With the birth of the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars novels have exploded into the world like a super nova. Unfortunately, a vast number of those novels are utter garbage and do nothing but tell an unnecessary story in the Star Wars universe that only a middle school fan could possibly care about. However, amidst the garbage there are a few gems to be found. One such gem was written by Steve Perry in 1996 as part of a massive push by Lucasfilm to bring Star Wars back into the public eye. This push included the novel, comic books, a video game release, a soundtrack release, action figures, trading cards and even a trailer. All of this centered on a new story in the Star Wars universe: Shadows of the Empire!
Perry’s Shadows of the Empire is a great example of a well-executed good idea. The story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and helps fill in the gap in the story. Most fans don’t know this, but there is actually a one or two year time lapse between the two films. At the close of Empire, Luke is a battered Jedi in training, Han is in transit to Jabba the Hutt, the Rebel Alliance has lost their main base of operations, and it seems as though all hope for freedom in the galaxy is lost. At the start of Return of the Jedi, much has happened. Luke is a full fledged Jedi Knight, a complex plan has been launched to rescue Han Solo from Jabba, the Rebel Alliance has regrouped and built up enough strength to launch a massive attack of the Empire in the second half of the film. Much has happened in that galaxy far, far away and Shadows of the Empire tells that story.
Shadows of the Empire masterfully weaves together a tapestry of storylines involving the classic star wars characters with brand new characters. Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando are desperate to rescue Han from Boba Fett before he can be delivered to Jabba the Hutt. The novel also introduces us to Dash Rendar, a shameless replacement for Han Solo who, as it happens, does a fine job filling the rogue’s shoes. For most of the novel our heroes are engaged in this ultimately hopeless rescue attempt.
Arguably, one of the best parts of the novel doesn’t focus on the heroes of the rebellion at all. Prince Xizor is another new character introduced in this novel. Xizor is the leader of a notorious crime syndicate, Black Sun, based on Coruscant. Xizor holds a personal grudge against none other than Darth Vader, and has vowed to use his power and influence with Emperor Palpatine to eliminate Vader entirely. Xizor crafts a master plan that involves shaming Vader in the eyes of the Emperor by doing everything he can to keep Vader from accomplishing his mission: the capture and conversion of his son, Luke Skywalker. Xizor sets a plan in motion to kill Luke, resulting in Vader losing the Emperor’s favor and as an added bonus, his son.
All of these threads are woven into several key events that are mentioned in Return of the Jedi, including the acquisition of the secret plans for the second Death Star. The climax of the story brings our heroes to Coruscant, the heart of the Empire. The action on Coruscant is incredible and gives the reader a sequence the likes of which have, at that point, only been dreamed of in the Star Wars universe, and wouldn’t be seen on film until 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.
Shadows of the Empire was a story that didn’t necessarily need to be told, but I am very pleased that it was. However, while the majority of the novel is a fantastic story of adventure, betrayal and manipulation, it does have its weak moments. There is a particular scene involving Princess Leia infiltrating Xizor’s palace that just feels very awkward and out of place in the Star Wars universe. It is little plot points like this that take the story down a few notches and detract from the overall enjoyment of the novel.
If you are a Star Wars fan at all, especially of the original trilogy, you owe it to yourself to read the Shadows of the Empire novelization. Even if you’ve played the game, you’ve only had a small glimpse of the story. The novel is a great, and most importantly, it is a fun story set in (in my opinion) the most interesting time period in the Star Wars universe.