If you had asked me what I was most looking forward to over the past few months, Aftermath by Chuck Wendig would have been right at the top of my list. Anybody who knows me can tell you that the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe was what I grew up on. It’s what made me a Star Wars fan and what always had me coming back for more, so I was excited to see where this new canon timeline would take us.
Chuck Wendig is new to Star Wars and he brings with him his unique writing style and voice. Fans of the old guard of authors (people like Zahn, Stackpole, or Kevin J. Anderson) will mostly likely be caught off guard by the tense of the book. With the exception of two books (I, Jedi and more recently Heir to the Jedi), all adult Star Wars novels have been written in third person past tense. Wendig mostly writes in a third person present tense and decided to use that for Aftermath. I’ll admit that his style was jarring at first. Twenty years of reading the same thing will do that. When I read the first excerpts that were put up online, I was fine with the style, but I didn’t love it. There was always this little nagging thought in the back of my head that the book was headed for disaster.
I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Oh so wrong.
Once I was a few chapters deep, I discovered that there’s a certain rhythm to Wendig’s style. The present tense brings the action into the now and the sentences are short, some incomplete. These two elements together give the book a sense of urgency that would otherwise be lacking in the past tense. It helps drive the story forward at a rapid pace. I’m not a fast reader and this may have been the fastest I’ve ever finished a Star Wars book. Wendig also has a humor in his style that I think really fits Star Wars. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and it shows in many of his characters and descriptions. The humor is cheesy in the way Star Wars should be, but doesn’t take away from the emotional impact of the story. I’ll always prefer third person past tense for Star Wars, but it’s nice to change it up every once in a while.
Aftermath is the flagship product of the Journey to The Force Awakens multimedia initiative. So ostensibly, it is supposed to “bridge the gap” between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but that’s not entirely accurate. Instead of bridging the 30-year gap between those two movies, it more sets the stage for the conflict to come. This is preferable in my eyes. There are 30 years worth of stories waiting to be told during this time. Why cover that entire span with one book? Instead we get a look at an Empire in tatters but tenaciously clinging to territory and a fledgling New Republic trying to reestablish order in the galaxy. We see people and families fighting over which faction is right. And we see glimpses into how the state of the galaxy in The Force Awakens will come to be.
One of the best ways this is accomplished is through Wendig’s use of interlude chapters. These chapters have little impact on overall story as told through the main characters. Instead, they give us short looks–sometimes as short as two pages–into happenings around the galaxy. Whether it be a family arguing at the dinner table or a short conversation involving some of our favorite characters, each chapter is important for setting up the political climate of the galaxy to come. The chapters read in isolation may seem inconsequential, but I have the feeling that they will be one of the book’s crowning achievements when we look back on it ten years from now.
Those hoping for the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han should go ahead and throw those expectations away. While there are some minor appearances by classic trilogy characters and some larger roles for more minor characters (namely Ackbar and Wedge), this book focuses on a group of new characters. And they certainly are characters. Each of the new characters is unique and memorable, fulfilling a wish I’ve had since the announcement of the new canon. Some of my favorite Star Wars characters were either never in a movie or had their characterizations as we known them established in the Legends novels. Most of the new canon material to date has focused on classic movie characters. We’ve been introduced to a few memorable characters in this time, but Wendig really seized the opportunity to make his own mark on Star Wars.
Out of all the non-movie characters, there were four that really shined. The first was Mr. Bones, a heavily modified B1 battle droid (the skeletal ones from The Phantom Menace). I won’t describe him, because his appearance is half the fun. Just know that Mr. Bones serves as a link back to the prequel movies while also allowing Wendig to inject his own personal brand of slightly disturbing humor into the story.
The main antagonist of the story, Rae Sloane, is not a brand new character, but one that we haven’t seen much of. She was introduced by author John Jackson Miller as an interim Star Destroyer captain in A New Dawn and I’ve been clamoring for more of her ever since. Wendig elected to bring her back in Aftermath now as an admiral. Sloane’s story is an interesting one because she isn’t your standard comically evil Star Wars villain. Instead, she spends the book trying to deal with a barely-held-together Empire and many self-interested parties. She is a pragmatist and a true believer in the Empire, which makes her even more dangerous than the cookie cutter Sith of the week.
