Those of you who read this blog may be left to conclude that I’m one of those people who are bored by the idea of reading more than a Twitter session. After all, I’ve been blogging for almost four years and reviewed movies, video games, shows, but no books. Actually, I’ve read plenty. I’m not the kind to read twenty 300-pagers a year or anything, but I’ve read my fair share. I’ve been meaning to start reviewing them for years but never gotten around to it. Since I’ve been reviewing Star Wars stuff in preparation for the sequel series that is about the begin, and since there are quite a few books about Star Wars out there, now’s not a bad point to begin.
Yes, the Star Wars franchise has provided a lot of supplementary material. Novels, comics, TV shows, and video games (probably the only franchise that canonizes even a few of its games) have all added their own tales that fit neatly into the story. I guess that’s why the next movie is set so far ahead of the originals; so as not to invalidate this stuff. But is this stuff good? Some of it, such as Shadows of the Empire, are. Other books are not so great. Tales of Jabba’s Palace is a bunch of character studies of Jabba’s goons who got as little as a few seconds on camera and couldn’t have given a moment’s thought to George Lucas.
Gotta start with the actual review of Shadows of the Empire at some point, right? Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, this particular novel has Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Lando Calrissian, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 seeking to catch bounty hunter Boba Fett before he can deliver a carbon-frozen Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. But this attempt is sidetracked when Luke is repeatedly attacked by bounty hunters. The attacks are arranged by Prince Xizor, a space age mob boss allied with the Empire. Why the attacks? Xizor is making it look like Darth Vader is behind them so it will look like the Dark Lord of the Sith has gone back on his word to convert Luke to the Dark Side out of fear and is trying to have the jedi in training killed out of cowardice. This will get Vader executed for cowardice, leaving Xizor to take his place as the #2 man in the galaxy.
This is a very effective plot due to the cleverness of Xizor’s plan. Like Grand Admiral Thrawn in the book trilogy by Timothy Zahn, Xizor demonstrates how through intelligence, even a villain who cannot use The Force can be a threat to jedi.
Character development is also rock-solid. We switch between the perspectives of Luke, Leia, Xizor and Vader. Luke is trying to finish the parts of his training that didn’t go well in Empire Strikes Back (hence, why he requires no more training in the conclusion of the trilogy). Leia is focused on rescuing Han and accepts that she truly does love the former criminal. Xizor shows us a heartless, arrogant creature, particularly where women are concerned. Basically, Xizor’s a love-’em-and-leave-’em-for-dead type. Again, he’s a very effective villain. In addition to converting his son, Vader hates Xizor and the fact that the Emperor deems it necessary to make use of a mob boss. Vader also reveals his imperfect loyalty to the reader, particularly where we discover that he can’t allow himself to feel joy because that is the territory of the Light Side.
One major flaw is that there are certain things that have to happen. Virtually all readers knew, for examples, that the Millennium Falcon would not catch Fett and Han and that Vader would win his power struggle with Xizor, because Han’s still a prisoner and Vader’s still around but not Xizor in Return of the Jedi. Also, Dash Rendar, a mercenary hired by Lando, is basically Han with an even bigger ego. Not all that good a character in my opinion.
Regardless, if you’d like to get into the expanded universe, Shadows of the Empire is not a bad place to start. It’s the rare one of these stories that is on almost totally traditional ground, whereas most either take place in a pre-Empire, post-Empire, or soon-to-be-post-Empire galaxy. And besides, it’s a pretty good stand-alone novel in general.
Overall: 8 out of 10