Friday, 15 July 2011

182: S is for Shoulder Pads

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

Remember when smoldering looks and massive shoulder-pads were all the rage? You're thinking of 1984, aren't you? I'm talking about 1996. Shoulders of the, erm, Shadows of the Empire.

Shadows of the Empire

The early 1990's had seen a resurgence in popularity for Star Wars. Timothy Zahn's 'Heir to the Empire' had been published in 1991, the saga had been re-released on VHS, and in 1994, Hasbro had started a new line of 3¾" action figures. Now I'm guessing they'd looked at the old Kenner range, and someone in the office had suggested the new line be a bit more buff. 'Buff' is what they got...

17 years of working out can pay off...

So obviously, movie-accuracy not a huge issue at this point. They're still clearly SW characters, but they're almost cartoon-like in their proportions. Anyway, this hyper-real attitude also spilled into the character design for the Shadows of the Empire project, hence the principal players looked as if a train carrying Star Wars folks had crashed directly into the Dynasty studio...

Shoulders of the Empire

So, what was this?
Shadows of the Empire is a story which fits directly between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. There's about a year (in-universe) between the films, which had remained previously sparse in EU material. The narrative follows Luke, Leia, Lando and Chewie as they pursue the bounty hunter Boba Fett, who's still carrying the carbon-frozen Han Solo. Now the easiest thing to have done, would be to get a novel in the shops and leave it at that, but you know those folks at Lucasfilm don't like to skimp on things that way.

'Shadows' was the first major SW "multimedia project". As Star Wars had previously proved, you can move a lot of merchandise surrounding a film release, and a lot of this can complement the source, rather than just being bolt-on fluff (although SW has always had plenty of bolt-on fluff, too). So, Shadows of the Empire was released with the following:

• A fullsize hardback novel, telling the story from the perspective of the Rebellion's heroes
• A 144 page graphic novel, telling the story from the perspective of the bounty hunters (plus separate Prequel and Sequel comics)
• A PC/N64 video game, telling the story from the perspective of a mercenary hired to work with the Rebels
• A full soundtrack CD of originally scored music, performed with a full orchestra
• A making-of book
• A range of action figures, complete with deluxe 2-packs and vehicles
• A set of 100 trading cards

The Shadows merch I had closest to hand, There's figures as well, but they're in a box under the bed. Not even kidding.

The idea was to release "everything but the movie". There are some movies (even in 2011) that don't get all of that treatment.

Two of the most successful elements were Prince Xizor and Dash Rendar. Created especially for the project, they're both 'wild cards'. Since the events of Shadows take place before Return of the Jedi, we already know that the central characters (Rebellion and Empire alike) can't die, so unknown quantities have to be inserted. Xizor is the Falleen Prince, head of a shipping corporation that's a front for the largest crime-syndicate in the galaxy, while Dash Rendar is the cynical mercenary hired to help track Boba Fett for the Rebels. Neither paricularly likes the Rebellion, and both hate the Empire more. Oh, and if Dash sounds a bit like Han Solo, that's because he essentially is him. With Solo in carbonite for the whole story, the writers felt that someone should take on that brash anti-hero role.

SotE characters from a custom set of Top Trumps. One of the few areas that Shadows merch didn't reach...

Shadows of the Empire is still Expanded Universe, of course. The mid-nineties were a much more innocent time for the EU. You could fit the continuity timeline on a single page, and a new novel was quite the event (these days there's a new novel every couple of months). Because the prequel films were still in production, that area of the timeline was off-limits to writers, so the majority of the material was either interweaving with the OT films, or expanding out after Return of the Jedi. The 'price of entry' was arguably much lower back then, although the books are still in print now, so it's not too difficult to play catch-up (although it will still be time consuming).

So, did it Work?
Obviously this is me being purely subjective, but 'yes'. The variety of ways in which the audience can experience the story almost makes up for not having a movie. This is the trump-card which few areas of the EU currently have. In terms of canonical legitimacy, it's up there with the best of them. A frequent bugbear of fans of the EU is that as the GFFA grows larger, is that stories overlap and characters are in two places at the same time (or; worst case scenario: characters who survived in one part of the timeline are killed earlier, but in a later-published story) throwing things out of whack a little. While there's a lot of effort within Lucasfilm to stick to established continuity, some storylines do take precedence over others (with the movies being at the top of the pile). So much was put into Shadows of the Empire's creation by Lucasfilm, that it's above the line of things that will get retconned in the future (...probably).

And what next?
It's a shame that not much has been done with the Dash Rendar character since '96, but once Han's back in the picture, he's kind of not needed. And odd as it is to call spoilers on a 16yr old story, Xizor dies at the end of SotE (there, I said it). But because of the way the EU is constantly... well, expanding, we haven't seen the last of the reptillian Prince. Stories occuring before SotE have featured Xizor in a similar antagonistic role, and a sequel comic series 'SotE: Evolution' featured Dash Rendar and Xizor's assassin, Guri.

So that's this week's slice of Star Wars history for y'all. One of my faves outside of the movies, and still well worth checking out if you're an OT (or shoulder pad) fan.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

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• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. I was on a SOTE tip tonight and your article was exactly what I was looking for, good stuff! Really enjoyed watching the game FMVs as well, that bought back some memories. Thanks!