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Of Empires & Jedis : Star Wars in Audio
By Lance Eaton, August 2005

Revenge of the SithThe truest Star Wars aficionado not only knows all the minute details of the six movies, but can go into extensive explanations, histories, and genealogies of characters you never knew existed. Were you aware that two decades after Return of the Jedi, Chewbacca, the beloved Wookiee dies? Or that the Emperor survived the explosion of the second Death Star? Did you know that there were other Death Stars? In addition to the six movies, the Star Wars empire has grown to include hundreds of additional tales from a variety of media including television series, video games, books, comic books, and audiobooks.

Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye was the first book to further explore the Star Wars universe, shortly followed by a Han Solo trilogy and a Lando Calrissian trilogy. Though some fans found these of interest, the real birth of the expanded universe (meaning storylines created and maintained outside the movies) came in the early 1990s with Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy - which according to the timeline occurred five years after Return of the Jedi. The success of this series sparked a new empire of books, and the publication of over a hundred Star Wars novels. And of course many of these were in turn spun into audiobooks.

Phantom MenaceStar Wars audiobooks take on three forms. The most common is the abridgement. Typically three hours (though some recent titles have upped it to five or six), these productions include some background music (often scores from the original trilogy) and occasional sound effects like a swooping X-Wing or igniting lightsaber. The second format is the unabridged. These are particularly rare, having only emerged with the book publication of The Phantom Menace. However, with the growing popularity of audiobooks, more unabridged versions are being produced.

The third and most spectacular form of Star Wars audiobooks is the dramatization. The initial such production came shortly after the first trilogy as NPR (U.S. National Public Radio) episodes that are still very popular today. The more interesting dramatizations are four productions released following the Thrawn trilogy. As the books became popular, Dark Horse Comics ran four miniseries that started a revival of Star Wars comic books. Two of these dealt with the Dark Lords of Sith, thousands of years before the events of Star Wars. The other two, Dark Empire I and Dark Empire II take place shortly after the events of the Thrawn trilogy.

Dark Empire IIn Dark Empire I, the Rebel Alliance has had crushing defeats by a contingent of Imperial forces under what everyone believes to be a new leader but is in fact Emperor Palpatine. Having rejuvenated himself through cloning, he now strives to restore his empire. After reclaiming Coruscant, he uses the Force to summon Luke Skywalker, who yields to the request and ultimately takes a step towards the Dark Side. In Nal Hutta, Han and Leia narrowly avoid being captured by bounty hunters sent after Jabba the Hutt's assassination. Managing to get a ship to Coruscant, they hope to rescue Luke. But does Luke want or need rescuing?

The action-packed story harkens back to the original trilogy. With space battles, lightsaber duels, and those famous taglines from our favorite characters, Dark Empire I leaves listeners anxious for more. With the exception of Lando Calrissian (who is played by Billy Dee Williams himself), the other character voices are not the originals but work well all the same - except for Boba Fett whose voice does not portray the adept bounty hunter that fans love. However, the dramatization does its job well enough that if a listener closes their eyes, they have no trouble envisioning this fantastic tale.

Dark Empire IIDark Empire II begins soon after the end of Dark Empire I. I don't want to go into too many details for fear of spoilers, but the Empire is still wreaking havoc on the Rebel Alliance and it's become clear that Jedi Knights must return if the Alliance is going to succeed. While the Dark Jedi, trained by the Emperor himself, gather on Byss to further their attack, Leia and Han return to Nal Hutta to find an old woman who might hold the key to the future of the Jedi, while still avoiding bounty hunters and the ubiquitous Imperial forces.

The conclusion of Dark Empire II is a semi-conclusion. The full ending comes in the form of Empire's End, a hard-to-find graphic novel (and even harder to find audio production) that shows what ultimately happens to the remnants of the Dark Jedi and the Emperor.

It comes as no surprise that Highbridge Audio has chosen to re-release these titles at this time. Fans of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith are looking for more to satiate their fascination with the Force. Dark Empire I and Dark Empire II will certainly satisfy that hunger and, if they are popular enough, we might see new dramatizations released. If so, I'll be lining up to listen.
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