Book Review: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Amidst all the new toys, clothes, posters, and BB-8 droids released on Force Friday, fans got their first glimpse of the Star Wars sequel era in the novel Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. Aftermath takes place mere months after Return of the Jedi. With Darth Vader and the Emperor dead, the Empire has fallen into chaos, but the Rebel Alliance–now the New Republic–is still in the process of forming a new government. As the cover states, the galactic civil war is not over.
For fans expecting to see Luke, Han, and Leia, Aftermath will disappoint. For the most part, the book focuses on a new cast of characters, including former Rebel pilot Norra Wexley; her son Temmin; his homicidal battle droid, Mr. Bones; former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus; and bounty hunter Jas Emari. On the Imperial side, Admiral Rae Sloane convenes a meeting with a handful of Imperial generals, bankers, and advisors to discuss the future of the Empire. When news of the meeting leaks, Norra, Temmin, Sinjir, Jas, and Mr. Bones team up to take out the Imperial leadership.
Aftermath is more intimate and localized than most Star Wars stories. Rather than cover a galaxy-spanning New Republic campaign to conquer Imperial strongholds, it takes place on the Outer Rim world Akiva. In focusing on a single planet, Aftermath presents a microcosm of the disarray following Palpatine’s death. The Empire hid behind a veneer of propaganda about law and order, but in practice allied with unpopular local rulers and criminal elements in order to prey on the local population. After the Rebel victory at Endor, the Empire could no longer censor the news and quell the populace. The titular “aftermath” refers to the chaotic process of local leaders–such as Norra–taking the initiative and starting their own rebellions against the Empire.
Wendig uses a brilliant technique to get around the limitations of the setting by sprinkling the book with short chapters – “interludes” – that contain scenes from other scenes in other planets. Some of these interludes convey the aftermath (pun intended) of the galactic civil war. For example, we learn that local street urchins on Coruscant formed the Anklebiter Brigade to ferry information and supplies back and forth to insurgents fighting against the Empire. Other interludes update readers about the politics of the New Republic. Chancellor Mon Mothma’s decisions about New Republic military preparedness reveals much about her leadership, even as it potentially undermines the war effort.
In many ways, Aftermath is better at setting up the context than at telling a story. In the first half, the book introduces the characters and shows how their paths cross (a “coming together” story). In the second half, they try to infiltrate Akivan palace and thwart the Imperials before they can leave the planet. Although the book states that these Imperials are key leaders, the stakes don’t feel appropriately high. If the deaths of Palpatine and Vader didn’t vanquish the Empire, would the capture of a petty Moff or craven banker really matter? Moreover, aside from Admiral Sloane, who had a small role in A New Dawn, these Imperials are all new characters. I didn’t know enough about them to really care about their fates. The heroes had no personal motives for thwarting them, so I found it difficult to feel invested in their success.
Wendig writes the characters well enough to make them believable, but there’s little sense of what makes them tick outside the role they play in the story. Most lack any distinguishing personality quirks that might make them more interesting or memorable. Norra at least faces an agonizing conflict between duty to the Rebellion and duty to her family, but it feels like a cheat that she’s never really forced to make a choice and ends up with both. Sinjir proves an exception by playing against the archetype of what one would expect of an Imperial loyalty officer. I enjoyed reading sections written from Sinjir’s point of view because he was struggling to figure out his allegiance and often couldn’t help lying to himself.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Aftermath is Wendig’s decision to write in the present tense (rather than the usual past tense). I personally found this distracting, but it didn’t detract too much from my reading experience. Wendig’s habit of using colloquialisms and real-world references did occasionally take me out of the story. For example, Sinjir, a former Imperial officer and a reasonably mature adult, at one point uses the expression “duh” (I haven’t heard anybody say “duh” since the 1990s). The Imperial banker is named Arsin Crassus, jarringly similar to Marcus Licinius Crassus, a prominent moneylender during the late Roman Republic. Moments like these made it difficult to suspend disbelief.
So, is Aftermath worth reading? It’s too early to tell. On its own, Aftermath is a serviceable but skippable story. However, the book is the first in a trilogy of novels set in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens (in addition to the comic Shattered Empire). It feels like setup for more to come (especially now that it’s introduced the core characters). Indeed, some of the interludes drop intriguing clues, including the possibility that a future book will depict the battle of Jakku (the desert planet depicted in the Episode VII trailers). That said, Aftermath certainly shouldn’t be viewed as required reading before December 18. I’m sure the Episode VII opening crawl will provide viewers with whatever context they need (after all, Disney can’t expect audiences to do “homework” just to watch a movie).
About the Author:
Dom Nardi is the Contributing Writer for Star Wars at Legendarium Media. He has worked as a political scientist and as a consultant throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, he has published articles about politics in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. You can find more of his writing at NardiViews.