Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey, September 4, 2015. Hardcover of 384 pages at $28.00. Includes a seven page excerpt from Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed.
The cover: At the top of a white background is the frame found on all books leading up to December: “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Just below is the second Death Star, red smoke coming out of its unfinished surfaces. To the right of it is the phrase “The War Is Not Over”. Just below that, through an almost diagonal blue powder strip in tiny print is “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” with a huge Star Wars logo just below it. The title of the novel is below that, and under that is the author’s name. A lone blue X-Wing is exiting though the bottom right corner. The jacket art and design is by Scott Biel. Since this book takes place just after the events of Return of the Jedi, this is a good image to get fans excited. Nothing is teased of the actual story and that was fine by me, though I admit to wanting to see the Star Destroyers orbiting Akiva, more so than this. Overall grade: B+
The premise: From the inside jacket cover, “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 is 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 reprobate Imperial defector — who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.” Okay, I’m a officially an eager and happy fan that wants to know what the Imperials are going to do, how Wedge will be rescued, and see how this new character — Norra –fits into things. Overall grade: A
The characters: There are several protagonists in this book, but with the exception of Wedge, and five and half pages devoted to everyone’s favorite smuggler and his co-pilot, the characters are original. Wedge is captured, and plays the role of the defiant prisoner refusing to break and constantly thinking of how to escape. The main protagonist is Norra Wexley, and she was the best new character of the book. She’s trying to get a life now that the war is over, but it’s obviously not done with her yet. She returns to Akiva to find her son Temmin, whom she hasn’t seen for three years. He’s now fifteen, is a tech wizard, and is running a scrap shop. Yes, you’re right to think of another youngster in the Star Wars saga that was similar. Temmin starts much better than Episode I Anakin, but drifts into being very unlikable by the story’s end. I was actually rooting for him to die. Sinjir Rath Velus is a former Imperial Loyalty Officer. When first encountered, he’s drinking himself into oblivion from the guilt he feels in ruining so many people’s lives. He’s telling people he used to be in the Rebellion, rather than the Empire, so he won’t be hunted down. He’s along on this adventure to provide tension between himself and Norra, as well as contribute snarky comments. It’s only in the final act does he redeem himself. Jas Emari is the Zabrak bounty hunter. She’s on Akiva to kill one of the surviving Imperials. She doesn’t make the kill because she realizes her intel was woefully wrong: as there are too many other high ranking Imperials present, not to mention a lot of stormtroopers. By passing on the kill, she ends up meeting the rest of the characters. They unite to assist Jas in her bounty and to rescue Wedge. There are several antagonists, among them the Imperials who bicker and rant, as one would expect, with only Admiral Rae Sloane seeming to have any sense about their situation. She is the one who gets things done and commands the only remaining super Star Destroyer, the Vigilance. Every time the story was told from her point of view or she was present in a scene, things were interesting. The other Imperials could be exchanged with other similar characters that have populated Star Wars since the original novels and comics began. The stormtroopers are still as accurate with blasters as they were in the films, but now utter “Hey!” a lot. If I took a drink every time this was said…I enjoyed most of the characters, with Norra, Sinjir, Jas, and Rae being the best. Overall grade: B
The settings: Akiva is the main setting of the novel. It’s a world in the Outer Rim and contains a number of thieves and rogues, but also a population that just wants to be left alone. Though it has had dealings with the Empire in the past, there has never been an outpost placed or a garrison of stormtroopers stationed there. It reminds me of Tatooine, but with plants. Temmin’s shop is an important location, as is the palace where the Imperials are meeting. There was one location that was oddly placed. It was a construction location for devices that were needed during the Clone Wars, and it seemed too forced into the narrative. This is the only setting that seemed out of place, with all the others being vividly described with good imagery. Overall grade: B+
The action: The best Star Wars action has always been where several characters are involved in different conflicts against impossible odds. Things should seem like they’re spiraling rapidly out of control — it should be chaotic. Wendig captures that element very nicely in this book. Action starts small and then grows in stature until it seems like someone should perish. The chaos he creates fits nicely in with the Star Wars universe, until one character survives two obvious death scenes. It was too much and really took me out of the book. If this person was a Jedi, or someone who dabbled in the Force, I could believe it, but this individual is not, so I couldn’t. Both sequences involve ships and the character is presumed dead, but then magically reappears. I couldn’t believe it. Everything else was great, but these two scenes really let the wind out of this book’s sails. Overall grade: B-
The conclusion: A solid conclusion with opportunities for more adventures from this group, and since this is the first in a trilogy, it’s coming. Overall grade: A-
The final line: I admit to being a bit disappointed at the lack of appearances by the Skywalkers and the minor appearance by a smuggler and his friend. I’d love to know what they were doing after the battle, rather than have new characters’ adventures. I liked most of the characters and most of the action, but there were moments that had me groan in disappointment. However, there’s enough to enjoy to make fans happy, but this won’t generate new ones. Overall grade: B
NOTE: If you’re looking for events or characters that lead into The Force Awakens, there were three. I will discuss them as vaguely as possible, so they won’t ruin your reading experience of the book. The first, obviously, is the collection of Imperials gathering to rebuild the Empire. There may be one or more characters that lays the framework for the First Order that’s being shown in the trailers and mentioned online. The second is a group that appears on Page 227, who appear to be in the film, or at least forerunners of a group — they have me interested the most. The third is the decision made by character on Page 246, which insinuates why this character breaks from the fold. These three elements appear to be the “hints” of things to be seen this December.