Does anyone else remember ‘Shadows of the Empire’? That multi-media extravaganza that was supposed to be just like a new Star Wars movie, only without the “Star Wars movie” part? The thing that was supposed to make a household name out of Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor? (Look, it’s Star Wars. Anyone complaining that “Dash Rendar” is a stupid name can go tell their story to Sio Bibble, Salacious Crumb and Elan Sleazebaggano.)
The Tie-Ins With No Movie sold reasonably well at the time, but it’s safe to say that they’re not fondly remembered by fans. It was not well reviewed, and most of the characters involved got taken out back and buried in a shallow grave (almost literally) while the continuity was pretty much never picked up on again. Why did it fail so badly? Well, I’m going to argue that it was impossible for it to succeed at all. The flaws were fundamental and baked right into the concept—no matter how talented the people involved, they couldn’t get past them. Here’s why:
1) The idea of building a villain for Vader to fight between ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi’ is a nearly impossible sell to begin with, because we all know that Vader walks into ‘Jedi’ essentially unchanged from ‘Empire’. For Xizor to feel like he has any dramatic heft as a bad guy, he has to be sold as a massive and powerful force that can overmatch Vader just to overcome the innate lack of weight to his menace that comes from being set up as an obvious chump for Vader to beat. (This is also a problem with Dash, who supposedly becomes Luke’s bestie over the course of the novel but is utterly unmourned and unmentioned for the rest of the EU timeline.)
2) Instead, Xizor is shown to be a sinister schemer. For all that he gets a few token fight scenes to show that he can “hold his own”, he’s mostly presented as a master manipulator who can outthink and outmaneuver Vader. This is a problem because see Point One: Vader would just kill him. With his mind.
2) The writers then try to paper over the fundamental flaws mentioned above by suggesting that Xizor is so indispensable (due to his status as head of the crime syndicate Black Sun, which is providing men and materiel to the new Death Star) that even the Emperor doesn’t want to risk upsetting him. This idea of building up someone that Vader can’t kill without incurring the Emperor’s displeasure, though, just substitutes one fundamental flaw for another. The whole point of the Sith as we see them in the movies is that they draw their power from unrestrained id. Vader is generally a “murder first, consider consequences later” kind of guy in general, and the Emperor is too. If Black Sun was so powerful that they felt immune to the Emperor’s threats, the Emperor would respond with a massive campaign of force, not by indulging their delusions of grandeur.
4) Even if you consider Xizor himself to work, his plan makes no sense. The linchpin of it involves humiliating Vader and making him look ineffectual for being unable to capture Luke Skywalker, who the Emperor desperately wants so that he can groom him as Vader’s successor. His response: Try to kill Skywalker so that Vader can’t produce him alive. This only makes sense if you don’t think about the Emperor’s response to finding out that the prize pupil he was hoping for is dead at your hands. (Hint: It involves force lightning.) It would make much more sense for him to capture Luke alive, let Vader flounder for a while, then offer to do what Vader couldn’t and produce Skywalker. The fact that nobody thought of this says a lot about the ‘Shadows’ evolution from concept to finished project.