Today, Patrick and Andy are discussing Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire 1, originally released September 9th, 2015
“Star Wars is the saga of good vs. evil, divided into nine parts.”
-George Lucas, 1994
“It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.”
-George Lucas, 2012
Patrick: George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy is heavily influenced by just about every archetype-establishing institution in the book: westerns, serials, samurai stories, myths. They are clear stories of good vs. evil, strictly adhering to tenants of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. In 1977, that made those films the sum total of popular fiction to that point – a perfect distillation of the hero triumphing over forces of darkness. That’s an over simplification, of course: Taxi Driver came out the year before A New Hope, after all. But what Lucas did so well in his original film was channeling the simple, clear morality of popular fiction. Almost 40 years later and morality in popular fiction isn’t so clear – neither is the morality of war. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, two different Gulf Wars – today’s storytellers have a different responsibility to their audience than Lucas did. Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s Shattered Empire embraces this shift, focusing more on the insane fog of war surrounding the bit-players that supported the main heroes of the original trilogy.
Which isn’t to say that the creative doesn’t hold those heroes in high esteem. They clearly do: Phil Noto’s glorious cover features all of our heroes from Return of the Jedi, bathed in the warm orange glow of the victory bonfire on Endor. Their abilities and their moral victory and their certainty are unquestionable. Checchetto’s opening double-splash page paints a similar picture, giving up most of its real estate to the one-on-one lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader.
That couldn’t be a much clearer demonstration of how straightforward the conflict was for Luke in the climax of Jedi. It might be emotionally complicated, but the actual conflict is simple: two dudes with lightsabers, one red and one green just to color code that morality for y’all. These heroes are larger than life.
But those aren’t the heroes of Shattered Empire. We start by following Shara Bey, a Rebel pilot using the call sign Green Four, during the Assault on the Second Death Star. She’s not present for final run on the Death Star’s core, because her goals cannot be so obvious. Instead, she provides support to her squad-mates, scoring little victories here and there. When Lando takes his team into the body of the Death Star, Shara checks in just to make sure Green Group shouldn’t follow them in. Green Leader’s response is basically a thesis statement for the series:
“Negative. We’ll do the work, let them have the glory.”
Both Rucka and Checcetto deploy an absurd amount of detail to color in this battle, but it’s almost impossible to make sense of it all. Most of Green Group’s dialogue over their coms is technical to a point that readers can’t possibly be expected to understand any of it. Like, I can’t begin to imagine what “coming over to one-one by seven” could mean, but I recognize it as highly specialized space-warfare-talk. Checcetto mimics that impenetrable level of detail in his drawings of the ships locked in combat. I don’t know if there’s some computer 3D rendering at play here, but the geometry of these ships is just astounding as every little angle and line is clearly articulated. Of course, getting that much detail doesn’t help make any more sense of what’s happening – in fact, it’s overwhelming.
When Shara does meet up with one of our classic Star Wars heroes, she almost fires on the Imperial shuttle on which Luke was escaping with Darth Vader’s body. This is a moment of explicit confusion – Shara is effected by the fog of war in a way that Luke never is. We don’t need the story of how Luke navigated a Death Star full of panicking Storm Troopers, dragging their leader’s body, to find an escape vessel. He made it because of course we was going to make it. The likelihood of Shara’s victory isn’t quite so clear, but then neither are the terms for that victory.
When Shara touches down on Endor to join in the celebration, she seeks out her husband, a sergeant in Han Solo’s strikeforce team named Kes Dameron. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Shara has to ask around to get information about his whereabouts, and all the while, Rucka fills the pages with snippets of unrelated conversation from Rebels who can’t believe they’ve won the war. Again, this is overwhelming to the reader, perfectly putting us in Shara’s frame of mind. Pointedly, she finally gets information about her husband by talking to Han Solo, who has already been reunited with his buddy Lando Calrissian. In fact, it seems like they’ve been hanging out long enough to be ribbing each other and having a great time.
Think about that for a second: Kes was supporting Han and Shara was supporting Lando, but while Han and Lando’s reunion is a foregone conclusion, Shara has to work and worry her way through to an analogous conclusion.
Andy, I’ve burned through my word count and I haven’t even made it to the lover’s reunion! What do you think the tone of this series says about the future of Star Wars? Does it still feel like Star Wars if we’re taking our eyes off the big main heroes and turning to the grunts? And is there room for so much confusion and uncertainty in Star Wars? For my money – it brings the franchise more in-line with where popular fiction is right now. A strong sense of “what happens next?” pervades this issue, and I couldn’t be more excited to have that question answered.
