Shadows of the Future

George Lucas, and his team, have always been a bit ahead of the curve in terms of marketing and showmanship. I realized recently how far ahead as I thought about the Shadows of the Empire campaign in the 1990s. He gave us a preview of the future just ahead of the Internet’s breakout changing of the world and our interactions with it.

For those that don’t remember, Shadows of the Empire (henceforth SOTE) was the sort-of-sequel that fit in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. At the time, it was referred to as the movie without a movie. There was a comic book pseudo-adaptation, a video game (N64!), a novel that served as a novelization, and even a complete soundtrack. Heck, there was a poster by Drew Struzan.

Ben Burtt even helped write an operatic piece in an alien language for a climactic moment that was supposedly adapted from an ancient opera in the Star Wars universe.

And though I know some will roll their eyes, Lucas worked in the ship “The Outrider” and Swoops into the Star Wars Special Edition as a nod to the officialness of the work.

The movie without a movie

I’m on to the thought now that SOTE showed the forthcoming tangential importance of an actual film. In the landscape he saw coming, the box office success of a film is a secondary concern. The idea of the film is what hooks us.

The story could be related in an abstract way. You didn’t need to see SOTE to understand what was happening. SOTE was purposefully done that way, and I think because they saw what was coming. Lucas wanted to know how far he could push things.

The inheritors of that legacy have capitalized on it indeed.

I haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, but I know everything I need simply by observing the toy aisle with my kids. The ancillary materials give away enough to the audience that they can construct their own version of the story mentally. In a sense, the story has become an oral tradition again.

Look at the recent leaks of the Star Wars Episode VII action figure line. The names on the figures and how they’re packaged pair with rumors or interviews you’ve heard and you’re already writing the movie in your head.

A Wider Way to Tell the Story

From a different perspective, though, SOTE also allowed purposeful deviations in storytelling. This is certainly something we’re now missing.Everything “needs” to be contained, tied in and restricted.

Look at the 1977 comics adaptation of Star Wars (“Episode IV” to the young punks); it’s vastly different from the final film. Look at the novelization; it’s still got Blue Squadron.

People used to be OK with these variations! They are what drove our imaginations and, in a sense, said it was OK to play in that world without having to worry about officially sanctioned sources. We were our own Expanded Universe.

What happened to us?

Different interpretations used to be highly valued. Now people argue with fervor over “which interpretation” is the official one. It’s why I enjoy head canon and mourn the loss of poster art. Reading the comics adaptation helped flesh out the film, and any gaps you wondered.

Of course, I also still wish they made new radio dramas. Oh well.

Some Questions

I am left in Limbo on the question of “officialness.” Is SOTE still regarded as accurate, or is it now “legends” materials?

Is disregarding it key to making room for Rogue One and Episode VII? If so, I’m really glad I still have my original-run CD.