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"Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire" Novel Review

Jeremy hopes the Force is with him as he pursues a forensics career in the swamps of Louisiana.

Shadows of the Empire (novel)

Shadows of the Empire (novel)

"Shadows of the Empire" Book and Video Game

Steve Perry's 1996 novel Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (SotE) showcases Luke and Leia's misadventures with criminal organization Black Sun in the brief gap between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (it's now a part of the legends timeline).

But as a multimedia project, many of the book's events are playable in the latter half of the Nintendo 64 game by the same name, a cool way to engross both gamers and readers. But video game aside, how does the book hold up decades later? Find out as we examine Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire! Spoilers ahead; for a spoiler-less summary, skip to the final paragraph.

Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor

Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor

Pros About SotE

Here's what the novel got right:

  • High-profile cast
  • Unique villain
  • Good pacing
  • Solid setup for Episode 6

Within SotE's pages, you follow many of the galaxy's biggest and most interesting players. Han is still frozen in carbonite, but Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando, Darth Vader, and the Emperor are all present, as are video game protagonist Dash Rendar and villain Price Xizor, the head of Black Sun.

Speaking of which, Xizor's a strong antagonist. He doesn't have Force powers, which was pretty rare for villains at the time; he's threatening because of his craftiness and wealth. He plays both the Empire and the Rebellion, raising Vader's suspicions but pleasing the Emperor enough to garner protection. It's hard to relate to Xizor; he's rich, ruthless, non-human, and literally emits pheromones that attract mates. So he's not empathetic or tragic, and not on the same fandom caliber as, say, Grand Admiral Thrawn, but still a solid antagonist.

Action is quick to come, but also built towards, offering that classic Star Wars mix of excitement and development. And the book nicely bridges Episodes 5-6, showcasing Luke building his new lightsaber, Leia discovering her bounty hunter disguise (used to infiltrate Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi), and more.

Shadows of the Empire (video game)

Shadows of the Empire (video game)

Cons About SotE

Here's where the novel gets off track:

  • Cheesy dialogue
  • Many dumb character choices

Sure, Star Wars has always had some corny dialogue, but this book really stretches it. Occasionally, it's amusing, but it's often disorienting. For better or worse, you get a campy young adult vibe, so if you're looking for deep commentary on the intricacies of the Force or war, you might be disappointed by the occasionally-juvenile style, like Leia referring to herself as "sister" in inner monologues. Yep, that's definitely how women talk to themselves.

Princess Leia is a Moron
Major spoilers ahead, but the main cast makes some really stupid choices, Leia especially. After a failed assassination attempt against Luke, Leia contacts Prince Xizor for help determining the culprit, but Xizor wants to discuss it in person. Leia, fully knowing Xizor heads the criminal Black Sun organization, walks into his fortress with only Chewie as protection. And—what? Leia is held hostage by the criminal overlord? Who would have guessed?

But before he imprisons her, Xizor romances Leia, who, remember, recently fell in love with Han during Episode 5. Disturbing makeouts follow (yea, even more than the ones with Luke). In her defense, Xizor's pheromones are literally designed to captivate women, but it's still somewhat jarring.

There's also a part where the group is escaping Xizor's castle and Leia mentions she's glad to have a blaster, because she doesn't want to be captured alive. Implying she'd kill herself before getting caught by Xizor. I get he's a monster and she doesn't want to be tortured, but suicide just doesn't sound like Leia. She's endured torture before (shown in A New Hope), knows the crucial role she plays in the Alliance, still has to rescue Han, and would presumably have other allies try to rescue her if caught. Maybe I'm nitpicking since it's just one line, but it struck me as out-of-character.

Luke is also a Moron
Luke also gets pretty dumb during the climax. Xizor's personal assassin droid, Guri, challenges Luke to single combat as his group escapes Xizor's fortress. Thing is, there's a thermal detonator set to blow in five minutes, so time is off the essence, and Luke has his blade to Guri's throat as she challenges him. He himself mentions the smart thing would be to kill or simply leave her, but he takes the time to have a "fair" fight. It's not like he's holding her off for the sake of his comrades or anything, he's just being prideful and dumb. Oh, and Leia calls to him repeatedly during the fight, distracting him and almost getting him killed. Yes Leia, it's relevant that your rescue ship is missing, but maybe don't bug someone battling a combat android.

Then, when Luke wins, he "spares" Guri. The novel tries to make this heroic, like Luke's learning the Jedi path of mercy, but again, Luke could have just left without fighting, and she's a droid (which Luke knows)—you can't kill what's not alive! Am I hero because I didn't break Siri when my iphone failed to autocorrect?

Shadows of the Empire (comic)

Shadows of the Empire (comic)

Final Score

Overall, I rank SotE a 3 or 3½ out of 5. The book has nice pacing, a colorful cast, and a cool video game tie-in, but its cheesy dialogue and questionable character choices hamper true immersion within its world.

Still, it's a decent entry point into the wide world of Star Wars legends stories, as it's set right between two original trilogy films, and unlike many of the legends storylines, it's just one book (plus several comics but they aren't necessary to understand the novel), so it's not terribly intimidating to dive into. If you're willing to overlook its campy exposition, there's still some fun to be had, especially if you get bonus nostalgia from having played the N64 counterpart.

© 2020 Jeremy Gill