Star Wars: Shattered Empire, vols. 1 -4, Review and Recap

In the special edition of Return of the Jedi, the jubilant Ewok victory song was replaced with a rousing score by John Williams to accompany added footage of people across the galaxy, Tatooine, Coruscant, and Bespin, for example, celebrating the fall of the Emperor and the Empire.  The victory at the end of Jedi was no longer just a personal one for our heroes on or above Endor’s forest moon, but became something universal, something that proclaimed a new day in the galaxy.  This changes in the new Star Wars Expanded Universe, first in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath and again in Marvel’s Shattered Empire (Star Wars: Uprising, a mobile game also belongs in this group).

Instead of a galaxy of people freed at once, the immediate celebrations are cut short by Imperial authorities who have no inclination to go silently into the night simply because their emperor and his right hand were defeated, or at least rumored to have been defeated.  The Imperial forces stretched out across the systems of the galaxy do not lay down their arms, but continue to resist the Rebel Alliance to the bitter end, and in some cases, willingly follow the orders of their deceased Emperor to burn worlds over relinquishing them.  It’s on this grim, more realistic note that Shattered Empire begins.

The celebration in the Ewok tree village is hardly over before our heroes must return to the task of defeating the Empire.  We introduced to Shara Bey, an A-wing pilot and recent participant in the Rebel attack on the second Death Star (she’s one of the fighters which split away from the group to lure some of the pursuing TIEs away from Lando in the Falcon), and to her husband, Kes Dameron.  Dameron is a commando, one of the rebel fighters who accompanied Han and Leia in the assault on the shield generator.  For those paying attention to The Force Awakens, the last name is not a coincidence, these two are the parents of future Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron, a major character in the upcoming film (he’s only referenced, never seen).

Mop up operations don’t require the Rebels to go far, as both Kes and Shara join Han in an attack on an Imperial facility on the opposite of the moon.  It’s one of the last times the pair will spend much time together in the story, as the war which refuses to quietly subside forces them apart in their joint efforts to serve the Rebellion and stop the Empire. This theme carries the story through its next three installments as join the married couple across multiple planets and missions that offer glimpses into the post-Jedi world that the new Expanded Universe is establishing as the background going into The Force Awakens.

In addition to Rebel activities, we also are offered a view into Imperial actions following the defeat at Endor.  Volume two of the series opens on the bridge of the aptly named Star Destroyer Torment, where the ship’s captain receives a message and order from beyond the grave. Via a recording of sorts, the Emperor commands the captain to instigate Operation Cinder as a means to “burn away” such ideas as resistance, rebellion and defiance.  In the same scene, we are given a small gift into the psyche of the remaining Imperial forces, news of the Emperor’s death are considered Rebel propaganda.

The paths of the Torment and Shara Bey soon cross, as Bey is requested by Princess Leia to pilot her on a diplomatic mission to Naboo, a planet demilitarized and retained under the Imperial thumb by the Emperor after his rise to power. The timeline is only twenty days after Endor and both our heroines are dealing with the continual fight to achieve the overwhelming victory that the special edition of Jedi had previously attempted to serve.  Bey longs to be with her family, while Leia deals with the less heroic aftermath of the Battle of Endor, writing condolences to the families of those who had fallen during the fight.

On Naboo, Bey and the princess are hardly into negotiations with the current queen to join in the formation of a New Republic, when the Torment appears and disperses weather-like satellites designed to render the surface of Naboo unlivable. Operation Cinder, it seems, is the Emperor’s desire to scorch the galactic earth before his enemies, given them nothing but ashes as a reward for victory.

Volume three of Shattered Empire returns us to Kes Dameron along with Han and Chewie assaulting a ‘black ops’ site of the Empire in search of intelligence. Unsurprisingly, the attack is ultimately successful, and perhaps a bit less surprisingly, we finally encounter an Imperial officer who has decided that there are worse things than not dying for your empire.  Part of the intelligence retrieved concerns Operation Cinder, information that is quickly sent to the Rebel fleet with the hope of stopping it before the Emperor’s vision can be fulfilled.

