Shadows of the Empire

Shadows of the Empire: The Movie-Without-the-Movie Extravaganza of 1996


In 2015, I conducted a series of interviews with some of the people who worked on the Shadows of the Empire project concocted by Lucasfilm back in 1996. I loved the project, warts and all, from the moment it was released so it was a joy to conduct these interviews and gain multiple inside perspectives on what it was like to create such an expansive project. The essay was written for the Expanded Universe anthology called A More Civilized Age: Exploring the Star Wars Expanded Universe (2016) from my friends Rich Handley and Joe Berenato. I’ve decided to reprint the essay here on my site because I feel it sheds some more light on the nearly 30-year-old project and ended up revealing a few facts that were previously unknown to me about the inner workings of Lucasfilm at the time.

I’ve slightly edited this essay for the Internet by removing footnotes and changing them to links, and other small things like that. All quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from my interviews. For more fun, head over to Facebook and like my Shadows of the Empire fan page.

I hope you enjoy the essay.


In the Beginning…

Movies and merchandising today go together like Sith Lords and red lightsabers. There’s no escaping it, especially when a film can be marketed toward children. It’s become an automatic and reflexive fact of life we’ve come to accept. See the movie; buy the T-shirt.

It started in 1902 when Beatrix Potter created a doll based on Peter Rabbit, a fictional character she brought to life in her famous children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She was smart enough to patent the soft toy in 1903, giving birth to the practice of licensing fictional characters in the process. Fast-forward a few decades past popular icons like Raggedy Ann, Mickey Mouse, Buck Rogers, and Superman (and a horde of other comic book characters), and you’ll eventually come across a merchandising milestone in 1977 when a little film called Star Wars conquered the world.

Starting with a Kenner action figure line that couldn’t keep up with demand, Star Wars logos began to appear on anything that had a price tag. Any merchandising attempts (successful or otherwise) that came before seemed like trial runs by comparison. Star Wars took the whole licensing and merchandising concept to the next level. Since then, movies have become the engines of the various merchandising machines, the beating hearts of the merchandising bodies. Without them, said machines couldn’t possibly run… or could they?

What would happen if you had everything but the movie?

Shadows of the Empire was born out of that very question. Could the team at Lucasfilm successfully license, merchandise, promote, and profit from a project that was missing that key piece of the puzzle? Could they create a campaign built solely around what are ordinarily considered tie-ins?

The answer, as you know, is yes – beyond a shadow of a doubt.


The Renaissance

Star Wars novels have been in publication since 1976, starting with the initial novelization by George Lucas, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster. In the publication timeline, however, there’s an eight-year gap between 1983 and 1991. Following the release of Return of the Jedi, the Star Wars world seemed to have slowed down a bit. Sure, there were toys and other merchandise out there, but the publishing world, much like Han Solo after being frozen in carbonite, appeared to be alive but in perfect hibernation except for things like comics and role-playing game materials.

In 1991, everything changed with the release of a single novel titled Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn. It was the first in a promised trilogy of books that would put Star Wars back in the public eye in a big way. Heir to the Empire made its way onto the New York Times Best Seller List in a matter of weeks, introduced a horde of new and exciting characters into the universe, like fan favorites Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, cemented the planet name Coruscant in the Star Wars vernacular, and opened up the doors for many other authors to contribute to what was now being called the Expanded Universe. The first book was so well received that Zahn is often credited with initiating what’s unofficially referred to as “The Star Wars Renaissance.”

Before the internet took hold, fandom was local and limited. There wasn’t a proper vehicle for keeping Star Wars discussion alive in a global sense. It was hard to find news about Star Wars. Fans had to go out and search for it in bookstores or places like that. Imagine the surprise of a casual bookstore shopper (who happened to be an avid Star Wars fan) upon seeing a new novel on the shelf with an actual Star Wars logo on it. I clearly remember seeing it and saying, “What the heck is this?” as I beheld the cover illustration depicting faces I knew well along with a few new ones that looked very interesting. I was intrigued and bought it right away. I don’t think I even looked at the price. There was such a lack of any real Star Wars stuff out there that I just had to dive in.

