This is where the (spoiler-free) fun begins.
That was my thought going into reading Chuck Wendig’s debut Star Wars novel, Star Wars: Aftermath. The novel is part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens publishing program and is historic as the first adult fiction published in the new canon set after the events of Return of the Jedi.
Set months after the Battle of Endor, Aftermath focuses on Rebel pilot Norra Wexley and her return home to her native planet of Akiva to attempt to reunite with her son after fighting for 3 years with the Rebel Alliance in the the noble effort to take down the Galactic Empire.
The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire, and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.
As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.
Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.
Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.
Some of the first info that we received about Aftermath was that fan favorite Wedge Antilles would be in the book. This was very welcome news as we had previously heard that the actor who portrayed Wedge, Denis Lawson, had turned down a chance to reprise his role in the sequel trilogy of films. Wedge became hugely popular in fandom thanks to the success of the X-wing novels and comics. If I had one major disappointment in this novel is that for long sections of the novel Wedge is mostly unconscious or incapacitated and often feels like a plot device as opposed to a central character. So you will need to set your expectations properly going in. Wedge ain’t the star of this book, but he is basically the Rebels’ lucky rabbit foot, so it is good to have him around.
Aftermath comes in at a very respectable 366 pages and there is an economy to the writing that packs a ton into those pages. The novel feels at times like watching Jar Jar Binks juggle a dozen thermal detonators, there are so many characters introduced and plot lines introduced and serviced that it is a wonder the entire thing doesn’t end with splattered Gungan everywhere.
I would say that there are roughly four main plot lines: the A-plot would be the story of Norra and the crew of miscreants she collects; the B-plot is the story of the secret Imperial meeting; the C-plot is the spy mission of Wedge; and the D-plot is the machinations of the New Republic on the new capital world of Chandrila. Then you have the interludes. (Indulge me for a minute so I can talk a bit about literary structure and devices.)
I am a sucker for authors finding ways for authors to sneak extra information into stories outside of clumsy info dumps. In novels one of my favorite techniques is epigraphs, used frequently in Star Wars fiction by Karen Traviss. These can convey information and theme that prepares you for what is to come, connects two distinct chapters, or even gives you context that there is no way for the characters in the story to have access to.
In Aftermath Wendig does not use epigraphs, but he does use a prelude and 15 subsequent interludes to expand our view of the galaxy beyond the borders of Akiva. Truth be told I would be perfectly happy reading a book with just these interludes as part of a short story collection. The interludes are so rich with detail and information that I could go on at length (and I probably will in the spoiler section below). Some of these interludes are connected to other interludes, some are connected to the body of the novel, and some feel less connected to this story and instead setups for future stories.
There are so many juicy tidbits in the novel and connections that I had to read the novel twice and take 14 pages of hand written notes to feel like I got my head around everything. Your personal enjoyment of the novel may depend on how comfortable you are jumping in-and-out of the main narrative throughout the book.
The novel is filled with some very cool cameos and references for fans no matter what segment of the Star Wars fandom you are in. If you are a fan of The Clone Wars series there are a couple things that made me really happy to see. If you are an Original Trilogy fan, the ninth interlude was amazing and has my mind reeling with possibilities for a story that we need to see. There is even an interlude that ties into the forthcoming mobile game Star Wars: Uprising.
But what about the story? Hold on, I’m getting there. First let us set the stage with our main cast. A word of caution in that it is possible when reading you may feel I omitted a character from this list, but it is a very large ensemble and as the dictatorial writer of this review I drew the line where I saw fit.
- Norra Wexley: Rebel Pilot “Gold Nine” (Human Female)
- Sinjir Rath Velus: Fmr. Imperial Loyalty Officer (ILO) (Human Male)
- Temmin Wexley: Junk Dealer and Black marketeer (Human Male)
- Mister Bones: Modified B-1 Battle Droid (Masculine)
- Jas Emari: Bounty Hunter (Zabrak Female)
- Wedge Antilles: New Republic Pilot (Human Male)
- Grand Admiral Ackbar: New Republic military chief (Mon Calamari Male)
- Sergeant Major Jom Barell: New Republic Special Forces (Spec-forces) (Human Male)
- Chancellor Mon Mothma: New Republic Head of State (Human Female)
- Surat Nuat: Akivan Crime lord (Male Sullustan)
- Admiral Rae Sloane: Commanding Admiral Imperial Fleet (Human Female)
- Moff Valco Pandion: Imperial Moff (Human Male)
- General Jylia Shale: Imperial Army Strategy and Tactics Expert (Human Female)
- Yupe Tashu: Imperial Advisor and Sith Historian (Human Male)
- Arsin Crassus: Imperial Money Lender and Slaver (Human Male)
Looking at this list you may say, “hmmm that seems like a lot of humans, where are the cool aliens?” While the majority of the most prominent characters are human there are lots of alien characters in lesser supporting roles throughout the book.
