Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Everyone once in awhile there is a project where the whole does not equal the sum of the parts. Star Wars Aftermath is a prime example of a book that has some really good parts, but when it comes together it just doesn’t work. This is a book that will only make the most indoctrinated of fanboys happy and will likely leave everyone else feeling unfulfilled.
On the surface Aftermath is meant to fill in some of the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The force Awakens, but it fails at doing this because the story is more about the current status quo rather than pushing events forward. The book opens by showing that many of the rebels and anti-Imperial citizen are celebrating, while the Imperials are struggling to keep things together with the loss of their leadership. Events quickly narrow down to Akiva, an outer rim planet, where several ranking Imperials are trying to determine the fate of the Empire. Wedge Antilles stumbles across the meeting and sends a warning before he gets caught. This then leads into the introduction of the main cast of characters: Norra, a rebel pilot, Jas, a Zabrak bounty hunter, Temmin, a junk dealer and Norra’s son, and Sinjir, a former Imperial officer. At first they are all trying to live their own lives, but soon the threat of the Empire draws them together.
While the story does have some interesting twists and turns it is constantly interrupted by the ‘interlude’ segments that focus on events on other worlds. These interludes explore the press coverage of the establishment of the new senate, Han Solo and Chewie finishing a job, a bar in Jakku, war orphans, and trouble in Cloud City among other stories. In some ways these stories feel like an extension of events, especially the scenes on Chandrila where we see the events leading up to the first meeting of the New Republic senate, but other scenes seem like they were added in to tease later books and comics, the way a Marvel movie would. The bright side of this comes with the establishing of EU locations as canon including Taris and the 1313 section of Coruscant, which is a nice touch.
The interludes would have worked really well as part of an anthology book, but in Aftermath they feel like padding for a very shallow story. The story does have some twists, but doesn’t use them well and also makes use of the fake out death cliffhanger numerous times in the story. There are some good ideas in the various stories, but nothing comes together well and it makes for a very bad reading experience. As this is the beginning of a trilogy it does set up for a sequel, which will likely fill in more of the inter-movie events, but a book does not deserve points for the possibilities of the sequel.
On the strong side, the characters are interesting and have more depth than the simple descriptions would show. You feel like you get to know the rebel team and even some of the side characters as the story unfolds. More importantly returning characters feel accurate in how they behave. Wedge Antilles is an honorable soldier who tries not to kill if he can avoid it, Admiral Akbar is a deep thinker worried about leading the army into failure, and Rae Sloane is still intelligent and ambitious as she was in A New Dawn. The only drawback to the characters is that it feels like there is an attempt at pandering with adding as much diversity as possible to the cast of characters. In some parts it feels natural, but in many cases it feels like it is added as part of the typical Disney rainbow of cultures. It becomes very distracting and takes away from the impact of some scenes.
The book has themes of family and war. As Norra’s family is a key focus of the story it does influence many actions and choices made by Norra and Temmin. Their estranged relationship works well for creating a more realistic conflict between the characters. In addition to that, the shift in point of view allows the reader to understand their feelings as they deal with each other. The war theme comes in with how people deal with war. Not only do you have the civilian point of view in the interludes, but you also see how soldiers feel about the conflict. However, it all adds up to ‘war is bad’ and everyone loses something or someone. That type of theme has been played out and it would have been nice to see a new twist to the theme of war.
One risk Aftermath does take is adding moral ambiguity to the typical ‘good vs. evil’ Star Wars story. There are Imperials who try to avenge their friends and stuggle to do their job despite how the populace is acting. Some of the leaders might be evil, but many of the soldiers are just people trying to fight for what they believe in. On the other hand we get some very underhanded tactics used by the rebels to win, showing that not all of the rebels are the paragons they are normally written as. It is a nice twist to the overall universe, but there is no real consequence when the ‘heroes’ act like sociopaths, while even good Imperials will be beaten or killed. This may be building to a pay off in a later story, butt that does not help balance out this story.
Aftermath is a tough read as it is very unbalanced in storytelling, feels like it has editorial mandates adding to the content, most twists do not go anywhere, the structure can be aggravating, and it is lacks the fun of a good Star Wars story. The best works in the Star Wars universe (both legends and canon) feature a spark that adds fun and life to everything. Even in the darker stories there is still something the reader/viewer can enjoy on an almost child-like level. This book feels like a bad Marvel movie. This book was written to sell later stories, just as some of those movies are designed to sell future movies. Only the most hardcore of Star Wars fans should read this book, it will likely add little to the movie and anything it might add will be covered (better) in other stories. For anyone else just give this book a pass and read anything else from the new canon.