Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Shadows of the Empire Book Review

by The World Weary
Author: Steve Perry
Publisher: Pocket
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Video Game
Series: Standalone Star Wars
Pages: 385

Living in the Empire’s Shadow

(This review contains spoilers for the film The Empire Strikes Back).

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry is solid escapism, and an interesting look into what happens in between the final two films of the original trilogy. However, some of it feels redundant and the primary antagonist loses steam about halfway through making this a somewhat disappointing entry in the Star Wars universe.

As one of the greatest science fiction films of all time closes, we see beloved characters known the world over in their darkest hour. Han Solo has been frozen in carbonite, his love, Leia Organa, and his best friend, Chewbacca, are lost in his abscence and have struck an uneasy alliance with the gambler Lando Calrissian. Luke Skywalker has learned that his father, Anakin, is not dead but is in fact the Emperor’s right hand man and the most feared force in the galaxy, Darth Vader, and Luke has paid for this knowledge with the loss of an arm.

Many fans were content to leave it at that, but the masterminds behind the franchise (a decade after the original trilogy ended) decided that there was enough room in between the second and third films to create a whole new chapter in the lives of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. So, they created another trilogy, but this one was not going to be a series of films, but rather a novel, a video game, and a comic mini series, that would follow different characters through the same period of time. Where the comics and the N64 game dealt with Boba Fett and the “new kid on the block”, Dash Rendar’s adventures, the book follows most of the characters from the preceding film.

Princess Leia, heartbroken and alone after having Han torn from her, becomes an almost single minded robot. Her quest to free Han becomes her only focus throughout the novel. This leaves her character little room to develop and her constant flashbacks to Cloud City get old very quickly. She is joined on her quest by Han’s faithful sidekick Chewbacca, as well as Lando. Their travels represent the stalest episodes within the book. Mostly, they find themselves chasing after rumors of Boba Fett, who holds the frozen Solo in his ship, Slave I.

Luke, hiding from the ever watchful and far seeing eyes of the Empire, finds himself pouring over old tomes in the desert home of his mentor Obi-Wan. His training to become a Jedi Knight is grueling, and represents a logical step for his character to take after the duel against Vader on Bespin. He is no longer the boy who would be a hero, but rather a man trying to find the strength within himself because his friends need him more than ever. His scenes are an interesting look into how pervasive the Dark Side of the Force can be, as he finds himself slipping under thoughts of hate and fear. He is the most complete character within the book, and his fight against the darkness within himself as well as the overwhelming odds facing the Alliance are the highlights of the story, being second only to anytime Vader is on the page. The Dark Lord of the Sith is every bit the classic character from the silver screen and it’s hard not to hear the Imperial March theme whenever you read his name.

The novel introduces a new villain in the reptillian Xizor. Xizor is born of a race called the Falleen, who were ravaged by a virus unleashed by the Empire. In a precautionary measure, Vader ordered the elimination of all infected Falleen, which unbeknownst to him, included Xizor’s entire family. Driven by rage, Xizor quickly moved up the ranks of the galaxy’s most notorious crime syndicate, Black Sun, and began hatching a plot to exact revenge on Vader, while at the same time earning the Emperor’s favor. His plot gains true direction after he overhears the Emperor and Vader talk about their plan to capture and turn Luke. Realizing that Skywalker was once Vader’s name and that Vader has no intentions of bringing any harm to his son, Xizor plans to kill Luke before Vader can find him.

For the first half of the book Xizor proves himself to be an intellectual equal of the two Sith Lords. After that half his character falls apart though. Suddenly, he seems less concerned with finding Luke as he is about… getting laid (no joke). He goes from a genius with a knack for evil, to a whining madman with a insatiable libido. His arc is truly the most disappointing part of the entire book.

The action scenes are exciting and fun to read. When Luke, Lando, Dash, and Chewie are blasting mercenaries side by side you really get a feel that this could have happened in one of the Star Wars films. However, the downside is sometimes characters will directly reference similar situations from the films as they deal with the present. Some scenes feel like they could be from the films because they’re basically the same. This robs the story of some of it’s originality, and makes you feel like you’re watching a cover band performing your favorite song. It’s not bad, but it will never best the original no matter how hard it tries.

Overall, Shadows of the Empire is a fun, quick read that should satisfy fans of the series. It has great action scenes and Luke’s journey towards becoming a Jedi as well as Vader’s quest to find him and destroy Xizor make for some compelling reading. However, some issues with redundancy and character development do mar an otherwise engaging adventure.

Score: 7.0

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