Designed to gather novel-sized stories and material never before collected, the Star Wars Omnibus Collections are perfect for any fan looking to find a long, cohesive story. With an average of 400 pages in each release, Dark Horse has provided an economical way for readers to experience stories from all the different Star Wars eras.
Omnibus: Shadows of the Empire collects Shadows of the Empire, Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand, and Shadows of the Empire: Evolution. As the title suggests, the villains in each story are those that were hidden in the shadows of the Empire. When reading this collection, fans will experience a portion of the multimedia event known as Shadows of the Empire, along with its comic-only sequel and a story starring Mara Jade, the Imperial assassin who would one day wed Luke Skywalker.
Shadows of the Empire:
In the late 1990s, Shadows of the Empire was exactly what every Star Wars fan wanted to experience. Even more important than the decent storyline, it brought all the beloved film characters to life for a great story. Even today, Shadows of the Empire stands the test of time. Taking place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the story pits the classic Star Wars heroes against the Empire and the Black Sun, the latter led by the unforgettable Prince Xizor.
The Shadows of the Empire comic adaptation is not like any regular adaptation. While it still does work to tell the main storyline, it also focuses a large portion of its pages to showing how Boba Fett delivered Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. Of course, it wouldn’t make for a good story if it was a simple story. Thankfully, Fett’s storyline is easily the strongest and includes some great bounty hunter cameos. Unfortunately, the main story is not well represented in this collection. Fans familiar with Shadows of the Empire will easily be able to understand what is happening, but I question whether newcomers would be as impressed with the story if experiencing only the comic. Not only is the storytelling disjointed, with locations switched haphazardly and with little explanation between events, but the comic does not mesh fully with the events as told in the novelization and the video game.
Thankfully, Shadows of the Empire boasts some fantastic artwork. In fact, it’s the best in the entire omnibus. The only problem with it is that it is sometimes hard to tell what is happening in certain panels. The story contains very little narration, and relies too heavily on just the visual aspect to portray the action that is happening. Don’t be surprised if the confusion pulls you out of the story.
Despite the major lack of Dash Rendar in the comic adaptation, Shadows of the Empire really provides a great look at both new and underutilized characters and organizations from the Star Wars universe. Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron, for example, get some of the best action sequences in the entire story. Wrenga Jixton, who also appears in Omnibus: Early Victories, has a great supporting role in this story that fans will enjoy. Prince Xizor is another great addition, as a creepy manipulator who always seems one step ahead, but both Black Sun and Xizor’s assistant, Guri, lacked significant exposure.
Shadows of the Empire is something that every Star Wars fan should experience. There may not be a sense of urgency in the story, and most of the plots lack impact because the outcomes have already been revealed in Return of the Jedi, but that doesn’t stop the story from simply being fun. It’s a bit off-the-wall at times, likely from its breakneck pace, but fans that choose to skip this story are doing themselves a great disservice.
Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand:
Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand thrusts Mara Jade, an Imperial assassin, eventual wife of Luke Skywalker and one of the most popular Expanded Universe characters, into the lead role. For newcomers to Mara Jade, this story really does a great job of introducing her character and informing the reader of the kind of character she is. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather bland.
Make no mistake, Mara Jade is a great character and she shines in this story, written by Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole. Taking place as Return of the Jedi finishes, readers will get a glimpse of the life of Mara Jade both before and after the fall of the Empire. The story hinges on Mara Jade’s final mission, and the story slowly turns from being a simple tale of carrying out unfinished business to a more complex tale of self-discovery. Despite being an Imperial assassin, Mara Jade is strictly a protagonist in this story. Sure, she may have some pro-Imperial thoughts from time to time, but the bulk of her story is about hunting down a crime lord. For someone raised and trained by Emperor Palpatine, she comes across a little too heroic here. As far as storylines go, this is fairly uninspired fare, and even the use of Mara Jade as the titular character can only do so much. Still, fans of both the films and Expanded Universe will be glad to know that this story is rife with nods to Star Wars lore. Not only do the film characters appear, but Ysanne Isard, Sate Pestage and even the Black Sun organization do too.
In terms of style, the artwork of Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand is quite good. It is not as crisp and detailed as what readers would find in Shadows of the Empire, but it does not detract from the story. The biggest flaw is that the story relies heavily on narration, sometimes from Mara and sometimes from an omniscient narrator. It often detracts not only from the story being told through the images, but from the dialogue in the same panels as well.
Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand is really meant for two audiences: fans of Mara Jade, and newcomers to the character. While there’s certainly plenty to like here, it is not enough to overcome a banal story.
Shadows of the Empire: Evolution
Shadows of the Empire: Evolution is an obvious cash-in, as the title blatantly suggests. Make no mistake, there is nothing “evolved” about this story. It tells the continued story of Guri, a human replica droid introduced in Shadows of the Empire. Of all the loose ends in the original story, Guri was far from the most interesting. In fact, her character was hardly utilized in the comic adaptation of Shadows of the Empire. In this story, though, Guri wants to permanently alter her programming. Throughout this tale, it always seems as though Guri is on the cusp of becoming a truly intriguing character. After all, her background alone makes her very interesting to learn more about. Sadly, she never lives up to that potential.
This story is also home to some of the most atrocious artwork found in Star Wars comics. It is both bland and featureless, and it comes across very ugly. Unlike the previous stories found in this omnibus, Evolutions is also a very quick read. The story contains far too little dialogue, with most of the pages simply sequential artwork that really does nothing to further the story. There is also an abundance of flashbacks, which are shown in colorless tones and somehow make the artwork even uglier. Sadly, these flashbacks, without dialogue, often refer to events from Shadows of the Empire that were never even shown in the original comic.
The heroes from the classic films, including Luke, Leia, Han, Lando and the droids, all appear in a role that was clearly created for the sole purpose of shoehorning the characters in. Not only does their subplot serve no overall purpose, but the characters are written as juvenile comic relief. Readers will likely cringe at their portrayal, especially Han and Leia. There are a few villains too, but they are all unmemorable throwaway characters that, like most of the story, do nothing to further the plot. The only saving grace of the story is the surprise ending, which is both unexpected and also serves as a reminder of the kind of story that Evolutions could have been.
Shadows of the Empire: Evolutions is exactly what Star Wars fans should steer clear of. This is an awful cash grab, with soulless art and a dull plot to match. Despite billing itself as a sequel to the well-received Shadows of the Empire, this is a story with almost no redeeming qualities.
Make no mistake; the purchase of a Dark Horse omnibus collection should only ever come down to the content that is inside of it. In terms of format, the omnibus is unparalleled. It’s a sturdy paperback that is slightly smaller than a hardback novel. It’s very portable, with enough pages (averaging around 400 pages per omnibus) to make it feel like you’re really getting the maximum value for your hard-earned money. This isn’t a skinny, flimsy trade paperback. This is truly a graphic novel. Our omnibus reviews are meant only to inform potential readers of the content they will be experiencing in any given graphic novel, and to guide readers to the content that they will enjoy the most.
Reviewed by Chris Carey
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