Book Review: Shadows of the Empire (1996) by Steve Perry

“Face it, if crime did not pay, there would be very few criminals”
-Laughton Lewis Burdock, a philosopher

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An experimental multimedia project spanning comic books, toys, trading cards, a book, a video game, and even a soundtrack, Shadows of the Empire was a remarkable milestone in the history of Lucasfilm. Upon its launch in 1996, as a child I remember how exciting it was to see new Star Wars products released. Many of us hoped there would be a new movie, but alas it was never to be. The novel Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry was as far as they went; it was the result of Lucasfilm’s deal with Bantam Books. By that point, Perry had written several Aliens books as well as a cheap royalty-less novelization of the movie The Mask, so he was granted a deal to write the new Star Wars book. He has also written for Batman: The Animated Series, as well as Conan books and other tie-in novelizations. He later returned to Star Wars to write the MedStar duology and Death Star with Michael Reaves.     

Shadows of the Empire takes place in the gap between the films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker’s hand has been severed by Darth Vader, he has learned the dark truth about his father, the rebellion is at its lowest point, and Han Solo has been frozen inside a block of carbonite and whisked away by the bounty hunter Boba Fett aboard his Slave I ship to be sold to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Much of the novel concerns the search for Han Solo by Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian. They are also joined on and off by fellow rebels, Wedge Antilles and his twelve X-Wing pilots of Rogue Squadron. Finding Han Solo takes them to two moons called Gall and Kile which circle Zhar, a gas giant located in one of the outer rim systems (naturally they lose Han to Jabba the Hutt). Along the way, they also meet one of Lando’s friends, “a freelance cargo delivery” (or more appropriately “a smuggler”) named Dash Rendar, a red haired, pale skinned, cocky braggart who is tall and lean, with green eyes, freighter togs, gray coveralls, and a low hanging holster on his hip. He is the spitting image of Han Solo. Indeed, his character might even be called a cheap knock-off of Han Solo. “This is Dash Rendar, thief, card cheat, smuggler, and an okay pilot.” Rendar’s ship, the Outrider, is almost the size of the Millennium Falcon with an offset cockpit module, and it carries his droid LE-BO2D9 or “Leebo.” Rendar once trained at the Imperial Academy for a year or so behind Han, though Rendar was wealthier and more highly placed. His brother was a freighter pilot who mistakenly crashed into the Emperor’s private museum. As punishment, the Render family property was seized and Dash was banished from Coruscant. He hates the Empire, but apparently not enough to join the rebellion. Can he be trusted? Only time will tell.

At the same time trouble is brewing within the Empire. Under the thumb of the “zeyd-cloth” robed Emperor, Darth Vader faces a new Imperial nemesis named Prince Xizor (“sheezor”), a prominent underworld ruler of the Black Sun syndicate, the largest criminal organization in the galaxy. Rich beyond the income of many planets, Xizor is the descendant of Falleen royalty but his family was tragically exterminated in an Imperial mishap which occurred about 10 years ago when a mutant bacteria escaped from a research lab and forced approximately 200,000 Falleen to be “sterilized” (including Xizor’s mother, father, brother, two sisters, three uncles). For this, Xizor secretly blames Darth Vader, he is “duplicitous and devious.” Who are the Falleen? Apparently, they are a quasi-reptilian species who lack emotional outbursts and possess super-strength. Xizor is over 100 years old but he looks to be about thirty, his head is bald with a top knot pony tail. He has earned the trust of the Emperor by revealing the location of a secret rebel base (in the Baji Sector on the Outer Rim, in Grand Moff Kintaro’s section within the Lybeya System hidden on one of the larger asteroids, but instead of rebel-owned, it is actually owned by Ororo Transportation the same company that dared to tread on the Black Sun’s spice operations). However, at the heart of Xizor’s actions is a personal vendetta against Darth Vader. “If Xizor could have hurled a bolt through time and space to strike Vader dead, he would have done it without blinking” (2). Xizor concocts a plan to subvert Vader, and make him seem disloyal to the Emperor. When he learns that a “son of Skywalker” exists, Xizor makes it his goal to kill Luke Skywalker, whereas Darth Vader is eager to confront his son and convert him to the dark side so they can jointly rule the galaxy. This all becomes apparent in the novel’s memorable opening scene which features the holo-conversation between Darth Vader and the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back –with the small addition that Xizor is listening in on the conversation alongside the Emperor.  

