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Sunday, 19 June 2016

FLASHBACK REVIEW: 'SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE'

Beware the SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE! Art: Drew Struzan.

The rescue of carbonite frozen smuggler hero Han Solo from the clutches of Boba Fett and his paymaster Jabba the Hutt isn't just the opening catalyst to the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI but also the danger and intrigue that came before it, with the ingenious and fun middle ground bridging adventure between EPISODE VI and the prior THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK conceived by Howard Roffman and LUCASFILM back in 1996: Steve Perry's fun and genuinely fast moving SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE, now celebrating its Twentieth Anniversary this year.

Reptilian baddie Prince Xizor makes his debut.

I remember the building excitement of this book's premiere release back in the day, and all the subsequent spin-offs around it (all designed to keep the SW brand in the public consciousness with the run-up to the SPECIAL EDITIONS: SHADOWS saw new figures, a comic series, cards, a classy soundtrack, and a video game, though an animated movie of this would have been the icing on the cake!). I quickly picked up an author pre-signed copy on release at BORDERS bookstore whilst vacationing in Orlando, Florida. It was a perfect summer read, for sure. At the time, however, and upon quickly consuming it, I kinda remember thinking it felt rather wisp-ish compared to the big and lengthy tomes of the epic first Timothy Zahn saga, but, over the years, and especially now with the return of our old characters with THE FORCE AWAKENS, I've appreciated and cherished this unique adventure a whole lot more- Perry's interpretations of the heroes is very good, especially Lando and Leia (who gets to show her mettle against the evil Prince Xizor and his lustful hormones!), though the author, for continuity sake, clearly has to be careful not to make Luke Skywalker's persona too much siding towards the confident and resourceful end of his Jedi development seen in action against Jabba's empire at the start of EPISODE VI. The majority of Perry's linkages between V and VI work well (i.e. where Leia got her Boussh bounty hunter costume, some rushed but fun scenes with the Bothan spies, and an interesting build-up to Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker's need to be re-acquainted with son Luke (which gets an all-new depth with the Sith "Rule of Two" established with the later Prequels). There's also other worthy tributes from all around the Classic Trilogy (a "I have a bad feeling about this" here and there, and even a "1138" reference), plus some genuinely cool, wish we could have seen that on screen, sequences (the swoop bike chase predicting the Pod racing, and the final dizzying space battle above Imperial Centre/Coruscant, also featuring the building-in- popularity Wedge Antilles and his Rogue Flight X-wings. Only the aforementioned Fett's absence is felt- though he gets his part of the story covered in the subsequent comic series, brought to life magnificently in that specialised arena by writer John Wagner (no stranger to crafting charismatic anti-heroes via his UK work on Judge Dredd for 2000AD), alongside later THE CLONE WARS animation artist Kilian Plukett's eye-capturing visuals.

Another capable STAR WARS female: the cyborg assassin Guri. Art by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.

The idea of developing the underworld of STAR WARS, notably the galaxy-spanning Black Sun organisation seen here ultimately proved a good one (Prince Xizor's daily operations very much in the realms of Mario Puzo or THE SOPRANOS at times), and has blossomed creatively ever since in books, comics and via things like THE CLONE WARS, which would ultimately use the Falleen race in its fifth season. Xizor, introduced early and literally into the events of EMPIRE with SHADOWS opening chapter, is a worthy participant in this unique phase of STAR WARS history: calculating, controlled, and hateful of Darth Vader, out to get revenge on the Sith Lord via Luke's death, in payback for the demise of his family years earlier. Xizor's female cyborg assistant, Guri, is an interesting foil to him, also, and certainly a better and sexier aide to anything Lando had at Bespin with Lobot! Also on a shady path, but working more to the heroes side of things, let's also not forget the young rogue smuggler, following in the best swaggering Corellian/Han Solo tradition, that is Dash Rendar: cocky, talented and egotistical, and also one of the galaxy's best pilots, who speeds his way in and out of the storyline in ways that are never bothersome- indeed, its a shame that his character at the time was "killed off" by book's end.

Dash Rendar and his Outrider ship.

Definitely worth re-reading, SHADOWS is genuine nostalgic fun, harkening back to the kind of lively days enjoyed early on within the Expanded Universe, and at a time when we truly savoured the Classic Trilogy, thinking we'd never see its characters ever return to the big screen again.

AFICIONADO RATING: 4 out of 5

Get it here: Shadows of the Empire: Star Wars Legends (Star Wars - Legends) eBook: Steve Perry: Amazon.co.uk: Books

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