If you ever wanted to give a Star Wars book a try, this should be it.
Not because Aftermath explains what happened to the scattered Empire after Return of the Jedi. It is, first of all, very well-written story, captivating and entertaining. It is ideal start for those newly introduced to the fandom – but also, even though it’s one of the books belonging to the “new canon”, it is, I daresay, a must-read for all the “old fans”. For Chuck Wendig, who has been otherwise an unfamiliar name in the Star Wars franchise, it is a worthy introduction among the stars.
The Fallen Empire
The plot of Aftermath revolves around a secret Imperial meeting on the planet of Akiva in the Outer Rim. Following the destruction of the Death Star and the Emperor’s death, the remaining high-ranking officers, Moffs and politicians are faced with a problem: is there a way for them to save the Empire that has been falling apart, without the Emperor, without Vader? The meeting, hidden from the eyes of the nascent New Republic, is uncovered by a bunch of unlikely heroes – a Rebel pilot arriving home to reunite with her son, a bounty hunter, an ex-Imperial… And it is up to them to decide what to do with it.
Archetypal, But Not Stereotypic Heroes
Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath certainly doesn’t lack in terms of having interesting characters. The first positive thing about it is that it doesn’t fall for the classic Star Wars stereotypes: the main heroes aren’t a smuggler with a rough alien friend or a couple of droids. At the same time, of course we encounter archetypes. However, they are being reinvented with the best the Galaxy can offer. A bounty hunter – but a female zabrak bounty hunter. A disillusioned man presented as a good-for-nothing drunk – but he’s not a smuggler, he’s a former Imperial loyalty officer. A boy slightly off the side of the law who is good at building droids – a nice combination and a way to cover the “mandatory” young protagonist. An ace Rebel pilot – but the ace Rebel pilot is also a mother. And, as the most notable one on the side of the antagonists, a female Imperial officer who is trying to save whatever remains of the Empire with authority and ruthlessness, but not with utter barbarism.
One sign of a good book, for me, is that you are cheering for the main characters regardless which side they are on. Aftermath does that. And even those you definitely don’t cheer for (Sullustan gangsters – brilliant idea, by the way! – or disgusting, self-indulgent Imperial officers) are interesting.
A thing which might be a minus for some, but which might also be a bonus, is that the characters from the films are basically absent. It is good in the sense that writing characters faithful to the films is always a tricky job. Whether for good or bad, major characters from the films make at most cameos (Han and Chewie are in one chapter and Leia appears only via her rallying speech for the Galaxy to stand together). Minor characters, namely Wedge Antilles, admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma, appear as minor characters and I must say, they are not only portrayed faithfully, but also in a way which makes them interesting. Maybe not so much Wedge, who is “the most major out of the minor characters”, but especially Ackbar’s personality is explored and combined with the attention Chuck Wendig pays to the alien’s physiology and perception of the world, it makes him a very interesting character to read about.
It Is The Real Expanded Universe
Even if Luke, Han or Leia aren’t there, it certainly doesn’t feel like the story is disconnected from the Star Wars film universe at all. Quite the opposite. It offers the look behind the scenes, the lives of ordinary people as opposed to the few chosen in the films. And that is both in the main story and the (in my opinion, brilliant) short “interludes”, of which there is maybe over a dozen, which appear after every few chapters and capture a short episode taking place on one of the many known Star Wars planets. All are unrelated to the main story, but connected “in spirit”. We get to see criminals trying to make a new life, senators fighting for making the New Republic democratic from the starts, we see happy stories and sad stories and bittersweet stories, we see war-orphans being adopted on Naboo, gangsters on Corellia, Sith cultists on Taris. And it feels like Star Wars. Oh my, how much it feels like Star Wars!
The focus on “the common folk of the Galaxy” makes Aftermath a bit more down-to-earth, a bit more raw, a bit more realistic and less fairytale-like. But not by much. It isn’t Matthew Stover, whose books always felt like Star Wars psychological thrillers. It is Star Wars realism, more or less in line with majority of the books that exist. I would like to underline the word “realism”, however. Aftermath didn’t require from me a suspense of disbelief at any moment, even though the inevitable instances of “a hero performs a super-stunt and succeeds” occur a couple of times. But that is a minor thing, and I mention it only because Aftermath does it much less than most fantasy/sci-fi/adventure books.
For Fans Old And New
I should make one thing clear. Aftermath is not a prequel for The Force Awakens. It doesn’t concern Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren or even the First Order, because it takes place still good quarter a century earlier. It shows how it all began, however. It shows the first step on the long, long journey from the victory at Endor to the state of the Galaxy during the new trilogy.
For me, it covered what I, and many other fans, thirsted to know. How comes it wasn’t over with Emperor’s death, but more importantly, how exactly did the transition of power in the Galaxy happen. And what were the seeds that would, some quarter a century later, give birth to the New Order. Maybe. Perhaps.
For the old, old fans, who complained that they lost the Thrawn trilogy and the New Republic, this is what you need. This is the consolation, and more than consolation. I had thought Chuck Wendig would be some half-baked “let’s make a new Disney universe” (in the most derogatory sense of the word “Disney”) author, but no. His knowledge of the universe is vast and the way he writes it will remind you of the Thrawn trilogy. For more than one reason. And believe me, it is worth it.
For the new fans, for those who haven’t so far touched the Expanded Universe material, this is a perfect place to start. Especially because it is now fully canon, yet doesn’t require any previous knowledge of anything beyond the films. In fact, it doesn’t even require you to know all the minor characters and details from the films.
A Fun Adventure With Depths Under
I would say Aftermath is such a great book because it has so many layers. You can read it to enjoy the story, because it is good. You can read it to learn what happened to the Rebellion and the Empire in the, erm, aftermath. It can be “just an adventure”, but it is also very deep (it features one of the best definitions of democracy I have heard, which could find its way into textbooks of political philosophy – and not only there). You can read it to learn more about the obscure world of Akiva, but also get a glimpse what happened in the new, official timeline on Bespin, on Chandrila, on Taris. It doesn’t disturb if you aren’t interested in some of the layers. At the same time, if you know what happened to the wookiees under the Empire, if you know who is Dengar and why would he turn if somebody speaks Boba Fett’s name, if a scene where somebody’s horns are fake seems familiar, you’re getting extra value.
Aftermath already has a sequel (Aftermath: Life Debt), and the cycle is planned to be soon completed into a trilogy; you can, however, read the book very well on its own if you don’t want to “commit”. But, if everything goes the way it started, we are in for a great tale.
I am aware of the fact that I gave it nothing but praise, but I can’t find a thing to criticise that would be worth mentioning, and there is much more that is great about it which I can’t even start listing. I know Star Wars books are not for everyone. But if there ever was one I could recommend to all fans, it would be this.