The Star Wars Doldrums: 1984-1998

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Star Wars: Life After Return of the Jedi

I’ve been an avid Star Wars fan as long as I can remember. I’ve written before about how my folks took me to see Empire Strikes Back in the theater when I was just a few weeks old. I can’t remember a time in my life without Star Wars, but there were certainly some lean years. Today we’ll look at the major Star Wars events that took place between the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Phantom Menace in 1999.

1983 – 1995: The Dark Times

Anomaly

 

1983 – Return of the Jedi was released in theaters, completing the trilogy, and setting the Box Office on fire yet again. Audiences reveled at new villains like Jabba the Hutt, gaped in awe at the spellbinding cinematography of the final fight scene, and cheered when Vader redeemed himself. Some people thought the ewoks were lame, but hey, you can’t please everyone. I like ewoks. More on that soon.

1984 – Riding the wave that Return of the Jedi left in its wake, the good folks at Lucasfilm cobbled together a made-for-tv movie called ‘Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. It’s a cute little story about a family who wreck their ship on Endor, the parents and kids are separated, and they fight a Henson-esque baddie to win the day and reunite the family. D’awww.Star Wars Battle For Endor1985 – If one made-for-tv Ewok movie is good…two is even better!  Right?  Well, we got one.  Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and the cute curly-haired girl Cindel is in this one too!  Oh…looks like the rest of her family gets killed early on. That’s a bummer. But she meets a few new friends and they defeat some sort of shapechanger witch and she gets to leave Endor with a new, somewhat crusty, father figure. More D’awwww.  Getting a bit tired of Ewoks now. But that’s not the end of the Ewok saga, since ’85 also saw the start of both the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series. Neither of which are really worth mentioning other than the fact that they exist, and were one of the ONLY things happening in the Star Wars Universe.  Ready for the saddest part?  Kenner released their last Star Wars action figures this year.  That one hit me right in the feels.  Those were my favorite toys growing up…even if I didn’t have the Ewok village playset like SOME people did…*coff*… JEN!Star Tours1987 – While not a lot happened in this year, the two things that did had pretty long lasting effects.  Star Tours opens at Disneyworld, giving fans a new way to enjoy an interactive Star Wars experience…also starting a relationship between Lucas and the Mouse House that seemed to pay off dividends a few decades later.  Also, the Star Wars RPG by West End games was released.  If you never played this tabletop RPG, all I have to say to you is get a LOT of six-sided dice.  No…like way more.  Now triple that number.  Just to get started. But it was a Star Wars RPG, so nerds rejoiced.  I didn’t get into this until WAY later (1998), but this is when it startedThrawn Trilogy1991 – Heir to the Empire was released.  While the Star Wars Extended Universe had already begun in the world of Comics, this was the first novel to be released to a ravenous public eager to sink their teeth into anything Star Wars related.  Not only was it the first (Nobody counts Splinter of the Mind’s eye), but it set a high bar for storytelling, introduction of new characters, the interactions of those new characters with the existing cast, and long lasting ramifications.  The Luke/Mara and Han/Leia/Twins stories introduced here were added to and molded by several other authors over the next two decades before the whole Expanded Universe was relegated to the “Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t…we’re not telling…Legends” system that has now been put into place with the coming of Episode VII.

1992 – Dark Force Rising was released, the second part of the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn.  It’s a good book and all…but that was really all that happened.  The WHOLE year.  

1993 – The Last Command was released, completing the Thrawn trilogy with as strong a finish as it started.  But it seems like the powers that be were noticing that there was a market out there hungry for more Star Wars, as this was also the year that The Truce at Bakura was released.  This marked the start of a bombardment of books upon the Star Wars faithful…not all of which hit the high water mark set by Zahn and the Thrawn trilogy.  In fact…let’s just say most fell way short.Star Wars EU1994 – The Courtship of Princess Leia, The Crystal Star and the Jedi Academy trilogy: Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the force were released.  Having just finished re-reading Courtship, I must say that there are parts of it that seem inspired, while other parts seem contrived.  I am not quite sure exactly how I feel about Courtship, but it certainly didn’t reach the peaks of the Thrawn trilogy.  The Jedi Academy trilogy was the first Star Wars book series I actually purchased and read as a young man.  So this was my personal introduction into the Expanded Universe, and as such, holds that special place in my heart, though re-reading it can be a little cringeworthy at times.  Because Rybets.  Star Wars RPG1995 – MORE BOOKS!  The Han Solo trilogy: Ambush at Corellia, Assault at Selonia, and Showdown at Centerpoint, Children of the Jedi, Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina, and Darksaber were all published.  These are more hit and miss books, but my favorite from this bunch is Tales.  It’s a collection of short stories featuring all the different aliens who get just a hint of screen time in the Cantina, and some are just unique and memorable.  The story of Wuher the bartender stands out in my memory: he stole the still-smoking body of Greedo to put his corpse into a droid that would basically ‘juice’ him so Wuher could use ‘essence of Greedo’ to concoct the perfect drink for Jabba, while also learning the value of droids.  Yuk.  I also didn’t make any of that up.  The Dark Empire II trade paperback was also released, as was the game Dark Forces for the PC.  Another great thing to happen in ’95 was the return of Star Wars toys!  Kenner had been bought by Hasbro, but the Kenner name was still used for the Power of the Force action figures, which were known for being bigger and buffer versions of our heroes.Star Wars action figureHey, it was the steroid era.  But the thing that had the biggest impact on me this year was the release of the Star Wars CCG.  This was Star Wars response to Magic the Gathering, and my brother and I both spent every spare penny we had buying packs of these cards.  Sadly for us, the gameplay is nowhere near as good as Magic, and after the start of the new Millennium we both abandoned the game and started buying Magic cards.  We both can only imagine what our Magic collection would be like had we not dropped an insane amount of money on an inferior game.  Sidenote: we still play Star Wars CCG once every two years.  A single match is an all-day event.

