reasons I felt his first book worked so well was due to the balance of both stories which gave the reader hope and stories which left them a little shaken. Don’t go looking for hope in Dark Legends and prepare yourself to be shaken. This book is as advertised and there is very little you’ll come away feeling hopeful about. These tales are engrossing but I’m not sure I can say I felt satisfied. I can’t deny how readable this book was because I felt compelled to finish it the moment I opened it (and did).
Mann’s writing felt streamlined and definitely tightened down. Not that Myths & Fables meandered but there were a couple stories which lost my attention completely. Not in Dark Legends. Whether I willingly went into the cave or not, Mann’s writing took me there and these stories certainly stuck with me, for better or worse. In my opinion the best way to discuss this book is to survey each story.
Dark Legends opens with a very disturbing story involving the kidnapping of orphans. If you’re like me, you don’t mind a good action bit where the hero cuts down a thousand stormtroopers with their lightsaber while simultaneously blowing up an AT-AT, but as soon as someone hurts a Loth-cat or a youngling I’m out. Already vulnerable children being harmed really sets the table for some of the problems I had with Dark Legends. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the horror genre, especially when children orphaned due to the Clone Wars are the victims of the Grand Inquisitor, which is essentially the plot of this opening story. George Mann comes out swinging with the macabre.
In an orphanage on a remote planet, the children being cared for hear ominous whispers of their peers being abducted during the night. When a child named Elish arrives, who is unaware of her Force-sensitivity, she’s immediately chilled by these tales and the darkness she feels permeating the orphanage. Though Elish doesn’t realize its the Force which give her heightened senses she is aware of her gifts. After a new friend she makes goes missing one night, Elish reaches out through the Force (in description only) and catches the attention of a Jedi-purge survivor named Kira Vantala. This is Vantala’s first appearance and quite frankly, the bond she quickly forms with Elish and her fresh determination to protect these exposed children are the higher points of the story.
Kira quietly takes her place of guard in the orphanage and eventually draws out the monster responsible, the aforementioned Grand Inquisitor. I got the sense this tale took place relatively close to Charles Soule’s Darth Vader series, perhaps just after, but there’s no specificity. The Grand Inquisitor has been taking the children to the ruins of an ancient temple, presumably Sith but again it’s not specified. When he captures Elish, Kira pursues him there, they duel and the Grand Inquisitor escapes after Kira bests him in a close lightsaber battle. Both Elish and Kira are left to ponder where the maniacal Sith adjunct ends up disappearing to. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of this tale is the open end of Kira and Elish surviving. It’s said they are returning to the orphanage, but I have a hard time believing Kira would leave a Force-sensitive child out in the wilderness of space with the likelihood of an Inquisitor returning. The door this story leaves open intrigued me much more than the story itself.
Interestingly enough, “Buyer Beware” takes place in the sequel trilogy era, about a greedy First Order diplomat (They even had those?) named Slokin who stumbles across a strange mask in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities on Batuu. The skull-like, black-mask (assuming its Sith or dark side related) seems to call to Slokin, who feels he must have it. Of course, when Dok-Ondar parts with the mask he informs Slokin the mask promises both treasure and peril. In the manner you’d expect from an arrogant First Order aristocrat, Slokin assumes himself immune to the latter while fixating on the former. Clearly Slokin didn’t read many cautionary fables while climbing the First Order ranks.
The first time Slokin puts on the mask he’s thrown into a vision of the previous owner of the mask. Whoever possessed this mask before him has big time Sheev Palpatine vibes, as we witness the owner blackmailing an emperor of a rich planet to gain wealth. Predictably, Slokin is amused by this vision, as he sees it from the perspective of the one doing the blackmailing. Witnessing the blackmailing inspires Slokin to do a bit of his own blackmailing against an ambassador of a wealthy planet, threatening to expose unspecified secrets his counterpart hid, and Slokin gains a fortune for himself.
Slokin again turns to the mask, this time witnessing a murder through the silent but deadly poisoned drink method. With this inspiration, Slokin turns the method against a superior officer, poisoning him and rising up in the chain. All while Slokin is doing this he’s confiding in his own assistant, Potniss. Potniss is taking his own notes, as the final vision Slokin witnesses is the mask maker’s own demise at the hands of a trusted assistant, which ends up matching his own fate. A cautionary tale of greed, Slokin’s death comes at the hands of Potniss, who takes the fortune his master amassed through the dark visions but has the good sense to return the mask to Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. This was one of the more amusing tales, with a dash of King Midas greed to warn readers where that gets you.
