The writer of Marvel's highly-anticipated series talks to StarWars.com about crafting the next phase of the Rebellion -- and of a galaxy far, far away.
The destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi wasn't the end. It wasn't the end of the Empire, it wasn't the end of the Rebellion's fight against tyranny. It wasn't the end of Star Wars. It was actually a beginning.
Star Wars: Shattered Empire, a four-issue series from Marvel kicking off on September 2, is a big part of that beginning. It's a tentpole story in the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens publishing program, and picks up immediately after the Battle of Endor.
"When you're young and you see Jedi," series writer Greg Rucka tells StarWars.com, "you can look at the happy ending and go, 'Hey, it's over!' But you get older and you start to think about it, and you realize, no it's not. It's not over at all." That's the basis of Shattered Empire, which follows new characters Kes and main protagonist Shara Bey -- husband and wife Rebels -- as the struggle for freedom continues.
"Shara flies, Kes is a ground-pounder, and a very experienced one," says Rucka. "So, they have spent more time apart than together, and they're in the Outer Rim world where the Imperial presence is felt, and they're hoping that they can bring an end to this. But they're both very tired veterans, and they come out of [the Battle of] Endor with the elation that we see in [Return of the Jedi]. 'We've won. It's over.' -- only to discover that, no it's not. The Empire was huge." Despite the fireworks, despite the funeral pyre of Darth Vader, despite the joy on Endor, the Empire is far from broken.
"The Empire still has resources. The Empire still has an enormous fleet," Rucka says. "They may be in disarray post the Battle of Endor, but to think that in that vacuum people aren't stepping up [is shortsighted].
"All these people are not about to go, 'Oh, well, I guess we were on the wrong side. It's over, then.' [Laughs] There's a Moff out there who's like, 'Right. I'm emptying the bank accounts, I'm changing my name, and I'm going to Aruba.' You know there is. But for every Moff who does that, there are five who say, 'Like hell am I leaving this post. We've got stormtroopers for a reason. You get out there and you shoot every last one of these upstart insurgents, these terrorists, and you make clear to them that the rule of law still stands.' So it does get ugly."
Shattered Empire, illustrated by Marco Chechetto (see his beautiful art above and below), will cover this new ground in multiple ways: by showing how the Empire reacts when it's down, and by showing how different worlds change after world-changing events. Rucka cites real history -- the Arab Spring, the Soviet Bloc, North Korea -- as influences in how he approaches depicting the state of the galaxy in the comic, as well as another factor in all dictatorships. "The other thing that I tend to look at is propaganda," he says. "Who controls the airwaves? The Empire does. So, the Rebellion can be jumping up and down, and screaming at the top their lungs, 'Palpatine is dead!' But I guarantee you, that message didn't reach 70 percent of the galaxy. It's a rumor. It's a whisper."
The story evolved through Rucka's pitches and collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, particularly Rayne Roberts, Kiri Hart, Pablo Hidalgo, and Leland Chee, as they worked out everything from the political climate across the galaxy to different story beats. "We see, at the beginning of issue 2, the Alliance aiding in the liberation of a capitol city on a new world," Rucka says. "Not a world we've visited in the films. We see there, a hint that the Empire has no intention of going quietly into that dark night. One assumes that there's an uptick in support for the Alliance: people who are now willing to take up arms with the news that they [blew up the Death Star], the Emperor's gone. 'This is our chance.' But by the same token, the Empire now has to double down. They cannot risk not defending what they hold with all their power, because they've got to know how tenuous their position is in these first couple of weeks after Endor. That's something that Leland and Pablo specifically commented on. That, while there are places that will be able to rise up, there are places that start to and the cost is so punitive that it immediately fails, and there are others where they just don't dare."
While Rucka says that he went back and re-watched all of the films in preparation for Shattered Empire, he's also taking cues from a much more recent Star Wars work: Star Wars Rebels, the animated series about a ragtag group that dares to strike back against the Empire. "I've been watching Rebels with my family," he says. "Rebels shows a canon tonality to the beginning of the beginning of the Rebellion. And if we look at Endor as the end of the beginning of the Rebellion, which, I think, is probably the smarter way to look at it, then that is a natural progression. But one of the other things that Rebels provides is a view, that has frankly [only] been speculated on, as to what it looked like once the Empire really came to full power. We never saw a macro view of the galaxy under Imperial control." The influence of Rebels doesn't end there, however.
"I had an interesting conversation with the Story Group a couple of weeks ago when we were going over notes about the Luke beat," Rucka says. "It was just after the "Siege of Lothal" episode of Rebels had come out. We were having a discussion about what's Luke's power level post-Jedi, and is it comparable to Vader kicking the snot out of Kanan and Ezra? You drop these proto-chicken walkers on him, and he's like, 'Yeah, that's not gonna work, either.' [Laughs] Can Luke do that? Is Luke at that power level? The Story Group is incredible. They are really smart, passionate people, and have clearly put thought into it. So, we're talking about it, and [they said] 'Well, maybe this, but not that. We've never seen this -- maybe you can do this with Luke.' I love working in an environment like that."
