The Hidden Story Behind 'Shadows Of The Empire'
A Movie Without A Movie
George Lucas doesn’t like writing, and it can take a while. So, in 1994, it became clear that Lucasfilm’s initial plan to release Star Wars: Episode I in 1997, on the 20th anniversary of the original film, was simply not feasible, as Lucas was still far from completing the script. This also meant the that release of the Special Edition of the original trilogy, which was slated for 1996, would have to be pushed back as well, to 1997.
This left Lucasfilm with a bit of a problem: Beginning with 1991’s publication of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire and Tom Veitch’s comic book series Dark Empire, Star Wars did have a resurgence. It was probably not as big as it had been in the late '70s and early '80s, but still, by the mid-'90s, there were dozens of books, comics, video games and toys with the famous logo on it available, waiting for customers. And now, there suddenly was no big event for 1996 anymore that would justify to push out even more merchandise.
Following a dinner conversation between Bantam Spectra's Lou Aronica and LucasBooks' Lucy Autrey Wilson, the idea was born to unite the publishing and merchandising endeavors under a common multimedia umbrella:
“A movie project without a movie” – as it was officially called.
The first ideas for the then untitled project had the story taking place between Episode IV and V, but Jon Knowles, who had worked for LucasArts on numerous games, suggested that it would be better to put the story between TESB and ROTJ, as Luke would be more powerful in the Force then and the story could include the Emperor, who was mentioned in ANH but had only been shown in Episode V.
Lucas himself approved the concept, and in November of 1994, Lucasfilm Licensing president Howard Roffman and various licensing representatives met at Skywalker ranch, to draft an outline for for this big project, that would be called:
Shadows of the Empire
After this meeting, a 25-page long story outline was created and passed along several times between Skywalker Ranch and the office of Bantham in New York.
Steve Perry’s novel, which ultimately sprung from this meeting and the outline, deals with the following:
Shortly after the Battle of Hoth, Prince Xixor, head of the criminal underworld organization Black Sun discovers that Luke Skywalker is Darth Vader’s son. Xixor, who hates Vader and wants to become Palpatine’s right hand man plans to kill Luke and put the blame on Vader, who has failed to bring young Skywalker before the Emperor.
Meanwhile Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando try to catch up with Boba Fett in order to free Han Solo, before the bounty hunter can deliver the carbonite-frozen smuggler to Jabba the Hutt. This leads to some battles with the Imperials and Luke being nearly killed by Xixor’s henchmen.
In the course of the story, Luke builds his green lightsaber, the rebels learn about the Emperor’s new superweapon, how and why many Bothans had to die to bring this information.
Leia and Chewie travel to Coruscant, where Leia gets her Boushh outfit and meets with Xixor, who captures her in order to lure Luke into a trap.
Luke, who senses Leia through the force is able to free the princess together with Lando, Dash Rendar and Chewbacca and to escape Coruscant. A furious Xixor orders the Falcon to be destroyed but is killed himself, when Vader blasts Xixor’s own orbital station – a so called skyhook – with the Executor. Luke returns to Tatooine to plan Han Solo’s rescue and to record the holographic message for Jabba the Hutt.
Shadows of the Empire not only managed to cleverly bridge Episode V and VI, but also introduced several interesting events and characters into Star Wars lore:
Prince Xixor, a green skinned Falleen with a ponytail, a worthy opponent to Darth Vader.
An attempted seduction of Leia by Xixor, which only failed because Leia used all her inner strength to resist the crime lord’s natural pheromones.
Guri, a slightly oversexed human replica droid, who worked for Xixor as an assassin, actually survived the explosion of the skyhook and lived on after Return of the Jedi. Her adventures were continued in a comic series called Shadows of The Empire – Evolution. After a reprogramming she worked as an underground spy for the new republic.
Dash Rendar, who was kind of a stand-in for Han Solo, a smuggler with a heart of gold who always came to the rescue at the right moment. Like Guri, Rendar had a life after Shadows of the Empire and appeared in several comics and novels, and even teamed up with Han Solo in a 2011 novel.
The Outrider - Rendar’s ship - a YT-2400 light freighter is one of the best know vehicles from the former Expanded Universe.
And of course, it is the first story that takes a deeper look into the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy.
Perry’s novel was the cornerstone of Shadows of the Empire and also got a junior novelization and an audiobook. The marketing campaign included:
- several comics
- reference books
- role-playing material
- a video game for the Nintendo 64 platform and a graphically updated version for PCs (released in 1997)
- trading cards
- a complete orchestral soundtrack album (written by Joel McNeely), that is not quite on par with the works of John Williams, but still very enjoyable,
- a series of action figures and the Outrider as the first original vehicle not based on a vintage Kenner mold,
- a micro machine toyline
Furthermore, there were t-shirts, caps, coffee-mugs, pins and posters
What is interesting, though, is that the different media didn’t just repeat themselves with the same story, as each had their own spin on the events of Shadows of the Empire: While the novel tells the main story, the comic focuses on the adventures of Boba Fett, who tries to stay ahead of the rebels and other bounty hunters in order to get Han Solo to Jabba. The video game, a first/third person shooter on the other hand, puts Dash Rendar center stage and is the person that the player controls between his involvement in the Battle of Hoth and the destruction of the skyhook. And yes, there are some inconsistences between the events of the novel and the video game.
The Shadows of the Empire merchandising campaign ran for 8 months starting with the release of the novel in April of 1996 and ending with the video game and its accompanying guide in the fall. And although the project surely was a success (especially the novel and the video game, which were quite popular), the staggered release somehow hindered Lucasfilm from marketing Shadows of the Empire as one big event.
As with all of the Legends material, the story became non-cannon in 2014. And although it is doubtful that it will ever be reintroduced into official Star Wars lore, some things actually made it to the “light side”: the Black Sun organization and its Falleen leadership were introduced in The Clone Wars, the Outrider can be seen in the Special Edition of A New Hope, and Xixor himself made a (never officially confirmed) cameo appearance in Episode I as his action figure was used for the crowd at the podrace.
Written By Gerald Petschk
Source(s): Star Wars: Shadows of The Empire Sourcebook, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire comic TPB, Star Wars: The Essential Reader's Companion, StarWars.com (backup link)
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