Being potentially one of the most eagerly awaited books of the new canon, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath had a lot riding on its shoulders come Force Friday. As the first canon post-Jedi story being told in the lead-up to The Force Awakens, Aftermath was treading on what some consider holy ground. There was such vocal controversy that every time I tweeted about reading this book, I was met with instant replies telling me to stop, that it wasn’t worth it, that it was horrible. Yikes. Turns out I found the opposite: Wendig has an exceptional talent for spinning a fun story with a side of interesting characters.
Aftermath is a novel told in two parts: the core story following the main cast as they fight to escape a shattered Empire’s blockade of the planet Akiva; and the interludes spread across the book, showing snippets of the aftermath of the Emperor’s demise throughout the galaxy. Along with the degradation of the Empire’s reign is the deterioration of the inequality found among most other Star Wars narratives: there are both plentiful female characters in various roles and enough LGBT characters that the grand total featured in canon literally more than doubles from that of Legends—not that the bar was set exceptionally high.
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.
– Aftermath‘s Amazon blurb.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of Aftermath is the characters, both old and new, and their interactions. The newbies—Zabrak bounty hunter Jas Emari, Imperial turncoat Sinjir Rath Velus, and Rae Sloane’s attaché Adea Rite—stood out to me particularly. Each is a solidly built character with a defined moral compass and distinctive traits. Jas and Sinjir complement the other magnificently—perhaps destined to be besties—while Adea both mirrors and contrasts with the now-Admiral Sloane’s dedication to the Empire. Each character has a clear-cut reason for his/her actions; there is a pleasant lack of ambiguity within Aftermath’s pages.
Wendig’s writing style is unique, punchy, and feels very present, not unlike the style of Moffat’s Doctor Who in places. There is nary a dull line, and while Wendig’s creative syntax can be jarring at first, he certainly knows how to get an image across. Be it the drunken movements of a TIE fighter or the love between a boy and his droid, there is no doubt that Wendig will have an expression that is on point.
The good: watching the New Republic’s formation through interludes and otherwise; Wendig’s slow expansion of the galaxy’s state through teases and throwaway lines; Mister Bones in general; the links to other aspects and characters seen in previous narratives; the ladies—both good and evil—and the casual inclusion of LGBT characters. Aftermath’s world reflects both the positive and negatives of our real world in a way that is very true to Star Wars.
The meh: Jom Barell has a relatively small part despite feeling like an important character to the trilogy to the point I forgot his name; the simplicity of some characters’ arcs and story aspects that felt somewhat glossed over for the sake of forward-moving action; and Norra’s relationship with her son, Temmin. A good part of my apathy towards Norra Wexley and the way she treats her son comes from my own personal issues, but Temmin does feel much like a stereotype at times, and Norra’s not exactly a good mother—her skills lie in rebellion and piloting.
As for hooks for the rest of the trilogy, the epilogue certainly has a certain draw that invites plentiful speculation. The main story itself is largely about family—both literal and found—which is a very Star Wars-centric theme that will no doubt continue into the next two books. Aftermath is but the foundation for greater stories to come.
On a more negative note, it’s not hard to miss the unfounded vitriol aimed at Aftermath. It is hostility that comes from both angry loss and the built-up expectations of things never promised. While tastes differ and there are genuine reasons to dislike any book, the Star Wars EU—especially Legends—is largely made up of stories following original characters, and Aftermath is yet another following in their footsteps. Just as we will see with the Star Wars Stories, Legends books feature many different styles. The original golden trio of Luke, Leia, and Han will have their time, but it was never going to be now. That said, I have always loved the EU novels with original stories and characters the most, and I adore Rae Sloane, so perhaps I am somewhat biased. Aren’t we all?
Whether you’re in it for Norra’s little group, or the Interlude’s glimpses at the state of the GFFA leading up to The Force Awakens, Aftermath is a smartly crafted novel with plenty of links both to the past and the future of Star Wars. While being unique, it’s not dissimilar to many other good science fiction novels, especially in the sense that it is straight up a fun ride.