It was 1985 when Kenner ceased producing Star Wars toys. The license had been wildly successful, but it had run its course. People were done with Star Wars now. It wasn't like today, when companies would do anything at all to keep their property alive and generating cash. There was no Clone Wars in 1985, you know? But a decade later, Kenner started up again, in anticipation of the Special Edition re-releases and the prequel trilogy. And of course, in 1996, they did their part for the Shadows of the Empire event.
As Leia struggles to save the Alliance from being crushed by the Empire, she learns that bounty hunters are after Luke. She infiltrates Black Sun
to find out why that crime syndicate wants Luke dead. The leader of Black Sun is Prince Xizor, who sees Luke as a way to get his revenge upon Vader and, at the same time, gain favor with the Emperor. Her mission is in jeopardy when she meets Xizor and finds herself unable to resist the prince's strange power.
Shadows of the Empire was a unique idea - not a sequel, not a prequel, but an "interquel" set between Episodes V and VI, covering everything that happened while Han Solo was encased in carbonite. There was a huge multimedia push, and the novel itself was quite good, but it was overshadowed by the anticipation of all the movies to come, and then caught up in the backlash against anything not "Original Trilogy." There were a few toys released at the time, but the story has been pretty much ignored until now.
There were several new characters introduced in Shadows of the Empire, but the most important
of them was Xizor. A Falleen Prince and head of the Black Sun criminal organization, Xizor wanted revenge on Vader for wiping out his entire family (and for that matter, their entire city) with an orbital bombardment in order to "sterilize" a bacterial outbreak. Since his plan was just to kill Luke Skywalker, apparently the law of equivalent exchange means one yokel farmboy from the ass-end of nowhere is just as valuable as 200,000 members of Xizor's own species. Yeah, that seems fair.
Prince Xizor had two figures in the 1996 SotE line (as well as a Micro Machines version), but this version is vastly superior. He's 4" tall, so he can look down upon most of the other figures. Physically, as well as metaphorically. The figure is slender, as Xizor was described in the book, so that's an improvement right there: like all of the figures released in the first few years of the "Power of the Force 2" line, the original Xizor was way too bulky. Not as comically as Luke, but still pretty bad.
The figure's robe has an intricately sculpted pattern,
and his ridged spine juts through the back. His face is distinctly different from the 1996 figure - sleeker, with an expression that says more "sinister cunning" than "grumpy sourpuss." It's much better. His ponytail curls around to the front of his neck but, compared to the old figure, he's missing a second ponytail (or maybe a spike of somme sort) on the side of his head. There is, however, a filled-in hole on the side of the head where said spike would emerge. Did they change their minds about including it, or is that just a molding artifact? You decide!
Xizor has plenty of articulation, bucking the trend of semi-immobile comic pack figures. He has a balljointed head, shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles, and swivel wrists, waist and hips.
His three-fingered hands are graceful, and sculpted with rings. There are cloth... things... hanging off his elbows. Sleeves? Whatever they are, at least they're not solid plastic, which would interfere with the posing. Speaking of which, the lower edge of his robe actually dips below the level of his feet in the front, so he's perpetually being tipped backwards. Dang. If he was leaning forward, at least you'd be able to use his big staff to hold him up, but nope: backwards it is. You can kind of brace him if you have him hold the staff at an angle, with the tip behind him.
The second figure in this comic pack is Princess Leia.
Part of the Shadows of the Empire story showed how Leia inherited Boushh's armor, but that's not what this set shows. Instead, Leia is in a clingy blue get-up chosen by Xizor: apparently he's something of a ladies'
man reptomammal, and just has closets full of whatever size women's clothing he might need stashed around his headquarters. Skeevy. Let's hope she brought her own underwear.
Since Carrie Fisher is so short, the Princess Leia figure stands only 3¼" tall. She's quite articulated for her small size, though some fans have found fault with that. Let's break it down: balljointed head, shoulders, knees and ankles, swivel torso, wrists and hips. She doesn't have any elbows, since the arms are so thin, and the bust hides the torso swivel very well. The problem is the feet: because of the space needed for the balljoint ankles, her lower legs barely taper at all, leading many fans to complain about her "cankles." Seriously, guys? Thie Leia's got a balcony you could do Shakespeare from, and you're looking at her feet?
Of course, the paint doesn't help draw any attention away from her ankles. Her clothes are all a single shade of blue, so the bright patches of skin stand out. Plus, visually speaking, cool colors recede and warm colors come forward, so the exposed parts of her body end up looking bigger. It's an optical illusion, but it contributes to the problems. The likeness is good, and her hair spills down over her shoulders uniquely.
Leia's armed with a blaster pistol, but that's not her only accessory: she also has a diaphanous shawl/cape combo with plastic clips to hold it in place, supposedly; I say "supposedly" because the clips really aren't small enough for her spindly little arms. They fit best on her biceps, but they're supposed to go on her wrists. Whoops. You could glue them in place, but then how would she disrobe for Xizor?
The set includes a reprint of Shadows of the Empire #5, the issue which features Leia and Xizor as they are portrayed by these figures. Yes, SotE was a novel - but it was also
a comic. And a videogame. And also a card set. Better yet, all of them revealed different aspects of the overall story, so to get the whole thing, you had to read all the various incarnations. For instance, the videogame focused on the adventures of
Han Solo in Temporary Surrogate Knockoff Character Disguise Dash Rendar. The comic does contain some of what was in the book (which is how we get the Prince and Princess, here), but it's more about the trouble Boba Fett has getting Han Solo to Jabba and about Vader's spy in Jabba's palace. Good stuff, but not quite as standalone as the actual book.
Shadows of the Empire was a good story, and an interesting project. Now that more than a decade has passed, it's nice to see the book is finally getting some love. Xizor is an excellent figure, and other than her ankles, Leia is pretty good, too. Yeah, she's bulked up by her articulation and he wants to fall over backwards, but they both play well, and bring us versions of the characters from an under-represented era. Let's hope this comic pack is just the start of things to come.