Multiply that experience by however many others did the same, and you have your best-seller status in the bag. The icing on the proverbial cake was that it was a very good book! The two that followed in 1992 and 1993 (Dark Force Rising and The Last Command) were just as well written, and not a year has gone by since without a Star Wars book of some kind.

The universe was clearly expanding, but with more and more moving parts coming into play, keeping continuity became paramount. Continuity among the storylines wasn’t the only issue, but things like spelling, dates, and character/ship histories started to conflict here and there. Someone needed to get a handle on keeping the facts straight.

Lucasfilm’s Allan Kausch and Sue Rostoni are credited with creating the first Star Wars canon: the rules and laws of the Star Wars universe. It was Kausch (splitting his time between Lucasfilm’s THX Division and consulting for Lucas Licensing) who drafted the first official Star Wars timeline. It was a time-consuming task that became more complicated as a growing number of works were added. “By the time it had outlived its usefulness, my handmade timeline was chock-full of my little chicken scratches, and Post-its covered dates and events that had been superseded,” Kausch said. “I cared. I took it very seriously, because I knew it was tantamount to a religion for some kids.” In July 1994, he transitioned over to Lucas Licensing full-time, with Shadows of the Empire being one of his first jobs.

According to Mark Cotta Vaz’s The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996), it was somewhere around this inspiring time in the early 1990s that Lou Aronica, a publisher at Bantam Books, and Lucy Autrey Wilson, then Lucasfilm’s director of publishing, sat down over dinner and tossed around the idea of a multimedia “event” of sorts. , and the seeds of Shadows of the Empire were allegedly planted, though pinpointing the exact genesis of the idea 20-plus years on seems difficult. “I don’t remember how, with whom, or where the subject of a multi-product storyline came up. It was probably in a creative meeting with folks from Bantam Books but that specific event is gone from my memory,” Wilson recalled. “My main memory is of presenting the idea to Howard Roffman [then Lucasfilm’s VP of licensing] and spending time with him happily and creatively hashing out elements of the program and the overarching storyline.”

Bantam’s senior editor at the time, Tom Dupree, described the overall experience in 2011 on his website:

One day, Lucas Licensing mused, “We have these partners. Let’s put them all together and see what happens.” We all decided to tell the same story, Shadows of the Empire, set between Episodes V and VI, so Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, but we get to use Darth Vader. We sent Steve Perry out to Skywalker Ranch to powwow with them. We pubbed Steve’s novel, Hasbro did action figures, Dark Horse did comics, West End did games, etc., etc. It was a movie tie-in with everything but the movie.

However it began, many Star Wars fans (including me) were glad it did. Not only was it a huge success on many fronts, resulting in merchandising pay-offs in every direction, but along with Zahn’s books, it helped pave the way for more Star Wars publishing forays, like the highly successful New Jedi Order series. It verified that the Star Wars Renaissance was here to stay, and that there was much more money to be made in the publishing arena as long as Lucasfilm would play ball and let authors expand the universe beyond the films.


Green Is the New Black

One of the big selling points of Shadows of the Empire was the introduction of its antagonist, Prince Xizor (pronounced “Shee-zor”). Bringing in a new villain is always fun and it had previously worked well with Grand Admiral Thrawn in Zahn’s books. This time, the villain wouldn’t be a member of the Empire, but the leader of a crime syndicate known as Black Sun. In true Mafioso fashion, Black Sun operated under the umbrella of a legitimate shipping business also owned by the Falleen prince, known as Xizor Transport Systems (XTS), conveniently headquartered on Coruscant.

Xizor’s development can be traced back to Howard Roffman and Lucy Wilson. It was Wilson who came up with the exotic-sounding name in 1994. “I named the new villain Xizor after lobbying the creative team, which included folks from the games group, to accept the name,” she recalled. She and Roffman wanted the story to concentrate on the as-yet-unexplored criminal underworld of Star Wars. We had already seen the likes of bounty hunters and crime bosses like Jabba the Hutt, but it was time for something bigger and more organized.

The green-skinned Prince Xizor was completely self-absorbed. He was quite creepy-looking, with his reptilian features and changing skin color, yet handsome facially – and he knew it. He’d prance around naked in front of his assistant Guri, a human replica droid. He’d admire himself in the mirror. He’d get off from watching people die, not to mention getting his own claws dirty once in a while with a good neck-snapping. He liked foods which, if prepared incorrectly, could kill him – a bit risky for such an important figure, if you ask me. He was more of a thinker or plotter than a fighter, more Vito than Michael Corleone. He was a powerful villain who worked his magic in the shadows.

