By Greg Rucka, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa
In 1977 the world was changed forever with the release of the world’s first blockbuster film, Star Wars: A New Hope. The massive success of Star Wars led to the birth of legitimate merchandising and tie-in material that helped cement the film as legitimate franchise IP. One of the first iterations of this expanded universe came in the form of comic books, published by Marvel from 1977 to 1986. Now, nearly 40 years later, Star Wars is set to take the world by storm for a third time with Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December. Force Awakens marks the definitive end of the Lucas-controlled era of Star Wars, the cementing of the Disney take over, the launching point for a whole new film series, and the chance for Star Wars to make-up a lot of the ground it lost during the prequel era. It’s another major moment for the franchise and, as befits the ironic nature of history, Marvel Comics is here once again to make comics out of it.
With such a massive amount of gravitas and a major pedigree to adhere to there’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of Star Wars: Shattered Empire. It’s plainly clear that Marvel is aware of the weight of expectation around the comic too, hiring well-regarded comics author Greg Rucka to do the writing and even adding a “Journey to Star Wars: Force Awakens” title banner to the book. Marvel have always afforded their Star Wars license with a healthy amount of respect, tapping major talents like Mark Waid and Jason Aaron to write their various minis. The point is, Marvel clearly understands the importance of Star Wars: Shattered Empire and really wants this book to be viewed as a major aspect of their Star Wars line. All of which only serves to reinforce that Star Wars: Shattered Empire is just kind of mediocre and serviceable.
Though the comic opens on the Battle of Endor the general focus of the story is on its aftermath, the rebel celebration, and moving on to the next major rebel assault against the Empire. We see all these events through new character Shara, a female fighter pilot and member of Green Squadron. Shara is the dull empty center at the heart of Shattered Empires’s many problems. Even making allowances for this being a first issue, she’s woefully underdeveloped and what we do know of her character isn’t very engaging. What’s worse, she’s horribly positioned as someone for us to view the post-Emperor rebellion through. Rather than being a frontline soldier impacted by decisions she’s not immediately aware of, allowing for a sense of mystery and providing a new take on the rebellion, she’s constantly at the front lines of major battles essentially by accident. Additionally the setting of Endor’s immediate aftermath is pretty poorly chosen because so much of this issue is covering old ground. We spend over half the issue just seeing the destruction of Death Star 2 and the celebration on Endor only through the eyes of a less interesting protagonist. The new segment we do see, a rebel raid on the last remaining imperial base on Endor, is so poorly staged to lack any kind of interesting action beats while the characters are so thin there’s no tension to the fighting.
The artwork is actually pretty bad. The panels always look uncomfortably cramped with no balance to the detail or even centering to the poses. The space battles are incredibly hard to follow given how much is thrown on the page in the hope that you’ll follow along and the same problem plagues the crowd shots during the celebration. Additionally, artist Marco Checchetto seems to have a real problem with drawing faces, especially on Shara. For some reason she’s always drawn with the ace of mild anxiety regardless of whatever emotion she’s meant to be portraying. Andres Mossa’s color work is good, but it’s like throwing glitter on garbage and expecting it to sparkle, it can only do so much with what’s already on the page.
The most baffling thing about Shattered Empire is that there really doesn’t seem to be a good reason to read it. Despite the Star Wars: Force Awakens banner overhead there’s really nothing in the comic that has anything to do with Force Awakens. It’s not even like there’s a possibility future issues will tie into Force Awakens as the events of Shattered Empire pre-date the film by more than 20 years. Putting the film connection aside there is no shortage of Star Wars EU material dealing with the fate of the Empire post-Endor and a lot of it represents the best of the extended universe canon. Any Star Wars EU story will ultimately end up compared to the standard of quality that is the Thrawn trilogy, but Shattered Empire specifically demands that comparison while lacking anything that could conceivably compete. Greg Rucka has made a career out of his glacial pacing, so it’s possible Shattered Empire is building to more engaging stories, but even if it is that doesn’t change the fact this first issue is very disappointing.