We knew we weren’t getting through Dark Legends without a Darth Vader story but I love how Mann approached this instead of just dropping the specter of the Dark Lord into some crazy scenario. This story is told from the perspective of the underling Imperial officers who serve aboard the Star Destroyers shuttling Vader across the galaxy and how whenever he shows up officers start missing followed by inexplicable, untimely promotions. The officer we experience this tale through is Algor Denholm, who finds himself perplexed when he’s suddenly promoted after his superior Lieutenant Marsden goes missing. You’d think most Imperials wouldn’t look a gift horse promotion in the mouth but Denholm can’t shake how strange it is Marsden vanished from their destroyer, the Exactor (notably a Legends ship now canonized by this inclusion).
Over the days which follow the promotion via Marsden’s disappearance, Denholm is plagued by visions of a cloaked figure in his room, choking him with invisible hands. Expectedly, these visions are quite distracting for Denholm and cause embarrassment as paranoia take hold of him during duty hours. The trajectory he’s on is pretty predictable, especially when Darth Vader arrives on the Exactor.
When Denholm makes quite a scene upon the Sith Lord’s arrival, losing his cool during the usually silent and ceremonial Vader descent from shuttlecraft to hangar bay, his life is cut short. The invisible hand of Vader takes hold, absenting both air and life from Denholm. So, this tale is unusual and one of the more vague ones, so I’ll just give my interpretation because I think Mann leaves this wide open for several. I pose the dark side has a way of marking Vader’s next victims and those who succeed officers who Vader dispatches of are the equivalent of cursed. It could also be chalked up to a very non-mystical reality of serving in the Empire (or dark side) is a path leading to death, as we’ve seen in canon an Imperial officer take their own life rather with a blaster to the head rather than face a disapproving Sith Lord. You decide.
“Blood Moon” was probably my favorite story in Dark Legends. It falls somewhere between a werewolf (the fellow depicted above is a Shistavanen and this is their natural appearance) mixed with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story takes place on the strange planet Lupal, which orbits a dying star known to once have the purest heart of kyber but presently bleeds solar flares and other deadly emissions making any expedition to the planet a high risk. Lupal was once a paradise, but due to wars creeping up in the galaxy during the Old Republic era, the heart of kyber in its star fractured and released death upon the planet. On top of naturally deadly celestial phenomena, there are legends of tortured screams and other malevolent forces the star projects toward Lupal. But, there’s always someone who’s not scared of the perils due to the concurrent legend of great fortune hidden away on the planet’s surface. Fionn Tucat believes she’s found a window of safe passage in the solar flares and leads an expedition to the interior of Lupal.
I love the environment Mann set this story in. The star with a heart of broken kyber immediately begins to affect the various crew, especially the Kordus Vrak, the aforementioned Shistavanen. Though every member of the team is affected, Vrak’s descent into his more primal urges is most viscerally described. To the character’s credit, he spends all his mental strength fighting them. He even requests to be bound and confined at one point. As a member of the crew disappears, Vrak’s trajectory toward defeat by the basic survival instincts of his ancestors awoken. After one of their excavator droids is dismantled by Vrak, then he attacks a member of the crew and is caught by the rest of the crew.
The climax takes place with the backdrop of a ruined, ancient city. This is definitely Mann’s most descriptive writing and it’s delightful. Though the beats of this story will be quite familiar to most it’s setting provides a refreshing touch. Though, considering the lens of how a reader in the galaxy far, far away, there are problematic elements by making only the alien members of the crew the ones to get debased and turn into monsters. Just thought that would be worth mentioning. The story ends on a very Twilight Zone/Black Mirrior note which I won’t spoil here. Though I referred to Grant Griffin’s art as nightmarish, it is exceptional and stunning, gracing the beginning of each story.
The Dark Mirror
This story is right from the themes of Jekyll and Hyde. It starts out very subtle but that “A-ha!” moment doesn’t hit you quite as sudden as you think. Like the werewolf motif Mann derived from in the previous story, there is a unique Star Wars touch on the familiar. Padawan Sol Mogra has the honor of learning from great Jedi Master Nil Idyth, revered as one of the greatest in the order. As Mogra grows more capable, he’s dispatched on a mission, only to discover the news of his master’s death upon his return to the Jedi Temple. I got the sense this took place in the Old Republic era, though it’s not specified and these are original characters. An amulet his master wore is passed down to Mogra – a small piece of wood with a kyber embedded in it. As his master wore it, he would.
Around a decade later, once Mogra has come into his own as one of the best in the order, a phantom killer begins wreaking havoc on the lower levels of Coruscant. The killer continues to evade the authorities and the Jedi, so Mogra is dispatched to investigate. He remembers tales of a similar villain his old master Idyth once told him. After exhausting much time, Mogra can’t find the killer and begins to question himself as a Jedi. He feels he’s not worthy to bear the legacy of Nil Idyth, known as the most virtuous Jedi due to his complete control on emotions. As the killer continues to murder, Mogra’s own mental state becomes more fragile, feeling as if his mind is somehow connected to the malevolence and finding his robes in tatters.