No good villain would be complete without a little controversy, though. While reading through the many book reviews published on the internet, I noticed that opinions of the dark prince varied. Some were favorable, while others seemed to find him a bit dull. He proved to be a polarizing figure among the development team as well. Former LucasArts texture artist Chris Hockabout described him as “…an interesting villain, despite a name a lot of us on the project re-dubbed ‘Prince Cheese-or.'” Ryder Windham, a Dark Horse Comics editor at the time, referred to both Xizor and the newly created Han Solo surrogate Dash Render as “trivial characters.”

The traditional storytelling formula usually dictates that such trivial and expendable characters, especially when they’re the main villains, should receive rightful deaths as some kind of intergalactic comeuppance. If one only reads the Shadows novel, this would certainly seem to be the case for Xizor, as well as for non-villain Rendar. When I read the book in 1996, I accepted the fact that Xizor had died on his Skyhook (a space station tethered to the planet Coruscant). It all made sense and wrapped things up with a little bow on top… or did it?

Re-reading the novel again some years later, however, I realized that the circumstances of Xizor’s death were more open to interpretation than I had remembered. In short, the prince was given an ultimatum by Darth Vader: comply or see his Skyhook destroyed. The Dark Lord was monitoring the Skyhook’s voice transmissions the entire time, and at some point Xizor fell silent, not even replying to his own officers. When the time was up, Vader blew the station to space bits.

This got me wondering whether Xizor might have sneaked his way off the Skyhook before the big explosion. It would surely explain the radio silence. A smart and capable crime syndicate leader should always have an escape plan for any situation, right? The fact that he hasn’t made an appearance in the Star Wars universe since Shadows certainly lends credence to his demise. Then again, if he was such a trivial character, perhaps Lucasfilm didn’t feel the need to develop him beyond the scope of this project. Opinions of the character aside, it seems that the door may have been left open intentionally – just in case anyone wanted to use him again.

“When the Skyhook blowed-up-real-good, several endings were left ambiguous,” the project’s novelist, Steve Perry, explained. “Xizor, we weren’t sure of. As it turned out, there came earlier incarnations of his character [in the Expanded Universe], but so far none after Shadows of the Empire. So he’s probably dead, but in science fiction, you never know.”

The comic book’s editors are a bit more direct. “Nobody wants to kill off somebody for good,” declared Peet Janes, then an editor at Dark Horse. “It’s a theme rife with corniness and cliché. Personally, I never cared for the character and, not really remembering the entire cross-media storyline, am at this time not inclined to care.” Windham added, “I can’t say whether I believe Xizor is dead because I never dwelled on it. But I certainly hope he’s dead.”


The Art of Seduction

Princess Leia has always had a reputation of being a tough and mouthy fighter, not your usual damsel in distress. She’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee than be rescued by a Jedi Knight in shining armor. It’s a big part of why we love her so much. For most of the Shadows storyline, she’s true to her traditional character. She deviates a bit in the Shadows spinoff comic Evolution, however, in which she comes off as a jealous high-school teenager, chiding Han for ogling Guri. But she’s mostly the Leia we know and love.

That said, there are some notable blunders in the way she’s handled. One of these occurs when she hires Dash Rendar (the same pilot who had led her to Boba Fett’s location, only to take off when the fighting began) to secretly babysit Luke Skywalker from a distance on Tatooine. Dash is a somewhat untrustworthy mercenary whom she had just met. Could she really trust this guy to watch over Luke?

To be fair, Leia is in a bit of a pickle at this point in the continuity. It’s easy for us to view Leia and Luke as brother and sister after all these years, but remember that awkward kiss in The Empire Strikes Back and all the tension that went along with it? Well, that continues throughout the Shadows storyline, and rightly so. Leia is caught in this as-yet-unresolved love triangle with Luke and Han. Some of her inner dialogue reveals her confliction, but she pushes it to the side and focuses on the job at hand. She doesn’t have time for careful thought.

