Perhaps it’s because I have written more words than any human being should, over the last few days, about Star Wars, but I keep finding myself surprisingly blocked when it comes to expressing how I feel about Marvel’s Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens — Shattered Empire.
This isn’t a case of my nostalgia overwhelming my critical faculties — that was me watching the most recent trailer for the new movie, which continued the merciless attempts to mine the audience’s collective childhood for all that it’s worth, more or less successfully — but, if anything, more the opposite; Shattered Empire is a perfectly fun series that offers fan service by giving readers the first real look at the main characters from the original trilogy after the original trilogy. That, alone, is likely worth the price of admission for most hardcore SW fans: look, it’s Leia using the Force (admittedly, somewhat unwittingly)! Look, it’s Luke on a mission to rebuild the Jedi faith! and so on. I can very much see what’s appealing about that. And yet… and yet…
…And yet, it feels like a series that exists to serve fan service-y purposes and lay easter eggs for the new movie, rather than tell any kind of story in its own right. In fact, I’ll go further — despite the obvious attempts of writer Greg Rucka, I’m not convinced that there is a coherent story being told throughout these four issues. There’s definitely a B-plot that threads throughout them all — Will the mother of Oscar Isaac’s character in the new movie get to retire? — but that’s literally a scene or two every issue, hidden in amongst the other stuff that’s going on, and the other stuff is… choppy, at best.
This is where the fan service element feels at odds with the rest of the book. Somewhere in here is a story about someone struggling with family pressures at odds with what she sees as her duty, but it (perhaps fittingly?) keeps getting overwhelmed and submerged by the demand that she go on a mission with Han Solo, or with Princess Leia, or Luke Skywalker, because she’s such a great pilot. It wouldn’t feel quite so obvious if there was more to the individual missions, but they’re very fragmented and slight: is the Empire doing something bad over here? Yes it is! What about here? Yes! But what about… oh, yes, they are. Never mind, then.
(This, also, feels surprisingly incoherent; the various exploits of the Empire are parts of something called “Operation: Cinder,” which is essentially the Emperor’s last will and testament, a last-ditch plan to crush any and all opposition by any means necessary, but because of the way the story is told, it comes across as less of a plan and more of a “It’s a Star Destroyer! Don’t worry, that’s not a big deal” situation each and every time.)
The more the series goes on, the less it feels like a story and more and more, it’s become a computer game with individual missions and then cut scenes advancing Shara’s personal story; even the final page, which theoretically ties up that story, feels like an after-thought or epilogue after defeating the final boss, except without actually managing to have a final boss battle — after all, he was already defeated in the movie that this comic is the epilogue to. As a stand-alone mini-series, it’s amazingly unsatisfying.
Except… it’s not a stand-alone mini-series at all. I mean, that’s clear from the title: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This isn’t intended to be read in a vacuum by anyone; it’s very intentionally a stepping stone between two (more important) pieces of story, and on that level, it… kind of works, I guess?* The foreshadowing and laying of groundwork is awkwardly obvious at times — there are a great many things introduced and left undeveloped in the series, which I assume and left there for other people down the line to tackle — and I can’t help but feel as if there was another, more personal and interesting story that once existed underneath the synergistic demands that end up suffocating the series as it exists.
(* Complicating my read on this is the fact that I loved Star Wars: Aftermath, Chuck Wendig’s book set in roughly the same time period — in large part because it doesn’t feature the original cast, and instead gets to tell a story of its own, more or less.)