Ahh…2016. As science fiction fans, we’re really living the dream right now simply by existing in a time when we are being promised at least one new ‘Star Wars’ movie every single year. But this wasn’t always the way we expected things to be! There was a darker time when we didn’t think we were going to be getting any new ‘Star Wars’ movies ever. A time before the often beleaguered ‘Prequel Trilogy‘. Yes, I’m talking about a much darker time… a period known as ‘the mid-nineties’. A time when ‘Star Wars’ was still just for nerds and no one had even thought of the word ‘midichlorians’ yet! The year was 1996, and fans everywhere rejoiced and celebrated the release of the newest chapter in the ‘Star Wars’ Saga after years of waiting for something new; ‘Shadows Of The Empire’. But what was ‘Shadows Of The Empire’? Were we getting a new ‘Star Wars’ movie? But there is all of this merchandise in stores?! What’s with that green dude?! All of these questions and more are up for discussion in this week’s Throwback Thursday where we take a look back on ‘Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire’!
Diving right in, the basic premise of ‘Shadows’ (or SOTE, as we will be calling it for short) was to make an all new movie set in the ‘Star Wars’ universe without actually making the movie itself. Effectively, we got all of the crazy merchandising you would expect for a major summer blockbuster, but there was no movie! We were given a story novelization, a comic book series from Dark Horse Comics (later collected as a graphic novel), a video game tie-in, and a massive toyline featuring new characters, vehicles and a whole smorgasbord of fantastic new items for our collections! Hell, we even got an ‘Original Soundtrack’ CD release with music from ‘SOTE’, which was imagined as ‘music that goes with this story’ and featured several key ‘Star Wars’ themes as well as many original orchestrated tracks. Essentially, ‘SOTE’ existed solely as a marketing campaign to see just how much people would buy into a new ‘Star Wars’ (and considering it paved the way for a re-release of the original trilogy in ‘97 and the prequels in ‘99, it’s safe to say it did pretty well!).
But how does it fit in with the rest of ‘Star Wars’? Well, the beauty of ‘SOTE’ is that it takes place during the original trilogy; with a story set in between ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return Of The Jedi’. ‘SOTE’ tells the story of what actually happened in between episodes V and VI, detailing the search for Han Solo(who is obviously still frozen in Carbonite), Lukes Jedi Training (like building his new Lightsaber he has in ‘ROTJ’), and the struggle for power between Darth Vader and the new villain Prince Xizor (a green-skinned alien crime boss of the ‘Black Sun Syndicate’ who is vying for Vader’s position at The Emporer’s side). We also get the treat of a new Han-Solo-esque character by the name of Dash Rendar, who fills in for most of the scenes where Han would normally be used (which works perfectly, as he is essentially a bootleg version of Solo, or as I like to call him, ‘Han Solo Light‘). The real question you should all be asking is whether Dash Rendar shaves halfway through the story, or if he was clean shaven at the beginning and his beard just grows in that quick? Because in about half of all the ‘SOTE’ media he’s got a beard, and in the other half he’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
While the story told during ‘SOTE’ fills in some gaps left in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, the outcome of the story doesn’t actually affect anything that happens in the films (aside from Leah finding out where Han is being kept), so it’s easy to see why it’s been an untouched story for so long now. Here’s where things get tricky — the story itself was split up and told differently in each form of media! So the novelization tells the story from one set of characters’ points of view, while the comic did it from another, and the video game adaptation did it from another entirely different perspective! Essentially, if you wanted to get the full ‘SOTE’ experience, you were going to have to go ‘all in’ and come at it in every form they were releasing it in. When the stories of each character intermingled, they always matched up, but for the most part, they each did their own thing and stood out as a unique part of the puzzle that is ’SOTE’. From a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant, and from a fans standpoint, it was an interesting new way to tell the same story in different formats so that none of them were ever boring and things were always different. ‘SOTE’ created a fully unique and immersive experience for long time ‘Star Wars’ fans that hadn’t experienced anything like this in over a decade.
While it technically is no longer considered cannon (thanks Disney!), of all the ‘Star Wars’ tie-ins and spinoffs, ‘Shadows Of The Empire’ was largely considered the one key story that stood widely regarded as a part of official continuity. The best part is, technically it still fits with the new continuity, and could be deemed as ‘cannonical’ even if it’s now part of the ‘Star Wars: Legends’ line. This would be more debatable if keen-eyed fans hadn’t spotted a ship that looked suspiciously like Dash Rendar’s ship ‘The Outrider’ in both ‘Disney Infinity: Star Wars’ and concept art for last year’s ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (it was also added into the background of Mos Eisley in ‘A New Hope: Special Edition’ circa 1997, so there’s always that too).
So will ‘Shadows Of The Empire’ live on to see a resurgence itself? Or is it doomed to the fate of all the other ‘Star Wars’ spin-offs prior to ‘Clone Wars’? Only time will really tell. In the meantime, maybe dig up a copy of the ‘Shadows’ novelization, the graphic novel, or even the classic N64 game. It may be two decades old, but the story behind ‘Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire’ is definitely still one worth telling.