Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry (1996, Bantam)
Shadows of the Empire is unique among Star Wars novels in that I can mention it to anyone with more than a casual interest in Star Wars and they know what I’m talking about, even if they don’t read Star Wars books. It’s also unique in that not everyone remembers it as a book. Many of the aforementioned folks to whom I mention Shadows will say “I played that game non-stop when I was a kid,” or “Those were some really fun comics; Boba Fett is badass,” or even, “I collected that entire line of action figures.”
Shadows was a multimedia project that included, as mentioned above, a video game, comics, and a line of action figures. There was even a junior novel and a soundtrack. The full-length novel, which I would consider the centerpiece of the project, was written by Steve Perry:
No, not of Journey. This guy:
The book, as I’d wager everyone reading this knows, takes place between Empire and Jedi, and follows Luke, Leia, Chewie, Lando the droids, and a new character, Dash Rendar, filling the vacant “surly smuggler” role. While an attempt is made to rescue Han from Boba Fett’s clutches in the early chapters, the primary action of the novel involves the group’s entanglement with Prince Xizor (that’s Shee-zor, not Zy-sor, as I’ve often heard). Xizor is the leader of a galaxy-wide criminal empire known as Black Sun, and a competitor with Darth Vader for the Emperor’s favor.
Leia eventually falls into Xizor’s clutches, and the book culminates in a straightforward “rescue the princess” plot, but, as in the movies, Leia never devolves into a helpless damsel. She does, however, look exactly the same as Carrie Fisher’s character from the 1987 B-movie, The Time Guardian.
Shadows is an attempt to explore the previously unexplored year between the latter two installments of the Star Wars trilogy, and it is successful in doing so. Perry gets into Vader’s head and gives the reader a feel for the Dark Lord’s “weakness” as an imperfect servant of the dark side. We witness Luke’s transition from confusion and disillusionment at the end of Empire to the quiet self-assurance he possesses in Jedi.
The exploration of these existing characters is the most effective element of the book, but the new characters are welcome additions. Dash manages to not be too much like Han and Xizor is serviceably evil. Even Xizor’s human replica droid assistant, Guri, gets an interesting confrontation with Luke in the novel’s climax.
These elements, along with a seamless tonal blend of Empire and Jedi, make Shadows of the Empire a thoroughly enjoyable Star Wars novel, a great gateway into the expanded universe, and all-around recommendable.