Star Wars: Aftermath
Written by: Chuck Wendig
Published by: Del Rey
Review by Justin Partridge
(Mild spoilers ahead for books 1 and 2 of the Star Wars: Aftermath Trilogy)
Have you ever had that one book that would just…elude you? Meaning you really gave it a chance, multiple chances even, to sit and really give it the attention you think it deserves (and your much cooler and more literate and definitely dumber friends keep saying you SHOULD be giving it) but you still can’t bring yourself to finish it?
For me, two books hold this special difficult distinction; they continue to mock me from the stacks of books I have positioned into a corner in my office, like forbidden texts I am not yet of a wizarding (or patience) level to experience. One is Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore, his first novel, which is…a lot, as you can imagine. The other is Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, the much venerated first installment of the Thrawn Trilogy and basically the blueprint for the rest of the now “Legends” canon of Extended Universe Star Wars books, first published in 1991.
I have tried, and failed, no less than probably seven times to read this book, beginning from when I was but an 11-year-old youngling, scouring through my town’s local library, up until this VERY MONTH. I had planned to have the entire Thrawn Trilogy read by the time The Last Jedi had graced screens. Ask me how that shit went.
Not that that youngling in the library didn’t find some adventures to be had in that now crystallized canon. I will forever stand behind the thrilling and often gut wrenching X-Wing series, which chronicled the daring adventures of Wedge Antillies and his Rogue Squadron; Wedge being character in which I follow in the fandom to an uncomfortably close amount thanks to these books. I also think I, Jedi is a triumphant one-and-done adventure and one that gave me one of my favorite Star Wars archetypes, one of the “Trash Jedi”, meaning a Jedi that means well, but can’t ever seem to get his shit long enough to be truly great. (SEE ALSO: Kyle Katarn and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the desert…or just most of the time, really.)
But still my gaps stood. I tried time and time and time again to connect to the core books and lore of the “Legends” EU and it continued to elude me, or really excite me even. I still field astonished glances and the scoffs only fandom can produce to this very day when I tell people I haven’t read a sentence of the New Jedi Order books. Was it me? Was it the books? Was it the very essence of what I thought was entertaining in Star Wars?
It wasn’t until 2015, in the lead up to The Force Awakens, that I realized, it was all three.
I don’t know about y’all, but I get hyped as all hell when a new Star Wars movie is on the horizon (who am I kidding, you do too, you can say it, we’re all friends here), and in the lead up to TFA, I was really anxious to test the waters of the “New” Star Wars book canon, which was announced alongside the death of the original EU at some point in the press barrage that was the production of TFA. A book called Aftermath by Chuck Wendig, author of the Miriam Black series (which are crazy fun and good) seemed to be the origin point of it all so I snapped it up ASAFP.
This eventual trilogy’s biggest selling point was it was reported to be the canon exploits of major heroes like General Leia Organa, Han, and Chewbacca in the time frame from Return of the Jedi up until The Force Awakens, including the canon retelling of the Battle of Jakku (which was hinted at and poked around to an exhausting amount in the lead up to the newest movie. Shout out to every rube like me who pre-ordered the first Battlefront game just to blow each other up across the new narrative real estate).
But what I found was much more than just filling in gaps in the time off-screen, I found a whole new and exciting universe I could not WAIT to inhabit more. The setup of the first novel is fairly boilerplate, but that ends up working in its scrappy ass favor in a big way. Wedge Antillies is out on deep recon for the New Republic and catches the shattered remnants of the Empire gathering above a backwater planet called Akiva. So, naturally he investigates and naturally gets caught, by a hardassed and deadly rising Imperial star in the fall of Endor named Admiral Rae Sloane; the first of many incredible ladies Wendig introduces us to throughout this series.
At the same time, a war weary and haunted Norra Wexley is returning to homeplanet, Akiva, to reconnect with her son, Temmin, but finds herself dragged back into the fight when they both intercept a distress signal from Wedge, alerting any Rebellion forces in the area toward some kind of summit to restructure the remains of the Imperial forces. Filling out the cast are the morally grey, Zabrakian bounty hunter Jas Emari, who is swept up in the conflict by trying to capitalize on some choice high level Imperial targets on the planet’s surface and the canon’s first openly gay man, Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial Loyalty Officer (read: torturer) who found a conscious on the surface of Endor, watching the second Death Star explode.
