In 1996, a year before The Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition was released in theaters, LucasFilm gave us Shadows of the Empire, a massive multimedia event that had all the trappings of a feature film without actually being one.
The novel, set in the period between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, had been a no man’s land up until that point. How did Lando end up in Jabba the Hutt’s employ? When did Luke build his new lightsaber? Why didn’t Leia try and get Han’s carbonite frozen body back before Jabba hung it on his wall?
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t get caught up in the hype. My parents bought me the book which I devoured at an absurd rate. At that time I was heavy into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, having worked my way through the Thrawn Trilogy and some of the X-Wing: Rogue Squadron books along with a smattering of others (yes, even The Truce at Bakura). Later that year I got the N64 exclusive Shadows of the Empire video game which was primarily told through the new view of Dash Rendar, a rapscallion Correllian smuggler with a loyal sidekick, who is very much like Han Solo … but with bigger shoulder pads.
And of course that wasn’t all, there was the requisite action figure line, comic book tie ins, official soundtrack (for a book!), t-shirts, statues, t-shirt and limited edition collectible plates. Shadows of the Empire was a phenomenon, one that proved that Lucasfilm didn’t necessarily need a film to support its …. ahem empire.
That massive merchandise consumption demonstrated that there was a whole new generation of fans ready to consume Star Wars in every possible format. As part of that generation, this was our 1977, the first real bit of Star Wars that we could say that we witnessed first hand and embraced as our own.
The one unfortunate result of the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm was the great culling of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which made the events of Shadows of the Empire no longer canon. However, a few items from that chapter in Star Wars history remain.
Dash Rendar’s Outrider was confirmed as canon earlier this year at Star Wars Celebrations, and the Black Sun criminal syndicate has been a part of The Clone Wars series and has been mentioned on recent episodes of Star Wars: Rebels. So pour one out for your homies Dash Rendar, Prince Xizor and Chewbacca’s Mohawk, as they are no longer with us.