Catherine checks in with her thoughts on The Force Awakens and its comic spinoff, Star Wars: Shattered Empire.
Since The Force Awakens finally made its screen debut, I got the inspiration (and the information—very important) to do a piece talking about the movie itself and The Shattered Empire, the comic-book prelude to The Force Awakens. So, here we go!
I feel like it was always Disney’s plan to acquire Star Wars after they acquired Marvel because the franchise’s comic book presence at Dark Horse had a strong following, but the Dark Horse name has, to me, always been synonymous with more niche titles and/or video game titles making their cross over into comic books—look out for my piece on their new Dragon Age comic (coming soon ™). I remember all of the memes that came out when Disney bought the Star Wars property—Princess Leia was now a Disney Princess, and that was really awesome (although people tended to forget that this meant that Padmé was now a Disney Queen). Mixing Star Wars with the heavy-hitting Marvel comic books must have been a “duh” moment and the profits more than likely spoke for how genius of an idea it was. At one point, my pull list at my local comic book store included Star Wars, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Lando, Kanan: The Last Padawan, and Star Wars: Shattered Empire—admittedly, most of those titles were pulled for my other half, but I took an interest in Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and Shattered Empire because the continued fleshing out of established characters is something that I love reading (and writing). I also felt like I couldn’t miss out on the story tidbits in Shattered Empire.
The date in Shattered Empire #1(written by Greg Rucka with art by Marco Checchetto) says November 2015, but I feel like it came out earlier than that. [The first issue was released in September. –JG,FE] As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get a chance to read it until I finished my finals for my last semester of my undergraduate degree. Since the movie was coming out less than a week after graduation, I didn’t have a lot of time to play comic book catch up, but I dug right into the official lead-in title for The Force Awakens and I was pleasantly surprised because the main character for this comic book is not one of our familiar faces but a female A-Wing pilot by the name of Shara Bey, who is the mother of The Force Awakens character Poe Dameron and the wife of Kes Dameron, a member of the Pathfinder strike team that helps Han Solo take the moon of Endor —which is where Shattered Empire begins, with the end of the war as far as Return of the Jedi is concerned.
All is not well in the universe because even though Emperor Palpatine is dead (which is Rebellion propaganda, depending on which side of the conflict you found yourself), his reach goes beyond the grave and his shadow hangs over the diplomatic mission of the Rebellion: the reformation of the Republic that Palpatine destroyed. Princess Leia is spearheading this effort and her first stop is Naboo, the home planet of Emperor Palpatine and Padmé Skywalker, which had been preserved up to the point at which Leia arrives. It was refreshing to see the care that was given to Naboo’s history and style: even the queen is still wearing her lipstick parted down the center of her bottom lip, a reminder of the grim and bloody civil war that gripped Naboo. This same level of detail was applied to every planet, every ship, every piece of clothing that new and old characters wore within The Shattered Empire.
I love going to midnight showings for these kinds of movies because they have trailers that everyone gets excited for—the room got loud for Captain America: Civil War and Warcraft, and I love the feeling of being in a room with people who just naturally understand each other because we’re all there because we’re nerds, on one level or another.
The Force Awakens is a really good introductory film for anyone who was watching it: it held the hands of new Star Wars fans who may have just been getting into the series for the first time and it also had some nods to the Extended Universe stories that had been taken out of the galactic canon because Disney willed it to be so. That’s kind of the awesome thing about Star Wars, though: even if you take out the Extended Universe, there is still so much mythology and history baked into the stories that you don’t need to know who Revan and Starkiller were in order to enjoy the story. One thing that did make me sad before the yellow scroll-text even hit the screen was that we were informed by our theater staff that Disney had been very strict about previewing the film, so all of the theater staff hadn’t seen the movie yet—I couldn’t imagine working at a theater and not having seen a movie that the mouthy eight year olds (and mouthy older women in the bathroom) were blabbing about like people hadn’t been waiting a decade and change to see this movie. It made things feel almost somber? I don’t know…it felt weird knowing that the staff hadn’t seen anything and yet there we were, nomming on our popcorn and waiting for the movie.
I enjoyed The Force Awakens. However! There were some things that really bothered me: both within the movie and some of the reactions that I’ve seen.
