Spoiler Warning: there are spoilers for the events, characters, and implications in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath in this article.
Chuck Wendig is the first author to pen a trilogy of canon novels – the five previous canon novels all stand alone. The first of Wendig’s books, Aftermath, serves as the flagship novel of the Journey to the Force Awakens – a collection of novels, comics, young adult fiction, and other stories that fill in the time period between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Aftermath was released on Force Friday and has given readers the first glimpse into the state of the galaxy after the Battle of Endor. Aftermath sets the status quo for fans as we approach the seventh film in the Star Wars saga.
The State of the Galaxy
War has erupted in earnest in the wake of the Emperor’s death. Emboldened by their victory, the Alliance to Restore the Republic officially names itself the New Republic. Mon Mothma, long-time leader of the Rebellion, surprises the galaxy by giving up her emergency powers and establishes a new senate on her homeward of Chandrila. Entire star systems defect from the oppressive crush of the Empire. The New Republic brings war to Imperial-held systems that don’t defect. The Imperial Navy is on the defensive.
Meanwhile, the Imperial Navy reels from the loss of so many of its best and brightest in the Battle of Endor. They are forced to to make do with poorly trained recruits. Admiral Rae Sloane brings together high ranking Imperials – a banker, a Moff, and one of the Emperor’s advisors – in an attempt to unite the Empire under strong leadership. The meeting is arranged on the jungle planet Akiva, which serves as the primary setting for the novel.
Captain Wedge Antilles of the New Republic scouts the galaxy for Imperial activity. He runs afoul of three Star Destroyers in orbit around Akiva and is captured. Norra Wexley, a Y-Wing pilot who survived the Death Star run at Endor, returns to Akiva after years away fighting for the Rebellion. Her plan is to take her son Temmin and leave for a world filled with fewer painful memories. Temmin has plans of his own and no intentions of leaving Akiva. Jas Esmari, a Zabrak bounty hunter, tracks a high-ranking Imperial to Akiva where she stumbles across many other lucrative bounties. Sinjir Rath Vellus, an AWOL Imperial loyalty officer shell shocked from the Battle of Endor, drinks himself numb in an Akiva cantina. Their stories collide and tumble forward until the characters find balance with one another.
Scattered throughout the book are a number of interludes that break from the events at Akiva. The New Republic liberates a planet from Imperial rule, destabilizing the local infrastructure and leaving the locals to fend for themselves. A group of slaves overthrow their Imperial taskmasters amidst a pitched battle and are left to find their way in the galaxy. An orphaned child on Coruscant asks a favor from a crime lord that will let him take revenge on the Empire. New Republic officials uphold their beliefs for a better galaxy and show the people they are not the Empire. Han Solo abandons his mission for the New Republic when an opportunity to liberate the Wookiee homeworld presents itself.
The most tantalizing chapter in the book is the epilogue. This is the novel equivalent of a film stinger in which we see Admiral Sloane speaking to a Fleet Admiral. We are given no physical description of the Fleet Admiral but we learn a few key things about him. First is that he is incredibly cunning and ruthless. He considers Sloane to be one of his best and brightest and still engineered a plan that could have very easily led to her death. Second, he appears to enjoy art a great deal. The identity of this Fleet Admiral has fandom in an uproar. Many speculate and hope that it is the introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn into canon. Certainly the portrayal fits with the character established by Timothy Zahn. It is more likely, however, the first appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, the motion-captured character we know will be portrayed by Andy Serkis in The Force Awakens. Regardless, the character has made an incredible impact in just a single scene.
Wendig’s prose is terse and direct. Written in present tense third person, the action has immediacy the other canon novels lack. Screenplays are often written in this tense, which may explain why the book reads very much like a film put to paper. The action and scenery leap off the page and one easily visualizes the wipes and pan transitions Star Wars is so famous for. Dialogue is often choppy with characters talking over one another or trailing off mid-sentence. There is surprising clarity in Wendig’s words. They are jarring. Curt. Economical. But they are clear and evocative. He brings characters to life with pathos, hope, courage, and dignity.
Existing characters are used sparingly. Unlike most Star Wars fiction, this isn’t the continuing journeys of Han, Luke, & Leia. Aside from Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar, characters from the films aren’t given time in the spotlight at all. We have a recording from Leia, an interlude with Han and Chewie, and a few scenes with Mon Mothma. The new cast – Norra, Temmin, Jas, Sinjir, Admiral Sloane – carries the story. The reader is drawn to these characters as they stumble forward in messy relationships and thrilling action sequences. It’s like watching Star Wars for the first time all over again.
Star Wars has always had a simple morality at its core. Good vs. Evil. Aftermath is no different. Mon Mothma and her new government are paragons of freedom, democracy, and egalitarianism. When confronted by a refugee who decries the New Republic’s callous treatment of a planet after a battle, his people having been abandoned to pirates, the Senate’s public relations representative invites him to join the senate as an official representative for his people. She gives a voice to the powerless when they most need it. Conversely, the ranking Imperials meeting on Akiva seem aware that they are the villains of the galaxy. One delights in torturing a captive Wedge Antilles. Another is a notorious slaver. They discuss frankly how they expect to be tried and executed for their crimes if found by the New Republic. Wendig paints the powerful of the galaxy in black and white.
The use of interludes has proven controversial. Some readers find themselves stopped cold by being taken out of the action. Others view them as essential to understanding the galaxy. The interludes are short – only a few pages each – but paint vivid pictures of a galaxy torn by war and social upheaval. Wendig’s interludes are brutally real and honest. The magic of the interludes is that they give Aftermath a grounding in reality. While the powerful of the galaxy are painted in black and white, Wendig fills in the spaces between with muddy, murky grays. It’s a tricky balancing act he manages with aplomb.
It is useful to note that Wendig goes deep with references to Star Wars – iconic lines are repeated and tiny minutiae of Star Wars lore are thrown in throughout the book. He ties together elements from the original trilogy and prequels (yes, haters, the prequels are canon) while pointing us toward the new films.
In final review, Aftermath is a solid book. It is the best written and most compelling Star Wars novel in the new canon and gives fans a glimpse into the future of that galaxy far, far away.