1996 was a big year for Star Wars, with the theatrical re-releases of the Special Edition due the next year, and some of the first Star Wars toys in a decade were hitting store shelves and capturing a new generation with the Power of the Force 2 line. The constantly growing Expanded Universe was about to hit the peak of its popularity with the release of Shadows of the Empire, a multimedia story meant to fill in the gaps between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, focusing on the search for Han Solo and a new villain, Prince Xizor, who sought to usurp Darth Vader as the Emperor’s right hand man.
The concept behind the launch of Shadows of the Empire was an interesting one: release everything that would go along with a major motion picture, but without the actual film, the story of which was to be told through novels, comic books, video games and so on. It proved to be a massive success, as the novel, the Dark Horse comics and the Nintendo 64 release have all held up very well and proven to be very popular with fans, even 20 years after the fact.
Probably the most well-known part of SotE would be the N64 game, which had the player controlling A new character, smuggler Dash Rendar, following him from the Battle of Hoth until the destruction of the Skyhook at the end of the game. Although it was an early release on the system, SotE looked and played well, captured the feeling of Star Wars through great gameplay and real orchestral music and was an all-around formative experience for many growing up at the time in love with Star Wars. A great balance of third-person shooting and vehicular combat kept things fresh, and for many it was the first chance to jump into some of their favorite ships and take part in the action.
The game sold more than a million copies in its first year of release, indicating people were still crazy about Star Wars and that a whole new generation of fans was anxious for more, despite very possibly having not been alive when the original trilogy was in theaters for the first time. All this from a game that was in development before a prototype N64 was even available, based on a concept that no one was even entirely sure would work.
Kenner, which had revitalized their line of Star Wars toys in 1995, released a SotE subset in 1996, featuring a new range of characters from the story as well as a few new vehicles. The new figures featured original characters like Dash and Xizor, as well as new disguises for Luke, Leia and Chewbacca. Also released were comic two-packs, featuring an issue of the Dark Horse comic and two figures meant to battle it out. Even 80’s and 90’s mainstay Micro Machines continued their Star Wars line with some new Shadows sets.
I definitely have fond memories of those figures and of the game, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit back in the mid to late 90’s. I was always partial to the Boba Fett vs. IG-88 two-pack, with plenty of play possibilities for my favorite mysterious bounty hunters. Two Star Wars-filled decades after the fact, many people still look back on Shadows with some serious nostalgia and I am definitely among them, a credit to the richness and detail of the Star Wars universe. Although no longer canon, SotE will always hold a place in my memory as something that not only facilitated my love of games, but also my love of Star Wars and related fiction as well.