Steve Perry, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Bantam, 1996)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

Xizor is the reptilian head of the vast criminal organization Black Sun. He is also the No. 2 man to the Emperor, surpassed only by the dark lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. And Vader is the last obstacle between the predatorial Xizor and his goal.

That's an obstacle he plans to eliminate on his rise to the top by thwarting Vader's promised attempts to retrieve the young Luke Skywalker and bring him before the Emperor. With the aide of his lieutenant, the beautiful but deadly human replicant Guri, they secretly employ assassins and bounty hunters to kill the now-in-training Skywalker and make it look as if Vader himself is out for Skywalker's blood.

Meanwhile, Leia continues to hunt down the feared bounty hunter, Boba Fett, to rescue Han Solo before he can be delivered to the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. With the help of Lando Calrissian, Rogue Squadron and a brash smuggler named Dash Rendar, Luke and Leia and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 must dodge their way though a complex web of treachery if they are to rescue Han and uncover the identity of the mysterious Black Sun and it's cunning and deadly leader.

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, is more than just another book between the movies. Perry's writing allows the characters to come alive. Their dialogue isn't just rehashed lines from the films, and the humor has a spark to it that is all its own.

In true Star Wars fashion, the plot runs in parallel development; Luke and Leia move down their separate paths that ultimately bring them back together in the climactic finale at the headquarters of Black Sun on Coruscant, the very center of the Empire itself.

Also, more to the point, this book expands on the universe of Star Wars. Characters like Lando, and even Wedge Antillies, the unsung hero of Rogue squadron, are expanded on and allowed to shine. The bothans, the race of super spies, are expanded upon. And we get a chance to explore more of the worlds born in George Lucas's imagination.

For his part, Steve Perry's writing is good. The book is an easy and fun read, and the plot and dialogue keep you moving from scene to scene. The established characters are well played. It isn't very hard to hear them actually speaking the lines that are written.

Published in 1996, the book is part of a larger release, making Shadows of the Empire the biggest non-event of the Star Wars line. There is the book, action figures, comic adaptations and even a soundtrack with CD-ROM extras ... but no actual film. And that is a shame, since this book adds to the Star Wars saga so well.

[ by Charlie Gebetsberger ]

Buy Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire from Amazon.com.