Perhaps the biggest and most widely criticized misstep in the handling of Leia, however, is her interaction with Prince Xizor. After a botched assassination attempt on Luke, Leia decides she needs to contact one of the underworld crime factions to get to the bottom of who was responsible. She conveniently chooses Black Sun. Xizor is delighted with this unexpected Machiavellian gift, knowing Luke will eventually want to rescue her if she’s captured. Plus, he wants Luke dead to thwart Vader’s attempt at converting the Rebel hero to the dark side. As a result, Leia is reduced to a stereotypical damsel in distress in the space of a few chapters. In the process, Xizor is also reduced to a reptilian pervert who can produce pheromones that – you guessed it – only work on the ladies, making them do whatever he wants. And what is it all men (even lizards, apparently) want from women? Why, sex, of course.

Resembling something out of a Harlequin romance novel, the seduction of Princess Leia remains an unwelcome distraction embedded in what is an otherwise enjoyable story. It was bizarre enough that Leia (or Xizor, for that matter) would be remotely interested in a romantic tryst while the events of Shadows were unfolding, but to flat-out betray Han Solo seemed uncalled for and quite out of character for the Leia we know, whether she was in control of her faculties or not.

It makes you wonder, though. Was it just about sex or was it partially about power? The book establishes the prince as a womanizer who, on at least one occasion, had to eliminate an ex-lover for simply trying to contact him again. One could theorize that these one-night stands are a means of reassuring himself of his own power. Perhaps Leia, dropped right in his lap (so to speak), represented his greatest conquest yet. To conquer such a powerful woman would certainly reinforce his supremacy, even if it involved cheating via pheromones. So yes, we understand that Xizor is a villain – a bad guy who does who does bad things. He even has the stones to go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader, the most feared man in the galaxy next to the Emperor himself. Isn’t he bad enough without throwing (let’s call it what it is) attempted rape into the mix? As a reader, it completely pulled me out of the story.

So the question remains: if it was such a bad idea, how did the seduction sub-plot survive the preproduction process at all? It all depends on whom you talk to. Some of the people working on the project questioned it from the outset, while others pushed to keep it in the story. “The [seduction] idea was coming from good intentions,” Janes recalled. “We were reaching for a wide audience, and to certain fans, romance is as big of a draw as explosions, lightsaber duels and iconic characters. It certainly was part of our source material.”

“From the get-go, I thought it was an excruciating distraction,” Windham asserted. “I’ll go on record that I questioned the seduction plot at the outset. Leia was the most prominent female character in Star Wars, and Lucasfilm wanted to generate and exploit interest in whether she got it on with lizard man? Baffling.”

Kausch echoed Windham’s sentiment. “Though I was still new to the job and a bit hesitant to speak my mind, I remember arguing against it,” he said. “I don’t care how strong his (un)natural cologne is, Leia, however vulnerable, would never swoon over some Emperor Ming-lizard-dude.”

Opinions on how to handle the whole situation seemed to vary among the creative leads. At some point, it appears a compromise was made with a romantic aspect maintained, but with Xizor bearing most of the guilt and intent. Leia would be helpless against his pheromonal capacities, which weren’t originally part of the story. According to Wilson, Leia’s brief affair with the prince was originally meant to be a simple moment of human weakness. “I was interested in exploring moral ambiguity (both that of a bounty hunter’s profession, as well as Leia’s attraction to Xizor),” she explained. “Steve Perry minimized Leia’s ambiguity by making her momentary lapse a result of pheromones, but the fans were not pleased. Many were very unhappy Leia could even remotely think of being unfaithful to Han.”

Perry clearly saw the need to be cautious:

As I recall, Lucy Wilson wanted to push this notion a little further, but I didn’t want to be the guy that fans came looking for, bearing pitchforks and torches, so we wrote it that way. Even so, I got some hate mail telling me Princess Leia would never do that to Han! I pointed out that she didn’t do anything, save knee Xizor in the gonads. My female characters tend to be kick-ass, and having Leia give Xizor something else to think about was, for some, empowering.

She might not have done anything according to the narrative, but Xizor’s intentions were very clear. Even more uncomfortable are the scenes that follow, in which Leia finds out she can all-of-a-sudden resist the Falleen’s pheromones following a well-timed interruption by Chewbacca. As she pretends to fumble with her wardrobe removal, she keeps stalling for time in awkward ways while Xizor talks dirty to her and eyes her up. It’s all very creepy.