While I am on the topic of diversity from my perspective there has been a very conscious effort on the part of Lucasfilm to diversify the gender, racial, and ethnic make-up of the human characters that are introduced into the Star Wars universe in recent years. While I certainly don’t think we should be attempting to set a quota for each story, I applaud this effort as it is good for folks around the world and from all different backgrounds in the U.S. to be able to feel like they see someone on the screen or page that they can identify with. Much news was made when Paul S. Kemp introduced the first openly LGBT character into the canon with Moff Delian Mors in the recent novel Lords of the Sith. We have the mention of at least five LGBT characters in this story. Nora Wexley’s Sister Esmelle and her wife Shirene, Sinjir, and the unseen but mentioned two fathers of a minor character Iggs. From my perspective Wendig did a great job handling the sexuality of these characters in a way that reflected the reality of the characters and didn’t seem either crass or gimmicky.
Wendig also does a nice job throughout the novel mixing action and conversations. We get to see the majority of these characters develop through a mixture of watching them act, listening to them talk and think and experiencing flashbacks of memories from some characters.
Jom’s introduction is one of my favorites in the book an straight out of an action movie. In fact it was so cool I hope some of the actions in it get used in Gareth Edward’s Rogue One film.
Norra, Sinjir and Jas all have interesting memories/flashbacks that tie directly into the event’s of Return of the Jedi and provide a view of the action in that film that we have never seen before.
Sinjir is an interesting guy because he is a deserter. We learn of the when and how he deserted, but I think even Sinjir isn’t entirely sure on the why. Broken by the war we find him at the bottom of a bottle throughout much of the early part of the book.
Jas is a very cool new bounty hunter character. She tries to come off as the cold and clean professional bounty hunter, but there is more heart to her than may first be apparent.
Norra the star of the novel is a very complex character. An extremely talented pilot who left her 12-year old son with her sister to go join the Rebellion and search the galaxy for her husband who was taken by the Imperials. Along the way her mission to find her husband became secondary to the battle to take down the Empire. After the Battle of Endor she feels the need to return home, reconnect with her son and hopefully make up for the time that she has missed. Events however conspire to suck her back into to the ongoing conflict between what is left of the Empire and the freshly-minted New Republic.
On the Imperial side, Admiral Rae Sloane (who was first introduced in John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn) is the star. In Miller’s novel we had a green flag officer who was promoted hastily. In Aftermath we see a matured and confident Sloane who has grown into her role and comes off as the most competent of the Imperials we meet. There is a brief locker room scene that gives us some great insight into how Sloane views the world. As a Legends (Expanded Universe) fan I can’t help but seeing some pretty strong parallels between Admiral Sloane and Gilad Pellaeon, and I am very interesting to see her story continue in future stories.
The other Imperial that has me very intrigued is the Imperial Advisor Yupe Tashu, why exactly this strange character is so interesting I will discuss more in the spoiler section.
I suspect out of all the characters the breakout star will probably be Mister Bones. If I know one thing it is that Star Wars fans love homicidal droids. Mister Bones provides a new take on that archetype in a fun way that also adds to the character of Temmin.
Wendig does something with his characters that is similar to what resonates with me from Kemp’s Star Wars works. Both authors create full characters with definite flaws, and these flaws reflect in their actions. Even Sloane, who is perhaps the most competent of the characters, is not perfect.
The story of the novel centers on the secret Imperial meeting on Akiva, the discovery of this meeting by both Wedge and Jas sets the novel in motion. Thanks to an Imperial communications blackout the New Republic must act conservatively trying to find out what has happened to Wedge before committing resources, while Norra and Jas must come up with a plan to kill/capture the Imperial leadership and rescue Wedge.
One of Timothy Zahn’s greatest talents in his Star Wars writing was setting up the various story lines in his book with characters beginning apart and slowly converging through the story until they end up together for the climax. Aftermath feels very much like one of those early Zahn novels in that respect. I felt that for the most part events conspired in a logical way to lead events and characters towards the climax.
When the excerpt for this novel was released there was a lot of talk about the tense in which Wendig writes–third-person present. Perhaps I am not discerning enough to focus on this, but it didn’t affect my reading experience in any perceptible ways. It was a complete non-issue for me.