Andy: Every time a new detail reaches reaches my ear regarding JJ Abrams newest Star Wars entry, The Force Awakens, I become a rabid emotional mess. Occasionally, my mind will wander to the moment on December 18th, right after the trailers and right before the film starts. There is so much hope and so much anticipation for this film, I am almost more excited for that moment when the expectations come right up to the cruel edge of reality, as I am for the film itself. Needless to say, following the name drop of “Dameron,” in this issue (implying the parents of of Poe Dameron, Oscar Isaac’s new character in TFA), I shrieked and burst into shaking tears of joy on my public transit commute home.
Journey to Star Wars: the Force Awakens – Shattered Empire, is our best hope for a new era and a new life in the Star Wars universe. As our first foray beyond the Battle of Endor (Well, really second (RIP Admiral Thrawn)), I was blown away by the confident and breathtaking two page spread which launched us into this new issue. Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto instantly legitimize their new character, Shara Bey, by showing her deeply woven into the Battle of Endor. As she dodges TIE Fighter fire, her squadron comlink feed is put over panels depicting the major elements of Return of the Jedi’s finale. Though her life and specific story regarding the battle may be small compared to the grander conflicts of the force, or the strategic missions to dismantle the shield generator protecting the scaffolded specter of a second Death Star, the part she plays entails no less bravery or sacrifice for the victory of the Rebellion.
Shara’s experience of the battle reminds me strikingly of Luke’s experience of the battle of Yavin as depicted in A New Hope. The stakes of war are massive but focused through a personal experience of agency and loss. More specifically in this issue, the cost of this victory is ruthlessly hinted at through the very real possibility that Shara’s husband well could have died during the conflict on the surface of Endor.
Rucka keeps us in the dark until the last possible moment about Kes Dameron’s survival, to the point of him having to interrupt Shara inquiring after his survival. The lovers’ reunion has our characters strolling on an abandoned elevated path, backlit by the fireworks celebrating the Rebellion’s victory. This scene is so romantic you can hear John Williams score swelling in under it.
Following implied coitus (My Poe Dameron senses are tingling), Shara is roused from bed by the calls of General Solo beckoning Kes’s regiment to return for another assignment. The scene is drenched in gold, victorious glow, only interrupted by the sickly green provided from Kes’s rebel garb. The whole scene is given a weight that evokes hungover Sunday mornings helping my dad clean the garage and makes Kes’s departure from the bedroom truly painful. They finally won some time to be with each other and so quickly victories spoils are all eaten up? Not willing to let the war deprecate them any longer, Shara volunteers to pilot a combat transport.
The battle is won, but there’s still cleanup to do. After raiding an Imperial encampment planning a counter-attack from the other side of Endor, Han and Kes discover a lot of “data” and “plans” that imply “it’s not all over yet.” This is a little trope-y and typical for a first issue but for an issue that carries so much of the transition to the new canon, it delivers a promise. Just when we thought it was over, there’s an entirely new world waiting for us.
Something wonderful that the Rucka does, is truly allow Shara and Kes to intermingle and play with the characters of the original trilogy. The manner with which Shara escorts Luke’s shuttle from the Death Star or interrupts Han and Lando’s ribbing affirms our memories of those characters from the previous films. They aren’t inaccessible celebrities who the writers are honored and intimidated to write for, yet they also aren’t silly dopes in comparison to this new badass the writers cooked up. Their aspirations and dispositions remain intact while welcoming these new additions into the universe. The small complement Lando pays Shara “That was some fancy flying you did out there today,” reinforces our understanding of her as a character (solid pilot for the rebellion), him as a character (hitting on her), and them as being in the same world. This makes the Rebellion feel more akin to a small company where everyone knows each other on some kind of personal level instead of a faceless corporation where leaders are revered and treated like kings, read : Galactic Empire.
The only thing missing for me from this issue is any depiction of General Leia Organa whatsoever. Caroline Siede just wrote a magnificent article for the AV Club outlining the lack of female characters in the Star Wars Universe (and many others for that matter) so despite the possibility that they may be keeping her from us to reveal some game changing plot point alluding to the new film, I can’t help but feel like her perceived “feminine perspective,” (seeing as both the writers are men) was swapped out for Shara’s percieved “feminine perspective.” To the book’s credit, female rebel soldiers are amply depicted in the background during the celebrations, but Shara never speaks to a single one of them. Not a damning feature for the series by any means, but something to keep an eye out for as we go forward. The ribbing between Han and Lando was fun, and potentially a reunion between Leia and Han would detract from the reunion of Shara and Kes, but that’s no excuse for excluding a panel with Leia throwing an Ewok at a Stormtrooper during the battle of Endor. She’s a major player in the Star Wars universe, and her presence is surely missed.
That being said, this issue rocked. If The Force Awakens is as good as the journey to it, I will have to be carried out or the theatre a drooling and sobbing mess. I hope the pace and panache keeps up with what will probably take on a little bit of a rebellion fighter procedural, with ample Force Awakens implications as we approach the new dawn, but with this entry I have every confidence that the story committee will deliver on my oh so cherished space western tale of morality.
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