May 23 2013 10:00am

Vader vs. Xizor—Cagematch! Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Shadows of the Empire cover, Steve PerryAccording to what is generally upheld in Star Wars canon, there are only about six months to one year between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. On the other hand, a lot can happen in that time, and clearly has happened by the time Han’s friends come to his rescue. Luke has gone from Rebel grays to Jedi blacks, the Alliance is stepping up their game plan, and the Emperor is suddenly interested in what’s going on.

So how did all that happen? It was Shadow’s of the Empire’s job to tell us, thirteen years after Jedi hit theaters. And it was expected to fulfill that job in more than one medium. Now it’s time to talk about the book by Steve Perry. (And the soundtrack. I love soundtracks.)

It’s really not possible to talk about this book without discussing the emergence of the Black Sun as a major component of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Love Prince Xizor or hate him, his criminal organization was a smart world-building move. Yes, we have the Hutts and some may have expected Nal Hutta to become the major underworld center once we started learning about the underpinnings of the galaxy. But while Jabba and his brethren are scary, they’re running a different kind of underworld. Basically, the Hutts are a large network of drug cartels. They all have their territories and they live in hedonistic splendor wherever they camp. But they’re not taken seriously by the likes of the Empire or the Old Republic. They know they have to stay out of the way to survive.

The Hutts are bad news, but not one of them is Al Capone.

And that’s where Xizor comes in. The Black Sun provided a criminal class that had not been exposed in Star Wars, one needed to exist for a healthy dose of realism. What’s threatening about Xizor has nothing to do with the ways in which Jabba seems threatening. Xizor is a problem because he’s in with powerful people, the ones who matter, the ones who keep the galaxy running. The higher he moves up the ladder, the more everyone has reason to be nervous.

Shadows of the Empire is smart because it makes it perfectly clear that the Emperor is not an idiot. It’s not that Xizor deserves the respect he’s being given, but that the Palpatine knows that Vader has become a liability ever since he found out about his kid running around out there, playing at becoming a Jedi Knight. He’s concerned enough about it that he lets Xizor closer, particularly because he knows it’s the perfect opportunity to rev up antagonism between the two of them. (Not only does the prince wants Vader’s job, but he’s got a vendetta to settle between them because Vader is responsible for the destruction of his people, the Falleen.) The reveal that Xizor is watching the personal communique between Vader and the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back at Palpatine’s behest and without Vader’s knowledge is chilling. Vader is on much shakier ground than he realizes.

Speaking of Vader, the Dark Lord comes off more human in this book than any rendering of him in the EU or elsewhere. We get a rare peek inside his head and find that he is just as conflicted as the Emperor suspects. We also see how difficult it is for him to maintain his health, another factor that makes sense out of Palpatine’s desire to upgrade for the younger Skywalker model later on. We also see those first glimmers of conscience, find out how he comes to terms with the thought of having a child he doesn’t know. It’s a little heartbreaking.

Other characters are jumping hoops as all of this plays out. Lando is going through the ringer willingly in trying to make up for his mistakes, and we find that Han’s last words to Chewie before being frozen are binding to the point of irritation—the Wookiee never wants Leia out of his sight. Chewie is another character who we don’t often get insight into, but here we find out just what his Life Debt to Han means to him; he cannot let anything happen to Leia after failing his friend. The disguises that he and the princess don are also undeniably badass as they move deeper into the underworld for a chance to find out who is trying to kill Luke. (Answer: Everyone. Obviously.)

Which leads to awkwardness of the event known as “the Seduction of Princess Leia.” Because Prince Xizor seems to view women as little more than pleasure toys (his bodyguard is literally a sultry lady robot whom he likely has sex with; think Caprica Six, but programmed to serve) and has pheromones at his disposal that are so strong, he is basically a walking roofie. I’m not so sure “seduction” is the proper term here—it seems a lot more like rape. Thankfully, Leia shakes off the influence and gets out of dodge before the prince can get himself together. Who knows why it was needed to put Our Lady Organa in that position in the first place... the only thing it has going for it is how handily Leia defends her own honor, once Chewie surprises her with a well-timed knock that is.

Weird side note: I would like to point out that this book scarred me for life in the bit where Luke and company are trekking through the sewers below Xizor’s palace to get Leia back. While noting the awful smells reaching their noses, Luke recalls the fact that scents are the result of actually inhaling a bit of whatever you are smelling. Meaning that he smells the sewage because it’s actually entering his body. I don’t think my life was ever the same after that, so thank you, Steve Perry?

It’s not to say that there’s nothing odd about this tale—Dash Rendar really is just a Han Solo stand-in, and it does seem as though the plot could do with a couple less twists. Maybe one less space battle. But as a bridging chapter, Shadows of the Empire delivers in a way that it shouldn’t have been able to, by all accounts. It feels like a relevant story, not just some random filler. It deepens our knowledge and understanding of the characters unlike, say, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

About the soundtrack by Emmy Award-winning composer Joel McNeely... you should buy it. And listen to it. It is amazing. In addition to using the melodies that all Star Wars fans will be familiar with, it’s got some great original themes. Xizor’s music is majestic and creepy. The Battle of Gall track feels like a blow by blow without visuals. The “seducing Princess Leia” music is a waltz. There’s so much more. I cannot recommend it enough, as strange as it is to get a soundtrack for tie-in media novel.

So that is Shadows of the Empire. Full of new characters, careful explorations, and lots of helpful material to diminish those between-movie gaps. Which makes it fun, plain and simple. Exactly what we want from Star Wars.

