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Way back in the mid-1990s, something special happened for Star Wars fans. A brand-new story involving Star Wars icons Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and others would be told set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. That story was called Shadows of the Empire and it was released as a special event in the form of a novel (written by Steve Perry), a video game on Nintendo 64 and PC, comic books, a soundtrack, posters, model kits, toys and action figures. What was missing here was a live-action movie.
To put things in perspective, the Shadows of the Empire multi-media event was done by Lucasfilm (note: when creator George Lucas was still in control) with its many business partners to reinvigorate the Star Wars franchise ahead of the planned special editions of the original Star Wars movie trilogy. From a business point-of-view, it made sense to release something new for fans to enjoy and more notably it was the chance for Lucasfilm and its creators to explore what happened between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
A limited comic book series was released in 1996 and it involved the novel’s author as a story consultant. Back in those days, my comic book interest faded temporarily and even though I was still into Star Wars, I did not bother to buy and read the Shadows of the Empire comic books. The video game caught my attention a lot more back then. Fortunately, I found copies of the comic books and had the time to read them recently.
With those details laid down, here is a look back at Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire #1, published by Dark Horse Comics in 1996 with a story written by John Wagner and drawn by Kilian Plunkett.
The story begins with a group of Rebel spaceships traveling together in the depth of space. Luke, who now has a mechanical hand and has been recovering from the terrible ordeal he went through at Cloud City, is with Princess Leia, C3PO and R2D2 in the medical frigate. The Rebels detect the presence of an approaching ship which they suspect to be hostile.
Luke suddenly decides to take action but is halted when he realizes that his X-wing fighter is still being refitted. In space, Wedge and the Rogue Squadron fly towards the Imperial Strike Cruiser which then releases some Tie Fighters. The personnel inside the Strike Cruiser tried to inform Darth Vader the location of the Rebel fleet…
The first thing I want to mention is that the writing done by John Wagner is solid. That being said, the story itself felt like a natural continuation of The Empire Strikes Back especially when the comic book’s narrative is focused on Luke and the Rebels. The way the recovering Luke, Leia and the two droids were presented following the end of the 1980 movie was believable, and there was that nice touch of characterization when Luke has not yet adjusted with his mechanical hand.
The story then moves into new territory when the narrative shifts on the Imperial side, especially when Emperor Palpatine gives Darth Vader a new order that has nothing to do with pursuing Luke and the weakened Rebels, but more to do with the construction of the Empire’s new weapon. This is also where the new character Xizor comes in and his presence alone confirms something that the movies did not…the Empire is in business with crime syndicates with regards to major projects.
When it comes to characterization, I like the way Darth Vader handled himself when communicating with Emperor Palpatine who viewed Luke’s escape from Bespin a failure on his part. Compared with his private communication with the Emperor in the 1980 movie, Vader bravely questions him about doing business with Xizor backed with his knowledge of the prince and the ties with Black Sun. Vader, who has been part of the Empire for a long time, knew well how risky it is for them to get involved with criminals especially when military cargo is involved.
As for the visuals, Kilian Plunkett does a decent job drawing the characters. While his take makes Luke recognizable and faltered a bit on capturing Leia’s look, his illustrations on Darth Vader, the Emperor and Xizor were really good. Where Plunkett exceled visually are the locations and surroundings, the machines and the space battles (some pages were drawn really dynamically).
To put it clearly, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire #1 (1996) has three narratives (the other is about Boba Fett carrying the frozen Han Solo) to build-up on and for a debut issue of a limited series, this one has strength in its execution complete with a good amount of creative stuff that will resonate with long-time Star Wars fans (and also those who love the original Star Wars movie trilogy). It succeeds in telling what happened shortly after the end of The Empire Strikes Back as well as establishing a new sub-plot with Xizor involved. By the time I finished this comic book, I was convinced to look forward to the next issue.
If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire #1 (1996), be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that the near-mint copy of the regular edition costs $48 while the near-mint copy of the newsstand edition costs $144.
Overall, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire #1 (1996) is recommended.
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