Review by Frank Plowright
Shadows of the Empire is set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and was conceived as a multi-media experience via simultaneous launch as a video game, a novel and a graphic novel. It was wide-ranging, and while each started at roughly the same point, the creators explored different aspects of the scenario. Previously available individually as Shadows of the Empire, Mara Jade, and Shadows of the Empire: Evolution, the known faces from the era feature, largely sidelining the droids, but as secondary characters. The plots concentrate primarily on the galaxy’s criminal element and those bounty hunters who track them down.
The heart of the opening presentation is a power play by the cunning Xizor, who has the Emperor’s ear, and is intent on pushing Darth Vader out of the picture. Vader still harbours plans to turn Luke to the dark side, but will others have killed him before Vader can make this happen? John Wagner’s an old hand at adventure strips, and is skilled at applying formula twists, but he never raises the story beyond that. Killian Plunkett is an enthusiastic artist, who brings the cast and locations to life with eye-catching detail in a loose style, although it’s noticeable that by the final chapter that the work is rushed.
Mara Jade will have a later part to play in Star Wars continuity, but here she’s got some credibility to restore after failing to assassinate Luke Skywalker. Instead she’s sent by the Emperor to prevent the restoration of a previously troublesome criminal enterprise known as the Black Sun. Michael A. Stackpole and Timothy Zahn produce a fine action-thriller, that at the time of original publication had a greater element of suspense for Star Wars fans believing it concerned a relatively obscure character. It remains a good read, however, and well drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, still little known outside Europe despite being co-creator of Judge Dredd (with Wagner).
Following the Mara Jade story with Evolution serves up the most explicit Judge Dredd connection with none of his creators involved. Ron Randall’s art shares the sensibilities of Dredd artist Brian Bolland, with the same precision and clean style, and the way that primary character Guri is designed very much makes her resemble Judge Anderson. Guri is a human looking droid, so well crafted that even few would even know she wasn’t human. Her core programming includes prodigious self-defence skills and a command that can compel her to assassinate people. She’d like that removed. Unfortunately the one medical droid capable of carrying out the treatment has been abducted. Science fiction writer Steve Perry adapts well to comics and his plot hits all the right beats, with the only minor problem being the stop/start nature.
With the rights to Star Wars transferred to Marvel this collection is now out of print, but the two better stories can be located in the Epic Collection The New Republic volume one.