– Spoiler Review –
Just shy of one and a half years after the first book, Chuck Wendig brings not only the Empire to an end, but also his enjoyable Aftermath Trilogy, setting the stage and tone for the stories yet to be told in the 30 plus year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. As far as finales goes, Empire’s End is an excellent ending, rounding out fulfilling and memorable character arcs (for both new and old characters), answering several burning questions (which come with their own new questions for the future of Star Wars storytelling to unfold), and bringing its overarching trilogy plot to a satisfying conclusion.
“Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?” – Finn. You might have understood Finn’s confusion while watching The Force Awakens, but you’ll understand why the Battle of Jakku, 30 some years before Finn never wants to go back, is such an important moment in shaping the new post-Return of the Jedi era in the new canon by the final pages of Empire’s End. It’s another well-told chapter in the trilogy, as Wendig hits a poetic prose all time high while still delivering his trademark in-your-face style, which propels you through the book at a quick, jaunty pace. This is even true despite an opening half or so that’s a little bogged down because it’s obvious where everything/one is heading but Wendig has to make it all make sense in-universe to get there. But once everyone gets to where they need to go, Jakku, the action takes hold of you like a Starhawk’s tractor beam and doesn’t let go until the end. And what a chaotic, satisfying ending it is: various characters intermingle and clash in epic fashion, story arcs two books in the making come to a close, some of your most burning questions get answered, while new and enticing questions take their place. This series, and Wendig’s work in general, thrives on the interactions between characters and the trilogy has never disappointed in that regard, with Empire’s End having the highlights of the trilogy thanks to every character forced to come to terms with the changes happening within them since book 1. If you’ve had no problem with Wendig and his style, or did and have been holding on since book one, your patience is most definitely rewarded when everything falls into place here. It might not be the best book of the new canon, but it contains some of its most memorable moments yet.
While Aftermath: Life Debt backtracked a bit on its progress with the original characters central to the trilogy once it came to a close, Empire’s End has no such problems and leaves permanent marks on Norra Wexley, Temmin “Snap” Wexley, Jas Emari, Sinjir Rath Velus, and heck even Mister Bones. Both Norra and Temmin’s respective struggles center around what it means to be a family in the wake of Brentin’s return and subsequent traitorous behavior thanks to an Imperial imbeded chip, with Norra’s arc continuing to be the strongest of the two thanks to her unique motherly perspective, something we’ve not gotten enough of in Star Wars yet. And even if Norra’s stubbornness gets to be a little too much towards the end, how she handles coming face to face with her biggest adversaries, Rae Sloane and Brentin, are some of her best parts in EE. However, Norra and Temmin both end the book in predictable places, with is both disappointing in a sense but also something to be happy about because it’s an ending I’ve come to hope for Norra since book 1 (while we already know Snap lives). Jas figuring out what type of debts are more important, monetary or life, is also a handily told arc if not a little predictable as well, and her being the voice of reason from time to time is a nice change of pace due to her realistic outlook; she gets the honor of one of the most badass prison escape attempts ever. And Mister Bones brings the gut-busting laughs as usual (his group hug is one of my many unforgettable moments), firmly cementing himself as most loyal and deadly pet anyone ever could own. And then there’s Sinjir, whose arc is ultimately the most compelling of the original characters, as his struggle to accept the good inside of him despite himself brings with it both laughs and moments of levity, and how his love for Conder Kyl and all the righteous, purposeful things he stands for pushes Sinjir to make the necessary changes. His position at the end of the novel is one of the true surprises within, and how he ends up there is actually contained in one of my favorite chapters in the book, Chapter 29, as it left me laughing due to the humor of the situation and my joy over Sinjir’s new purpose. And not only is his arc the best, he’s the one I’d be most interested to see again, with Jas coming in second, and Norra/Temmin following considering their tales felt the most complete/easy to tell their paths ahead.
And then there’s RAE SLOANE, the Imperial who has endured herself to my (and many other fan’s) heart from all the way back in A New Dawn. Her well-handled path by various hands throughout the new canon, and her rapid rise through the Imperial ranks, has been one of its (and the Aftermath Trilogy’s) best parts, making her one of my absolute favorite characters of all time (right next to Doctor Aphra). Wendig has yet to disappoint when it comes to Sloane and her journey in this final book tests her like nothing has ever before, as she struggles with how to rescue the order and law of the Empire she loves from Gallius Rax while stuck wandering the deserts of Jakku, with only her determination and strength of will to see her through (and some help from Norra’s husband). How she mixes with various characters on her most trying of journeys is a real highlight of the novel, as from Niima, Rax, and to Norra, each one tests her in a new way and she continues to overcome the obstacles they present as only she can. Overall, her appearance in Empire’s End is her best of the trilogy, as well as her entire canon career, so any fan of Sloane needs to read EE just to see how the harsh environment of Jakku not only changes and hardens her, but makes her convictions even stronger. I’ll go into a little more detail about how everything turns out for Sloane by the end in my spoiler section, but know this: Star Wars will be better place if there’s more Sloane in its future, no matter where or how she shows up again.
As for Gallius Rax, while I was certainly intrigued by him in Life Debt, I lost interest him in EE. It’s not necessarily that he’s a bad character or anything, but the mystery surrounding him and his purpose is basically gone by the time the book starts and thus I found myself more intrigued by what Palpatine uses him for and less interested in who Rax is or how he got to that point, as he feels just like another chess piece rather than the one moving the pieces. Maybe this is how we’re supposed to feel about Rax, considering it’s revealed Palpatine’s Contingency plan urges Rax forward less than Rax himself, robbing him of his agency. And while the Contingency plan is shrouded in mystery for most of the novel, if you’ve seen The Force Awakens then you should have a pretty darn good idea already about what this plan leads to, but thankfully Palpatine’s reasons behind the plan, as well as if it’s truly going the way he envisioned it would at this point in the timeline, are the real mysteries to uncover here.
