MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU!
And also with you.
Seriously though, I love this made up holiday. Our culturally recognized annual Star Wars appreciation day in which we can all don our Jedi cosplay roles, ask our wives to put their hair up in cinnamon buns, and make obnoxious Wookie growls at the top of our lungs. And boy o boy, this is a great year to be celebrating this at the old Larson house.
You see as I might have mentioned in other blogs, due to the COVID related isolation and stay at home order, we have used this time as an opportunity to rewatch the entire Star Wars saga from begging to end, in chronological order. That means starting with Phantom Menace, watching Episode II then, and then the entire Clone Wars series prior to Revenge of the Sith, then Solo, the entire series of Rebels, and well…you get the point.
As a result, my wife, my kids, myself, we are all knee deep in Star Wars mania right now, and I couldn’t be happier. As a life long fan, as someone that dedicated an entire episode of his weekly podcast to the adventures in a galaxy far, far away, it pleases my heart to have that excitement and joy for the property circulating around my household, as Lego Star Wars sets are being built, Star Wars toys are being rediscovered in the play bins, and lightsaber toys are being taken out moth balls to have Jedi training sessions in the backyard on these beautiful Spring days.
Speaking of Lego and Star Wars, all this renewed excitement in Star Wars has even galvanized me to finally beat the Lego Star Wars: Force Awakens game for my old WiiU, so far the last Star Wars related Lego game that was developed. Sure, there is the new Skywalker Saga game that should be released “sometime” this year, and I’m sure I’ll get it for the Switch once it’s out, but I really couldn’t wait that long.
You see it’s slim pickings right now for those of us that want Star Wars games to play but only have Nintendo based systems. EA continues to snub systems like the Switch, refusing to port the Star Wars: Fallen Order game to the system, leaving us with only outdated ports of pretty “ancient” Star Wars games like Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy which were first released nearly 20 years ago.
So with that being said, the Lego Force Awakens game was my best bet for any sort of Star Wars video game fun right now, and I gotta say, I have been enjoying it to the best of my ability. Especially the Crimson Corsair bonus mission, just because I really do love that guy and his visual design.
But that being said, it’s time to get to the business of reviewing comic books, which is the main reason for our website. And like years past, I’ll be celebrating Star Wars Day with taking a look at a Star Wars related comic from the past and seeing if it stacks up. Given my recent interest in the Star Wars chronology, I thought for today’s entry I’d pick a book that for many years was considered a main part of the Expanded Universe Canon that Lucasfilm had built up for the backstory of Star Wars to fill in the gaps between the movies.
This is particular was one of the major events of the mid 90s, as a multimedia cross platform attempt to test the fan waters as to whether there would be any interest in more Star Wars on the big screen. Of course the eventual answer was “yes” and within a year, we say the re-release of the special edition versions of the Star Wars trilogy on the big screen, and then the Prequels were released. So I feel that this project really did it’s job in reigniting the fan base, and priming that pump for the eventual new movies.
However, was the comic book series any good? That’s what I’m here to answer.
So, here comes a review of Shadow of the Empire, the 6 issue Dark Horse series written by John Wagner and illustrated by Kilian Plunkett.
10 Cent Synopsis:
Set in between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Shadow of the Empire was developed to fill in the blanks in the narrative surrounding things like how Han Solo’s Carbonite encrusted body ended up at Jabba the Hutt’s palace, how Luke Skywalker built his green lightsaber, how the Rebels got the plans for the second Death Star, and Darth Vader’s baby steps back to the Light Side after learning he has a son.
As such it introduces a bunch of new characters most important among them being Prince Xizor, the crime lord leader of the Black Sun organization who is in league with the Emperor, and Dash Rendar, a swashbuckling smuggler type who is mainly there to pick up Harrison Ford’s slack in the narrative.
The comic book version of Shadow of the Empire isn’t a full adaptation of the novel that was being released at the same time. It’s more of a companion piece as it was written with the direct input of the novel’s author, Steve Perry, and as such is supposed to go more in depth on certain aspects of the story the novel glosses over and vice versa.
As such, the comic series spends a lot of time fleshing out the perilous journey Boba Fett has to undertake to deliver his quarry of Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt, given there’s a ton of other bounty hunters trying to steal his prize from him. Additionally there’s a lot more time given to a secret agent working for Darth Vader named Jix who is attempting to sabotage plans made by assassins sent by Xizor to kill Luke Skywalker.
Still though, some of the comic is a retread of the same events of the novel and video game including Luke and Lando’s rescue attempt of Leia from the grips of the evil Xizor on Coruscant.
Initial Thoughts :
I have fond memories of reading the Shadow of the Empire novel back when it was originally released. Like the Heir to the Empire series, it was an exciting opportunity to revisit some of the old friends from my childhood, and explore portions of the mythology that had not been touched previously.
Of course, that was way back in 1997 when everything I just said was true. Flashforward 20 years and, it’s an entirely different Star Wars landscape. There have been So, So, SOOO Many Star Wars Expanded Universe tales told since then, some of which I’ve covered in this website. And so many of them are of extremely good quality that I’m sorry to report that Shadow of the Empire really doesn’t hold up that well. And that goes double of the comic book adaptation that in someways got the “B sides” of the narrative.
Instead of the novel’s interesting description of the events where Luke builds his green lightsaber back on Tatooine in Obi-Wan’s old hut, we get the much more uninteresting parts where Jix and the band of punk goth assassins fails to kill Luke in a lackluster swoop bike attack.
