It is a dark time in Star Wars. A time of silence, uncertain hope. A beloved friend is frozen, return certain and yet so far away.
And then . . .
Yes, I’m talking about the state of Star Wars in 1996: Timothy Zahn’s trilogy had revitalized the fanbase and sparked a flood of novels and comics. But what had teased fans for over a decade was still uncertain — where were the first three episodes?
George Lucas said a lot of things over the years. That Star Wars was going to be a 12-episode film saga — that it was going to be nine episodes — that he’d only ever always planned six episodes. But only three existed in the mid-90s. He’d seen Jurassic Park. He felt the technology was ready to put the Clone Wars on film. Zahn had proved people wanted more stories. But the budget of three special effects blockbusters was dazzling, and the question of the hour was, were people interested in supporting a multimedia franchise again?
Enter Steve Perry’s Shadows of the Empire, not a novel but a multimedia event across the face of 1996. A New York Times bestseller, but also a computer game, a roleplaying game, a series of actions figures, comics, even its own soundtrack and junior novelization. George Lucas asked and the public answered YES — we are ready to give you so much more money for new films!
Set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Perry’s novel turns to a mysterious blank spot — one of the shortest blanks on the timeline — that had tormented fans since 1980. What happened in those months Han was in carbonite? Why did it take months to rescue him? How could Luke’s Jedi training be complete?
While Luke pores over Jedi relics in Obi-Wan’s abandoned home, building a new lightsaber and studying that which Yoda didn’t have time to teach him, a galactic conspiracy is going on. The Falleen Prince Xizor is more than just an imperial courtier; he is the head of the Black Sun, a galaxy-spanning criminal organization, an underground empire nearly able to go toe-to-toe with Palpatine’s own. Nearly able — and so Xizor must play the game with Palpatine, which sets him into a rivalry with Darth Vader.
This rivalry incites him to attempt to kill that which Vader would most have brought in alive — Luke Skywalker. Realizing far more than anyone else, the century-old Falleen prince knows Luke and Anakin both and sees his opportunity to seize total control if he plays right. And Leia, never the damsel in distress, is nevertheless trapped in a very uncomfortable web as Xizor attempts to make her one of his conquests. The Falleen prince is definitely one of the creepier and more memorable villains of the franchise — and unlike Thrawn, who is only a villain because he happens to be opposed to the Republic, Xizor is a creature of evil.
This book gave us more insight into the lost Bothans and cemented Lando Calrissian as a major character. It also gave us Guri, the female assassin bot, and Dash Rendar, a Corellian smuggler who shows us how Han is definitely not the norm. Oh, yeah, and my vote for the incorrigible Dash:
Fun fact, Dash Rendar made such an impression on George Lucas that he made sure to edit Rendar’s ship Outlander into the Mos Eisley scene of A New Hope in the 1997 edition of Star Wars (aka the definitive edition) — just a wink and a nod there to show that Mr. Lucas has always considered the EU to be just as canon as his own films!
In every possible way, Steve Perry’s first foray into the EU stands on its own feet and as one of the most important foundational books in realcanon.