Journey to Star War: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire #4

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Even with Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out on a weekly basis, the promotional blitz leading up to the film’s December release has been so frenzied that this outstanding miniseries has hardly had the chance to grab the Star Wars spotlight for itself. The first issue released mere days after Force Friday, and the conversation was still centered squarely on what new merchandise fans had looted from the understocked shelves of Targets and toy stores mere minutes after midnight. Last week Issue #3 was overshadowed by EA’s divisive Battlefront Beta, which was visually and aurally faithful to the original trilogy, but as a video game was sorely lacking in its ludic and narrative elements, missing the broad range of features found in modern shooters (or even past Battlefront games) and the mythic qualities essential to a Star Wars story (even one about the grunts on the ground).

This final issue will likewise receive less attention than the trailer that dropped earlier this week. I cannot comment on such, as I’ve yet to watch it and have no plans to do so. I spoiled myself entirely on Revenge of the Sith, visiting rumor sites for hours on a near daily basis almost every day between Episode II and III. An original printing of Drew Struzan’s official poster (the same run distributed to theaters) remains the only artwork adorning my walls. The day Revenge of the Sith released I had just returned home after a seven day cross country road trip (the scenic route on the way back from undergrad), and hadn’t seen my folks since the start of the spring semester; I popped through the door to say hello and drop off my laundry, and immediately left for the theater to see the premier of a movie to which I already knew every scene and line of dialogue.

Thus, in avoiding a repeat of Revenge, there very well may be plot points in this issue that take on additional significance in light of certain scenes revealed in the trailer. If that is indeed the case, obviously I’m not aware and will not be factoring such into my review.

Rucka continues the series’ gimmick of teaming up protagonist Shara Bey with various members of the core cast, usually serving as their pilot (despite most of them being established as among the best in the galaxy). As the cover implies, issue #4 sees her fighting next to Luke Skywalker. Operation: Cinder, established in the previous issues, is referenced, and oddly clarified to be more massive in scope than the Naboo sub-plot implied before being dropped altogether. Luke’s mission is a more personal one, and an odd turn for the series in its final chapter.  That it is the final chapter continues to disappoint, foremost because of the excellent work Rucka and Checcetto have done with the series, but also because the pace of each issue and the series as a whole continues to feel rushed, right up through the final panels.

The issue on the whole works better than the misstep of issue #3. There’s never a moment as poignant as when Leia sensed Maul’s past presence through the Force, but it likewise manages to avoid any scenes as ridiculous as the trio of diplomats comprising the entirety of a planet’s defence force. Checcetto sells the action, as always, but Rucka’s dialogue sells the scenes without lightsabers and blaster fire equally well. One particular highlight is Shara’s confident impersonation of an Imperial officer and her analysis of the lot to Skywalker afterwards.

The end is a bit anti-climatic. Having already established that Poe was born, Rucka had the opportunity to take the lives of Shara and Kes in any dramatic direction of his choosing. The saccharine sunset, while true to tone for most Star Wars stories, makes one wonder if Harrison Ford was right to want Han Solo to die, that the theme of heroic sacrifice ought to be a bit more prominent in the Saga. It was the one unsatisfying scene in an otherwise excellent issue.

Speaking of which, one of the interesting mysteries coming out of this series is precisely where that final page takes place. There appear to be Massassi temples and a gas giant in the background, heavily implying it to be the fourth moon of Yavin, but the foliage is also reminiscent of the planet from the teaser trailer (spoiler warning for the remainder of the paragraph) in which Poe Dameron’s X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon are engaging TIE Fighters in an atmospheric dogfight.

Regarding Checcetto’s art, the English language is running short on superlatives. Even were Rucka writing trashy fan fiction detailing Jar Jar’s adventures prior to Episode I, Checcetto’s art would make even that an essential purchase. Forget the poster for The Force Awakens that just came out; I want pages from this series framed and hung next to my Revenge of the Sith poster.

This all too short series has hardly been a journey to The Force Awakens; it’s been more so a first few steps away from Return of the Jedi. There’s still a long, mysterious road up ahead. But that’s perfectly fine by me; I loved every minute of what I traversed with Rucka and Checcetto, and pray to Obi-Wan that we get go on more adventures with them in the future.

8.25/10

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