Setting aside Wendig’s sheer audacity for going precisely where the movies had been doing this delicately weird and frustrating dance around, Sinjir is a ding-dang delight of a character, a constant source of wit and exasperation at his own turn away from drinking toward heroism as the rest of the party, who are ALSO pretty friggen cool Star Wars characters. Norra is a wreck of a woman, but she is every bit the hero she thought she would be when she joined the Rebellion. Temmin, who grows up to be Greg Grunberg’s Snap Wexley, wingman of Poe Dameron, is a plucky wise-ass, flanked by his murderously hilarious repurposed B-1 Battle Droid, Mister Bones, who literally wears the bones of his enemies and speaks in a squawking, gleefully violent shout, echoing the funny murder droids of the Knights of the Old Republic games and Kieron Gillen’s Doctor Aphra. Jas and Rae round out the diverse and refreshingly female driven cast, casting plenty of shades of grey over the adventure, making Star Wars about more than just absolutes and rigid motivations for fighting.
Aftermath basically takes the fun of a particularly referential Star Wars tabletop game (cameos of both old canon and new canon characters litter the first two books, but they never really derail the proceedings) and translates it into endlessly readable prose; prose that finally reflected back the diverse fandom that had connected with it years ago. Wendig even goes a step further by peppering through interludes from across the galaxy, giving a human, or sometimes not, face to the epic conflict, firmly rooting this series as one that will put characters above plot.
Then came The Force Awakens, another scrappy, but portentous tale populated by a diverse cast of Resistance heroes and Imperial…*ahem* so sorry, First Order villains that I couldn’t wait to hang out with again. And then it all hit me like a dutch angled Force Vision.
While my peers and friends talked about the “importance” of the old EU, championing characters like Mara Jade (who admittedly IS the coolest part of the six+ times I have tried to read the first Thrawn book) and the Solo Twins arc, nobody ever really talked about how much “fun” they were.
It may sound simplistic, but I always, always, always judge Star Wars content by how fun it is to consume first and foremost. I am a weird, child-man-creature that way I can’t really explain it. SO, by that metric, every time I sat down to read Heir, I never really had FUN with it, you know? It started to feel more and more like fandom homework and not something I could ever really meet in the middle in regards to just being a fun read, no matter how I tried. I know eventually I will get through them, but it was never something that I could get truly excited about as a Star Wars fan.
But Aftermath finally gave me the kind of scrappy, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants energy that stuff like the recent comics helmed by Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen had, and EVEN BETTER, it was the perfect entry point into this new canon, not some grey, turgid monolith standing between me and more Star Wars adventures. The trilogy’s second installment, Aftermath: Life Debt, suffers a bit from being too focused on Han and Chewbacca’s crusade to free Chewie’s homeworld Kashyyyk and splitting up the core party right after their rousing, Avengers like moments in the first book, but I still had a blast with it and eagerly await reading the conclusion, Aftermath: Empire’s End, which stands proudly on my shaky stacks of books.
And, what I had always wanted to happen, HAPPENED. A whole new world of Star Wars books opened themselves up to me, books like Greg Rucka’s YA efforts, Claudia Gray’s beautiful Leia: Princess of Alerdann, and Delilah S. Dawson’s incredibly badass Phasma novel, which stands alongside Kelly Thompson’s solo comic, as a worthy adventure for our Silver Space Mom.
But isn’t that what we really want from any fandom? Fun? Acceptance? Characters that actually look and behave and reflect you and your friends who have spent countless time with your heads in the stars of a galaxy far, far away? The Aftermath trilogy isn’t perfect, and hell, some of you may not even like it (I know plenty of frothingly weird Amazon commenters who would agree with you), but I will forever be grateful to it and Chuck Wendig for finally giving me daring, propulsive, and endlessly re-readable entry point into a section of the Star Wars fandom I thought would always elude me.
All three books in the Aftermath Trilogy are available in various formats on Amazon or, even better, available at your local bookshops in both hardcover and paperback, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. For everyone that has wanted Star Wars books to feel inclusive and fun, rather than self-important and dry, look toward the Aftermath.
(Oh, and @ me all you want with EU suggestions. I will read Thrawn eventually and am gearing up for an X-Wing deep dive, but my sources tell me of one about Luke and a planet of lizards, I think? Also the planet’s alive? That sounds…way up my street. Be seeing you…)