Set in the period between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Shadows of the Empire was a multi-media promotion that came out in 1996—at least partially as a ploy to drum up enthusiasm for the re-release of the original trilogy. I was peripherally aware of SotE at the time, but being excessively poor and without real internet access in 1996, I was never quite sure what it was. I mean, I heard the names 'Dash Rendar' and 'Xisor', but I never really knew the plot. All that changed this week when I finally got ahold of the comic book adaptation of the story.
In two words? Not good.
The overall plot was fine. Good even. It showed pretty much what I thought would happen. Luke, Leia and the others do their utmost best to try and track down and rescue Han before Fett can deliver him to Jabba. It reinforces the whole concept of how close these friends are—and how much they'll risk for each other. There are interesting sub-plots woven in as well. One involves Fett's battle versus rival bounty hunters. Another shows the struggle between Vader and Prince Xisor (an underworld figure)—both vying for the 'top henchman' position with the Emperor. A third sub-plot involves an agent of Vader's trying to keep Luke from being killed by Xisor's agents and manipulations. The ideas are interesting and original...however...
Perhaps the novel is better, but the comic book read to me like it was written by 12 year olds. The dialogue is downright silly—stilted and over-expository. I don't mind that so much when characters are thinking things to themselves. An inner monologue is one thing—but Fett (who in the movies seems to be a man of few words) is spouting all kinds of stupid things—all in dialogue bubbles. Some people might say that this kind of writing is typical of comics, but I'd argue that many modern comics (the Rogue Squadron series for example) have very thoughtful dialogue most of the time. It isn't too much to expect solid writing in a comic book anymore.
For me, the original characters are rather hit-or-miss, too. Dash Rendar, for example, just shows up in one panel of the comic...and his presence or even identity isn't explained until a page later. And then a page after that, he just flies away and leaves the heroes in the middle of a battle. Not especially endearing. In the Wikipedia article of SotE, they explain him as a kind of 'Han Solo stand in'...but...why do we need that? Throughout the entire book, he doesn't really do much at all—though the other characters are quick to praise his presence with lines like "Well, its a good thing we have Dash's smuggler contacts..." I was thinking to myself...why couldn't Lando be the one with the smuggling contacts. He's a street smart hero. Why give away this role to a completely new character? And then there is Dash's apparent death at the end of the comic...where we don't really even see what happened to him—we only see Chewie and Lando wincing. Then Lando says something like. "Oh darn. He almost made it, too." After that? Nobody really seems to mention Dash. He seemed to be completely disposable—"Okay, bye Dash!"
Xisor's lieutenant, Guri was an interesting concept at least, but did absolutely nothing in the comic except say a few lines and then get knocked out by Leia. The fact she was a highly advanced killer bodyguard android didn't seem to factor into the story in any way, except in a thought-bubble where Leia thinks "Wow. She's and android." How did she even know?
And speaking of things people don't know...how the heck did Lando, Leia and the whole crew suddenly jump to the conclusion that the 'Black Sun' was involved in the attempts on Luke's life. The Black Sun was supposed to be a completely unknown entity—an 'invisible' criminal empire. And yet, when they suddenly bring it up, they talk as if everyone knows what it is. In fact, nowhere in the comic do they really explain what it is. I wound up flipping back a few pages to check and see if I maybe missed a section. I would have been totally lost if it weren't for Wikipedia and other sources of information.
Xisor himself was tolerable as a new villain. I liked the idea of him and Vader both vying for status and position with the Emperor. But in the comic they never really explained why he disliked Vader so much (evidently Vader killed a bunch of his family at one point in the past- but as far as I saw, that was never mentioned in the comic). What did bother me was that the Emperor was portrayed as being duped by Xisor. That just makes him look weak and stupid. I mean, I could totally see the Emperor (aware of both Xisor's and Vader's treachery) playing his subordinates against eachother, but it would have been nice at least to have some indication (a crooked, evil smile even) that the Emperor knew what was going on.
There was another plot line involving one of Vader's agents that was okay. He infiltrates Jabba's organization to try and intercept Luke but winds up having to babysit him from afar—keeping Jabba's men from killing him. What I didn't like about this agent was that nothing was ever explained about his background or abilities or anything. I guess I'll have to check out Wikipedia for that, too.
I suppose a lot of these gripes have a lot to do with the fact that the authors of the comic had to fit a lot of story into a limited amount of time. This made for a very poorly paced story. The entire thing felt rushed—and that's an odd sensation when you're reading a comic.
In any case, I give the comic book adaptation of SotE an A for concept and a C- for presentation. I think I might have to pick up the novel now just to understand what was going on.