Posted on January 16, 2013
My Top 100: #33 – Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
The Star Wars Expanded Universe, which is comprised of novels, TV shows and comic books, contains characters and situations that are tailor-made for video games. Most of the time, however, the games based on the sci-fi franchise are entirely new stories, and insert themselves into canon in various ways. The Force Unleashed and Knights of the Old Republic are prime examples of this – both were fantastic games, but were somewhat awkwardly worked into a pre-existing storyline that had been established in another medium.
In the mid-90’s, the folks at LucasFilm had the idea of crafting a multi-platform storytelling machine that would explore a rarely talked-about chapter in the saga. They wanted to see how many units they could move, and how many toys, trading cards and role playing material they could sell, if they released everything BUT a new movie.
This all new chapter, placed between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, would be told through a graphic novel, video game, and a paperback novel by Steve Perry (NOT the ex-Journey singer). On top of that, Joel McNeely (one of John Williams’ protegés) would write an entirely new orchestral score to complement the visual material, and was to be featured in the video game.
Indeed, Shadows of the Empire was definitely something worth getting excited about. Maybe it was time for me to actually get excited about reading a book! None of this “book report” stuff… just reading, only for the sheer enjoyment of reading. What a crazy concept that was to me, at the time.
I’m not even sure if there are any video retailers that do console rentals these days, but I do remember doing that a few times with both the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. Renting a game was great fun, but when you were treated to renting a console, your weekends usually consisted of doing nothing but playing games. Those are definitely times I look back on quite fondly.
The second time I rented a Nintendo 64 was right before Christmas break in ’96, a couple months after it was released. I had my choice of two games to rent with it, so I chose Super Mario 64 and Shadows of the Empire. As I walked out of Blockbuster Video with that “console briefcase” in hand, I had to temper my excitement. We had an extra stop to make – at the liquor store – and then we could go home.
I didn’t want to go into the store once we got there; I just wanted to stay in the car and read the instruction manuals! The liquor store was for adults anyway. Nothing for me to see in there!
As I was reading up on SotE enemies, I noticed there’s a car parked next to us. In the back seat were two girls (around my age, probably), and out of the corner of my eye, I could see them both staring at me, making faces, acting ridiculous. I was too focused on my reading to pay them any attention, but at one point, I could tell the car was bouncing up and down from them acting like such idiots.
Finally, I did one of those slow head turns, and gave them the most annoyed glare I could give them. They quickly stopped and acted like they hadn’t been doing anything, but of course, they went right back at it when I turned back to my manual.
Some people’s kids!
When my mom finally came back, she said “Those girls in the car next to us are quite hyper, aren’t they”. I just said “I didn’t notice”, and kept on reading.
I actually started working at that same store six years later, and every time I’d look out at the parking lot, I couldn’t help but think of those annoying girls in the car next to me that day.
Another memory about the game was finding out about the PC version, which was demo’ed at Computer Village, the PC retailer in the mini-mart next to our school. After lunch at Subway or Pizza Twice, we had time to kill, and usually ended up there. So, whenever they had the store’s demo PC set up with Shadows of the Empire (complete with CG cutscenes), I made sure to make the most of my lunch break on those days.
About the game, I was so amazed by the fact that I was IN Star Wars that it quickly became one of my favourites. By that, I mean that I’d explore Hoth’s Echo Base and other levels, imagining that this is how the characters actually saw these locales in the movie… if that makes sense.
Not only that, but we were finally introduced to a visual representation of the Imperial City of Coruscant! Cool! Also, they explained the events that prompted Mon Mothma’s “many Bothans died to bring us this information” line from Return of the Jedi.
Bothans are kinda bastards, anyway.
I really wish there were more Star Wars games based on the novels…