Disney have fleshed out a lot of gaps in Star Wars canon since purchasing Lucasfilm and wiping out the old EU, but a big one still remains: what happened between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. While the Mouse House's focus has largely been on the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, they've also set a number of stories between Star Wars Episodes IV & V too. Now, they're turning greater attention towards the time from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens, such as upcoming Disney+ series The Mandalorian. But the empty space separating the middle and final installments of the Original Trilogy remains.
In a sense, it's easy to see why this might not be the most pressing of Disney's concerns. From the events of The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke duels Vader, discovers the truth, and Han Solo is taken away in carbonite, to Return of the Jedi, where Luke returns to rescue Han, is only one year. That's compared to gaps such as 19 years between Star Wars Episodes III & IV, or over 30 years between VI & VII. There's not quite as much detail to fill in.
Still, it is an important period in Star Wars history, especially considering how much more powerful Luke becomes between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Lucasfilm did once have this setting mapped out in detail, with great new characters to boot, but just how much is left in new Star Wars canon?
What Happened In Star Wars Legends: Shadows Of The Empire
Back in the 1990s, before George Lucas started making the prequels but after interest in the saga had been reinvigorated by the burgeoning Expanded Universe, Lucasfilm set out to create what was essentially a story with the scope of a Star Wars movie, but without actually having to make a film. The multimedia project, which encompassed video games, novels, comic books, trading cards, and much more, was designed to fill in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This was Shadows of the Empire, one of the most famous stories in the EU, now Legends.
The main core of the narrative comes from the eponymous novel, written by Steve Perry. It's here we find out a lot about what Luke and Leia were up to between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The story is centered around the search for Han, which drives Leia's arc in particular. In the aftermath of his capture, Luke and Leia put together a team to help track down Boba Fett and rescue Han, which obviously doesn't work, since Han's salvation then becomes the opening of Return of the Jedi. It's here, too, that Luke builds his green lightsaber, using instructions found in Ben Kenobi's hut and purchasing most materials from Mos Eisley. He wasn't able to procure a kyber crystal, however, and instead had to make his own synthetic version.
The rescue attempt includes the likes of Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and Wedge Antilles, but it's best remembered for introducing fans to Dash Rendar, a new character who served to fill in the rogueish gap left by Han's absence. Rendar, a veteran of the Battle of Hoth, is an ace pilot with his own ship, The Outrider, a trigger-happy gunslinger, and a wisecracker, so needless to say he proved a firm fan-favorite. He's included in the novel, but came into his own as the playable protagonist of the Shadows of the Empire video game, which takes place concurrently with the other media. There, you control Dash first on Hoth, and then in subsequent chapters involving tracking bounty hunters IG-88 and Boba Fett to rescue Han, going to save Luke from a swoop bike gang, and eventually having to help rescue Princess Leia from Prince Xizor.
Who is Prince Xizor? He serves as the villain of the piece, and a rival to Darth Vader for Emperor Palpatine's favor. Vader, knowing that Luke will attempt to rescue Han, plans on capturing his son and again attempting to turn him to the Dark Side, but he also has to work with the Black Sun Syndicate, led by Xizor, to conclude the shipping for the Death Star plans. It's here that Xizor begins to plot a way to replace Vader as Palpatine's most trusted lieutenant, formulating a scheme to kill Luke and discredit Vader.
Xizor kidnaps Leia and takes her to his palace on Coruscant, setting the bait for Luke to come and rescue her. Which, of course, he does. Luke and the rest of his group succeed in freeing Leia, although not before Xizor attempts to make his own escape. This leads to a dogfight over the planet, with Xizor and, as far as those involved know, Dash being killed (although it's later revealed the latter did manage to survive the encounter by jumping to hyperspace). From there, Luke and Leia come up with their plan to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt, leading into Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars Canon: What Did Luke Do Between Empire & Jedi?
With Disney changing Star Wars canon, it meant fans had to say goodbye to Dash Rendar, Prince Xizor, the attempts at rescuing Han, and everything else that had happened during Shadows of the Empire, much like they did with so many other stories. While some of those have started to be replaced, however, there hasn't been a great deal so far to fill in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure, a junior novel written by Cecil Castellucci as part of the Journey to The Force Awakens series, takes place just before Star Wars Episode VII, but finds Leia recounting a mission she undertook between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It includes the discovery that the Empire is building a second Death Star and the formation of the plan that would eventually lead to the Battle of Endor. As part of this, Leia organizes and leads a decoy mission to spread false information about the Rebel Alliance's own tactics through the galaxy, drawing Imperial forces away from Endor, but at a huge cost to innocent life - the guilt of which weighs heavily on Leia. The story ends with Leia contacting Luke and discovering Han is on Tatooine, with the pair beginning to formulate a strategy.
Luke's story intersects with this somewhat, as he travels to the planet of Zastiga while onboard the ship The Redemption. He's there to greet Leia when she arrives, spending some time with her, Nien Nunb, and Wedge Antilles, before seeing her off and eventually departing himself. He then moved on to Kothlis, which is where he discovered Han's location and devised the plan to rescue him when Leia contacted him after the completion of her mission.
Meanwhile, the junior novel Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (the new, canon novelization of the movie), again confirms the specifics of how Luke constructed his green lightsaber. This sees Luke reaching out with the Force to discover how to build a lightsaber, before finding the remaining pieces he needed in Kenobi's hut, and then retreating to a cave to complete the work. The completion was shot for Return of the Jedi, although the scene itself ended up being deleted.
Most recently, the one-shot comic Age of Rebellion: Luke Skywalker 1 has followed the Star Wars hero after learning the truth about his father. This finds Luke on a Rebel mission to steal precious cargo, but most importantly it reveals a connection between Luke and Emperor Palpatine. Using the Force, the Emperor attempts to see into Luke's mind and try to sway him to the Dark Side, preying upon Luke's vulnerability and emotional state. Luke resists, but the temptation is there, leading to its further exploration in Return of the Jedi. One panel also reveals Luke has his green lightsaber at this point, meaning he had it at least a little while before the events of Return of the Jedi (and retconning the aforementioned Beware the Power of the Dark Side! too). It gives us more insight into Luke's actions and state of mind between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but there's still plenty to be filled out there in Star Wars canon.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019