Tarkin lives!? Atha Prime!? Mongo Beefhead!? Decades before The Force Awakens there was…The Epic Continues?
Many know, as the story has been told many times and in many different formats, that when Star Wars came along in 1977 it revolutionized the way that films of that magnitude were marketed and merchandised. A deal with toy manufacturer Kenner ensured that kids would be living out their favorite moments from the saga and making new ones for years to come. With a successful line for each of the original three films and a line entitled Power of the Force in 1985 Star Wars toys and Kenner dominated the market on countless childhoods. But as that era of films came to a close Kenner hoped to push onward with the line and penned their own sequel to Lucas’ masterpiece. One to continue the story and their financial grip on the toy market. It was called The Epic Continues.
As 1983’s Return of the Jedi ended its run in the theater and the corresponding toy line had worn out its welcome on store pegs Kenner ran an extension of the toy line it called Power of the Force. The movies may be done, creator George Lucas expressed no interest in continuing the franchise, at least at that time, but Kenner had a taste of success and did not want to give it up without a fight. Packaged with collectible coins the line only produced 15 figures before ultimately getting the axe. With no films to promote interest was running thin, hard to imagine nowadays, and the sales did not justify the product.
Toy designer for Kenner’s Star Wars line Mark Boudreaux needed to look for new ways to promote the Star Wars line if Kenner was going to be able to continue riding on the success of the last seven years. Out of several brainstorming and kitbashing sessions, a common practice in the industry of using existing product reassembled in new ways, a new concept was quickly formulated. It was pitched as The Epic Continues and was to push the heroes of the Rebellion forward after their victory in Return of the Jedi to face a new threats.
That’s where it gets a little weird.
Ok more than a little.
- “A powerful force long kept in exile in a remote fringe of the galaxy has been released by the death of the Emperor. It moves now, like a plague, securing control over the shattered remnants of the empire and re-enslaving newly freed worlds. Atha Prime, genetics master, ruler of the dark worlds and architect of the Clone Wars, is free again. His advanced army of combat clones has already decimated rebel outposts along the galactic frontier. His goal is to crush forever the Rebel Alliance and control the Galaxy.“
- ―Original Kenner brief for “Atha Prime”
According to their original synopsis the deadly Atha Prime, freed after Palpatines death at the Battle of Endor attempts to take control of the galaxy. But if that wasn’t enough the remnants of the Galactic Empire under the command of Grand Moff Tarkin are also attempting to wrest control back from the Rebel Alliance. Tarkin, who as revealed in this line, was to have survived the destruction of the first Death Star, remained in hiding until he found the opportune time to strike back.
The heroes of the Rebellion would also be getting some help in staving off this double threat with new allies from the unlikeliest of places.
In order to sell the The Epic Continues to Lucasfilm several pieces of artwork were commissioned and sketched to help them imagine what this new adventure could look alike. Also, by taking several figures/vehicles/playsets from the earlier lines and repurposing or “kit bashing” them to make entirely new ones showed off their determination in trying to sell this line. Some of the concept sketches out of this line are very interesting and some we’re not completely abandoned in true Star Wars fashion.
Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, heroes of the Rebellion, were given a slight redesign. Han’s outfit is a bit flashier than previous appearances and Luke’s shows off some light body armor. It was presumed that it would be in the style of the Jedi Knights of old. This is over a decade before any design work would go into the imagining of the Jedi Order of the Republic for The Phantom Menace.
Some characters were pieced together with various parts of other figures and produced the rather odd Mongo Beefhead Tribesman. Made up of a Quarren’s head, an Ithorian’s arms and 4-LOM’s chest he was one of many from a tribe native to Tatooine and were billed as allies in the fight against Atha Prime and his Clone Warriors.
Atha Prime, the main antagonist of this new adventure, was based off designs leftover from Return of the Jedi by artist Nilo Rodis-Jamero. The design would resurface several years later in the Dark Empire comic series from Dark Horse.
A few of the droids pitched for The Epic Continues were cobbled together from earlier droid figures. There was one, Blue Four, who was designed for Atha Prime and is eerily reminiscent of L3-37 from Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Some incredible and outlandish vehicles were designed including Atha’s personal shuttle, the Apex Invader, which would be able to dock on top of the already wild double-decker Star Destroyer;the Annihilator.
This toy line, this incredible story, was not to be however which is why many never knew it even existed. Lucasfilm decided against The Epic Continues. The company was just not ready to venture beyond the last film and it wouldn’t until 1991 with the release of Timothy Zahn’s post-ROTJ era novel Heir to the Empire. Even then it was only explored in novel/comic format and while officially licensed was never really a part of the canon that George Lucas would espouse. It wasn’t until 2015’s The Force Awakens that the story of the Rebellion after the fall of the Empire would begin to be told.
But some of the work that went into this project would live on. A few vehicles and droids were included in a short story titled The Battle of Cadinth for Star Wars Galaxy Magazine and also in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.
The design for Atha Prime was used later in Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire series in 1991. Now labeled an Imperial Sentinel it eventually, and finally, made it to action figure form in 1998.
Star Wars is a brand that for years has been lovingly known to never throw away a concept. Whether that is just an idea or one of the many commissioned pieces of art some things have a way of popping up again years down the road. And not in ways one would expect.
Who knows what would’ve happened if this line had gone into production. Kenner’s Star Wars figure line was no more after 1986 and no new figures would be released for the next ten years. This time in between was known as the “Dark Times”. No television projects, no films and most importantly…no toys.
What would have happened had the official story lived on?
When Kenner, now owned by Hasbro, brought the Star Wars line back from the dead in the mid-1990’s it was to generate, and profit from, hype surrounding the upcoming Star Wars Special Edition and the rumored production of the prequel films. And the new line, Power of the Force 2, was the shot in the arm the franchise needed. Fans hungry for new action figures came out in droves to buy and the toys have continued strong ever since. But that hunger was there due to a lack of anything of substance for over a decade. They say it is better to go out on a high note than to slowly fade away and that is what the toy line risked with an endeavor like this. Although the story seems interesting enough who’s to say it would have had the impact that future stories did have. In fact if it flopped it could have had serious ramifications for years. A fizzle out could have swayed creative content and Lucasfilm interest in going any further with the story.
Or even worse, a dark-side Mongo Beefhead Tribesman could have been the main villain of The Last Jedi…
The Epic Continues never happened. It’s for the best. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be celebrated and enjoyed for what it is and was. A page out of Kenner history. A companies well-informed vision of how a film story could move forward without films. And just a piece of odd Star Wars trivia to entertain ourselves with. To help ground it when the series seems a little too serious for its own good.
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.