All that being said, there were a few issues I had with novel:
I assume this is an editorial decision and not the author’s call because as with all the other Del Rey books in the new canon we once again don’t have a dramatis personae. This is even more of an issue with this novel because of just how many characters there is to keep track of. Considering the interludes we have probably almost double the new characters we would typically get to try to keep track of.
One thing that I felt like Wendig repeated too often was the fake death. A number of times a chapter or section within a chapter end with a character presumably dead, only to be seen alive shortly after. Once or twice in a story makes sense but it felt like this trick was abused like a womp rat in Beggar’s Canyon.
An element of the story that feels slightly off to me is the age of Temmin and the amount of time that Norra spent away. In the novel Temmin is 15 years old and is a fully independent businessperson living on his own. While there are no doubt some very capable 15-year-olds, it felt like Temmin (since he seems to have an established business and connections) should probably have been a couple years older. Of course Temmin’s age and immaturity in some areas makes for ripe story fodder in his choices and the reaction of others in the story to him. Meanwhile Norra’s absence from his life of three years doesn’t feel long enough to me. Granted three years to a 15-year-old in his formative years is huge, but I feel like the distance and relationship friction would have been better served if it was spread over a longer period of time.
Three of the interludes are connected together and set as an interview between a New Republic PR person, Olia Cheko, and Queen of the Core Network reporter Tracene Kane. On first reading because they are so far apart I was disoriented by how the second and third were connected. On re-reading them it made more sense. This is a novel that you need to pay attention to or you will miss a lot.
Finally late in the novel there is a reference to holocrons that make it seem like they are accessible to non-Force users. This would contradict what we have seen in canon unless it is some lesser form of holocrons distinct from the Jedi and Sith varieties.
So what are the big picture takeaways from Aftermath?
Aftermath is really the first must read novel in the New canon (with the possible exception of Tarkin). All the other novels have been building deep backstory. This is our first push forward on the new timeline. We are building outward to the events of The Force Awakens and Wendig does a great job laying breadcrumbs on both the New Republic and Imperial sides that begins to give us a trajectory for these factions.
As a Legends fan I thoroughly enjoyed reading concepts in this story that feel like very direct homages to groups, events, and backstories that we saw in that series of stories. Fans of Wedge, of bounty hunters, and of smugglers may be particularly happy in that respect.
Star Wars television and film fans will hopefully enjoy the connections and the way Wendig slips some of these new characters into events seen or foreshadowed in those other properties.
The ending, oh boy! The novel ends with a bang with an incredibly exciting concept for a sequel if it follows our same group of heroes and an incredibly excruciating cliffhanger for the villains.
Aftermath to its credit and perhaps detriment makes the second book in the Aftermath trilogy my most anticipated book to read in years. As much as I enjoyed this book the ending sets up a story that could be some next level poodoo.
Aftermath is on sale now (9/4/15) now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats. For more on the book and where to purchase it visit Penguin Random House.
Here’s where the (spoilery) fun begins…
Seriously go read the book and then come back here…
Your last warning…
There is so much to unpack from this book, that I am only going to mention some of it here. I won’t spoil the story so much as talk about how I think certain elements interface with the rest of the journey to The Force Awakens, the Resistance and the First Order.
The New Republic:
Democracy is back baby. The New Republic has set up a new capital on Mon Mothma’s homeworld of Chandrilla, established a Galactic Senate, appointed Mothma chancellor and it appears to have set up a military council taking the command decisions out of the Chancellor’s hands. The council appears to consist of Admiral Ackbar, Commander Kyrsta Agate, Captain Saff Melor, General Crix Madine and Chancellor Mon Mothma.
At the end of the novel there are over 100 New Republic Senators but only a handful from the Outer Rim. The Empire still retains control on the majority of the Outer Rim.
Interestingly while we have some interludes set on Coruscant, including the introduction of the Anklebiter Brigade, the war on Coruscant seems to still be raging. The end of the novel hints that the New Republic may be winning but I suspect this is a story specifically held back for another publication, probably Marvel’s Shattered Empire.
While we see Ackbar and Mothma repeatedly in the book, we only see Leia a couple times through recorded propaganda messages. What she is up to during this time and her exact role in the fledgling New Republic remains a mystery.
Mon Mothma makes some interesting and noble decisions in this book but there is one that makes it understandable how the New Republic’s victory could be threatened in the future. As one of her first legislative proposals Mothma plans to introduce a bill that will cut the New Republic military by 90% when they can officially confirm the end of the Galactic Civil War. The remaining 10% of the New Republic force will be used to train planetary military forces.