Shadows of the Empire takes us on a journey through the “scum and villainy” of the galaxy’s criminal underworld –a world of spice-trading, slaves, gambling casinos, smugglers, arms deals, Bothan spies (the “Bothan spynet”), and Jabba the Hutt’s criminal enterprise. These include characters like Greedo’s uncle Avaro Sookcool who owns a casino in Equator City on Rodia (Greedo was the famous Rodian bounty hunter who was killed by Han Solo in A New Hope), and also a Bothan named Koth Melan, whose father was executed for espionage by the Empire some twenty years prior. He has covert intelligence for Leia that the Bothan spynet has learned of a massive new Imperial military project details held on a computer. This leads to an adventure on the Bothan homeworld of Bothawui (a clean and cosmopolitan world) and further explains what Mon Mothma mens when she says “many Bothans died” to retrieve information about the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.  

Within Xizor’s own Black Sun criminal syndicate, we are introduced to Xizor’s lieutenants who have all earned the honorific “Vigo” from the old Tionese for “nephew,” in order to keep up appearances off being a family. There are nine lieutenants: Vigo Lonay, a Twi’lek; Vigo Sprax a Nalroni dark-grey fur; Vigo Vekker a Quarren; Durga the Hutt; Kreet’ah the Kian’thar, Clezo the Rodian; Wumdi the Etti; Perit the Mon Callamari; Green the human (who is reveled to be a traitor). Most importantly, we meet an attractive blond-haired female named Guri. Like an Epicanthix warrior, she is actually an HRD (or human replica droid programmed to be an assassin a la the replicants in Blade Runner). Xizor acquired for nine million credits (her ship is called The Stinger). Like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Xizor rules his syndicate by fear –“Fear was a better weapon than a blaster or lightsaber” (119).

In one of the more controversial decisions in the novel, Prince Xizor is portrayed as sexually deviant. He is also maniacally obsessed with Princess Leia –he lusts after her in the hopes oof achieving a perverted “conquest.” Conveniently, the search for Han Solo leads Leia and Chewbacca directly into the hands of the Black Sun. They are then lured into Xizor’s ornate palace within the “Imperial Center” on Coruscant by Xizor’s assassin Guri. Once alone with Leia, Xizor releases his Falleen “pheromones” which apparently cannot be resisted by females. She very nearly gives herself over to Xizor, but then quickly comes to her senses thanks to Chewbacca who escapes Coruscant in order to find help –in this instance, why doesn’t Leia simply flee Coruscant with Chewbacca? In addition to his lust for Leia, Xizor has been plotting to use the princess as bait to draw Luke Skywalker to Coruscant so that Xizor can finally kill the “son of Vader.” In a way, his ploy works. While ducking in and out of capture, evading Darth Vader as well as the Black Sun, Luke narrowly flees imprisonment by a bounty hunter named Skahtul (a reptilian Barabel species). He reconnects with the rebellion, and then Luke, Lando, and Dash use an old smuggler’s trick en route to Coruscant which consists of hiding behind a freighter in order to avoid Imperial scrutiny and, once on the planet’s surface, they concoct a scheme to invade Coruscant through the shadowy underground (while the droids Threepio and Artoo amusingly man the Millennium Falcon). Killing scores of stormtroopers, our heroes rescue Leia and utterly destroy Xizor’s palace with the use of a thermal detonator. Xizor escapes to his skyhook and sends out waves of TIE fighters but the rebels are temporarily saved by Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron, but the real savior ironically comes in the form of Darth Vader who surprisingly turns on Xizor as a result of his refusal to obey Imperial edict. Vader’s ship decimates Xizor’s skyhook. Luke decides against killing Guri, and sadly Dash Rendar’s ship, the Outrider, appears to be destroyed at the end… but is anyone ever truly dead in Star Wars?

While I generally found Shadows of the Empire to be a fun Star Wars novel, I was not particularly fond of Prince Xizor’s portrayal as a nymphomaniac. Understandably, it was a divisive decision among fans. A few other moments elicited questions from me. For example, when Luke is sent back to Tatooine to simply wait around at Ben’s remote hut while looking for any sign of Boba Fett –why do this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to send Luke somewhere of importance to the rebellion? Was this included merely to ensure that Tatooine made an appearance in the book? How did Dash Rendar suddenly appear to help Luke in this remote area of Tatooine? How did the Bothans manage to deliver a message here, as well? Why wouldn’t Luke have returned to Dagobah in order to complete his Jedi training?

