Countdown to ‘Force Awakens’ Day 18: Bridging the Gap Between Episodes VI and VII

By December 18, 2015

Did you know that, by definition, a galaxy is big? Like, really big. Huge. Gigantic. Enormous…bigger than most people can actually comprehend (expect maybe mathematicians, or astronomers…).

It’s an interesting thought to keep in mind when considering the Star Wars universe, and by “universe,” I mean the actual galaxy the story takes place in. You know, the one that existed a long time ago and far, far away? The original trilogy certainly felt quite large in scope, as it was set on a variety of planets and moons across that mythical galaxy, and its boundaries have continued to expand in the prequels, cartoon series, books, video games, and so on. A number of those expansions have since been relegated to “legends” rather than “canon” (“canon” being everything that officially counts now that Disney owns the property and is continuing the saga with The Force Awakens), but that’s not to say there still isn’t a massive amount of content that awaits those who want to know more. So much content, in fact, that it’s left more than a few fans, myself included, quite daunted (remember, a galaxy is so massive that even a “small” one contain several thousand stars…feeling overwhelmed by the story possibilities yet?).

Before you think I’m going to take on everything that has been deemed canon up until this point, know that I’ve barely scratched the surface. I realized a few months ago that there was no way I was going to be able to read every canon book and comic series, watch every canon movie and television show, and play every canon video game. I need to sleep, after all. But what I came to understand and accept was that Disney created such a wide variety of content because the Star Wars universe does, in fact, have a wide variety of fans. There’s something for everyone and I was able to figure out which stories I wanted to consume based on the themes and characters I particularly gravitated to, so I read a couple of the canon novels, picked up a comic series or two and quite enjoyed tuning in to Star Wars: Rebels on the Cartoon Network.

What I was really waiting for, however, were the books and comics set to take place after Return of the Jedi. That’s hallowed ground, thanks to old expanded universe authors like Timothy Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson, but I was willing to give Disney and J.J. Abrams the chance to wipe the slate clean and write a new continuation of the story. Their first move turned out to be an extremely smart one: they decided to set the 7th film 30 years after Episode VI. Not only did that allow the filmmakers to realistically include beloved characters Luke, Leia, and Han (along with Chewie, and, many of us are hoping, Lando), it created a gap in the timeline that is just ripe with stories to tell. As any student of history knows, revolutions don’t change things overnight and though the Battle of Endor brought down the reign of The Emperor and Darth Vader, the war wouldn’t have ended right then and there. The Empire wasn’t called The Empire for nothing, and there would still be hundreds, if not thousands, of troops, ships and even whole worlds, ready to continue the fight. In my opinion, this would be where the story could get really interesting and so imagine my excitement for the much-anticipated novel, Aftermath, written, by Chuck Wendig, and the limited comic series, Shattered Empire, by Greg Rucka.

Ok, so the elephant in the room is that Aftermath isn’t the novel everyone hoped it would be. I won’t argue that it is, but I won’t say it’s a bad story, either, because it isn’t. Despite not showcasing any of our favorite characters from the original trilogy, the novel covers A LOT of ground, and does so in a pretty competent manner. There are a number of really good characters, including Admiral Rae Sloan, ex-Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus, and another kickass bounty hunter, Jas Emari, who just so happens to be a fierce female Zabrak (the same species as Darth Maul). There are lots of “Star Wars” touches, from a 15 year old boy good with machines, to a rather crazy droid, to a daring rescue mission gone awry. I also really enjoyed Wendig’s attention to detail, particularly in writing action scenes.

What I came to realize is that the ultimate trick to enjoying the novel is to A) get past the initial disappointment over the story not following Luke, Leia or Han on their post ROTJ paths and B) get past the first seven or eight chapters because they are busy doing a lot of set up – it takes some work to get oriented with the characters and locations.

What the novel truly does for the reader, if you let it, is give a sense of how the galaxy is still in turmoil. The tag on the cover is “The War Is Not Over,” a thought that is reiterated in the opening chapter as a father tells his young son that the battle is just beginning. Throughout the novel there are sporadic “Interlude” chapters, most of which are stand-alone (and one of which lets us spend at least a brief moment with one of the Original Three), and I found myself intrigued by these short scenes as they took place all over the galaxy, covering a number of points of view regarding the conflict. Some speak to those in the Rebellion who wish to start a New Republic, others cover remnants of the Empire intent on splintering off into their own faction (seeds that could, perhaps, grow into The First Order?), and still others are simply stories of people trying to survive the turmoil. The point is that everyone is wondering “what’s next?” and that is actually very true to war. That point is also hammered home by the main storyline, as characters are constantly trying to figure out who to align with and how to move forward in a new world (well, galaxy).

A lot of the intricate and interesting ideas and philosophies apparent in Aftermath, are also present in the limited comic book run, Shattered Empire.

STWJOURNEY2015004_DC11Because it is a comic series, what Shattered Empire can, and does, accomplish is markedly different than the novel. Though the theme of “the battle continues” is prevalent in both, Shattered Empire gets a simpler, action based, storyline that moves along at a rapid, but fun, pace. It doesn’t hurt that, as a comic, it also gets to add that visual element that is so important to Star Wars. Artists Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta have a colorful and explosive style that fits perfectly with the tone of the story

Shara_Bey_Battle_of_EndorThe sense of scope in the four-part series is both sweeping and intimate. It introduces some really strong new characters, like fighter pilot Shara Bey (who turns out to be the mother of one of the main players in The Force Awakens) but also lets us spend more time with those we love, like Luke and Leia. Whereas Aftermath has much more time to be detailed and thoughtful, Shattered Empire presses the gas pedal to the ground, though it’s not without a number of wonderful small moments that harken back to everything that the originals stood for.

Both of these stories are the first steps Disney is taking to put us in a post-Return of the Jedi era. Shattered Empire is full of color, action, and adventure, while Aftermath covers more ground on an intellectual, political, and philosophical level. Though quite different, they both do their part in bridging the gap between Episodes VI and VII and I’m sure are just the first of many that will take place during that 30 year period (those that have read the novel Lost Stars or played Star Wars Battlefront have already gotten a glimpse of what else is out there)

Rachel Cushing
Rachel is a television editor by day and either a Jedi knight, vampire slayer, or elvish warrior by night. In between she makes time for movies, movies, and more movies (plus a few books, television shows, and then…more movies). When she’s supposed to be sleeping, she writes about movies as well, both here on and on her own blog. Tweet her @RachelJCushing