I suppose it boils down to opinion. If you’re comfortable with near-forced sex in your Star Wars, then you will probably find the whole thing exciting. But if you just want to get on with the story already, then you might want to tear those specific pages out of the book. What began as an exploration of moral ambiguity somehow morphed into a near-rape situation between a powerful male lizard with roofie-like pheromones and a somewhat out-of-character Princess Leia.

Admirably, Wilson owns up to the whole fiasco. “My Shadows mistake was that I did not fully understand the seriousness of our fan base,” she admitted. “[Today], I would probably not have Leia be tempted by another male.” Perry definitely agrees about the seriousness and intensity of certain fans. “My first ever death-threat came from a Star Wars fan,” he recalled. “Fans take their stories very, very seriously.”

The silver lining in all this is that the seduction bits are brief enough so as not to ruin the storytelling experience as a whole. If you’re thinking about re-visiting the project and its many components, or are reading it for the first time, you shouldn’t let this aspect stop you.


Shadows of the Empire


Vader’s Struggle Is Real

Darth Vader had a pretty rough time in Shadows of the Empire. Right from the get-go, it looks like he’s playing second fiddle to the out-of-nowhere main baddie. Emperor Palpatine really likes Xizor, but likes playing him against Vader even more. He’s seemingly aware of their little rivalry and, in the end, admits as much to Vader, ever his Sith Master’s whipping post. It’s no wonder Vader finally threw Palpatine over the second Death Star’s reactor balcony – and we thought it was all about redemption.

All kidding aside, while Vader was underused in the various Shadows media, he had what I thought was one of the best scenes in the book, one I was able to visualize with ease. The scene, which occurred in chapter five, opens with Vader in his hyperbaric chamber, totally naked and being kept alive artificially via the chamber’s abilities. We get inside his head a bit as he thinks about Luke and his potential to join with him and rule the galaxy, but that isn’t the interesting part. He opens up the chamber at one point and tries to breathe on his own, tapping into the power of the dark side of the Force. For a moment, it works and he feels his body healing itself while he takes a breath. In that same moment, however, Vader allows himself to become happy, which causes the whole process to break down since being happy isn’t exactly the dark side thing to do.

This scene tells us that Anakin is still in there somewhere. The book states that while Vader might be able to heal himself physically in little bursts, he wouldn’t be able to do so permanently unless he gave himself over completely to the dark side. That little bit of Anakin, called a “weakness” in the book, stands in the way of total recovery. Perhaps it’s not that he can’t give himself over to the dark side, but that deep down inside, he doesn’t want to. That’s pretty powerful stuff and a memorable scene, for sure.

Since the story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we know going in that Vader is going to come out on top in the end. The question, then, becomes how he will defeat Xizor. The overall story goes to great lengths to prepare the reader for some kind of epic confrontation between the two powerful lords of crime and Sith. You can almost envision Vader driving his red lightsaber through the prince’s shoulder blades as you’re picturing the upcoming chapters in your mind. Unfortunately, it never really happens, and their big showdown is downgraded to a mere standoff, similar to a pair of warring pirates at sea.

It’s not horrible, though. Xizor’s character is more of a twisted business person who likes to get his claws dirty every once in a while. Could he physically go up against Vader, who could fling him across the room or simply choke him to death without ever igniting his weapon? Probably not. Vader would have to match wits with Xizor in order to defeat him, which makes for an interesting read as well.

Where the book fell short, the comics picked up the slack. “Darth Vader just mopes around, silently fuming over whether Xizor is trying to screw him over, which was why I proposed that the comics focused on Boba Fett’s exploits and conceived a scene that involved Darth Vader using his lightsaber,” Windham recalled. “I wanted to see those characters in action, and I suspected most Star Wars fans wanted the same.”

Sure, Vader didn’t do a lot of fighting in the book, but sometimes we rely too often on stereotypes when managing our expectations about Star Wars. Once in a while, it’s nice to see characters change, grow, or do something different, causing them to lose that one-dimensional quality. Unlike with Leia, Vader seemed bored at times but never out of character, and I think that’s where the difference lies. His inner dialogue guided us through his transition from Empire‘s Vader to Jedi‘s Vader. As Perry put it, “A big part of all this for me was being able to get inside the characters’ heads and to show what happened fore and aft from the stuff we all knew.”