At any rate, Shadows of the Empire is a nice conduit (not a sequel but rather an “interquel”) that explains how our heroes found Han Solo at Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi, and it offers some compelling political intrigue in the feud between Darth Vader and Prince Xizor. In the end, Vader’s hope for a familial empire wins out over Xizor’s desire for revenge. Since I am fascinated by the minute details shown in the expansive world-building of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the following are a few random things worth noting from the novel:

  • Synstone material was used to construct Ben Kenobi’s hut on Tatooine and it is seated at the edge of the Western Dune Sea (here, Luke recovers an ancient leather-bound Jedi instruction book and he constructs his lightsaber).
  • At another point, Darth Vader’s thoughts are relayed from inside his hyperbaric chamber. We learn than Vader can actually breathe outside his chamber without the use of machinery for about two minutes at a time (he hopes to strengthen his breathing for longer intervals using the dark side of the force).
  • Some people with an electrical training can hack into the holonet and use the communication system.
  • The Menari Mountains are mentioned again (I remember seeing multiple references to this mountain range on Coruscant in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy), and religious fanatics apparently watch over Monument Park in the mountains.
  • Imperial skyhooks over Coruscant are referenced frequently in Shadows of the Empire. Xizor’s skyhook features an ornate botanical garden, he poached Vader’s own gardener.
  • In Xizor’s skyhook botanical garden, he possesses a 600-year-old miniature firethorn tree. These trees grow in a single small grove of the Irugian Rain Forest on Abbaji.
  • A Ho’Din creature named Spero a “Master Fardener” makes a brief appearance, as does Bousshe, an Ubese bounty hunter.
  • Luke remembers a fictional shipjacker named Evet Scy’rrep he used to watch as a kid on “Galactic Bandits,” a show on the holoproj.
  • Xizor’s skin turns from green to orange/red when he lusts after a woman.
  • Moonglow is mentioned, a rare expensive fruit.
  • We revisit Beggar’s Canyon on Tatooine. Beggar’s Canyon is apparently a group of inter-linked canyons in the desert.
  • Saaber Enterprises is described as the Empire’s anti-espionage operation.
  • Xizor transport Systems (XTS) is a major shipping conglomerate owned by Xizor.
  • Kothliss, a Bothan colony world, is referenced in the novel.
  • Apparently, Luke’s signature black garb as worn in Return of the Jedi was one of the disguises given to Luke by Dash Rendar on Coruscant (Leia dons Bousshe’s outfit as a gift).
  • We learn that there are other syndicates besides the Black Sun, like the Tenloss Syndicate.
  • In addition to the nine Vigos of the Black Sun, Xizor’s loyal sublieutenant, Mayth Duvel, makes an appearance.
  • The name of Xizor came from Lucy Autrey Wilson, Director of Publishing for Lucasfilm, who combined the Portuguese pronunciation of the letter X (sh-) with the second syllable of the English word “razor.”
  • Apparently, a miniature of Xizor appeared as an audience member for the pod race scene in The Phantom Menace. His name has also appeared at Disney’s theme park attraction (where you can order a “Xizor salad”).  

“Even when fighting the great sabercat, it is best not to turn your back on the lowly serpent.”
–Old Sithian Proverb (p. 252).

Perry, Steve. Shadows of the Empire. Random House World. New York, NY. (Originally published on May, 1996).

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Shadows of the Empire (1996) by Steve Perry

  1. “Interquals”, an interesting term, can indeed be creatively challenging and certainly when creating new characters for a franchise. A nymphomaniac in the Star Wars universe can indeed seem risky and I wouldn’t be fond of it either. Given how sexualizations for sci-fi, from much of Star Trek and several female companions in classic Dr. Who, can be frowned upon by the maturity of the genre’s views of men and women nowadays, it’s all the more appreciable for Star Wars’ unique dignity for male and female heroes (starting with Princess Leia, even for her most difficult scenes with Jabba) to earn the most thoughtful considerations from storytellers. Thank you for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That might sometimes make criminal characters more interesting, either comedically or as a psychological study. For the Star Wars universe, that can be most interesting for the outlandishly sci-fi qualities.

      Liked by 2 people

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