The Dying Gasps of a Galactic Empire: A Review of Aftermath And Its Sequels

As I mentioned when I reviewed Leia: Princess of Alderaan, I am all in on the new Star Wars Expanded Universe. Yes, I am very sorry to fans of the old Expanded Universe that Disney basically threw out with the bathwater when they purchased Lucasfilm. Yes, I hope it doesn’t happen to me to twenty years down the line. But if it does, I’ll always have these memories, eh?

Aftermath (2015)
Aftermath: Life Debt (2016)
Aftermath: Empire’s End (2017)
Author: Chuck Wendig
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 432, 512, 512 (all three in paperback)
Series: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Publisher: Del Rey

Why I Chose It: I was already on this path long ago.

Premise for Aftermath:

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 he’s 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 a reprobate Imperial defector — who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

There are some spoilers contained in this review because of the quotes chosen, but no major plot spoilers are present. It does assume you know how Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ends.


Discussion: So I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi (that’s nine movies into this franchise, if you’re following along at home), and that is when it finally occurred to me that there is a new Expanded Universe to read that is still canon and might help explain some storylines in the movies. And so far? It actually has been really helpful. (This, after four books and one comic book.) There’s perhaps a story there about making a movie trilogy that stands just as well on its own as it does with an Expanded Universe of books and comics behind it, but that’s not this story.

Back in December, I read From A Certain Point Of View, which lead to me rewatching the original trilogy (and here I mean Episodes IV, V, and VI, although I tried to watch the prequels and just could not), which lead to me watching The Force Awakens in advance of the new movie and that’s when I really started asking myself the real questions. Questions like: Where did the Empire go? What’s up with the First Order? Why are all the First Order’s foot soldiers dressed like Stormtroopers? Where did this enormous Starkiller base come from?

At the same time in an entirely other part of my existence, I started asking myself why I’d never read anything by Chuck Wendig, despite following him on twitter for ages. So I read Zer0es, which I have not reviewed for this blog, and it was pretty good, but I also noticed that he’d written some Expanded Universe for Star Wars as well, so naturally . . .

All of this to say, reading the Aftermath trilogy seemed like a great way to find the answers to the questions that I had about linking Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and also throw some readership Chuck Wendig’s way. (He’s a really stellar follow on twitter, y’all.)

I will tell you from the outset, nothing about this trilogy was entirely what I expected in a multitude of ways. Only a few of the characters were people I’d ever heard of, despite having recently watched all of the relevant movies. I also went into them with an expectation that they’d be like other media tie-ins I’d read, which is to say the mental equivalent of something slightly more substantial than cotton candy. Nothing against Wendig, because I’d already read one of his books, but (previously to this trilogy and also the Mass Effect tie-in by N.K. Jemisin) I’d always assumed media tie-in novels were kinda like men’s adventure or romance novels. Just. You know. Kinda quick and easy reads.

You guys, believe me when I say these books were quite the surprise. They weren’t difficult reads, per se, but they were a lot denser than expected and asked a lot of heavy lifting from the reader in terms of worldbuilding (especially for a world that is so well-established). This is mostly because the book takes you places never seen in the movies and introduces entirely new characters and plot lines.

And finally, only some of the questions that I read the books to answer actually got answered. Part of that was my own fault, given expectations I had going into the novels, and part of that is a somewhat inaccurate selling of these novels. Yes, they tell the story of the fall of Palpatine’s Empire, but they’re pretty light on the story of the rise of the First Order. So claims that they connect the Empire and the First Order are somewhat misleading. What they really are is an expanded ending to the third movie.

That isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but definitely something to know if you’re contemplating reading them. (And you should contemplate reading them. You should just read them. Spoilers: they were good.)

The books follow Norra Wexley (not in the movie) and her son Temmin (played by Greg Grunberg in The Force Awakens, did not appear in The Last Jedi) as they join ranks with a bounty hunter (not in the movie), a former loyalty officer for the Empire (not in the movie but does have the distinction of being the first gay hero in the franchise), and Temmin’s murder bot Mr. Bones (not in the movie, THOUGH HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN). Full disclosure: Mr. Bones is the best character in the entire trilogy, and I will not hear a single word against him.

