Star Wars has a long history with graphic novels and comics. Dating back to the ‘70’s, Star Wars has had any number of comic adaptations and graphic novel tie-ins. These works are of various quality, but if you mine through the stories there are quite a few enjoyable ones out there.
Star Wars: Shattered Empire has some potential, it begins during the end battle during Return of the Jedi, and this volume collects the first four issues of the comic. This story, for me, was a 2 ½ stars out of 5.
Starting with the good, here’s what I thought Shattered Empire did well.
First of all, the art. No matter which way you slice it, the art is excellent. The level of detail in the art makes it simply beautiful to look at, while the artists take special pains to make the characters from the movies look like themselves on the page. If you’ve ever read a Star Wars comic you know that keeping the characters recognizable doesn’t always happen. On this front, however, I have no complaints. The artists constantly outdo themselves and this book looks amazing. Kudos to the art team.
I liked getting to know Kes and Shara, who we later find out are the parents of Poe Dameron. It was nice to see a married couple in the Rebellion, and their relationship is sweet and easy to like. I hope to see more of their adventures together in the future.
The writing in general, while spartan, is pretty good. Han and C-3PO in particular are well done and sound natural to their characters in the movies. Speaking of the writing, this book also manages the feat of passing the Bechdel Test, which, given that this is a Star Wars story, is saying something. Hopefully, Star Wars and Marvel keep up the good work.
While we’re on the topic of women, I have to give a shout out to Leia, Shara and Soruna (the queen of Naboo) who band together and take to their fighter ships in order to defend Naboo from Imperial attack. I loved this bit, it was really neat to see a team of female fighter pilots come together to rebuff the Empire. I liked it a lot, and I want to see more like this. (I also liked how Lando was able to come in and have a Big Damn Hero moment himself, I really can’t get enough of Lando)
Other things I want to see more of in Star Wars; ethnic and racial diversity. This book does a descent job at including diversity throughout. Honestly, it does a better job than all the movies, save, perhaps, Rogue One. It was nice to see some more diversity in a Star Wars story and I hope this will be a lasting trend in the future.
Final thing that I liked, and I mean I really, really liked this: The data drives. You know those weird pen things that all the Imperials wear in their uniforms.
I’ve circled them in this photo of Tarkin. Here, in this book, it explains that those are actually data drives.
Somehow, I’ve never come across that explanation before, but I love it. It makes sense, works for the world and setting, and makes me want to have Imperial USB drives. I like it, good job creative team!
I DID NOT LIKE
Here’s what Shattered Empire did not do so well.
Shara, Shara, Shara. I think she’s a pretty cool character. I love to see more female characters in a story, and a pilot is a nice addition. Poe certainly inherited his flying skills from his mother. However, the comic never lets the art get out of the way so that Shara can really shine. It seems like the artist is afraid that Shara will be too much of a woman for the reader, so she’s constantly depicted as sexy as possible. Including being naked in bed after having sex. Her husband, on the other hand, is seen already dressed and going about his business while she poses sexy for the reader. It’s rather frustrating that an interesting character like Shara has to be reduced to her physical attractiveness in order to be considered appealing to the reader. The sex scene isn’t where it ends though, throughout the book, Shara is depicted with an arched back, skin-tight shirt and a pouty sex face. It diminishes her as a character and makes her seem like the artists didn’t want her taken too seriously.
This is not to say that she can’t have sex with her husband, or be depicted as attractive. It’s just that visually, Shara only exists to be sexy to the reader. The men, however, are depicted in a range of ways whereas Shara and to some extent, Leia, are not. (Of course, none of the men are wearing skin-tight clothing, or laying naked in bed, or giving a pouty sex face) I hope that, in the future, the artists try to give some range to the way Shara or other women are portrayed instead of making them into silly looking sexy caricatures.
Before I leave this topic, I also have to show you the frame that enraged me most in this comic.
Leia Organa, leader of the rebellion, fearless warrior, princess of Alderaan. How does the artist best show us who she is? Booty shot. Come on, comic artists, get with the times. Your art is amazing, don’t waste your talent giving the reader a tasteless booty shot of the most empowering woman in sci-fi. You can do better. Shame on you.
Okay, moving on, while it’s not really a huge dislike, I noticed as I was reading that something was not there that should have been, or should I say, someone. Wedge Antilles, the 2nd best fighter pilot in the galaxy was nowhere to be seen in this book. Not on Endor, not during or after the battle (save the most obscure cameo), not in the background, he was just…missing. My favorite Rouge Squadron pilot just did not exist in this book, and that was one of the most disappointing parts of this comic. No Wedge. Hopefully this is not a trend for the future of Star Wars and the NewEU, because, seriously, I need more Wedge in my life.
Lastly, the writing. While I did say that I liked it earlier, there were a few points when the dialogue was just not working for me as a reader. Several times in this book there are a crowd of people talking and the writer tries to convey the sense of listening to a bunch of conversations happening at once by giving us speech bubbles scattered across the page with only fragments of sentences. It is hard to follow the action in the fragments, and they are just plain confusing to read. After the first couple of occurrences I didn’t even try reading every speech bubble because it was just too chaotic.
Additionally, while Han and C-3PO are written well, and Shara and Kes are consistently portrayed, Luke and Leia are just off here. Luke is particularly out of character in the following page.
This story is set directly after Return of the Jedi, yet he is acting nothing like the character we see in the movie. Suddenly, he’s a total badass spitting out witty one-liners while blowing up Imperials with their own bombs. That’s not the Luke Skywalker I know. I would have preferred if the writer would have kept Luke a little closer to his film self, instead of the mysterious badass, it just doesn’t work for him and that territory is already well covered by Boba Fett and many others, so, writers, let Luke be Luke.
These are things that aren’t really complaints, they just felt noteworthy to me.
This frame here, just feels weird. I think the artists tried too hard to have Lando facing the reader, but it looks really unnatural.
I’m withholding judgment on the Force Trees, it really depends on where they go with them, but they could easily get us into eye-roll territory. I will be watching for them in the future.
Queen Soruna’s chin seemed to be tattooed with some of her makeup. Not really a bad thing, but it doesn’t really fit what we’ve already seen either. I’m on the fence with this one, I kind of like it, and I kind of don’t.
In total, the book wasn’t a waste of time, it had some interesting points and had some neat little adventures. It was a nice read, but nothing spectacular. It’s not really a necessary read to understand Episode VII, but you probably won’t feel cheated if you pick it up.