Perhaps in the context of Shadows of the Empire, we, unlike Emperor Palpatine, should stop giving Vader such a hard time.


Shadow Boxing

Shadows of the Empire‘s Holy Trinity of sorts is represented by the novel, comic, and video game. These were the anchors of the project, the roots of the tree from which all corresponding merchandise would stem. The novel dealt mostly with the Rebel and Imperial struggles. The comics, written by John Wagner, covered Boba Fett’s and the other bounty hunters’ involvement in the story. And the video game focused on Dash Rendar’s adventures. Together, they gave us a better understanding of how events were unfolding in different parts of the Shadows timeline. It’s important to remember, though, that the project was designed to be a multimedia event, complete with enough merchandise and spinoffs to fill a space cruiser.

Leading the merchandising charge was Kenner and their popular line of toys. Adorned with special purple-highlighted packaging and the Shadows logo to differentiate from the regular Star Wars line, the toys and vehicles proved to be a success. They included new characters Xizor and Dash Rendar, along with old favorites Luke, Leia, and Chewbacca, the latter three in disguises. Darth Vader and Xizor were featured in a two-pack with a comic book, while Boba Fett and IG-88 received the same treatment with a different comic, both of which were simply excerpts from the Dark Horse series. Dash’s Outrider and the Swoop bike were the featured toy vehicles, while Boba Fett’s Slave I was sneakily repackaged with purple highlights but was otherwise the same toy from the existing line. Various small-scale Micro Machines from Galoob rounded out the toy line. Much of the merchandising focused on new characters Rendar and Xizor, with the latter showing up on everything from model kits to toys to trading cards, and even a Don Post mask with optional hands.

The publishing arena was a fertile playground as well, resulting in Dark Horse spinoff titles like Shadow Stalker (by Windham and Nick Choles), The Jabba Tape (by Wagner and Killian Plunkett), and the pop-up hardcover comic Battle of the Bounty Hunters (by Windham, Christopher Moeller, and P. Craig Russell). Also published were two Kenner Special issues and four “mini-comics” that were packaged with Galoob Micro-Machines toys and ATM/ERTL model kits, which mostly reprinted scenes from Wagner’s miniseries but also added some new material to the story.

Bantam produced a junior novelization of Perry’s story, written by Christopher Golden, which simplified the story for children ages eight to twelve (no lizard rape for the kiddies). In addition, according to some sources on the Internet, author Charles Grant was hired to pen a prequel novel, but this was canceled. “I saw that on a Wikipedia entry,” Lucy Wilson told me, “but I don’t remember it at all.”

West End Games, meanwhile, published a sourcebook and a planet guide for their roleplaying line, loaded with auxiliary information related to the Shadows of the Empire storylines. At the time, Bill Smith, WEG’s former line editor, who was also working on the Lucasfilm book The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, received a late request for some Shadows tie-ins. “The addition of Xizor’s Virago, Guri’s Stinger, Jabba’s cruiser, and Dash Rendar’s Outrider to the Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels was almost a last-minute thing,” Smith recalled. “I worked with Sue Rostoni and Allan Kausch to brainstorm some ideas and get a range of capabilities for the ships, as well as get as much visual reference as was available from the games, comics and artists sketches.”

After the success of Shadows of the Empire, a few more attempts at expanding its presence in the Star Wars universe were made. The most popular was a new comic series called Shadows of the Empire: Evolution, which focused on what happened to Xizor’s former human replica droid, Guri. Perry pitched the idea and Dark Horse ran with it. “The Evolution comics came about because I wanted to play more with Guri, and I had thought about writing comic scripts but never tried one,” Perry explained. “Later, I pitched a sequel to Evolution, another five-issue miniseries, featuring Dash Rendar and Guri as a team, but that didn’t fly. Win some, lose some.”

References to Shadows and its characters and storylines would pop up here and there in other works, but after a while, Shadows seemed to have run its course. In a 2008 exception, a rather disappointing last stab at an action figure two-pack containing Xizor and Leia was released, but it unfortunately centered on Xizor’s seduction sub-plot and featured a terrible likeness of Leia dressed in an ugly outfit. Nothing toy-related has been produced since.

