There’s an animated series in the works from WilkinsAnimations called Dark Empire, which is a Star Wars saga based on a trilogy of works from Dark Horse Comics. The project is being funded via a Patreon campaign, but there’s already a trailer roaming about for this animated undertaking that is like an homage to some of the great legends of the 1970s, such as Ralph Bakshi, Clive Smith, Tom Tataranowicz, Jules Bass and Barrie Nelson.
However, this isn’t a happy-go-lucky take on Star Wars. Wilkins puts a decidedly dark spin on the sprawling space saga within the confines of his less-than two minute trailer. It’s both large-scale in its ambitions but also rather tiny in terms of giving any plot details away. We have no idea how Wilkins plans to approach the story other than what we can glean from the somber tone of the trailer, thanks in good part to Daniel Ciurlizza’s fantastic remix of the “Dark Side Theme” from the Star Wars films.
But enough of my prattle, you can check out the trailer for yourself below.
So the trailer shows clips from Luke and Yoda on Dagobah having a conversation about venturing into the dark side, which sets the stage from where the series will venture, taking place after the events of Return of the Jedi and the Admiral Thrawn storyline.
We see Han, Leia, the Millennium Falcon, some Tie Fighters, and various clips of some of the locations and characters that the series will supposedly explore.
A lot of the mood is helped by the fact that Ciurlizza’s theme carries a lot of gravitas with it, and the imagery within the trailer is quite foreboding and menacing at times, especially when you see all of the Tie Fighters coming out of the space carriers against the moonlit haze of a purple sky.
The project mixes in a combination of 3D vehicles with hand-drawn characters.
Now I’ll have to be honest, the characters aren’t always animated in the best way. Sometimes their proportions look off or they move kind of stilted.
However, there is somewhat of a charm to the overall aesthetic if you look at it through the lens of something designed to mimic the kind of animation stylings of the 1970s. There’s even a neat matted silhouette sequence where we see Luke and R2D2 walking against what looks like water colored backgrounds. The animation in that sequence looks rotoscoped, which was a popular technique that animators used to employ rather liberally nearly half-a-century ago.
Originally I was too sure how to feel about the animations and character designs, but they grew on me the more I watched and rewatched the trailer. Eventually I began to accept what Wilkins is doing with Dark Empire, which seems to invoke a similar kind of design-style that Ralph Bakshi used for Wizards.
The coloring also seems mimic Philippe Druillet’s art nouveau palette, which combined the distillation of bright colors brought down into dark hues to create menacing backdrops and thoughtful architecture.
We see that there are very similar ominous uses of otherwise striking colors to create tense and harrowing scenes in Wilkins’ work, which is no easy feat when you have pink buildings and magenta horizons canvassing every other scene.
Nevertheless, the ambition is definitely there, and there’s obviously no aping of other Star Wars projects currently in production, so it most certainly stands out from anything Disney is doing at the moment.
I still can’t get over how superbly pertinent Daniel Ciurlizza’s music is to setting the kind of expectations and general tone for the project. It washes over Wilkins’ art with a steady flow of subdued rage and understated peril.
That’s not an easy achievement for a trailer that clocks in at under two minutes. If you want to hear Ciurlizza’s full track, you can check it out below.
As for Star Wars: Dark Empire, assuming Disney doesn’t hit Wilkins with a cease and desist (and that’s possible so long as it doesn’t receive too much attention), you can keep track of his progress on the project by visiting his YouTube channel or his Patreon page.
(Thanks for the news tip GuyverOne)