The main protagonist of the story, Norra Wexley, was equally as interesting. Wexley, like Sloane, is that rarest breed of Star Wars character: a woman. And even rarer still, she’s a mother. Star Wars is no stranger to stories about family, but there aren’t many examples of mothers in the saga. In fact, the only good mother figure I can think of is Shmi Skywalker and her time in the saga is painfully short. Wexley is forced to take on two roles as an agent of the New Republic and a mother trying to make amends with her teenage son whom she hasn’t seen in years. In a saga full of terrible family relationships, it was refreshing to have a mother fighting so hard for hers.
But out of all the new characters in the book, Sinjir Velus was my favorite. Velus is introduced to the reader as an alcoholic former Imperial loyalty officer. As in, it was his job to make sure all of the officers of the Imperial military stayed in line. At the beginning of the story, Velus comes off as a shallow, tired trope and I was worried that he would continue in that direction. Thankfully, we learn more about Velus through a series of flashbacks and his interactions with other characters, especially Norra Wexley. What we end up with is a character that is a rebel in action, but with a completely different motivation from most. He is a rebel out of convenience, because it is no longer in his own self-interest to continue serving the Empire.
One of the best things about the characters in Aftermath is that none of them are the same. They are unique and distinct not just from each other, but from the Original Trilogy characters we already know. The reason for this is simple: Wendig wrote a group of diverse characters. There is a rebel pilot who is a mother, multiple gay characters, a female person of color in a leadership position, and a female bounty hunter. There are just as many women in this book as there are men and it’s fantastic.
There have been a lot of complaints about the amount of diversity in this book. People claim that Wendig is “forcing his social agenda” on us by including so many female and gay characters. I’ve spoken about this issue on my podcast and Wendig has written about it on his blog, but I just wanted to say again how silly this argument is. Star Wars is first and foremost a human story, so that means that every person should be able to relate to it. The last time I stepped outside not every person was a straight white male. Mothers are in this book because mothers are real people who deserve representation. People of color are in this book because people of color are real people who deserve representation. Gay people are in this book because gay people are REAL PEOPLE WHO DESERVE REPRESENTATION. No, the character’s race, sex, and sexual orientation don’t much matter to the plot. No, it isn’t Wendig trying to force diversity down our throats. The book is diverse simply because it’s a reflection of how the world (and consequently, the Star Wars galaxy) is. If that bothers you, maybe you should take a better look at the world around you.
I’m saddened by the fact that this book has had so much controversy surrounding it because it has somewhat tainted the joy I got from it. I hate that the author and the fandom have had to waste so much of their energy addressing things that should be non-issues thanks to a small group of annoyingly vocal “fans.”
But at the end of the day, they can’t take away from the great work Wendig has done with Aftermath. He has mastered what few Star Wars authors have in the past: telling an intimate story with a broad impact. Aftermath is a story about many things. It’s a story about the state of the Galaxy Far, Far Away not long after the destruction of the second Death Star. It’s a story about a mother forced to balance the needs of a rebellion with the needs of her son. It’s a story about a newly formed government struggling for legitimacy. It’s a story about individuals forced to reevaluate when their galaxy is turned upside down. But most importantly, it’s a human story. A story we can all relate to.
Would I recommend this to somebody new to Star Wars books? Without hesitation. Unlike many of the novels of the old Expanded Universe, this book requires no prior knowledge of Star Wars save for having seen the movies. It does a fantastic job of describing the political state of the galaxy post-Battle of Endor and should be a great primer for The Force Awakens.
Would I recommend this to fans of Star Wars books? Again, without hesitation. In addition to the points above, I thought this book felt like some of the good books of the early EU. Once again, we’re driving boldly into a timeline we know nothing about. There are also a few gems hidden in the book that should make EU fans flail with joy.
I don’t give out numerical scores in my reviews for many reasons, but I feel compelled to for this. For representing the best of what the new canon has to offer, I give Aftermath one out of one stars.