One of the great things about a mythical universe such as the one created by Star Wars is that there’s plenty of room to tell many different stories, so long as they connect neatly with the established canon. Star Wars comics, books and video games have explored this space for decades, but every now and then one of the instalments is accepted as at least quasi-canon, along with the established movies. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, for example, will be set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, a timeline previously explored in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. But probably the biggest gap in the canonical timeline is the 30-odd years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The four-issue Marvel mini-series Star Wars: Shattered Empire starts to fill in that gap.
Shattered Empire picks up right where Return of the Jedi leaves off — in fact, it actually re-tells elements of the final battle over the forest moon of Endor from the perspective of a new character, rebel pilot Shara Bey, who becomes the central character of this series. Bey, part of the “green” squadron (remember how Luke was in the “red”?), plays a key role in the battle itself, as it is she who notices the Imperial shuttle leaving the Death Star moments before its destruction and discovers that it’s being flown by Luke Skywalker himself. She lands on Endor and meets up with her husband, Kes Dameron (obviously a relative of Poe, probably his father) to enjoy the celebrations of the end of the Empire. (Their sex scene is set in an Ewok hut, complete with romantic additions such as candles, which we have to assume the Ewoks made for them. There are some logic holes, as always when dealing with the Ewoks. In any case, nub-nub is done.)
The remaining three issues follow Bey on various missions she has in the continuing struggle of the rebellion to consolidate their victory over the Empire and bring about a new order in the galaxy. This isn’t as straightforward as winning one battle, as remnants of the Empire still linger, and thanks to constant propaganda, some of the more remote regions of the galaxy have yet to even hear of the death of the Emperor and the destruction of the Death Star. Han, Luke and Leia all appear, with Leia being given a diplomatic mission to Naboo, of all places. (Don’t worry: no Gungans appear.) Later, Luke has to lead a daring raid on an Imperial base to rescue two trees that are invested with the power of the force. (This makes a certain amount of sense, as the force is created and sensed by “all living things”, not just animals.) Part of the pleasure of Shattered Empire is seeing the sequel to Return of the Jedi that we never got, and the artwork, by Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta, is wonderful in its portrayal of the classic Star Wars heroes. Leia especially is drawn well, capturing Carrie Fisher’s mournful face circa-1983.
The only real problem with Shattered Empire is that when it ends, it feels like it’s just getting started. Readers may expect it to tell the whole story of what happened between episodes VI and VII, but instead it really only shows about six months, and spends an inordinate amount of time in battle sequences. This is an issue I’ve always had with Star Wars comics, because they have the time to explore many character moments and mythic backstories but instead they too-often fall into splash pages of action that might be pretty to look at, but lack the urgency and immersive fun of film.
Another drawback to this series is that it essentially copies the structure and themes of The Force Awakens. We once again have a strong female protagonist whose story intersects with our trio of main characters (plus Lando, who doesn’t appear in The Force Awakens) and who may be related to characters we’ve seen in later films. There’s a lot of convenient serendipity in the plot, and characters always seem to be in the right place at the right time. This isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw for these sorts of big mythic stories, but Shattered Empire simply feels a bit too familiar, playing right to the audience’s expectations and no more. (One could level the same critique of The Force Awakens.)
But for Star Wars fans, this book will fill some important plot holes, and frankly it’s hard to resist any opportunity to take another trip to that galaxy far, far away.