Friday, March 3, 2017

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

In 1991, the Dark Empire mini-series and Heir to the Empire novel were the first important stories in Star Wars' revival after Return of the Jedi was release 8 years earlier.  These publications helped established the Expanded Universe which grew quickly in the following years.  In 1994 George Lucas announced the prequels were forthcoming, the ultimate sign that Star Wars was back!  A year later, Hasbro's Power of the Force line saw the return of Star Wars action figures to toy aisles.  This was another important development in the Star Wars renaissance since it was nostalgia for the original toy line that turned many kids into lifelong Star Wars fans.

Lucasfilm began working on a project in 1994 that would prove to be another important milestone for Star Wars, Shadows of the Empire.  The story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and this 1996 multimedia event included all the merchandise that would typically accompany a movie.  This movie-without-a-movie saw the release of a novel, a video game, comics, toys, trading cards, models, and even a soundtrack.  This ambitious project required coordination between the Star Wars licensees, with the story split between the novel, video game, and comic books.  The main narrative is told in the Bantam Spectra novel by Steve Perry.  The LucasArts' video game expands on the main tale by following the adventures of Dash Rendar, a Han Solo-like smuggler and mercenary.  Dark Horse's 6-part comic mini-series overlaps with the novel, but also focuses on the criminal elements of the Empire including the exploits of Boba Fett and a new character, Jix, Darth Vader's servant.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (May 1996)
The cover for the first issue is a montage with the heroes in the foreground and the villains, Prince Xizor and Darth Vader, in the background.  To Luke Skywalker's right are the original trilogy heroes: Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  To Luke's left is Dash Rendar.  Above Leia we see the Millennium Falcon chasing Slave I while on the opposite side of the cover, the Outrider, Dash Rendar's ship, is flanked to X-Wing Fighters.  All the cover artwork on this series is beautifully done by Hugh Fleming who has also provided cover artwork for the Splinter of the Mind's Eye mini-series and other Dark Horse Star Wars titles.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #2a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (June 1996)
The cover artwork on issue #2 shows Boba Fett dealing with rival bounty hunters, including Bossk and Zuckuss who briefly appeared in The Empire Strikes Back.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #3a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (July 1996)
Issue #3's cover has Luke Skywalker fending off Big Gizz's swoop gang.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #4a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (August 1996)
The cover artwork for issue #4 is my favorites for this series, showing Chewbacca and Leia in their bounty hunter disguises.  Chewbacca is impersonating Snoova while Leia is dressed as Boushh, a disguise she used when infiltrating Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #5a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (September 1996)
Luke is escaping from bounty hunters on the planet Kothlis on the cover of Star Wars #5.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire #6a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (October 1996)
The final cover is another montage, this time featuring the main villains.  Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and Jix are in the foreground while Xizor and Vader are in the background.  The Virago, Prince Xizor's ship, is also shown.

The interior artwork for this series is by Killian Plunkett who was responsible for most of the Droids covers.

Out of all the Expanded Universe stories that were relegated to legends, this is the one story I wish had stayed in canon.  The new characters introduced including Prince Xizor, Guri, Jix, and Leebo are compelling and even Dash Rendar is a welcome addition since Han Solo is unavailable due to being encased in carbonite.  It is clear much thought went into the story and the rivalry between Black Sun's Xizor and Darth Vader for the Emperor's approval is my favorite element.  Unfortunately, Marvel's current series has rendered some of the details of this story unworkable in canon.

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