1996 – 1999: Picking up SteamStar Wars Shadows of the Empire1996 – Once we hit ’96 we really started to ramp up toward the fever pitch of Star Wars madness that was 1999 and the release of The Phantom Menace.  My brother and I collected CCG cards from the releases of A New Hope and Hoth, again spending way too much money on these cards.  The books that were released this year include the Black Fleet Trilogy: Before the Storm, Shield of Lies, The New Rebellion and two more ‘Tales’ books, Tales from Jabba’s palace, and Tales of the Bounty Hunters.  This is also the year the X-wing books first started: Rogue Squadron, Wedge’s gamble, Krytos trap, Tyrant’s test, but perhaps the most important book released in ’96 was Shadows of the Empire.  Why was that so important?  Because it was also one of the first games released with the new ‘must have’ game system, the N64.  After the Gamecube failed to ‘wow,’ Nintendo came back with a vengeance and released this epic system that holds dear memories for any gamer who lived through those times.  For more on that listen to the fantastic Anomaly podcast about 90’s gaming here.  

Between Shadows of the Empire, 007 Goldeneye, and Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, it’s frankly amazing that I did any schoolwork in college.  Dark Forces was also released for something called Playstation…but who really remembers that?Dark Forces1997 – Uncle George stepped the intensity of Star Wars fever up to eleven with the release of the Star Wars Special Edition.  This gave a whole new generation a chance to see Star Wars movies on the big screen, with enhanced sound and picture quality.  And he even threw in some new scenes and backround stuff with the advent of this new Computer Graphics technology!  How cool!  I loved the concept, and was just so excited to get to see Star Wars in a theater.  Star Wars was released in January, Empire came out in February, and Jedi was out in March.  This was really the first time we got something from Uncle George that made us go…huh?  Really?  Han would just step on Jabba’s tail right then?  As he’s basically pleading for his life and surrounded by bounty hunters?  WTF George?  And on a personal note, I managed to stop spending money on CCG cards long enough to go on my first date to see Return of the Jedi.  Books released this year included X-wing: Bacta War, The Paradise Snare, Planet of Twilight, Hutt Gambit, and Specter of the Past, which was notable since it was the first time Timothy Zahn returned to Star Wars after the Thrawn trilogy.  In the CCG the Dagobah and Cloud City expansions were released, introducing Jedi Tests and Objectives which soon came to dominate the game.  And one last notable release happened, that being X-wing Vs. Tie Fighter for PC.  Astute readers will note that I didn’t mention when the game X-wing was released, nor did I mention when Tie Fighter came out.  Those were ok.  X-wing vs Tie Fighter took what was good about those games, an immersive experience piloting the iconic crafts of the Star Wars universe, and hit it with a hammer made of pure awesome.  The dogfighting in this game still holds up today.

1998 – Like a true master, once the public had been whipped into a frothing mass of anticipation for The Phantom Menace, ’98 was a year where things slowed down and he let the tension build.  Sure, the CCG continued to release new cards for me to spend money on instead of going out on more dates with the Special Edition set and also Jabba’s Palace.  Books continuing the X-wing saga were released with X-wing: Wraith squadron, and X-wing: Iron Fist, plus the continuing adventures of Corran Horn, a character introduced in the X-wing series, who got his own book called I, Jedi.  Other books like Rebel Dawn, Mandalorian Armor, and Slave Ship took a back seat to the fact that Timothy Zahn released Vision of the Future.  The PC got two new games: Star Wars Rebellion and Rogue Squadron.Star Wars Episode 11999 – Otherwise known as ‘The year you couldn’t swing a Gundark without hitting a picture of Darth Maul’.  In the realm of literature, the X-wing series continued with X-wing Solo Command, X-wing: Isard’s Revenge, X-wing: Isard’s Revenge, plus a book that would be a huge game-changer for the Expanded Universe, Vector Prime, which started the New Jedi Order series, introduced the Yuuzhan Vong and *spoiler alert* FRACKING KILLED CHEWBACCA.  Not that I’m still upset over that or anything.  Celebration I took place in Denver, The Phantom Menace, and Podracer games for N64 came out, and in the CCG the Endor expansion was released.  But really, the drought was officially over on May 19th 1999 when moviegoers were shocked and amazed by the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  And if you want to hear what the Anomaly ladies thought of THAT particular film adventure, you can click here.

Once Phantom Menace dropped, that was the end of anything resembling ‘lean’ years for Star Wars fans.  We’ve been treated to dozens of books, some of which are even worth reading.  For more on those, tune in to the Star Wars Stacks podcast featuring a certain Jen we all know.  There have been toys galore, comics, games, t-shirts and other apparel, cups, sheets, and they even brought back the Underoos!Star Wars UnderoosNoah Westerfield has a LOT of Star Wars merch in his house.  He sleeps under a Star Wars blanket and sadly…he doesn’t have the Underoos…but only because they don’t come in his size.  He’d totally rock the Underoos.

If you like this article, you may also like: The Force Awakes The Child Within Me, I can feel it in the Force, and The Women of Star Wars

About the Author

Noah
NoahContributor/ Ninja
Noah Westerfield knows that the ninja walks the fine line between hero and villain. That’s why he loves them both.
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About the Author:

Believer, wife, mom, designer, voice actress, podcast host…Anomaly. Jen is one of the founding co-hosts of Anomaly. She introduced Angela to Podcasts in 2006, after stumbling upon Treks In Sci-Fi. They became involved in the Trek SF forum and were encouraged by the host (and now good friend) Rico Dosti, to start their own show. They did in 2007 with a little help from their friends and have never looked back. :)

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