Star Wars- I was introduced to it at such a young age that it feels like it has always been part of my life. The Original Trilogy held a time honored place in the pantheon of Most Important Movies, especially Return of the Jedi. The first notes of John William’s score would wail and shake as the worn VHS played through the quiet beginning, a hooded Luke approaching the Hutt den to free Han. I can remember the thrill as both Lando and Leia revealed themselves, the triumph of Boba Fett dropping into the sarlaac and the Princess killing Jabba. The end was just as spectacular, the battle of Endor played out in the redwood forests my family would visit almost every summer. Speeder bikes screaming through the undergrowth, Ewoks fighting back against the interlopers who sought to occupy their forest. And Luke, his loneliness a weight as heavy as his father’s body, watching Anakin burn.
I won’t talk about the prequels (everyone else already has), and I can’t claim to have read any Star Wars novels before this or any other works by Chuck Wendig. So there are probably many things I’m missing out on with my initial reading of Aftermath, but I enjoyed it regardless, and really appreciated what Mr. Wendig attempted to do here.
Onward, to the review!
Disclaimer: There’s certainly some character spoilers ahead, but I left out major plot twists and developments. Still, I’ll put a little note as to where the spoilers stop, so if your interested in my over all opinion you can just read that.
Published last September by Del Rey our story takes place between the events of Episode III, Return of the Jedi and Episode VII, the Force Awakens. We begin with Wedge “Copy, Gold Leader” Antilles surveying the planet Akiva, on the far reaches of the galaxy. Alone, he watches with growing concern as a fleet of Star Destroyers wait above the planet.
Before he can warn the New Republic however, he is taken captive, and a desperate series of events unravel as he attempts to notify his allies of the impending meeting of Imperial bigwigs. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface a group of people whose lives have all been changed by the war are drawn together in an attempt to halt the Empire’s plans.
We have Norra Wexley, a former Rebel Pilot who was one of many in the space above Endor for the destruction of the second Death Star. Suffering from flashbacks, the only things she wants is to find her son and a safe place to live, far from the memory of war and its lingering effects. Her son, Temmin, has spent the last several years practically alone; fifteen and headstrong, he operates a junk shop with a certain illegal factor to it. He recently stole something important from a local crime boss with connections to the Imperials, putting him on the list of most wanted in the capitol city of Myrra.
Jas Emari is an alien (Zabrak) bounty hunter formally under the employ of the Empire. Seeing no profit in fighting for a dying organization, she has switched sides and is on Akiva in an attempt to kill a head Imperial officer. Her plans change however when she sees just how many Imperials are on the planet, and she grows determined to bring in as many heads as she can. Her principles are based upon cash returns, but she is honest about it. Brutal and efficient, she takes the mounting problems facing her and her allies in stride, and is probably the most capable on the team.
Our last major protagonist is Sinjir Rath Velus, and allow me to diverge a bit from the review to say I love him. A former Imperial loyalty officer, the fight at Endor and his last loyalty mission left him a troubled man who is desperate to drink as much as he can whenever the opportunity arises. Most of the humor is left for him, and Chuck gave him a bitter, disillusioned voice and a sarcastic streak that appeals to me a great deal.
This brings us to our next point; there are gay people here! Hoorah! It makes sense in a world this vast to have all sorts of humans, and it was refreshing to have a major character as well as secondary ones just being themselves. Norra Wexley’s sister is an older women in a comfortable and caring relationship, and we are given a glimpse of it when Norra spends time at her house. Sinjir is also gay, something I understood while he spoke of the loyalty mission that broke him, and was confirmed later in a conversation with Jas.
But back to the story! Our characters are thrown together in a convoluted series of events as they attempt to take out the head Imperials, save Wedge, and determine just what the Empire is up to this far out in the systems. A standout support character was Mr. Bones, a salvaged battle droid loyal to Temmin. His AI is scrabbled together from several different systems, which leaves him with a penchant for dance and song as well as utter destruction. We also are allowed to see the perspective of the Imperials, in this case Admiral Sloane, head of the remaining fleet of Star Destroyers. We’re given insight into a women desperate for order in a galaxy she views as destructive and chaotic. While I never felt outright empathy for her and her compatriots, I did have sympathy for her disillusion. But, as Wedge informs her at the beginning, the Empire’s struggle for order was with “A closed fist, instead of an open hand.” The blood of innocents fueled their Order, and the dark roots of the Sith lay tangled at its heart.
Throughout the narrative we’re given opportunities to see how the planets were affected by the war and its outcome. We see orphans changing their futures, men who have lost their entire families to war, and politicians attempting to reconcile the hate that still lingers with the democracy needed for a true coalition of peoples. We’re even given some time with Han Solo and Chewbacca, as well as Admiral Ackbar. The message is clear; the cost of war is great, and we can be made both whole and broken by its unfolding.
It took me a chapter or so to really begin to enjoy Chuck Wendig’s narrative style, but not because it was poorly written; I have been reading his blog for a couple of years now and it took me some time to accept that bees were NOT going to come out of anyone’s faces and that the use of the word “boom” was not a wrap up for how to take over the world using goats and silly string. Once my brain accepted that it was experiencing a story, however, I was caught completely and enjoyably. It’s fast paced and action packed, but sparkles with small moments of character insight, of people being people, being afraid, sad, broken, and angry. The planet of Akiva felt like a Star Wars planet, with its dangerous wildlife, convoluted ancient city, and ruins left behind from the remnants of the Clone War. You can hear the TIE fighters as they scream passed, feel the heat and humidity as Jas waits for an opportunity to take her shot, taste the blood from the beatings Sinjir takes.
While not a heavy book by any means, I appreciate the human element Mr. Wendig brought to the story, something the prequel trilogy could have used a dose of. No one here is a cut and dry “good” or “bad” guy, but everyone has their ideals and believes in them enough to stand by them, even if the odds are seemingly stacked against both sides of the fight. I’m looking forward to continuing the series and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Chuck Wendig or the Star Wars universe.
There will be further reviews of the next parts of the trilogy once I get my hands on them. It will be fun to revisit Sinjir and Jas, and I am curious to see where the mention of Han Solo will lead the narrative.