There isn’t very much time remaining until The Force Awakens finally hits the theaters, but for those who are still impatient and need to fill their time with some Star Wars, I might recommend a recent comic mini-series, Shattered Empire.
Shattered Empire is a part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series, which includes newly published books and comics set between Episodes VI and VII. They are also part of the new official canon and are meant to create a transition from the events of the old trilogy towards the newest films. The idea is to sketch out the background for the film story, to show the aftermath of the Battle of Endor and what state did the Galaxy find itself in during the thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
The comic focuses only on the period shortly after the Battle of Endor. In fact, it begins right at the eve of the battle, and in the first comic (it was published as series of four) we catch a glimpse of some of the familiar scenes from the perspective of the main heroine, an A-wing pilot. Her name is Shara Bey, although we first get to know her by her call sign Green Four. As a character, she is built a lot around the Leia-archetype of Star Wars active female, but it is done so that it evokes similar feelings but it is not purely a copy of what we have seen before. A very important part of her story is her relationship with her husband, also a Rebel fighter, but unlike her, a ground trooper. Both of them are sent to different missions, and it is obvious that even with Rebel victory, the uncertainty about each other’s fate makes the final celebration somewhat different from how we see it in the films. There is one more reason why Shara Bey’s husband is worth mentioning. It is not that much of a spoiler, because we learn fairly early in the comic that his name is Kas Dameron. I guess most of you have already made the connection – we are looking at the parents of one of The Force Awakens‘ main characters, Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac.
The story spins off from the realisation that a battle won does not win the whole war. The Empire fights back, and the propaganda tries to suppress the rumours of the Emperor’s death. There are contingency plans set up by him long time ago which are meant to prevent the Rebellion from savouring their victory for very long. Lieutenant Shara Bey takes part in missions that are meant to battle this, of course. To be perfectly honest, though, this isn’t a series of linear stories which would leave you with a conclusion like, “Hooray, the Empire has been defeated at last”. The war continues at the end of the last issue just as it did in the beginning. But what we see is more like the tale of Shara Bey, her struggles and that of her family, and also her encounters with the Skywalker family members, and through her eyes we see how they tackle the uncertain future post-Endor.
What are the best things about Shattered Empire, then? I really like the main characters and it is nice that the lead protagonist just happens to be a female without falling into any awful stereotype or without it feeling forced in any way (in fact, female characters are given a pretty good amount of space, crowned with – maybe perhaps even a bit over-the-top – an epic trio of Rebel heroines taking on a Star Destroyer in their stellar hour). The background characters, including some of the film characters like Luke or Han or Lando, are not given as much space, although it is of course nice to see them and they act in a way very close to their film portrayal. The one notable persona is Leia, who gets much more space than any of the others.
What is the best part of the comic, however, is in my opinion the way it shows the realism of rebel soldiers’ life when there is still more to fight for and they cannot settle down with their families the way they would like to, and they constantly fear for their loved ones. This is delivered very suggestively and it does not lack the emotional power. Otherwise, there are also some delightful small scenes or moments which are just memorable, such as the Duros commander (probably my favourite of the minor characters) jokingly flirting with the main character (but totally not the way you might imagine) or the most thrilling moment of all, Leia’s random “Force flashback” in the Naboo hangar.
And the negatives? I would say maybe the story is a bit too nonlinear, and maybe despite everything it could have been concluded with a more definite closure; some of its parts also feel a bit forced. Especially the fourth part does not really tie-in with the rest. Sometimes it feels like “we just had to show Luke Skywalker, but we did not know how to incorporate him, so we made up a random plot”. But that is all I have to complain about. Otherwise, it is fast-paced, and while I am not much of a comic book reader, I found the graphic style very good and beautifully done.