As powerful hurricanes and other weather phenomenal begin to tear apart the surface of Naboo, Shara, Leia and the queen dust off old Naboo fighters not flown since the days of Queen Amidala, and fly for the heavens to knock out the satellites. It’s one of our first instances of Leia flying a fighter craft, and perhaps more intriguingly, as they entered the hangar where Darth Maul revealed himself to the heroes of The Phantom Menace, Leia experienced a cold sensation.  Leia is confirmed as Force sensitive, echoing the moment in the Empire Strikes Back when Luke encounters the cave on Dagobah.

The three women succeed in destroying many of the satellites and are saved from being overwhelmed by the Torment’s TIEs by the arrival of Rebel ships.  Their appearance marks the end of the Torment and the salvation of Naboo.  It does not mean the end of the work for our heroes, that fight continues on into the fourth and final chapter of Shattered Empire.

Across the previous three volumes, Kes and Shara have brought us into interactions with Leia, Han, Chewie, C-3PO, and Lando.  It’s only appropriate then, that the final volume brings the sole Jedi alive in the galaxy into the picture.  It does not happen in the wake of good news, but instead on information that Operation Cinder has successfully ruined a number of worlds.   By this point in the story, we learn that Kes has already been honorably discharged from the Rebels and that Shara intends to submit her own papers (we learn her commanding officer has done so to save her the effort).   Yet, before our A-Wing pilot can return to her family and resume something akin to a normal life, a familiar astromech droid appears at her side.

Under R2-D2’s insistent request to follow, Shara finds herself standing before Luke, who promptly asks her to join him on an important mission.  When Commander Skywalker asks you for an important mission, we learn, you don’t say no.  And thus, with retirement on the precipice of tomorrow, Bey joins Luke in the cockpit of a shuttle heading for an unknown destination.  Yes, that’s right.  It’s your typical “one last day/mission/patrol before retirement/discharge” story; stories that very often end with that individual’s death. Immediately, the stakes for Bey are heightened as one is left to wonder if Poe Dameron will be losing his mother between the first and last pages of Shattered Empire’s final installment.

The mission leads Bey and Skywalker to another obscure Imperial base, where Bey is asked to impersonate a female Imperial officer with Luke as her bodyguard.  In the course of the journey, Shara questions her decision to lay down her pilot’s helmet to return to regular life when a war yet rages on.  Luke, well on his way to becoming a wise Jedi Master, asks her, what’s the point of fighting for normal lives if they are never lived?  In so many ways, our favorite Jedi relieves Bey of the guilt of leaving her comrades and the war effort behind to live in peace.

At the Imperial station, their subterfuge works, or at least they believe it works, as the duo plus R2 are lead to the very heart of the heavily secured complex. Then, in a room where two small trees are on prominent display, does the base commander let on that he knew Shara was not the Imperial officer she claimed to be.  Yes, let’s not ask ourselves why a commander would allow rebels into the depths of his base before revealing their lack of deception.  It’s up there with bond villains refusing to simply shoot Bond (as mocked in Austin Powers), but nonetheless, arrogance is a currency in the Empire and this commander has it in spades to his detriment.

We then learn two things: 1) The two trees are all that remain of a tree that once grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and 2) One Jedi is all one needs to break out of a facility, an allegedly highly secured facility.  Shara and R2 secure the small saplings and Luke makes quick work of their enemy as they escape the base.  The mission is a success and in contrast to your typical “last day” missions, Bey survives to return to Kes and Poe.  However, she does not leave empty handed, but with one of the saplings, as Luke admits he had thought only one existed and urges Bey to take it and find a safe place for the tree to live and grow.  Shattered Empire ends with Bey, and Kes, returning to their home and the tree planted in the equivalent of their front yard.

Shattered Empire, which only covers a couple months into the story that starts when the credits roll in Return of the Jedi, is a satisfyingly fun story to read and marvelously illustrated.  It joins Aftermath by ushering in a new post-Jedi world and expanded universe in which the Rebels’ victory at Endor did not resoundingly proclaim the establishment of the New Alliance and the defeat of the Empire.  For the purposes of The Force Awakens, of which we’re reminded on the top of every cover, “Journey to The Force Awakens,” we learn more about the first step than about anything else, including the Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (inheriting a love for flying comes from his mother, and a that’s about it). It’s a foundational offering of the much different reality in which the next movie takes place, laying down the stepping stones to the next great adventure. Definitely worth checking out.

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