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Article – Shadows Of The Empire: A Movie Event Without The Movie

 

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Posted June 16, 2018 by

 
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Shadows Of The Empire

A long time ago in this very galaxy…

(Tilt your internet viewing device under your face and slowly move it up whilst whistling the Star Wars theme for the next couple of paragraphs to achieve the full opening scroll effect)

It was a time of great boredom. It had been about 11 years since the original trilogy had come to an end and Star Wars fans were chomping at the bit for new adventures. Back then the only live-action Star Wars features we had were New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (we also had the craptastic Holiday Special and two Ewok films, but in this pre-streaming era it was hard to get your hands on copies of Lucasfilm’s dirty little secrets). Big George seemed to show no intention giving us any new movies and all hope had been lost.

Star Wars as a franchise was still selling well through in the form of video games, toys, books and clothing. Yes, The fans were still suckling from the teet of the cash cow like old hermit Luke and that weird boobie beast from Last Jedi, but what with Lucas was taking his sweet time in getting up from his bearded behind and making new content, Fox had an idea.

What if we made a Star Wars movie without making an actual movie?

(You can stop whistling now. I hope you didn’t do that in public.)

With a fandom willing to buy figures such as Bosk and Lobot, why not fabricate a new story to unveil all new characters and spacecraft shaped bits of plastic that the geeks can spend their hard-earned cash on? Spin-off stories were nothing new for Star Wars. The non-movie novel “Splinter Of The Minds Eye” was released in 1978, just one year after a New Hope and the “Extended Universe” had been growing ever since. However, this new venture would be much more than just a stand-alone book. This would be a full-on blockbuster event with all the trimmings that come along with it. One that would appeal to the market in general and not just the now fully grown chubby man-children the original trilogy had given birth to over a decade before.

Personally, I can’t see why they didn’t just make an animated movie. By this point, Mark Hamill was already well into his voice-acting career and grumbly bumbly Harrison Ford’s hesitancy to reprise Han Solo wouldn’t have been an issue as the story was set to take place between Episodes V and VI, a time where everyone’s favourite scruffy nerf herder was frozen in carbonite.

Whatever the reason there was no animated movie or audio adventure. Just a shit ton of merchandise.

First of all, you need a story. The setting between Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi was a time period previously unexplored in the Star Wars Extended Universe and Shadows Of The Empire sought out to answer a few geeky questions people had for years. How did Luke construct his green lightsabre? How did the Rebellion track down Han? How did they seize the plans for the new Death Star? Who was were these many Bothans, and how did they die to bring us this information?

Shadows Of The Empire star wars

Steve Parry was given the task of writing an adult novel, and Christopher Golden revised it into a child-friendly version. As well as giving us a new story, they also had to give us new characters. The villain of the piece was Prince Xizor, head of a criminal organisation known as Black Sun. His cheeky plan was to take Vader’s Place as the Emperor’s right-hand man by killing Luke Skywalker and discrediting Vader’s thoughts that the young Jedi would be a powerful ally for the Empire.

Shadows Of The Empire image

Alongside the new villain, there was a new hero. What with Han being literally put on ice, sexy mercenary smuggler Dash Rendar would take his place. Dash was originally hired by Lando to hunt down Han, then later by Leia to protect Luke after a swoop biker gang tries to take Skywalker’s life. That’s right, Dash is so badass he is a bodyguard for a Jedi. Put that on your bouncer CV.

Shadows Of The Empire 3

Dash even has a Falcon-esque Corellian ship called The Outrider. Although the Millenium Falcon was still a major part of the story under the pilots of Lando and Chewie, Rendar still needed his own transport, and 20th Century Fox still needed to make money so more ships meant more toys!

Shadows Of The Empire spaceship

Dash would also be the main protagonist in the Shadows Of The Empire video game. Released for the N64 and then later on PC, the video game was mostly a third person shooter experience with vehicle levels embedded in between. Players could live out fantasies such a flying a Snowspeeder lasso around the legs of an AT-AT at the battle of Hoth, race from Mos Eisley to the Tatooine deserts on a speeder bike, even compete in an all-out space battle in the finale piloting Rendar’s Outrider into the center of Xizor’s evil Skyhook space station. At the time it was the most complete Star Wars video game experience and despite some harsh reviews from the critics it was a hit among fans including yours truly. In fact, the game was my first experience of SOTE. I loved how it expanded the mythology of characters such as Boba Fett and IG-88 (his junkyard boss battle was one of the most terrifying game experiences I had as a youngster) and added to the lore of a universe I loved so dearly. It was from there I went to seek out the rest of the tale.

You see the game was only part of the story as seen from Dash Rendars point of view. To get the full experience you had to play the game, read the book AND read the tie-in comic book series. Now I understand why there wasn’t an animated feature. There is more money to be made if you sell the pizza by the slice and if I’m using this pizza analogy, then the action figures were the garlic bread. All the new characters and vehicles previously mentioned were available to buy from every good toy retailer, and newly garmented classic characters like Bounty Hunter Chewie and imperial guard disguised Luke were added to the mix. Even characters you couldn’t really redesign, like Boba Fett and Darth Vader, were just wacked in a box and had the SOTE label slapped on them.

star wars toys Shadows Of The Empire

star wars toys 2 Shadows Of The Empire

Now that you’ve got your book open in a quiet room all by yourself, or your toys lined up to play with, again, by yourself (if you were a Star Wars kid in 1996 like me I’m guessing you were by yourself) why not add to the vibe with a little backing music?

So how does one create a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist? Classical program music was used to give an atmosphere to a narrative piece long before the invention of film, and Emmy award-winning composer Joel McNeely used that idea to complete the score. The soundtrack featured John Williams greatest hits like The Imperial March and The Hero theme, but it was mostly all-new Star Wars tunes to blast through your car speakers whilst imagining yourself piloting an X-Wing down the M25.

Fox and Lucasfilm pulled it off. There were books, toys, posters, games and even a soundtrack, everything to accompany a summer blockbuster movie without a single scene being shot, but was Shadows of the Empire a success? Yes. So much so it got the ball rolling on the 1997 special edition release, which in turn gave us the prequel trilogy, which went on to garner a new legion of fans and the abundance of Star Wars we are all experiencing right now.

Sadly with the new trilogy, all previous Extended Universe stories are now non-canonical and so Shadows Of The Empire isn’t mentioned that much nowadays. However, this cult classic non-movie should be remembered as not only as one of the most ambitious marketing ploys in cinema history but for igniting a spark that would keep Star Wars in the hearts of fans for generations to come.

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Tim Buckler
@BlockBusterMan
Tim’s Fortress Of Solitude
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