Years before General Leia sent Poe Dameron to search for traces of her self-exiled brother, Luke Skywalker, the reptilian criminal underlord, Prince Xizor, hassled Leia in every way imaginable. But could Xizor have appeared in a Star Wars film? Probably not, though his specter would have loomed large if The Force Awakens had been called by an early, different title: Shadow of the Empire.
On January 25, Lucasfilm Story Group guru Pablo Hidalgo responded to a question on Twitter about alternate titles for The Force Awakens and revealed an early title — before J.J. Abrams was even signed-on to direct — was “Shadow of the Empire.” Longtime Star Wars fans will recognize this as being very similar to the 1996 multimedia event called Shadows of the Empire. Apparently, turning the shadows from plural to singular was all that was needed to make the title a possible contender. Though, it stands to reason the fan-association with Shadows of the Empire disqualified this title pretty early on in the process. Hidalgo has previously mentioned the singular “Shadow” on Twitter as far back as December 2015.
In 1996, Shadows of the Empire was all sorts of things: a six-issue Dark Horse Comics miniseries, an N64 game, a line of toys released by Kenner, a novel by Steve Perry, and even a soundtrack composed and conducted by Joel McNeely. In essence, it had all the trappings of being a new Star Wars movie, without actually being a movie. Taking place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the story of Shadows of the Empire focused on a reptile crime lord named Prince Xizor screwing all our heroes over. It also filled in all sorts of gaps. How did Leia get that bounty hunter armor? Did Boba Fett have any trouble moving the frozen Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt? Just how many Bothans died, exactly? All was explained in Shadows of the Empire.
Of course, the majority of these stories are currently removed from canon, including the series’s ersatz Han Solo, a character who pushed the Star Wars tradition of giving male characters porn star names to new lows: Dash Rednar. Still Dash’s ship — the Outrider (seriously!) — appeared in the special edition of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1997. A ship of the same class also showed up this season on Rebels.
If The Force Awakens had been called Shadow of the Empire, it would have hurt the film for sure. It also would have repeated the use of the word “Empire,” something The Last Jedi is doing by repeating the word “Jedi.” But the biggest question any hardcore fan would have had while watching was: Where’s Prince Xizor?