Star Wars: Empire Ascendant Review: An Entertaining Sampling That Sets the Stage for Empire Strikes Back

This year marks a significant shift in the world of Star Wars in a variety of mediums, inspiring a bittersweet feeling among fans at having to say goodbye to a number of favorite characters. The debut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in theaters might be the most emotional experience, though Marvel Comics has delivered sendoffs to titles focusing on Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra, and Beilert Valance, in addition to concluding their proper Star Wars series after 75 issues. The stories contained within Star Wars: Empire Ascendant serve a multitude of purposes, setting the stage for some future stories while wrapping up others, tying together various corners of the galaxy far, far away to a mostly entertaining degree.

Our first story depicts two Rebels on Hoth as the Echo base is being constructed, only for an accident to occur that puts their lives in danger. Much of the Star Wars comic was spent focusing on Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca and their various missions that weren't quite as dramatic as facing Vader directly. This story shifted the focus away from those major players and, much like we saw with Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, reminds us that there's much more to the Rebel Alliance than these larger-than-life heroes and that sometimes what the Rebels need are people devoted to the cause. In that respect, the story honors that spirit while also introducing an unexpected reveal that some sequel trilogy fans will be elated to witness while others might find this new detail feel like a forced connection that was unnecessary to the series.

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(Photo: Marvel Comics)

The most frustrating element about this story is that, with the Star Wars series ending on a relatively disappointing note, this chapter of the book didn't offer a more fulfilling resolution to that story. This isn't a fault of the story itself, which is quite engaging, but fans who wanted more out of Star Wars' finale won't feel any better after this book.

The next chapter in the book tells the story of the Empire's newest death trooper recruits, embracing the presence of Darth Vader by showing more than it tells, depicting what happens when these specialized Imperials are unleashed on a Rebel base. The action that unfolds is exciting and explosive, mirroring the intensity of the Mimban sequence in Solo: A Star Wars Story. The events of the story don't over much mythology to the character of Darth Vader, instead feeling more like a prologue to what the villain's upcoming book will explore. There's a lot of fun to be had in the story, but the previous chapter's insight into the mindset of Rebels has much more emotional resonance, with this story feeling much more superficial and as an amuse-bouche of the upcoming Vader series, which is still months away.

Another narrative in the comic follows Beilert Valance after he is enlisted by the Rebellion to escort someone of great importance, forcing the bounty hunter to fight for the side of "good" if he hopes to earn a paycheck. Bounty hunters occupy a very specific place in the world of Star Wars, with the term typically being synonymous with "badass." For fans of bounty hunters, this Valance story will surely be a delight, as it depicts his ruthless demeanor and skills with combat, though those of us who don't inherently love such characters will be left frustrated that this feels like yet another story that serves as a teaser for a new series, as opposed to a wholly engaging experience. The final tag in the story also reveals key connections to the original trilogy, which some fans are sure to love while others will likely bemoan.

The final story in the book is another epilogue, showing the reverse perspective of the message Doctor Aphra sent in her finale's book finally making its way to its recipients, with Aphra's closest acquaintances on Hoth wondering what happened to the archaeologist. The story is emotionally engaging and effective, yet it feels relatively unnecessary, due in large part to how effective the final issue of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra was. Her goodbye to her friends and family carried more weight when we experienced it how Aphra herself felt it, not knowing if the message would ever even arrive, while also knowing that her message was just as much a communique with others as it was a confession of how she really feels about her life.

If you're looking for four strong Star Wars stories covering all corners of the mythology, then Star Wars: Empire Ascendant will make a worthy addition to your collection, though if you were hoping this book would tie up the loose ends of various other Star Wars titles from Marvel, you'll likely be left frustrated.

Published by Marvel Comics

On December 18, 2019

Written by Greg Pak, Ethan Sacks, Charles Soule, and Simon Spurrier

Art by Luke Ross, Roland Boschi, Paolo Villanelli, and Caspar Wijngaard

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Colors by GURU-eFX, Rachelle Rosenberg, Arif Prianto, and Lee Loughridge

Letters by Clayton Cowles and Travis Lanham

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