Jesse Valencia imagines a Star Wars universe where “Shadows of the Empire” exists and is a standalone film. This is Valencia’s proposal to the Lucasfilm Story Group and his bid to be the one who writes it.
I love Star Wars. Every film, every game, every comic and novel. Star Wars has been a part of my life since I was old enough to remember movies, and like many an older Millennial Star Wars fan I would love to see Lucasfilm bring back Shadows of the Empire in some way.
The CG-enhanced original trilogy’s re-release in theatres in the mid-’90s helped set the stage for the franchise’s prequels, but to test out the new LucasArts franchise licenses, Shadows of the Empire was created. There were comics, a novel, even a Nintendo 64 video game. The idea was to make an entire Star Wars story, one that took place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, without making an actual film. Basically, Shadows of the Empire was the closest thing Lucasfilm had ever come to making a standalone, non-episodic film until 2016’s Rogue One.
Once Disney purchased Lucasfilm a few years ago, everything but the official films and television series, namely The Clone Wars, was no longer “canon.” That means every novel, comic, and video game not officially licensed or fully owned by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm no longer applied to the official story, including Shadows of the Empire. There is a rule, however, that characters, planets, and other story elements can be brought into the new canonical universe from the non-canonical (officially titled “Legends”) as long as their presence fit within the context of the new canonical timeline and story. This has most recently happened with another well-loved legend, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
One would think this rule similarly applies to Shadows of the Empire, as no official story exists between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi except for Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure. I have a good theory as to why this is.
Shadows’ main character is Dash Rendar, basically a cookie cutter ripoff of Han Solo who looked and moved like a ’90s action hero. He was a Corellian human like Han, and drove a spaceship similar to the Millennium Falcon called the Outrider. Also like Han, he had a non-human sidekick. That’s probably the lamest thing about the whole thing.
The most disappointing thing is the key plot element where Leia is reduced to the role of damsel in distress as the story’s villain, Prince Xizor, seduces and traps her in his space lair, which of course is blown up à la the Death Star or Starkiller base. Had this movie been made, it would have easily been the worst Star Wars film, but to a twelve-year-old it was awesome.
In Shadows place now is the YA novel Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure, which is a retrospective narrative by now-general Leia Organa from the recent films (rest in power, Carrie Fisher) about the time she led a group of rebels on a decoy mission to distract the Empire as the Rebellion made safe passage to Endor, where they are based in Return of the Jedi.
This book strongly magnifies the portrayal of Leia as a strong, heroic woman displaying strong military tactics, and thus simultaneously erases the damsel-in-distress archetype as well as the need for a Han Solo cardboard cutout to drive the story’s narrative. That’s what’s really good about it.
What is problematic about it is that the story does not fit so well within the timeline. It is certainly a plausible story that theoretically fits, but there are a couple of things off. The story appears to take place over a period of the week or so leading up to Return of the Jedi, but the key mistake in Moving Target is in its portrayal of Luke. How he appears at the beginning of the book, much like the pilot we know from Empire, is very different from the Luke we first meet in Jedi, which is the same Luke who appears at the end of Moving Target, apparently a fully trained Jedi knight.
When you stack the story and characters of Moving Target between the events of Empire and Jedi now, many questions arise, particularly since the timespan between Empire and Jedi spans over half a year. At the time of Moving Target, Luke would be focusing on his Jedi training, until he was ready to face Vader once again, to try and turn him to the light side of the Force. But what are Lando and Chewbacca doing? What are Vader and Palpatine up to? What about the Bothans stealing the plans for the new Death Star, which Palpatine purposely leaked in order to bring Skywalker to him? None of these questions are answered in Moving Target, which is not a fault in so much as it presents an opportunity.
I propose to bring Shadows of the Empire back but recast Dash Rendar, Prince Xizor, and the situations and events of that story in a new light, one that is synonymous with the Lucasfilm Story Group’s vision and direction for Star Wars, especially since they currently loathe Shadows of the Empire, which is probably due in part to the reasons I’ve mentioned. It is arguably as lame now as it was awesome then. After all, Dash Rendar’s ship The Outrider appears in A New Hope, so Dash is canon, but everything else is not.
So, here’s what they should do, and I volunteer to write it.
- Dash Rendar is no longer a Corellian Han Solo ripoff, but a human man from the planet Fest like Cassian Andor from Rogue One. Their names sound similar, so it is entirely plausible for them to be from the same place. Dash would be of the same ethnicity as Cassian as well, strengthening Latino/a representation in the greater Star Wars I come in part from an Indigenous Mexican-American heritage, and would love to write more of that into a Star Wars story.
- Dash would be a little older than Han or Lando, and would be a disenfranchised veteran of the Imperial Navy. I do not know how many Star Wars authors served in the military, but having done six years in our own military, as a writer and veteran I’d love to explore the military and legal structures of the Empire as they are being implemented throughout the galaxy, as well as help shape the Imperial rank structure, where and how they get and test their weapons, and what the Stormtroopers thoughts are on the war. It would be interesting to see the bad guys humanized in ways that enhance the Emperor’s personification of evil.
- Instead of being a smuggler like Han, Dash would be a drug trafficker working with the galaxy’s main criminal organization, the Black Sun, distributing weapons, caf, death sticks, and spice to citizens and stormtrooper alike. The military-industrial complex was a central theme to the most recent film The Last Jedi, so it would be interesting to see how a galactic arms trade might interact with its drug trade, as gangs and militias increase their presence throughout the worlds.
- Instead of wanting to take Darth Vader’s place, it would make more sense for a Prince Xizor to use his influence through the Black Sun to secretly battle for control of the galaxy while working with them. Where the Empire wants order, the Black Sun desires chaos and anarchy, an equal “evil” to the “good” Rebel Alliance.
- Instead of interacting with the main characters, this revamp, which I call Shadows Reborn, will fill more obscure gaps in the overarching story, allowing the canon to breathe. Also, fans of the original franchise will love it.
Lucasfilm has already shown it can bring back well-loved stories and characters. Shadows Reborn would be written to serve these exact ends. The strengthening of the canon’s mythology, a redemption of a well-loved franchise from the Star Wars Legends universe, and a broadening of diversity within the galaxy far, far away, all within the context of an interesting story or stories which help tie the overall canon together through its various shadows.
As a lover of Star Wars lore for my entire life, such a project would be a dream job. It’s been said it’s nearly impossible to submit a Star Wars novel unless you go through certain channels that are not available to most people, and understandably so, but if you’re reading this, powers-that-be, I’m ready to write it!
May the Force Be with You Always,