Star Wars: Shattered Empire (technically Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire) has its moments -- especially when Rucka, who excels in strong female characters, gets his hands on Princess Leia -- it falls short in what it seemed to promise. There is a big tie to Force Awakens, to be sure, but it's a tie really in name only -- it reveals nothing and really matters not to Force Awakens itself. I'd also argue that the four-issue miniseries is structurally unsound, reaching its crescendo in the third part and then petering out in the fourth, such that I was left at the end wondering if that was truly all there was to it.
[Review contains spoilers]
Shattered Empire follows mainly Rebel pilot Shara -- but also her husband, special Rebel groundtrooper Kes -- in and out of interaction with the main Star Wars cast, in the days after the Battle of Endor. The first issue is kind of about Han Solo (though he appears throughout), the second and third about Princess Leia, and the fourth about Luke Skywalker. Shara and Kes have a direct connection to Force Awakens, and maybe if I'd read this before I'd seen that I'd have had more of an "a-ha moment." But as it is, Shattered Empire's end suggests something that doesn't bear out in the movie, and the story's overall lack of bearing on Force Awakens is significant enough that it makes it hardly worth reading as a movie supplement.
There's a variety of items Rucka approaches in the story that would make interesting stories in and of themselves, including Emperor Palpatine giving orders posthumously, Leia sensing the spirit of Darth Maul on Naboo, and Luke Skywalker rescuing a Force-sensitive tree from the Empire's clutches. But none of these make up the plot of Shattered Empire, and rather Rucka flits from beat to beat, suggesting a lot but honing in on nothing. My guess is this isn't Rucka's fault but rather a limitation of writing in the Star Wars universe (and post-Return of the Jedi, no less). As such, however, not only is Shattered Empire not really a lead-in to Force Awakens, but it's also more of a Star Wars primer than really a Star Wars story. (The extent to which the "Empire" is shown as "shattered" in the book is also small.) Again, Rucka's strongest issues here are the second and third, in which Shara is significantly active alongside Leia. The first issue of Mark Waid's Princess Leia miniseries is also included in this collection, as if maybe someone in charge had a sense of this book's strong suit, too.
Frankly, both of these stories serve to emphasize just how under-served Leia is in the Star Wars movies. Even as she's the quintessential strong Rebel princess, Waid's story takes up Leia's silence over the destruction of Alderaan precisely because George Lucas entirely glosses over Leia's feelings over the death of her family and entire planet. Rucka's story has way, way in the background Leia's new understanding that Darth Vader is her father (likely another franchise limitation), something else that Lucas drops on Leia but offers no opportunity for the character to actually reflect on. Strangely, Rucka's and Waid's stories are fairly similar, each involving Leia befriending a female Rebel pilot and each taking Leia to Naboo; Shattered Empire receives a further note of retroactive disconnect in that Rucka's story doesn't reflect that Leia had apparently been to Naboo before, in Waid's story, after the events of New Hope.
I do get that Luke seeking out the Force trees in the end and giving one to Shara and Kes, who are retiring from the Rebel force, symbolizes the end of the Empire and the arrival of peace. But Rucka's conclusion is high on action and short on characterization, equally staying mostly out of Luke's head (Rucka's positing of Luke escaping the second Death Star in an Imperial ship and nearly getting shot down is a cute bit, however.) The four-issue story gets only a two-page denouement, of which Shara and Kes's reunion is a scant four panels. The metaphor aside, the story just ends, and though we get a conclusion of sorts for Shara, it doesn't feel like enough at the end of a story already lacking in connective tissue -- letting alone that we know from Force Awakens that any sense of peace here is fleeting anyway. Chuck Wendig's Aftermath, at least, suggests that the war is not over, not that it is.
Mainly what Star Wars: Shattered Empire does for me is make me want to go read Mark Waid's Princess Leia (and also reminds me that I ought be picking up another volume of Greg Rucka's Lazarus). Were Marvel to announce a Shattered Empire II -- that maybe picked up on that Leia-on-Naboo-sensing-Maul bit -- then I'd recommend this book in a heartbeat. Wholly disconnected, though, I'm not sure this Force Awakens lead-in makes a stronger case for your dollars than other books on the stands.
[Includes original and variant cover thumbnails, Princess Leia #1 and Marvel's original Star Wars #1]