When the second Death Star blows up at the end of Return of the Jedi, that’s a pretty decisive moment for the Rebel Alliance in their war with the Empire. It’s not, however, a crushing blow. We know a version of the Empire is still out there in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and a new comic book series set to hit next month will show us what happened to the monolithic tyrants and gives us a better understanding of what we may encounter in the movies moving forward.
Building up to the first new Star Wars movie since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, Disney and Lucasfilm are filling in some of the 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Part of this will involve the Marvel Comics mini-series Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens—Shattered Empire. StarWars.com recently interviewed writer Greg Rucka about the project, and he explained why the Empire is still very dangerous, saying:
The Empire still has resources. The Empire still has an enormous fleet. They may be in disarray post the Battle of Endor, but to think that in that vacuum people aren’t stepping up [is shortsighted].
Rucka points out that, for every Imperial officer, Moff, or other big wig that packs up and takes off, there are even more that stick around. They are either driven by devotion and loyalty to the Empire, thinking they’re defending themselves against the terrorist Rebel scum, or they want to step up and seize power for themselves. So, as Rucka says, "it does get ugly."
In this situation, with the central leadership in shambles and various factions vying for power, it’s possible that the Empire becomes even more dangerous. Now it’s wounded and backed into a corner; desperate and with less to lose, it could become chaotic and less predictable, lashing out in every direction.
In The Force Awakens, we know that the new version of the Empire the heroes face off against is called The First Order. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that this is the faction, or one faction, that rose out of the ashes to take control of some corner of that far, far away galaxy. And if they’re able to do that, you know they have power, resources, and the drive to do some horrible things to get where they are.
Rucka’s biggest point is that, in the wake of Return of the Jedi, the Empire is still out there, still a threat. And while there will be more support for the Rebellion, and some will now rise up against their oppressors who wouldn’t have before, the Empire will have to tighten their grip even more in an attempt to squash this before it gets out of hand. He also brings up a great point about how the news of the death of the Emperor and the destruction of the Death Star is disseminated among the people. He says:
The other thing that I tend to look at is propaganda. 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 end of Return of the Jedi is such a big, triumphant moment that it’s easy to look at it and say, "They won, hurray!" But the reality of the situation is that, no matter how decisively you win one battle, a single victory rarely wins an entire war. There’s still a lot of work to do, and Shattered Empire is going to show some of what goes down in the immediate aftermath when it hits on September 2, while, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18, we’ll have the chance to see some of the long-term effects.