It is possible that the Battle of Jakku we will see as the final battle of the Galactic Civil War, after which Mothma declares victory and triggers the military draw down. This would likely still leave a number of planets, systems and even sectors under the control of Imperial splinter groups that could disavow ties to the Galactic Empire remnant proper.
Mothma’s plan is for planets to maintain there own military forces. This would make the New Republic a less powerful central government than that later stages of the Old Republic and certainly the Empire. Another factor to keep in mind in Mothma’s plan is that unlike the Old Republic that had thousands of Jedi’s to help keep order in the galaxy there is not the same presence and if Luke has taught other students that number would be much smaller and much less able to help keep order in the galaxy.
Of course planetary militaries would be of different strengths based on populations, resources etc. This also would mean that if faced with an external threat the galaxy as a whole could be slow to react and worlds could quickly be lost to a force such as the First Order.
Admiral Sloane calls the conference of Moff Pandion, General Shale, Advisor Tashu, and banker Crassus, the group dubbed The Imperial Future Council (IFC). Is an effort to unite and plan to preserve what remains of the Empire.
It is foreshadowed early in the novel that there may be another hidden player above Sloane. It is revealed in the novel’s ending that there is a “Fleet Admiral” who commands the Super Star Destroyer Ravager and whom Sloane is serving. It is further revealed that this characters goal is to cull the sick and weak parts of the Empire.The final scene of the book happens aboard the Ravager‘s bridge as Sloane meets with the Fleet Admiral both looking out across the Vulpinus nebulae.
The identity of the “Fleet Admiral” is the big cliffhanger of the book. Immediate fan speculation will no doubt go to the possibility that this is a new canon version of Thrawn. The way the character is described gives him a predatory and perhaps alien feel in my head. The truth is though Wendig plays this character very close to the vest and we have very little to go on. One interesting note is that we do see the rank of “Grand Admiral” introduced in this book but on the side of the New Republic as the rank held by Ackbar. Could this character be Supreme Leader Snoke? We just really don’t have much to go on with this character other than he was believed dead by the Imperial elite.
On page 320 of the book Rae begins reflecting on the outcome of the conference and begins drawing 3 conclusions, the first that consensus may not be worth finding, the second is that they may be best served using the fractured pieces of the Empire instead of reuniting them, and the third is cut off mid-thought but is probably for the Empire to withdraw go into hiding and rebuild.
To me this pretty clearly sets up the seeds of what will become the First Order. A significant portion of the Empire’s remaining best and brightest withdraw to some distant part of the Outer Rim or beyond and begin to grow.
There are 15 interludes in addition to the prelude to the story. Some of these were very cool and two of them blew me away.
The second interlude set on Saleucami is very cool for the fact that it reveals the happy ending for Cut Lawquane.
The sixth interlude is set in Coronet City on Corellia and features the bounty hunter Dengar and his efforts to form a bounty hunter’s union. Are we getting a new canon version of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild?
The twelfth interlude set on Tatooine introduces a new character in Sheriff Cobb Vanth or Vance (spelled both ways) and a box of acid scarred Mandalorian armor. If that is Boba Fett’s armor damaged from the Sarlacc then were is Boba?
The thirteenth interlude is set on Bespin and ties into the events of the mobile game, Star Wars: Uprising. Featuring mentions of Lando and Lobot.
The ninth interlude is set in hyperspace. It features Han and Chewie on a mission in the Mid Rim for the New Repubic. In transit they receive a message from an old (and female) friend of Han’s Imra. She says that Empire is doing something strange with its forces at Kashyyyk. The Wookiee world is still under Imperial control, but they are moving forces in and out and there will be a small window where the force there will be weaker than normal. The chance for the New Republic to attack and liberate the world.
We learn that Han has repeatedly tried to get the New Republic to invade the world but has been rebuffed so he decides to do it himself. He asks Imra to gather all the scoundrels she can find and promises them a full New Republic pardon. This reminds me of both the Smuggler’s Alliance as well as the rag tag fleet Han assemblers for the Battle of Nar Shaddaa in A.C. Crispin’s The Hutt Gambit.
We further learn that Chewie was enslaved on Kashyyyk made to cut down wroshyr trees and farm food to feed the Imperial war machine. The Empire used Wookiees as slave labor as well as experiment subjects and that there are only a few dozen liberated wookiees in the galaxy at this point. Specifically mentioned are Roshyk, Hrrgn, Kirratha and a group escaped from Kessel. It is possible this Kessel group is the one led by Wullffwarro we saw in Rebels.
