"Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" #1 opens in the waning moments of the Battle of Endor as the Rebel Alliance buzzes around the surprisingly operational Death Star II. Writer Greg Rucka tugs on a thread that could have been a subplot of "Return of the Jedi" and weaves a new tale around Green Four, an A-Wing pilot for the Alliance, while artist Marco Checchetto designs her as a character who could have easily been in the background of the original "Star Wars" trilogy.
Checchetto fills the pages with the swarming chaos of the space battle under a cacophony shell of Rucka's dialogue. The artist relays the closing moments of the battle to readers via a double-page splash filled with details: Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker dueling in front of the cackling Emperor Palpatine; Han, Chewie and their band storming the moon base command center; the Rebel fleet fighting for their very existence against the massive might of the Empire's fleet -- and that's just in two pages. Checchetto's dogfight is visually immersive and, with a dazzling assist from colorist Andres Mossa, the artist provides laser bursts, explosions and sweaty pilots commandeering battleworn craft. Once the fight calms down, Checchetto continues with details, fleshing out the new world that blooms from Greg Rucka's script.
The closing moments of the space battle in this issue had me gasping as story beats came together. Rucka feeds the readers enough information to complete the tale, but -- when necessary -- the writer gets just as descriptive in his dialogue as Checchetto does with his art. Most of the main characters of the original trilogy make appearances, and Rucka hits the right notes with each of them, from Luke's humble confidence to Han's blustering, protective swagger. The writer gives everyone their moment but builds a solid plot, introduces a new cast of characters and even drops in some humor -- which is exactly what one would expect from a spot-on "Star Wars" script by one of the most consistently entertaining writers in comics today. Joe Caramagna follows Rucka's lead, layering in the conversations to add depth to the story and busyness to the flight deck, the Ewok village and Battle of Endor.
Rucka, Checchetto, Mossa and Caramagna hit their collaborative stride quite early in "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" #1, making this first issue something worth seeking out. Whether readers hoped to read about Han complaining about Lando's treatment of the Millennium Falcon or were expecting to meet a new generation in advance of "The Force Awakens," "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" #1 brings it all. Marvel has done a great job with the "Star Wars" brand since re-securing the license, but Rucka, Checchetto, Mossa and Caramagna elevate "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" #1 as the new high-water mark for all subsequent "Star Wars" stories.