Star Wars: The Force Awakens has continued its box office reign this week, breaking through a record previously held by James Cameron’s Titanic and approaching the title of highest-grossing domestic film of all time. Yet, a new reveal from Lucasfilm creative director Pablo Hidalgo has piqued fan interest by tying the film back to the now-discarded expanded universe, and the earliest days of the Star Wars renaissance.
Fans of the saga are by now familiar with the changes wrought in the wake of Disney’s acquisition. The wide-ranging expanded universe was shoved aside, re-branded as Legends, to make way for a new canon that included little beyond the six extant films and The Clone Wars. In this change, we lost a host of beloved characters (Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn topping the lists of most fans), but gained a new future for Star Wars, uncertain as it may be. Hidalgo’s reveal, however, has inspired many fans to wonder whether all that is old may one day be new again, at least in a galaxy far, far away.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) January 3, 2016
In short, Hidalgo noted that the original title for The Force Awakens was Star Wars: Shadow Of The Empire. As almost any more-than-casual fan knows, that title (with an added ‘s’ for plurality) was used long ago, during the 1990s Star Wars resurrection that gave rise to the special editions and the prequel trilogy.
As the Daily Beast notes, Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire was a cross-medium project begun in 1994, centered around a novel, video game, toy line, and associated merchandising. The product of a meeting between Lucasfilm and Bantam Books, the project was designed to tell the story of events between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. It was responsible for introducing characters like Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor into the at-the-time barren Star Wars canon, as well as the criminal organization, Black Sun. Originally billed as a “movie without a movie,” the project was in full swing by 1996, bringing an entirely new dimension to the Star Wars universe and exploring a time period previously considered off-limits by none other than George Lucas himself.
— DKOldies NES Games (@DKOldies) December 21, 2015
To be fair, Shadows Of The Empire wasn’t solely responsible for re-igniting fan excitement for the Star Wars franchise. Timothy Zahn’s widely published and much-loved Heir To The Empire trilogy, published between 1991 and 1993, is generally credited with sparking that rebirth. Shadows served as something of a dry run for the special edition films, as Io9 points out, which in turn led to the prequels. By the end of the 1990s, Star Wars had grown into the media juggernaut we now know and love.
Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire. pic.twitter.com/tdzDzvgtQe
— Bill Busha (@BillBusha) December 20, 2015
Just because a character or plot element has been seemingly discarded by Disney, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it is gone. Shadows Of The Empire is now considered a Star Wars Legend, but Easter eggs included by Lucas in the special edition films still exist, anchoring it at least partially within the accepted canon. Black Sun has been referenced in The Clone Wars, and Dash Rendar’s ship, the Outrider, can still be seen in A New Hope.
— GamesRadar+ (@GamesRadar) December 18, 2015
Fans have been quick to note, also, that The Force Awakens borrows multiple elements from the old expanded universe. Kylo Ren is a re-imagining of Jacen Solo in many ways, and the establishment of the New Republic is a major plot point, even if the same course of events doesn’t take place. Since Disney is apparently comfortable mining the previous Star Wars canon for ideas, if not implementing them the same way, it seems only a matter of time before elements of this unusual chapter of the saga make their way into the new timeline. With Episodes VIII and IX (as well as several spin-off films) on the horizon, Star Wars fans might yet feel the impact of Shadows Of The Empire once again.
[Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]