Fans of Star Wars have a tendency to go two ways. One way is by simply enjoying the movies for what they are, watching them every few years when replayed when some television station’s Sunday afternoon matinee, but leaving it at that. The other way is to become completely obsessed with the Star Wars’ universe and everything relating to it, from the movies to the videogames to the books. This later type of fan thrives on information and details, indulging themselves in anything that will create or answer questions, and this is where all these spin-offs come into play. They provide details and there is nothing that provides details more than a book, which is what I am focusing this review on, moreover on a certain book, it being Shadows of the Empire written by Steve Perry. There have been many books written, expanding the Star Wars universe in many new directions, which is exactly what Shadows does NOT do. Although there are new characters introduced, Shadows keeps inside the timeline that was predetermined for it by the films and even so many years after the making of the films it feels right at home with the atmosphere created more than a decade earlier. Shadows bridges the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, during which allot of things supposedly went down and fills it in with a surprisingly smart and cool plot involving scenarios that the audience have been hinted about but never shown.
Without spoiling too much, the book revolves around the first rescue attempt of Han Solo while he was frozen in carbonate. During this escapade there is much of Luke, Leia, Chewie and Lando flying around trying to gather information as to Han’s whereabouts. It is in their hunting for information that they discover what truly lies in the shadows of the Empire. Have you ever wondered how the Empire was able to function? Who they contracted to conduct their business? And how they went about monitoring just about the entire galaxy? Well if so, then this book is definitely for you. In it the reader is introduced to a very powerful business partner to the Empire, who is equally as evil and has a clashing agenda of its own. The Rebel alliance is also written about in more detail. It is during some of these scenes that Perry glorifies the Rogue Squadron, further showing their loyalty to their cause by pitting them in more than one overwhelming space battle. We see how Chewie determinedly obeys Han’s final request to his Wookie friend. We also find out how Lea came to wear that bounty hunter suit and obtain the thermal detonator that she uses to bargain with so efficiently in Jabba’s palace.
It is always difficult to adapt a book into a movie and visa versa, and the later seems to be the case with Shadows as most of it comes off resembling a screen play more than a novel. This is understandable though since Shadows birth was from movies and not books, but that does not justify it. Shadows style of reading does not need to emulate the style of the films to be associated with them, just having the Star Wars name in the title is enough to warrant no need for further explanation. A book is a chance to deliver a Star Wars story deep in character development and portrayal of behind the scenes information, though reading Shadows seems to feel like a movie, as no matter what scene it is at it narrates from one perspective and never at multiple perspectives. If a scene involves Luke’s party we are almost never let known what it is that the other party is thinking. Another resemblance Shadows shares with the films is detailing the uniqueness of the environments but lacking in dialogue, delivering lines that are mostly simplistic and short. Unlike the films though, Shadows could not rely on visual eye candy to entertain its audience, as ILM was able to do with their brilliant effects. But battles can be written about in detail and if done right can follow action as good if not better than film, and this is where I feel Perry fell short. The combat scenes while great in placement were written rather dully. I did not get sucked into the action to the point where I felt like I was part of the Rebel alliance fighting for the fate of the galaxy. Instead, I was left rather emotionless because I was viewing it from the sidelines. How did that X-wing blow up, from a direct shot to the ship’s engine or loss of control from a damaged wing? Who are these pilots that bravely fly into these suicidal battles? What is the Rebels strategy in these fights, are they playing heavy on the offence or defense? These were burning questions I had, which had they been answered would have brought me allot more emotionally into the scenes.
The concept of Shadows of the Empire does accomplish what it was intended for, a piece of work that strengthens the overall main story line of the original films. It does not take an existing character and build a new adventure loosely tied into the Star Wars name like so many of the Star Wars novels do. This is really why this book is just so cool, it really feels like it should be made into a movie, with a story line that would flow in as seamlessly with the originals as they did with each other. Shadows of the Empire is a fun read and to Star Wars fanatics a very interesting read, one that should definitely not be passed up.
Reviewed by Justin Denune