Eventually, Mogra experiences a vision of a murder in progress, only to discover he is the killer, with a pair of yellow Sith-eyes to go with it. The amulet turns out to be something of a collector, where the late Nil Idyth was able to pour all of his emotions. Instead of a pharmaceutical cocktail being the catalyst for the dark, Hyde-transformation its something of a blast of dark emotions to Mogra’s psyche. We find out the legacy of Nil Idyth was no different and his former student is doomed to repeat the cycle, but permanently transformed into a dark side fueled murderer. Again, it’s familiar territory but I enjoyed the touch Mann put on this story. Mogra’s descent into madness is nicely laid out and I didn’t mind it being predictable due to the source themes.
The Gilded Cage
This story…I did not care for. And I really wish I loved it because it’s a Night Sisters tale! Not only that, it’s a tale about the Night Sisters pursuing revenge against a grave robbing Sith Lord. Remember Darth Caldoth, who appeared in Mann’s Myths & Fables and was mentioned in Cavan Scott’s Dooku: Lost Jedi? He’s back and this time he’s caused trouble with the Night Sisters. Wishing to learn the Night Sisters’ necromantic abilities, Caldoth steals one of their mummified dead. It’s not taken lightly by the Night Sisters but they know the only way to defeat someone as powerful as Caldoth is in the long game. When they learn Caldoth is nearly defeated by the Jedi they use they make a plan around his new vulnerability.
After an intensive selection process, a Night Sister called Zeldin is selected to begin a slow assault on the mind of Darth Caldoth. Zeldin must tread lightly to avoid detection so over a long period of time she slowly spreads her influence, stirring the Sith Lord’s faculties towards decisions which put him at risk. Zeldin even witnesses the demise of Caldoth’s apprentice Ry Nymbis from Mann’s previous story, which frustrates the Night Sisters as they’d hoped the apprentice would overtake his master. Other ploys to steer Caldoth toward his demise fail until they decide out of frustration they need to make a bold attack. Collectively, they come together and wield their power through Zeldin, hoping to take complete control of Caldoth’s mind. Then the tables turn.
Caldoth has sensed Zeldin all alone and he’s reversed her slow, steady approach with one of his own, binding her to his mind. The story ends with Zeldin cut off from the Night Sisters and trapped in eternal torment that is Darth Caldoth’s evil mind. Gross. I have to say I’m getting quite sick of these brutal, violating endings Star Wars tends to save for their female characters. I understand not everyone gets to live through every story but the ending of this really disturbed me and I don’t think it will sit well with a lot of other fans either. The Night Sisters have been brutalized and defeated enough. How about we get some stories about them winning?
A Life Immortal
Welcome back to Exegol. The tale of Darth Noctyss, sickle-blade yielding Sith Lord who is at the height of her powers, conquering entire planets on her own. The galaxy fears her but Noctyss didn’t seek out conquest. Noctyss seeks immortality, preferring to decipher that and then she’d have all the time she needed to bring the galaxy to its knees. As we know in Star Wars, the path to immortality does not come easy or without great cost, so Noctyss spends most her life searching for the gateway. Toward the end of her life she discovers the path to Exegol, where she’s certain her answers await.
Upon her arrival she’s greeted by a Gollum-like creature who immediately begins assisting her. The creature leads her to the texts she’s looking for and Noctyss begins her scholarly expedition toward the secrets of immortality. I gathered this tale takes place in an ancient era of Star Wars, as Noctyss describes her intention to rule “the entire realm of the Sith“. I know Knights of the Old Republic isn’t canon but I’m just going to assume whatever the canonical equivalent we actually get will be similar. The creature Noctyss encounters serves as both her servant and focus of hatred. As Noctyss continues to age over the course of her studies she’s described as growing quite decrepit herself. The dark side is coming to collect its toll.
Noctyss eventually deciphers the ritual she must undertake to reach immortality. As part of the ritual a blood sacrifice is demanded. Once she takes the life of the creature its horrible state is transferred onto her and she learns all along the creature was Darth Sanguis, who’d been seeking an end to the terrible fate of immortality he’d found. Now, Noctyss will exist in the darkness for the next unlucky Sith Lord seeking immortality. We know the cycle ends at some point but I wonder if there’s a Sheev Palpatine version of this story we may someday get. As the final entry in Dark Legends, this tale abruptly bookends the dark journey the reader set out on.
Overall, I didn’t dislike Dark Legends but I didn’t feel compelled to pick it back up right away and can’t imagine I will for a while. George Mann did a great job structuring the book and incorporating familiar themes that recall classic horror to “creepy pasta”. Mann’s writing isn’t what makes this book off-putting, it’s more the content. I’m personally ready for more stories about hope, love, and heroism but if you are looking to venture into the darkened corners of a galaxy far, far away Dark Legends will delight you.