One of the most interesting (and still talked-about) tie-ins from Shadows is the original soundtrack CD, the origin of which can be attributed to Timothy Zahn’s trilogy of books. Lucy Wilson had already spoken to Robert Townson, from Varèse Sarabande, about possibly scoring those books, but that never came to fruition. Shadows of the Empire, with its multimedia-laden theme, seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally make the idea become a reality.

Townson suggested composer Joel McNeely, who had already scored Lucasfilm’s Radioland Murders and had been composing music for the Young Indiana Jones TV series. Wilson agreed with Townson’s suggestion, and McNeely recorded the music in February 1996 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The soundtrack also contained bonus “enhanced” CD-ROM content accessible if you put the CD in your computer – a novelty at the time. The content contained a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the project and some of the people involved, plus lots of digital imagery.

Contrary to rumor, John Williams was never approached to handle the score. In fact, he wasn’t very happy when he found out after the fact. After Shadows, newly written musical tie-ins were no longer on the table. “John Williams was unhappy another composer was writing Star Wars music so I was told I could no longer explore doing any further expansion of the license with other music elements,” Wilson recalled. “I thought Joel did a great job. It just turned out to be a sensitive issue.”

Everyone knows how important art and painting are to Star Wars. Watch any documentary about the genesis of the saga and you’ll hear all about how vital Ralph McQuarrie was to the look and feel of the films. His work was even referenced years later for the newer Star Wars films, like The Force Awakens.

Behind the scenes, concept artists like Mike Butkus and Doug Chiang brought characters and vehicles to life, old and new. For the public-facing material, though, artists like Kilian Plunkett, Hugh Fleming, Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, and Star Wars poster veteran Drew Struzan were contracted for various tasks. Plunkett handled the comic penciling, Fleming painted the comic book covers for each issue, the Hildebrandt brothers (known for their famous Star Wars poster from the original release) produced a series of 100 paintings that were rescaled for a set of Topps trading cards, and Struzan made the project even more legitimate by painting the novel’s cover. “It was really kind of fun and I loved making the big head of the Emperor for a change,” Struzan said. “I liked the spaciousness of the composition which was nice. I didn’t have to fill it up.”


Shadow Dancing

Looking back on the project as a whole, it’s amazing that it succeeded at all. There were so many moving parts and so many things that could have gone wrong or been botched. Throw in all the strong-willed individuals involved, and you have a recipe that could have ended up either a complete disaster or a great success. As LucasArts’ Jon Knoles put it in The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, “There were so many people involved in the Shadows project, and when you have a bunch of people with different deadlines working on their own versions of something, you have the potential of ending up with a real big mess.”

Somehow, all the parties involved pulled it off and Shadows of the Empire proved to be a successful venture on just about all fronts. The different parts appeared to merge together near-seamlessly with the occasional misstep, but if you imagine it as different people telling the same story, the small discrepancies become quite forgivable. Think about old campfire tales. Depending on who you went camping with, you might hear the same story with different details or changed names. The story itself stays the same, however.

It’s hard to come up with just one solid reason as to why the project was a success. I like to think it was a case of “right place, right time.” The Renaissance was on the upswing and Star Wars was making its way back into the public eye after years with no new content. Fans were hungry for just about anything with a Star Wars logo on it. They were “ready to be reengaged by Star Wars,” as Janes put it. “Shadows was new and inclusive at the time. You’d see Xizor’s or IG-88’s spaceships in the toy store, just like you saw them in the comic or heard them screech past in the video game, not realizing that you’d never seen them on film.”

Perry attributed the campaign’s success to its diversity:

There was something for everybody. There are fans who read the books but not the comics, and vice versa. There are fans who play the games but don’t read the books or comics. Fans who like to collect figurines or toys, or those who want to do several of the above. Each part of the ride was slightly different. The music CD was terrific, some of the story stuff was worked into the [Star Wars: A Hew Hope Special Edition], and there was a lot of material that put a spin on what people already knew; shining a different light on it. Plus, the folks in charge were sharp; they knew what they wanted, and they had adept people working to make it happen.

