Journey to the Force Awakens – Shattered Empire, a four issue comic mini-series written by Greg Rucka (Smuggler’s Run) follows A-Wing pilot Shara Bey and her husband Kes Dameron, a Pathfinder specforce commando, through the months following the Battle of Endor. The comic achieves a surprisingly grand scale in just four issues. It tackles many themes and questions – honor, duty, and the personal cost of war among them – that are typically addressed in lengthier novels or films. It is an incredible piece of work. I’ve spoken highly of Princess Leia and Lando here on STAR WORDS before but Shattered Empire surpasses them both as an artistic achievement.
Accompanying Rucka on this odyssey is a small collective of artists – Marco Chechetto took the lead and was featured in all four issues; playing backup were Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso. Their work on Shattered Empire cannot be overstated. The book succeeds because the art and prose are knit together seamlessly, supporting one another and creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Chechetto has an uncanny ability to convey complex emotions in the characters he draws. The range of emotions Shara displays can be heartbreaking at times. The dialogue is fairly minimal at times with the emotion of the drawn characters carrying the narrative.
The series begins in the midst of the Battle of Endor. It is through this familiar lens we are introduced to Shara Bey and Kes Dameron. We watch as they are reunited during the celebration and find solace in one another’s company. The couple is rudely awakened (quite literally) to the reality of ongoing war when Kes is called back into duty the following morning. The next three issues follow the two of them through three months of service after the grand victory for the Rebellion. Shara’s duty crosses her path with those of the heroes of the Rebellion – Leia Organa, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, and Lando Calrissian. Along the way she struggles with her sense of duty, the guilt of leaving the military with war yet to be fought, and, at times, the guilt of staying active while her son, Poe, grows up without parents.
Part of Shara and Kes’ journeys is the fight against the various horrific contingencies Emperor Palpatine left in place. Handled poorly, the introduction of a new superweapon is cheesy and trite. Rucka managed it deftly. The Imperial superweapon feels appropriate for Star Wars and brings a wonderful sense of grandeur found in the best space opera.
The most surprising thing about Shattered Empire is the romance. Following Shara and Kes as they are torn apart and reunited multiple times over the course of the series gives us a clear view of them as a couple. They are passionately in love despite bouncing across the galaxy along different paths. It’s refreshing to see that in a Star Wars narrative. Happily married couples don’t feature prominently in the films – the closest we come is uncle Owen and aunt Beru, and that quickly ends in tragedy. The romance between Kes and Shara is also the most affecting layer in the narrative. The incredible emotionality of the art I mention above is most evident with these two.
It’s True. All of it.
Journey to the Force Awakens, as a publishing event, is meant to tie the original trilogy into the events of The Force Awakens and the subsequent Star Wars saga films. Shattered Empire certainly does this. It establishes that Luke is at peace with himself following Endor. He redeemed his father and has become a Jedi. In an interview, Rucka compared Luke in Shattered Empire to Qui-Gonn Jinn: at peace with himself and the universe, a man who knows his position in the galaxy, and has grokked himself in fullness. We learn that Shara and Kes are Poe Dameron’s parents and that he was born sometime before the Battle of Endor. This certainly explains his sense of duty and patriotism mentioned in Moving Target.
Speaking of Moving Target, Rucka references a ton of other JttFA material in these four issues. There are nods to his own work on Smuggler’s Run, as well as a brief nod to Nien Nunb’s ship from Moving Target. Just like every other novel in the JttFA line, there is at least one abednedo character (Ello Asty, an abednedo X-Wing pilot with the Resistance, will appear in The Force Awakens) and we see Abednedo, the planet, referenced. Not to mention that the events of the series all take place leading up to Aftermath.
Yet Shattered Empire goes one step further and ties everything back to the prequel trilogy, as well. Shara accompanies Leia on a diplomatic mission to Naboo – just as it comes under apocalyptic attack from Imperial remnants because the Emperor left instructions to have it scoured. The Naboo Royal N-1 starfighters make their first canonical appearance since The Phantom Menace. Shara’s adventure with Luke is an attempt to recover valuable artifacts the Emperor plundered from the Jedi temple on Coruscant.
There are plenty of hints and clues to the disposition of the galaxy in The Force Awakens scattered throughout Shattered Empire. More than any other JttFA title, I found it impossible not to speculate to myself what it all means and how this will shape the galaxy far, far away. As a tie-in piece, Shattered Empire is impressive for the sheer number of ties it has. I’m certain Rucka’s experience with a shared narrative in comics means he is an old hand at this sort of reference.
I give Shattered Empire an enthusiastic five stars.