Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire #1 is the first issue in a four issue miniseries that promises to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and the upcoming Star Wars film. While previous Marvel Star Wars comics are set either during or before the original trilogy of movies, Shattered Empire is the first comic series to explore the post-Return of the Jedi timeline, which is now a blank slate due to Disney tossing out most of the continuity established by the "Expanded Universe" comics and novels. While Shattered Empire #1 only provides a scant tease of the upcoming film, the comic itself is a serviceable opening chapter that should appeal to most Star Wars fans.
Written by Greg Rucka and penciled by Marco Checchetto, Shattered Empire focuses on a new character named Shara, an A-Wing pilot whose dogfighting skills come in handy as she dodges and fights numerous TIE Fighters during the Rebel Alliance's assault on the second Death Star. After surviving the space battle, Shara reunites with her husband and volunteers for a new mission hunting the remnant Empire forces while debating how to spend their shared future.
The highlight of Shattered Empire are the gorgeously rendered space battles, which use clever little effects to give the illusion of excitement and movement to the battles. The page layouts use pilot chatter to provide ongoing narration and also keep the reader following the page in the correct order. By using the chatter dialogue as a guide for how to read the page, the creative team aren't constrained by traditional layouts and many of the pages show ships flying in between the panels themselves. One fun to look at page shows Shara turning her A-Wing around to chase a fleeing Imperial vessel (which she discovers is piloted by Luke Skywalker). As the Imperial vessel flies towards the reader in the foreground of the page, Shara's A-Wing is shown turning in three small panels in the background. This effect makes the space battle come alive, adding a clever bit of movement and excitement. All of the vehicles are beautifully drawn and thoroughly detailed. Those who love the vehicles of Star Wars will really enjoy that aspect of Shattered Empire.
From its opening pages, Shattered Empire is built as the start of the next chapter of Star Wars stories. Dovetailing out of the climactic battle of Endor seen in Return of the Jedi, the comic quickly establishes itself as a link between the popular original trilogy of films and the upcoming movie. Not only do several original trilogy characters appear in Shattered Empire (mainly in small cameo-like roles), there's also a pretty obvious hint that the comic's two main characters are the parents of one of the major new protagonists of The Force Awakens.
Unfortunately, Shattered Empire sacrifices characterization and flavor to link the past and future of the Star Wars films. The plot of the issue is pretty by the numbers and there's nothing Star Wars fans haven't seen before in other Star Wars comics or novels. Shara and her husband's aren't given much characterization outside of their talents in battle, which is a shame as the hints of characterization really make the reader want to learn more about them. Several cameos featuring recognizable Star Wars characters would have served the comic better if they had built the new (and supposedly important to the Star Wars mythos) characters up, but instead they act as a way to squeeze in popular characters into the issue. There's also a recognizable difference between Checchetto's depiction of made for the comic characters and the movie characters, with some of the movie characters obviously drawn from photo reference when compared to the new characters created just for Shattered Empire.
It's too early to tell how integral Shattered Empire will be to the larger Star Wars universe, but most hardcore fans will appreciate any new scrap of material in the build up to The Force Awakens. Shattered Empire could be a vital link between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens or it could just be an unimportant tease. Given that many hardcore Star Wars fans spent millions last week on Force Friday for new Star Wars toys and merchandise, there's probably no reason they wouldn't pick up and enjoy Shattered Empire. More casual fans might want to hold out and wait for the trade to see how vital and necessary Shattered Empire is to the larger Star Wars mythos. As of right now, Shattered Empire is a mildly enjoyable comic with a standard plot, forgettable characters and only a hint that the series could play a big role in the new Star Wars canon.