While the series mainly follows Shara and Kes, that doesn't mean we won't be seeing a certain Jedi, scoundrel, princess, and all our favorites from the original trilogy. They're all key figures in the Alliance, and will be represented. Just not in starring roles. "This is important," Rucka says. "This could never be, as much as I wish I could've written, and would've loved to have written, the story of, 'We're gonna follow Luke for four issues after Return of the Jedi.' That was never what my mandate here was. But, with that in mind, we see Luke, we see Leia, we see Lando, we see Han, we see Chewie. We see what they are doing, and while the stories are not about them -- they're about Shara Bey -- the stories link. Issue 1 sort of stands alone. Issues 2 and 3 follow the same story path; they're like a two-parter, and they lead into the fourth. As it stands, we meet Shara in [issue] 1 during the Battle of Endor, and we come out of the Battle of Endor, and then we cover about three to six months total in the series following the Battle of Endor. In that time, Shara and her husband find themselves in some situations only incidentally in the path of the principals, and in other situations, working quite closely with them." Even in a smaller capacity, the writer is taking care to get things right with these classic characters.
"In that, I really wanted to honor the moment in the characters, but at the same time, I didn't want to exploit them," he says. "Because it's not a lot of time and there's a lot that's been going on."
To illustrate this, Rucka brings up the stories behind the stories. The events of Return of the Jedi were huge for Han, Luke, and Leia. All came to understand major truths and go through major changes. These truths and changes inform Shattered Empire. "There are moments that we don't get to see that we know have to have happened," he says. "If I do a good job and they like me, hopefully one day I get to write the scene where Leia goes to Mon Mothma and says, 'So, it turns out you knew my mom?' You know? That's a great scene.
"When you start to think about it," Rucka continues, "and you think about what Leia now knows coming out of the Battle of Endor, she's got a lot on her plate. I mean, she's got a lot on her plate, both as a war leader and as a politician following the Battle of Endor. But in the midst of all that, she's got to reconcile the fact that her biological father is directly responsible for the destruction of the people that she's always believed were her family, of her mother and father, of Alderaan, and everything else that Vader did. And once you start unpacking that, you've got this story of Padmé Naberrie, who is Padmé Amidala. That leads, inevitably, and it doesn't have to be a big moment, to her going, 'Wait a second,' and that scene where she's got to turn [to Mon Mothma] and say, 'You were there. She was your friend. Who was she? I want to know.' That's a hidden scene. Someday, somebody will write that scene. That scene is not in Shattered Empire. There is an insinuation that that scene has occurred. I tried very hard to respect the canon and the logical extrapolations of it."
This approach also follows for Shara and Kes, the characters he created. "There's a backstory that I don't actually ever see getting into the issues, and as it stands now, this is subject to change," he says. "In my head, they joined after the victory at Yavin, and they joined after the victory at Yavin for a very specific reason. They had a cargo service that they ran and they had a newborn. They were like, 'Well, what's the future for our child going to be?'" Even if this origin is not set in stone, it represents an emotional core. Shara and Kes have something to fight for.
"Star Wars works because for all the glory of this fantasy setting," Rucka says, "the emotions of the characters and their stories are very real and plausible and tangible. We accept them. When Luke screams at the end of Empire, 'No!', that is a primal agony. You have to be an exceptional cynic to laugh at Hamill's performance there...That's a heart ripping open. That's an emotion that is so honest and so true. When Star Wars is at its best, it carries that.
"I've got four issues," he says. "I don't know if I can ever touch that level of resonance and truth, but again, I want to honor that it exists. Shara Bey may be a pilot you never met before, but her emotions, her concerns, what she does, what she believes, are real. If I can convey that successfully then we'll have a good story."
Rucka, a multiple Eisner winner, has written Batman, Superman, Wolverine. Comic-book icons. He's written his own creator-owned titles. How does it feel for him -- a huge Star Wars fan who cut school to see Return of the Jedi, has seen all six films "more times than I can count," and has a massive action figure collection -- to take his first steps into the larger world of a galaxy far, far away?
"There are few things that I've encountered in storytelling that engender as much passion and speculation as Star Wars," he says. "I was thinking about this a lot, honestly. I've got a long track record in comics. I've worked at Marvel, I've worked at DC. And I have worked throughout my career at both places with artists and writers who grew up with these comics. They know them inside and out and they love them. They were their holy books growing up.
"As much as I love, and I do love, comics and DC and Marvel, that was never my religion growing up. Star Wars was always my religion. Star Wars was the mythology that I was most invested in. To have been given this honor, to come in and play in the universe -- and the stuff we're writing is canon -- and to be able to add to it is something that I take very, very seriously. I take it remarkably seriously."
From the sound of it, Shattered Empire will be a more than worthy addition to the story of the Rebellion's fight against the Empire, and as significant for fans as it is for its writer.
"At every turn I have wanted nothing more than to honor the source material," says Rucka, "and I want to build on it. I want to add to it in as constructive and as useful a way as I can."
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.