Comic Review – Star Wars: Shattered Empire (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he reviews of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Marvel’s Star Wars comics so far have all been roundly excellent, but largely confined to further fleshing out the period between Episodes IV-VI. Shattered Empire is the first of this new batch of Star Wars comics to be set after Return of the Jedi, a four-part mini series part of the lead up to the hugely anticipated Episode VII in December. If that wasn’t enough to sign me up, the creative team of Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto (previous collaborators on the superb and upsettingly short-lived Punisher series back in 2011), rounded off with colours by Andres Mossa and letters from VC’s Joe Caramagna, certainly sealed this is a must-buy for me.

Shattered Empire, despite being part of the ‘Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, actually picks up during the final act of that third film, during the Battle of Endor. Rather than directly focusing on the key familiar faces, our lead characters (at least at this point) appear to be two other members of the Rebel Alliance, the married pair of Shara and Kes, as they play supporting roles during the fight against the second Death Star. Shara is an A-Wing pilot in Green group, desperately trying to defend the lead ships from TIE fighters immediately following Admiral Ackbar’s immortal line and before the Death Star’s defence shields drop. Meanwhile Kes is down on the moon of Endor, part of Han Solo’s strike team as they and a group of cuddly Ewoks try to shut down the shield generator. Following the destruction of the Death Star and the retreat of the Galactic Empire forces, Shara hasn’t heard any word of her husband down on the moon, so she heads down to join in the celebrations and to find him. After a brief reunion, Kes’s squad is called into action by Solo, and Shara volunteers her services as mission pilot. It seems like the Empire hasn’t just given up after the destruction of the Death Star and the demise of the Emperor, and the rebels will have their work cut out for them if they want to solidify their victory.

I think it was a really good call to have this issue focus on new characters during the iconic events of the last canonical film. We’re all very familiar with Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie and what they were doing, and it was nice to have characters that were working on the sidelines and in Shara’s case explaining the seemingly insane amount of luck involved in Luke’s escape from the Death Star, while still fitting in organically. The story is given plenty of room to breathe, and to allow for a real human core to develop alongside the action. We may not have seen as much of Kes, but I really warmed to Shara immediately as a brilliant pilot and a character with a deep emotional resonance. As for the plot, rather than picking up cold after the celebrations at the end of Jedi, starting the issue during the space battle side of the Battle of Endor was a great way to ease the familiar reader into the new story, and the direction seems to track to what we’ve seen of an existing Empire in some form (or The First Order) 30 years after our heroes triumphed. It stands to reason that the complex machinery of the Galactic Empire wouldn’t fall apart just because the second overblown boondoggle and the insane leader who created it have both perished in an impressive explosion, so where to go next makes for a compelling starting point for the series.

As for Checchetto’s art, I’d say that the opening pages were the main reason for the spine tingling excitement that I felt reading the rest of the issue. The space battle is stunning, showing the rebel fleet fight off squadrons of TIE fighters and Shara helping to guide the Millennium Falcon to the Death Star itself, before saving Skywalker from being scattered into debris. The facial work is brilliant too, at worst the only crime here is that everyone is a little bit too beautiful, but that isn’t a real complaint. Similarly the assault on the Imperial base on the other side of Endor looks chaotic and visceral without being gratuitous, and the familiar technology and vehicles is rendered perfectly. Mossa has to contend with several totally different environments and situations here, and the colours are exactly in step with the art all the way, resulting in a gorgeous looking comic.

Admittedly I’m already very much on board for new Star Wars content as I count the days down to Episode VII, and Shattered Empire would have had to have been pretty bad for me to be disappointed in any way. But Marvel has been turning out excellent stories with all of the Star Wars books, largely because they are trusting some of the very best creators to work on them. Rucka and Checchetto have absolutely continued this trend, and have produced a truly exciting Star Wars book. Buy this.

Score: 9.5 A-Wings out of 10

Comic Review – Star Wars #1

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Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

This week saw the start of a new Star Wars comic. Not just any Star Wars comic though; a new in-canon Star Wars comic (I think, I’m still finding it hard to tell what counts and what doesn’t). There have been plenty of comic book stories taking place in the rich world that George Lucas created, many of them very good. Dark Horse had been publishing these tales for over 20 years, but once Disney acquired Star Wars it was only a matter of time before the license reverted back to Marvel Comics. At the start of last year it was announced that this would be the case, starting in 2015. And here we are, with Star Wars #1 out now and other series on the way too, including Darth Vadar and Princess Leia comics out over the next couple of months (short previews of which are in the back of this issue).

Star Wars is being written by Jason Aaron, with art by John Cassaday, colours by Laura Martin and letters from Chris Eliopoulos. The story is set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, shortly after the Rebel Alliance gained a huge victory over the Galactic Empire by destroying the planet-destroying space station, the Death Star (sorry if that is a spoiler I guess, but the film is 38 years old). The Rebels aren’t taking a break though, as the Empire is still very much in control of the galaxy and all their leaders are still alive. A transport from Tatooine arrives at a huge Imperial weapons factory. Han Solo steps out, and plays the part of Jabba the Hutt’s emissary, here to make a deal to provide the factory with raw materials. This is all part of a plan for the Rebels to strike and destroy the factory, as Han’s bodyguards reveal themselves to be Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa (with R2-D2 accompanying them, and Chewbacca and C-3PO elsewhere on the planet). Shockingly, things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned, due to the arrival of ‘The Negotiator’ and the alarms being sounded, making it far more difficult for the group to destroy the facility, and escape unscathed.

I’m not going to lie, this was one big fun nostalgic ride for me. From the ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’ first page, my brain immediately started the John Williams score as I turned over to the double-splash STAR WARS, and then a page of opening crawl. I was right back in. But if the aim for this new series was to rely on nostalgia alone, it would have been doomed to fail from the start. Fortunately that was not the case, and with Jason Aaron on board for writing duties I wasn’t particularly worried about that either. As soon as Han swaggers off the ship, it’s clear Aaron know exactly how to write these characters. The pace of the story is brisk and enjoyable, but remembers the point at which it is supposed to be set. This is most clear in the actions of Luke. He knows what he is doing, he has certainly improved and is making progress down the Jedi path, but a master he is not and he has already started to overestimate his abilities (this being before he takes a trip to the swamps of Dagobah for intensive training involving running around with a small wizened alien as a backpack, and unhelpful lessons about fighting yourself).

Cassaday’s art is superb, with character likenesses being more like comic book representations of the actors, rather than a reliance on photo-realistic interpretations which can sometimes be more miss than hit. The action is dynamic, with a highlight being the depiction of Luke’s lightsaber movements, each stroke appearing as multiple blades as he arcs it through the air, Colour work from Laura Martin is excellent too, adding a depth to the art ranging from the void of space and the dark shadows of ship interiors and cages, to the vibrant electricity of production lines and tasering dustbins/robots.

This comic did nothing to lessen my enthusiasm for Star Wars in 2015. In fact it made me want to watch episodes IV, V and VI immediately. The story is in it’s infancy, but I’m sure it is going to be a fun ride. Pick this up at your local comic shop (maybe one of the several thousand variant covers) or digital comics platform now. Unless you hate Star Wars. Why did you click on a review of a Star Wars comic then? Odd.

9 Wookies out of 10