Saturday, December 5, 2015
Force in Focus: Shattered Empire #1-4
Shattered Empire (whose full title is the mouthful Star Wars: The Journey to The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire) is series that, like the novel Aftermath (which we'll look at next week) suffers under the weight of expectations. Billed as the new story of what really happened after Return of the Jedi (with all the old stories that did the same now rendered non-canonical legends in the wake of Disney's acquisition of LucasFilm), anyone picking up this series expecting a sweeping overview of galactic history that tells exactly what Luke, Leia, Han and their friends were up in the thirty odd years between Jedi and the upcoming Force Awakens will be disappointed. But put aside those expectations, and what remains is an effective and entertaining little story, even if it is a bit sparse on those "historical" details.
Rather than focus on the Star Wars Big Three, the central character of Shattered Empire is Shara Bey, a Rebel pilot who flew in the Battle of Endor, and is the mother of Poe Dameron, the character played by Oscar Isaacs in the new movie (his father, Kes Dameron, appears briefly in the first and last issues). Through a variety of different circumstances, Shara ends up working alongside the Big Three in various capacities (she volunteers for the task force assembled by Han to hunt down Imperial remnants in the wake of Endor, ends up serving as a pilot/bodyguard for Leia on a trip to Naboo, and joins Luke on an important mission in the series finale), but she remains the central POV character, with the Big Three slotted in as supporting characters, at best.
For the most part, this works. While there's certainly some desire to see a chronological telling of galactic history from the POV of the Big Three, such a story would probably read more like a dry history book than an exciting comic book story - and while *I* have no objections to reading dry fictional histories (I love me some Marvel Handbooks), I can understand the desire on Marvel, LucasFilm and writer Greg Rucka's part to do something a bit more...narrative. Sharra works an audience surrogate, allowing readers to see the Big Three from the outside, from the perspective of someone to whom they are, even as they fight alongside them, legends. Making her Poe's mother gives her (and this story) an immediate connection to the upcoming movie, while still keeping the narrative far enough away from that story so as not to spoil things.
Yet, there are plenty of reveals of post-Endor life sprinkled throughout the four issues, and plenty of hints at the state of the galaxy during Force Awakens. Here are a few of them:
Sharra husband Kes, one of the Rebel troops serving in Han's strike force that helped destroy the shield generator on Endor's forest moon, appears in issue #1, and while some people are saying Poe must have been conceived in the reconcilitation and celebration that followed the destruction of the Death Star, in issue #2 Sharra mentions talking with her son. While the exact amount of time that passes between issue #1 and #2 isn't clear, it's hard to believe that enough time has passed for Poe to be hold enough to talk if was conceived during the celebration on Endor.
However, Poe still has a strong connection to the Original Trilogy, as issue #4 reveals that, after mustering out of the New Republic military, Shara and Kes settle on Yavin 4 (the sight of the Rebel base in A New Hope) and raise Poe there.
Issue #2 establishes that the Emperor had contingency plans in place in the event of his death, a far-reaching plan called Operation: Cinder, which sent orders to a variety of different Imperial commanders with specific orders to carry out mostly vengeance-driven missions. The one which features in this series specifically targets Naboo, the Emperor's homeworld, for destruction, and is stopped by Leia, Shara and the current Nabook Queen in issue #3.
While that particular aspect of Cinder is stopped, it's easy to see how the First Order of Force Awakens could easily have grown out of or began as part of Operation:Cinder, an attempt by Palpatine to keep his vision of the galaxy intact even in the event of his death.
Similarly, at several times in Shattered Empire, Imperials refer to the events of Return of the Jedi as Rebel propaganda, suggesting that the destruction of the Death Star and even the death of the Empire may just be lies spread by Rebels. Even higher ranking Imperials who know the Emperor is dead suggest that to repeat the Rebel "propaganda" is a treasonous act, another possible explanation for the continued Imperial presence in Force Awakens, and something which ties into the notion, suggested by the trailer, that the reality of the situation is, at least in some parts of the galaxy, shrouded in mystery or outright obfuscated.
Leia uses the Force
While on Naboo, Leia ends up in the hanger where the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon/Darth Maul duel began in The Phantom Menance, and in a moment that echoed Luke's entrance to the cave on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back, feels cold, along with the presence of Darth Maul. In addition to being another nice indication that LucasFilm doesn't intend to entirely blacklist the events of the Prequels for those of us who don't absolutely hate their very existence, this also marks the first time in the new canon that Leia uses the Force outside of her vague feelings about Luke in Jedi.
(Incidentally, some people are wondering if this suggests that Darth Maul - who, in later episodes of the still-canonical Clone Wars, was shown to have survived the events of Episode I - may be making a return somewhere in the post-Jedi universe, and/or that he was physically there when Leia felt him. I read it less like that and more that his presence there simply left a lingering and powerful sensation of the Dark Side that Leia simply picked up on, in the same way the cave on Dagobah was strong in the Dark Side).
Issue #4 deals with Luke tapping Shara to join him on a mission to steal an important artifact from a group of Imperial scientists who have been experimenting with the artifact on orders from the Emperor. The artifact turns out to be the last remaining vestiges of the tree which grew at the Jedi Academy before the Jedi Purge and the subsequent re-branding of the temple as the Imperial Palace by Palpatine (the tree, while never pointed out, does appear in some Clone Wars episodes). The exact nature of the tree, why Palpatine was studying it, and why Luke wants it (beyond just, you know, liberating a piece of Jedi history from the Empire) remain unknown, but when Luke and Shara manage to penetrate Imperial defenses to reach the lab, Luke is stunned to discover there are actually two saplings remaining. While he has plans for one, the other he ends up giving to Shara, who plants on Yavin 4 when her family settles there.
While I doubt these trees will factor obviously in the events of The Force Awakens, they do suggest that perhaps Poe has a stronger connection to the Force than many have been considering (most fans have pegged some combination of Rey and Finn as being the likely candidates for new Force users), and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see these trees (and to at least learn what Luke wanted with one) at some point in the future, be it in a comic book story, a novel, or something else entirely.