Our new male hero, John Boyega’s Finn, invites viewers into the world of the Stormtrooper, which is unfamiliar territory if you haven’t been privy to the novels that have come out since Disney’s takeover (or any of the novels before that). One thing that Star Wars, as a fictional universe, has always handled really well is the distinction in skin color, because there is none: a character is judged within the fictional worlds based on their race, not the color of their skin (unless you’re slave shopping for Twi’leks maybe? I’m hoping that Star Wars: Rebels’ pilot, Hera, is helping to combat the Twi’lek image because the Twi’lek Jedi and Sith don’t get a lot of screen time, if any, in the movies). At this point, in my opinion, it’s not edgy to have a non-White protagonist within the Disney/Marvel camp because we have Miles Morales, Sam Wilson, America Chavez, Kamala Khan (these characters still have Marvel fans whining for various reasons), and any of the other new, diverse (and amazing) heroes that I missed. While these characters might be making waves because they’re flipping roles on their heads, our Stormtrooper is unique not because he’s African-American but because he is a Stormtrooper who has rejected his place within The First Order.
I really enjoyed the character struggle between where he came from, what he wants to be, and what he becomes. I feel like a lot of the reaction to Finn that I’ve seen has been based on the fact that we have another African-American involved in the Star Wars universe and it is such a superficial reaction that they miss another crucial part of his identity that played into the movie as a whole—and the entire commentary of struggling to find one’s identity in a group where conformity is the only option. I’m very intrigued about how his story is going to play into the overall story of the movie and the Star Wars universe as a whole. Maybe there’s a Finn solo title in the works to bridge the gap between VII and VIII? I’d dig it.
I’m really happy that girls and women who are seeing Star Wars for the first time don’t have to wait for the next installment of movies to find female characters that they can hopefully identify with. Leia Organa is obviously no longer the young thing that we saw paraded around in various female archetypes during IV, V, and VI—now, she offers the picture of a woman who has clearly found her element. It was refreshing to see that this movie treated its older characters as well as its new, younger characters. There’s something to be said about acknowledging that there is a large crowd seeing these movies who saw A New Hope in 1977 as teenagers and now want to see those same characters that they identified with as teenagers grown into the roles that this particular age bracket of fans might be engaging with. Seeing the confidence and strength that Leia has grown into made me really happy. The onscreen Leia feels like she shares more with the Princess Leia present in the solo title comic that Marvel made a part of their Star Wars titles. (I’d suggest reading it – it’s fantastic.) I imagine that we would have seen the same strength in Padmé, although probably more politically and less militarily—although the Star Wars universe mixes the two—if she had been able to live out a full life. Could you imagine a Princess Leia tutored by her mother and not Bail Organa (not that he did a bad job)? It could have, and would have, been awesome.
The Force Awakens’ appeal to girls comes in the form of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, our mysterious scavenger from Jakku. I feel like Ridley’s casting was a form of lamentation that Kiera Knightley is too old to play Rey (their almost everything is uncomfortably similar). I have a rule about spoilery stuff: I avoid it. So, all I knew about Rey was that she was clearly our new female protagonist and that it looked like she was living in Star Destroyer wreckage on what looked like Tatooine. Admittedly, I had the bar set pretty high for a female Star Wars protagonist because younger Leia failed to grab me as a fan and even Padmé fell off a bit by the end of Revenge of the Sith. So, I can safely that, for me, Rey almost hits the mark, but due to awkward writing in the first scenes that she’s interacting with Finn, I had a weird taste in my mouth over the whole thing. It echoes the first few episodes of CBS’ Supergirl—clearly, this character is supposed to be a feminist figure and we’re going to make it so painfully obvious that you’re going to want to plug your ears because the dialogue is just… icky.
I’m also seeing/reading a lot of excitement over a female protagonist who is not under assault by any negative portrayals of female lead characters, and while I always share a bit in this excitement, I feel like isolating Rey as special does a serious disservice to the women who have come before Rey in the Star Wars universe and have accomplished the same thing (Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and more recently, Star Wars: Rebels, comes to mind). What I do feel like Rey does very well is continue the struggle that is seen in Shara Bey: does she stay in the war or does she go home and live her life?
Shara Bey finds a peaceful middle ground by the end of Shattered Empire #4and takes on the responsibility of caring for one of the last two trees that grew in the first Jedi Temple, after rescuing them from an Imperial research base under the guidance of Commander Luke Skywalker. This continuation of legacy, from Shara Bey and Kes Dameron to another main character in The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron, is something that I was really looking forward to and enjoyed seeing well-executed in The Force Awakens. Because the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is even more convoluted because it is owned by two separate movie production companies) and the Marvel Comic universe are not explicitly joined, we, as the fans, have the joy of seeing characters in multiple adaptations at the same time, but we also miss out on seeing the play between comic and movie. This is something that Marvel and Disney are doing with the Star Wars property and I think that it has been wonderful. I’m really excited to see the play that will develop between the comic books and the movie screen with the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the December 2017 release of Episode VIII. | Catherine Bathe