Instead of the pretty moving scenes where Vader tries to use the Force to heal his burned and broken body parts, only to be so happy when he does that he loses the connection with the Dark Side of the Force which he was channeling and reverts back to his twisted form, we just get a bunch of whiny scenes where he complains to the Emperor about Xizor.
Sincerely, the only good thing about the comic book adaptation is all the Boba Fett stuff as we see him defy the odds in escaping from one death trap to the next as it seems like the entire universe wants to stop him from bringing Han Solo to Jabba.
From the double crossing and triple crossing intrigues between Fett and fellow legendary hunters Zuckuss and Bossk, to the fact that Lando got extremely close to cutting off Fett and rescuing Solo long before he got to Tatoonie, it is still pretty great stuff.
The only problem though is that Boba Fett talks way too much throughout all of it, which doesn’t really fit with my interpretation of the character. He’s definitely more of the strong silent type. Also going hand in hand with that, his portrayal is the same as a protagonist, casting him to be the good guy in the proceedings. Well maybe not “good guy” flat out, more like an anti hero, but still, everything paints the picture of Fett being the character we should root for in his quest to bring in his bounty against the odds.
That seems at odds with again what I think of as my classic representation of Boba Fett. It almost seems as if he was cast this way because it was 90s and he was both super “edgy” and as such popular so they knew it would sell books.
Of course given my opening discussion about Star Wars video games, I couldn’t write up Shadows of the Empire without talking about the N64 game. I know that it was also produced for the PC as well, but let’s face it, it was a huge release for the N64 in the early days of the console, and tons of people I knew had it during my freshmen year in college.
The digital adventures of Han Solo stand in, Dash Rendar, was a mixed bag of interesting ideas with less than great controls and execution. I remember that the Echo Base snow speeder battle initially took my breath away in finally giving me a decent gaming representation of that iconic scene in which Luke battled the AT-ATs. In fact, most of the first “chapter” of the game taking place on Hoth are some of the best the game has to offer, giving Dash an opportunity to shoot down Wampas and ride in a Scout Walker as he makes his escape of Echo Base after the Empire invades.
But from there, boy does the game somewhat take a nose dive! Sure, the second part is sort of exciting in that fact that you are facing off against well known baddies like Boba Fett or IG-88, but there’s also a major increase in the first person/third person shooting stages which highlight how bad the camera movement and controls are. You have to walk across narrow ledges which you frequently fall off due to loose movement, your body often blocks the action, and the boss battles are tedious given you have to start back at the beginning of the level if you happen to die in the process.
And it’s not like the next couple of levels are any better. In fact, probably the worse level is that Swoop bike stage in my opinion. For some bizarre reason, I just hated playing that board. For some reason, it reminded me of the Battle Toads bike stage, although nowhere near as bad.
Anyways, I am glad that eventually we got the Knights of the Old Republic games has being a shining example of how good and consistently good Star Wars could be in the video game form. These would be followed by the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series which I also thought was super good.
But hey as being one of the first major next gen console releases of a Star Wars game, Shadow of the Empire wasn’t that bad…
This book was really a slog to read. In fact, I won’t lie in that I skipped over big portions of it after a while just to say I finished it. And the worst part about it was I kept on saying to myself “This is a Star Wars comic. I generally like those. I also enjoyed the novel a long time ago. This should be enjoying this”.
However, every time I was given a big heaping chunk of the ponytail sporting Imperial spy, Jix, and his “who gives a flying womp rat” of a story line or icky cringe worthy scenes where Xizor tries to seduce Leia, I immediately checked out.
Speaking of which, I read somewhere that the original plan was actually to have Leia and Xizor do the horizontal mambo, but author, Steve Perry, refuses on the basis there would be massive fan backlash.
He was right of course. Nobody wants to see our royal highness sex it up with a half lizard man.
Anyways, even the fairly decent parts of this book like the entire story arc with Boba Fett was overshadowed by how boring and inconsistent the rest of the series is. Also, it is especially annoying that the series isn’t even a stand alone piece. You can tell that it’s supposed to be read in coordination with the novel in order to get the full story, which although was intended to enhance the experience, actually detracts from it considerably as at times it feels like events are left unresolved and that the motivations/backstories for characters are only half thought through.
If you were someone lucky enough like to have read both, you can see where they were trying to go with this, but heaven help someone that decided to just go into this blind with only the events of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to guide them. Even major Shadow of Empire characters like Dash Rendar and Xizor, just appear randomly through the course of the story without much explanation of their importance to the saga overall, which is just inexcusable.
In fact, the only character again they give any real narrative meat to in terms of backstory is that stupid shirtless Jix character, and again let me repeat…NOBODY CARES ABOUT HIM! As a Darth Vader agent, even with the build up, he’s still as uninteresting as a slab of drywall. Doctor Aphra he is definitely not!
I didn’t even like the art. It was way too loose and sketchy for a Star Wars book.
Yeah, in closing, what I thought would be a nice trip down memory lane in terms of connecting with a classic Star Wars tale of yesterday, just turned into an exercise in frustration. I can now tell why there have been rumors that the folks currently spinning stories over in the Lucas camp for all of the current various Star Wars related spin offs have distanced themselves considerably from this story.
Sure, the novel might still be decent, but if they were going by just the comic series, I too would have left in buried in the sands of time.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: D