Though it's a mouthful of a title, Marvel's weekly "Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" miniseries has taken the biggest steps towards revealing the status quo in this winter's latest "Star Wars" film. Under writer Greg Rucka -- who is a wizard at creating strong female protagonists and balancing multiple plot threads -- the series has become not only a sweeping star epic worthy of the franchise banner, but also an intimate look at the dogged determination needed to eradicate a galaxy-spanning corporation that has stamped out entire planets. The easy work was the battle on Endor; the hard part is getting that change to stick.
Rucka pulls the stories back towards one another as Palpatine unleashes his revenge plot from beyond the grave, peaking in a dogfight over Naboo. Princess Leia, Lieutenant Bey and Queen Soruna show off their heroism by engaging a Star Destroyer and a contingent of TIE fighters sent to disrupt the weather over the deceased Emperor's home planet. There are high stakes, and Rucka turns the screws just enough to allow fans to feel as though this could be it for the leads. He combines his own sense of pacing with the expected high adventure moments the franchise is known for and it creates an exciting dynamic. The biggest plot moment happens when Leia briefly feels the presence of Darth Maul, who fell in the same room decades prior to her visit. It happens out of nowhere and is just as quickly dismissed, but the team delivers it in such a foreboding manner it's hard to not be excited by the prospect of revisiting one of the most underused characters in the "Star Wars" universe.
As with last issue, the art is split, this time between Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta. Each one follows a plot, Unzueta depicting the Naboo scenes and Checchetto illustrating the Imperial takedown led by Han Solo. Their styles are well suited to both the story being told and the environment; Checchetto's art is a little more angular and feels at home in the middle of the harsh, bomb-strewn attack on the Wretch of Tyron, while Unzueta's style fits the rounded and softer feel of Naboo, where even the ships have no hard lines. Unzueta's art also hews closer to the accepted character models for each protagonist without feeling like everything has been traced. Checchetto is a little more loose, though no one looks unrecognizable on the page.
The issue ends on a strange note for a series. It feels like the end of the series, as the plot elements have all been resolved and the stakes are settled. This may be a ploy by the creative team to lull fans into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from underneath them, but that will have to wait until next week to play out.
This series is another solid example of the quality Marvel has brought to the "Star Wars" universe and the first real lead-in to Episode VII. Fans should check this series out before heading to the cinema this holiday season.