Win or lose at Kashyyyk it makes sense that Han may get in trouble with the New Republic and Leia for going AWOL in the middle of his mission. Han may also get in trouble with the galactic fringe if he can’t deliver on the pardons that he promised.
In any event Han and Chewie trying to liberate Kashyyyk is a story that I need to see.
The other galaxy shattering interlude is the eighth interlude set on Taris. In this story we meet a Kubaz merchant and his assistant who are selling a red bladed lightsaber to a trio of odd characters. There are two characters described only as clad in black robes, but the third is described ad a pale hunched over young woman, with fingers like spider legs. She is moving her fingers through the air as if “plucking invisible threads that perhaps only she can see.” This description sounds an awful lot like a Dathomiri Nightsister with a bad back to me.
The trio of buyers are attempting to buy what they believe is Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Interestingly in the background of the alley way they are dealing with is graffiiti of Darth Vader’s helmet and the phrase “Vader Lives.”
The trio claims to be “adherents” and part of a group called the “Acolytes of the Beyond.”
They plan to after purchasing the saber to destroy it so that it can “be returned to its master in death.”
What the heck is going on here?
We clearly have some mythologizing and perhaps worshiping developing around Vader. The idea of reuniting his weapon with him in death, speaks to some belief of an afterlife.
There is another passage of the book however that may illuminate this even more.
On page 161 Advisor Yupe Tashu gives his insight to the IFC;
“No Sith remain and the lone Jedi that exists–the son of Anakin Skywalker–possesses an untouchable soul. At least for now. We must instead move toward the dark side. Palpatine felt that the universe beyond the edges of our maps was where his power came from. Over the many years he, with our aid, sent men and women beyond known space. They built labs and communication stations on distant moons, asteroids, out there in the wilds. We must follow them. Retreat from the galaxy. Go beyond the veil of stars. We must seek the source of the dark side like a man looking for a wellspring of water.”
Now at the end of the novel Tashu is in New Republic custody so he may not be able to see his ideas through but I tend to think this is a strong influence on Admiral Sloane’s opinions.
Is it a coincidence that Palpatine believed the sources of the dark side came from beyond the galaxy and we also have a group called the Acolytes of the Beyond? Perhaps, perhaps not. Beyond could beyond the edge of the known galaxy or it could be beyond this plane of existence.
How does this all potentially connect to the Knights of Ren? Could these Acolytes of the Beyond be part of the same group, perhaps the religious arm with the Knights as the military arm? Could the Acolytes evolve into the Knights, or could they have discovered the Knights out beyond the galaxy? Did the Acolytes or the Knights develop from these early explorers Palpatine sent out or were they once again merely discovered by them?
One thing this does possibly foreshadow is that the dark side could be much older than the Sith and that this power originating outside of the galaxy could mean that the Knights of Ren are also older than the Sith.
These are just some of the tidbits to think about as we all take the journey to The Force Awakens together.
Aftermath Book 2:
The historic parallels between the Empire/First Order and Nazi’s is hard to ignore. The ending of Aftermath sets our heroes up as a irregular force of Imperial war criminal hunters. This tracks very strongly to the idea of Jewish Nazi hunters. A book plotted on this group hunting down Imperials criminals has a great deal of appeal to me as a story.
The historical parallels also has me thinking about the events of the Princess Leia comic book mini-series and the role we have seen Leia in in the previews of The Force Awakens. In the mini-series we see the various Alderaanian colonists and survivors reunited and searching for a new home under the leadership of Evaan. This parallels very strongly to the creation of the state of Israel after the events of World War II and the holocaust. It also has me wondering if the Alderaanians may become much more militant than they were previously as a reaction to their world’s destruction and so many of their kin being killed. The idea being that they arm and protect themselves to prevent another Alderaan from every happening.
This could also have lasting effects on Leia. If she reacts in a similar way to how I think the Alderaanians will, she could be of a much more militant view than Mon Mothma. I think this is foreshadowed in Leia’s speeches shown in Aftermath. She repeatedly promises that the New Republic military will come and liberate planets. If Mon Mothma following the Battle of Jakku decides to invoke the disarmament she has planned it is easy to see how Leia would feel that they had betrayed their promise to liberate the entire galaxy and that she could break with Mothma. This potential fracture between Mon Mothma and Leia could lead to Leia creating the resistance and even contemplate using a superweapon as has been rumored. Again this parallels the militarization of the state of Israel and the development of nuclear weapons.
In the end I really enjoyed Aftermath and I cannot wait to have everyone read it and here what you think, what you picked out of interest and what crazy theories you can come up with.