Emily Asher-Perrin is gonna go listen to that soundtrack now. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Matt Wright
1. matty42
There is a great Dave Barry article about scents and "scent particles."
Kit Case
2. wiredog
at his Left Debt to Han means to him; he cannot let anything happen to Leia after failing his friend. The disguises that he and the princess dawn

Should be "Life" and "don"

Don't know why those two, in particular, jumped out at me.
Dave Thompson
3. DKT
Huh. As a teenager, I absolutely hated this book. It was mostly Dash Rendar being such an obvious Solo stand-in, I think. That, combined with Xizor's character, and that he was - as you put it expertly - a walking roofie felt so cheap. I find it discomforting that the most graphic sexual encounter in the EU novels (at that point, at least, IIRC) was basically an attempted rape.

WTF Lucas/Bantam? I can't believe it was allowed to go ahead as it was.

To this day, I still kind of roll my eyes whenever a Black Sun/Falleen
character or plot element shows up with pheromones (it made Scoundrels way less fun for me).

That said, I don't remember the stuff about being inside Vader or Chewie's head. That sounds pretty great. And I'm curious about that soundtrack now.
David Stumme
4. grenadier
The soundtrack was only a part of the whole "Shadows" experience. This was an attempt at cross-media marketing of a movie, without the movie. Shadows had the book, soundtrack, video game, and comic books. The only thing missing was the actual movie version.
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
I don't remember Rendar AT ALL, at least in the book. Isn't he the guy that guides Luke through the sewers? I don't remember anything else about him though. I DO remember him from the video game, only because of that G-D jetpack level that TOOK FOREVER to beat(still bitter).

I remember the really convoluted manuevering to get Leia the meeting with Xixor's robot, and the convolutedness of the meeting itself, with all the hidden body scanners and recorders. Perry must write espionage fiction in his spare time. But I did like how it explained HOW Leia got Boosch's outfit.

I remember Luke building his lightsaber(HOW CONVENIENT BEN LEFT THAT BOOK FOR YOU! AND AN OVEN TO BAKE CRYSTALS) I remember him doing the tight rope(WTF??).

Xixor was a kinda neat character, but he was WAY TOO RAPEY! Not cool! I liked his assasin auditions, only because I liked how it called back to The Masters of Teras Kasi video game.

The best part, for me, was the insight into Vader, and the chance to root for him.
6. Megaduck
@5. Aeryl "The best part, for me, was the insight into Vader, and the chance to root for him."

I think that was my favorite part of this book to. Vader gets his own big damn heros moment.
Dave Thompson
7. DKT
Oh, yeah, Rendar played a relatively significant role in it. He was involved in a space battle/attack that went kind of bad, but after he "died" it was revealed it wasn't actually his fault.

It really was like "Well, we don't have Han Solo. We can't give Lando *that* much limelight - let's create a substitute Solo. And kill him at the end because he obviously can't be around AFTER this book."
(I heard he was resurrected somewhere down the line?)
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
OH, YEAH!!! He was there during that thing with the Bothans, when they were stealing the plans for the Death Star. I forgot all about that part!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
9. Lisamarie
I remember really liking this book - I read it shortly after I became a fan...ah, that was a good summer. I read a lot of EU. But I actually remember a lot of the media hoopla around the book, game, soundtrack, etc. It was all happening just as I was getting into Star Wars. I specifically remember reading this while vacationing with a friend in my uncle's cabin in the woods. Isn't this where we also learn about the Bothans getting the Death Star plans?

I also remember feeling pretty aghast at the seduction scene - I don't mind that Xizor is rapey, he's a villain, that's part of his villainy (although I honestly don't remember if the book tried to imply that if she had given in it would be her fault somehow).

The soundtrack! I love the soundtrack! I actually still listen to it quite a bit. It was given to me as a gift and I remember being skeptical even then that, just because it had Star Wars on it, meant it was any good. It's not even John Williams for crying out loud! But it is quite good, especially the last song. I listen to it a lot on car trips. I love the use of choral music too (before TPM and the prequels introduced a heavy use of choral music into Star Wars music).
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
Leia decides to glam up a bit before the meeting, I got a kinda "She was asking for it" vibe from it, especially as she refuses to wear the clothes he left her after that, AS IF THAT had something to do with it.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
11. Lisamarie
Gross. Was her glamming up also supposed to be pheremone induced? But I totally get the unfortunate implication there.

I'm actually reading another book featuring Black Sun/Xizor right now (Jedi Twilight, by Michael Reaves, who has written some other SW books with Steve Perry). I actually am enjoying it quite a bit. I don't mind dark/gritty when it is during a time period or exploring a subject matter I EXPECT to be dark and gritty.
Dean Tucker
12. StoryCottage
Idon't remember many details from this book (it is one of the few EU books I have read), but I do remember it was the only one I read that had the 'feel' of the movies - the pacing, the humor, the suspense, etc.
Alan Brown
13. AlanBrown
I liked the whole "Shadows" endeavor, as it was fun to get immersed in the story in lots of different media. As I recall, in the Special Edition of A New Hope, Dash's ship also appears in the background over Tatooine at one point.
I had forgotten that Dash Rendar was also involved in stealing the Death Star plans. So was Kyle Katarn from the other video game. I guess it was a team effort...
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
14. Lisamarie
I thought Kyle Katarn had helped with the first Death Star's plans, whereas Dash was helping out with Death Star II. Along with those many Bothans...

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