It was the year Dash Rendar saved Christmas. In 1996 Star Wars was on the edge of a Renaissance. Before the Special Editions and the prequels Lucasfilm tried an experiment. A Star Wars event was created, but without a movie! “Shadows of the Empire” was released with a book and lots of tie in merchandise which all helped make my year and especially Christmas amazing.
Star Wars and Christmas didn’t often mix for me growing up. If I had been born a few years earlier, I would have enjoyed playing with classic Kenner toys and playsets. But instead, I grew up in the “dark times” of the 80s when Star Wars simply wasn’t around. Oh sure, there was the occasional Ewok movie or cartoon from time to time, but many considered “Star Wars” to be over and done with.
This all changed in the 90s, however, when Star Wars began its return with Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. I ended up reading every EU book I could get my hands on and played computer games like “Rebel Assault” on my parents’ Macintosh. While my early childhood was often spent with He-Man, Ghostbusters, and Ninja Turtles toys, the resurgence of Star Wars in the mid 90’s found me spending my money on books, Dark Horse comics, issues of Star Wars Insider, video games, and of course, buying lots of Power of the Force toys. When the novel “Shadows of the Empire” was released in 1996, I was ready and willing to get as many things as I could.
I knew I had to convince my parents to get a Nintendo 64 for me and my brothers along with a copy of “Shadows of the Empire.” This game was the equivalent of a “Shadows” movie, I had to have it! It took a little persuasion and perhaps a little pleading, but when Christmas morning rolled around, a Nintendo 64 along with a copy of “Shadows of the Empire” was in our hands. We raced up to my room to plug in the system.
The game looked amazing! I could finally feel what it was like to wind around an AT-AT in a Snowspeeder and explore the Rebel base on Hoth (when I wasn’t falling down crevices in the ice that is.) The challenge of riding a swoop bike through Mos Eisley while avoiding a Sarlaac pit became an opportunity to explore a location we only saw glimpses of in “A New Hope.” The game also had intimidating bosses such as a humongous Dianoga and an insanely difficult IG-88!
Throughout it all, my brothers and I enjoyed working together to finish the game and explore the Star Wars galaxy in a new way. We had already gotten the toys and read the book, now it was our turn to see it all acted out. While the game may not be the best N64 game, I will always remember it fondly. It represents a time in my life when we anticipated the return of Star Wars on the big screen and one of the last moments in my adolescence when my brothers and I all sat down and played video games together.