All these years later, almost everyone who worked on the project still speaks of it fondly, despite their feelings about certain characters or plotlines, which is a further testament to its success. “For all my grumbling about Xizor, I do think of Shadows with fondness,” Windham said. “I appreciated the concept of a multimedia crossover for a story set between Empire and Jedi, even if I didn’t care for the story very much. It was an interesting project to work on, an interesting time to be working on Star Wars comics, and I’m glad I was a part of it.”

“It was a fun and exciting time,” Smith recalled, “because not only did we get an early glimpse at a major new chapter in the Star Wars universe, but we were able to create some new elements that were incorporated and used in later books both by West End Games and other licensees. The whole project got us thinking and dreaming about what might be coming down the road with prequels. The potential for the future was very exciting!”

So as it turned out, Shadows was a bigger project in scope than most had realized. It was much more than a multi-pronged multimedia event. It was also a practical test to determine how to handle things going forward, by a company that had a lot coming up in the next few years. “I view it as one of the most enjoyable projects I worked on,” Kausch said. “It was a dry run for the licensing bonanza of the prequel trilogy, and everyone in the division learned a lot from the experience. If I did my job correctly, Shadows of the Empire would be a convincing sequel/prequel, and after a hell of a lot of behind-the-scenes continuity work, it was.”


Moving Shadows

The Shadows of the Empire project is often informally referred to as the “movie-without-the-movie,” which was one of its many selling points. Star Wars fans are greedy little saps, though. We can’t get enough and we’re relentlessly hopeful. We’ve learned to never say “never.” So for us, it’s fun to entertain the possibility of a movie of the movie-without-the-movie, even in the face of defiance.

In 1996, Lucasfilm was knee-deep in preparations for both the Special Editions of the Star Wars trilogy and the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace. They were a little too busy to tackle another film project. “There was never any intention of making a movie,” Wilson explained. “The beauty of the entire project was to make a movie without a movie.”

To weaken the case for a film even further, in 2014, the Expanded Universe was officially rebooted in preparation for The Force Awakens. Shadows of the Empire was officially demoted to Legends status, which means that it’s no longer considered part of the official Star Wars canon, though authors may carefully refer to anything in Legends stories if they feel the need. A theatrical film based on a work that isn’t really part of the official storyline anymore is highly unlikely to become a reality.

Still, we have so many media outlets today that off-shoots could conceivably happen, even under a Legends banner. Imagine animated (or even live-action) re-imaginings of some of your favorite Star Wars books sprouting up online, direct-to-video, or on television. All Lucasfilm would have to do is slap a Legends logo somewhere in the credits sequence, and everyone would be happy. Let’s take it one step further. Picture this: a Shadows of the Empire animated miniseries, uniting all of the storylines from the book, game, and comics, plus any other related material. Never say “never,” right?

“I’ll always remember standing at the Dark Horse booth during [the 1995] Comic-Con, watching fans watch the Shadows of the Empire trailer on the monitor,” Kausch recalled. “One guy watched it and then walked away saying, ‘Cool, it’s gonna be a TV show.'” Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea.

Come on, Netflix… we’re rooting for you.

6 thoughts to “Shadows of the Empire: The Movie-Without-the-Movie Extravaganza of 1996”

    1. Only 4 years pass between the original three films. Return of the Jedi takes place only one year after The Empire Strikes Back. Pretty much all sources say this. You can try a web search, of course.

      1. The one between the last two is included within the 4 years.

        Do you know when it was established? Never was satisfied with it. To me, 3 years are too much time. It always looked like to me that TESB takes place not long after ANH. Not directly, but a few weeks or 3-6 months.

        It always looked like to me that there’s a greater timeskip between TESB and ROTJ, because the Skywalkers are looking much older and more experienced.

          1. Thanks for the site, but i actually just was asking if you know when it was decided that 4 years are passing during the OT. When the films were released, no one was thinking that 3 years are passing until TESB and then another one.

          2. It was decided officially a long, long time ago. Joe can give you the specifics if you ask him, but there was plenty of material in print stating this in book and official stuff. I don’t have it handy, but it’s pretty universal. If you read this article you’ll learn about how demanding the timeline was and how hard it was for the Lucasfilm people to keep continuity in the expanded universe. Allan Kausch, especially. Give Joe a shout and he’ll answer your question definitively.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.