Slowly, his metal arms enfold them, patting them awkwardly on the back.

“HELLO. I AM ENJOYING THIS HUG, TOO. HUG HUG HUG. A HUG IS LIKE VIOLENCE MADE OF LOVE.” (page 203 of Empire’s End)

On the Empire’s side is Rae Sloane (not in the movie), former Grand Admiral under Palpatine, and her power struggles with the dying Empire, its generals and commanders, and a protege/adviser of Palpatine, Gallius Rax (not in the movie). This side of the story was more interesting for me than following the story of the Rebellion/New Republic, although I did also like that story line. But seeing Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine from the perspective of their underlings and people who may not have even truly believed in the dark side or the Force in general made for interesting reading.

“This isn’t some kind of inspirational story. Some scrappy, ragtag underdog tale, some pugilistic match where we’re the good-hearted gladiator who brings down the oppressive regime that put him in the arena. They get to have that narrative. We are the ones who enslaved whole worlds full of alien inhabitants. We are the ones who built something called a Death Star under the leadership of a decrepit old goblin who believed in the ‘dark side’ of some ancient, insane religion.” (pages 176-177 of Aftermath)

We did get to see some familiar faces. The second book took Norra’s ragtag team to Kashyyyk to help Han Solo (I mean obviously in the movie) rescue Chewbacca (again, obviously) and liberate the Wookiees from slavery. Mon Mothma (in the old movies and Rogue One) features throughout, and General Leia Organa (obviously), Last Princess of Alderaan, gives Norra’s group their funding and purpose. We also see fan favorite Wedge Antilles (Luke’s old friend from Tattooine, in the old movies) and Admiral Ackbar (“It’s a trap!”) also make a few appearances.

When they say to one another, May the Force be with you, it is precisely this that they mean: It is a wish that when the time comes to leap into the void and to make a decision based on instinct and trust, you are rewarded for that act and not punished. The hope is that if you meet the galaxy halfway, it meets you in the middle and carries you the rest of the distance. (page 380 of Empire’s End)

In between sections of the book are intercalary chapters that give snapshots of life throughout the former Empire/New Republic. Some were happy, some were heartbreaking, some were people we knew and some were people we wouldn’t see again. I thought this was an interesting device that was well used to draw attention to wider galactic concerns while still keeping the main storyline focused on the main characters.

“Hey. Honey. What happens now? For us, I mean. The slaves.”

She smiles a little. But Greybok sees that she looks lost, too. All she can do is shrug. “I don’t know. Nobody knows. You’re free though.” (page 226 of Aftermath)

Ultimately, while I didn’t get as much about the First Order as I’d expected, I got the end to the Empire that I was looking for. And, honestly, not even the end they truly deserved. It was also interesting to see, again because I never bothered reading the old Expanded Universe, just how pernicious and evil the Empire really was, something I don’t feel that we got a true sense of just from the original trilogy of movies. Also interesting was a look at a New Republic that hadn’t expected to win and didn’t have a solid plan for what to do when they did win. Right was on their side, surely, but thorough planning and knowledge for how to govern a galaxy? Not so much.

And while I really enjoyed these books, I’m left wanting more, which isn’t actually a bad thing, since obviously Disney isn’t done milking the cash cow.

But hey, that Chuck Wendig sure does know how to write a book.

In conclusion: If you like the movies and have ever wondered how the Empire fizzled into what the First Order eventually grew out of, I recommend these books. They were an interesting read, for sure.

2 Comments

  • Shara White January 31, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    I really enjoyed Aftermath, but I haven’t yet read the rest of the trilogy. The books are waiting though….not very patiently….

    Reply
    • Merrin February 1, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      Haha! I get that feeling.

      Reply

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