Beyond the original characters, Han, Leia, and Mon Mothma continue to take up considerable parts of the novel like they did in Life Debt, but here they are less the focus of the action and more helpful guides to our original characters. Han and Leia continue to be entertaining as hell to read under Wendig’s hands, as Han attempting to understand how to settle down and be a family man gets some great exploration here, especially thanks to how Leia helps guide him down said path, and the book ends with the welcoming of Ben Solo to the galaxy (try not to cry when you read what Han says to baby Ben). Mothma’s political tales hit a little close to home with the recent American election (it’s easy to tell which person Mothma is more like of the election’s two candidates and somehow her opponent in-universe almost seems less terrible than his real-world counterpart), but showing the political side of the matter hammers home how different the world is for our heroes now that they are the government and the galaxy is always watching, something already established as an issue in book 2.
COMMENTARY: MEATBAGS WHO DON’T LIKE SPOILERS SHOULD TURN BACK NOW
THAT’S RIGHT, FOLKS, THE BIGGER SPOILERS ARE JUST BELOW
SCROLL AS FAST AS YOU CAN TO AVOID THEM IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THEM
RAE SLOANE LIVES!!! And her next journey is the most unexpected, but extremely exciting, outcome for any character: to rebuild the Empire in a new image far out in the Unknown Regions, with Armitage and Brendol Hux (and the elder’s stormtrooper program) and other like-minded Imperials, in what will eventually be called the First Order! Sloane has gone from fast-tracked Captain to the architect of the First Order’s rise in the Empire’s ashes in a crazy, surprise-filled journey unlike any new character of the canon has gone through (besides maybe Aphra) and it’s awesome to see the Story Group give such a beloved character said journey and preserve what makes her so great in the first place. I cannot wait to see what’s next for her and if she’s helping make the First Order into what they become by The Force Awakens, I’m suddenly finding myself a bit of a fan of the FO. But the big question becomes how long is she integral to the FO as it is still unclear where Supreme Leader Snoke fits into all of this: is he already out in the Unknown Regions, waiting for his time to come or does he join later and rises to power, possibly (gasp) taking Sloane out in the process? Again, EE has given us some answers, but still provides plenty of fun new questions to ponder. (UPDATE: There’s some fun images on Tumblr that give us some funny fan perspective peeks at Sloane and Armitage together)
The one thing about the Contingency plan that confuses me is that this is now the second big plan we’ve heard Palpatine had in mind that essentially revealed he really didn’t care that much about the Empire, but the two plans could come at odds with one another. In Tarkin, Palpatine talks about essentially destroying the Force so he is the ultimate power in the galaxy, while here the Contingency meant some ancient computers were working on calculating a route to a completely different galaxy so he could rule there in case he lost in the current galaxy (computers which were aided by Grand Admiral Thrawn’s knowledge of the Unknown Regions, interestingly enough). So which was more important to him, destroying the Force and being the ultimate ruler or being the ultimate ruler of a galaxy, Empire or not? Or did he think he could continue his work regarding consuming all of the Force in a different galaxy without so many enemies? Ultimately it’s not terribly important considering neither will seem to ever come to pass, but curious things to ponder anyways.
The Acolytes of the Beyond takes thing to the next level, attacking several Force-related sites around the galaxy, and Yupe Tashu, the crazy Palpatine advisor introduced in the first novel is one of their leaders (so his death at the end of the book won’t bring the Acolytes’ activities to an end). The interlude about the Acolytes here takes the perspective of the Pantoran girl in Life Debt‘s Acolyte-set interlude, Kiza, and it seems to indicate the Sith artifacts contain the specters of their fallen Sith masters and in a way take over/consume/imbue the wearer with said Sith’s anger and power. This both fits with how Sith are obsessed with the mortal realm and Darth Bane’s appearance in The Clone Wars, thus proving while there is power in what the Sith do to persevere after death, the objects they are moored to can be destroyed or the spirit can be pushed away by stronger-willed people, thus making it a weaker path to take for immortality. Will the Acolytes be one of Luke and/or Luke’s new Jedi Order’s tests/battles?
I actually really liked the Jar-Jar interlude, as I felt it shows how he’s dealt with, in a very Jar-Jar like way, what he unintentionally wrought all those years ago. The Clone Wars made him and the Gungans much better characters, so any fan of how the show eventually treated them will appreciate how Wendig tries to give him a reflective, but somewhat happy and sad ending.
Don’t get me wrong: killing off characters doesn’t make a story any better and since I like the original characters to the point I wouldn’t be too happy any of them died, but killing Jom was, in a way, the easier way out to killing a main character. It only served to confirm, to me at least, that he was expendable, which is how I felt about him in Life Debt when he joined the team and still feel since notice this is literally the only place I’ve mentioned him this entire review. He goes out in a truly heroic way though, but he still ended up leaving the series just like he entered it: a background character. However, there was a rather major “death” that did nearly put me in tears: Mister Bones! His destruction comes after a truly epic action sequence featuring him, but I probably didn’t get as teary eyed because Charles Soule has said Bones will make an appearance in Poe Dameron at some point, as Snap Wexley is one of the core characters of the series. Considering Bones’ ending here, it’ll be interesting to see how the droid manages to make an appearance now (Snap builds a new Bones or it’s like a hologram Snap has of him?)
Is it just me, or was the tall girl that was part of Hux’s weaponized youth in Chapter 26 a hint for a young Captain Phasma?
END OF SPOILERS
Here are a few other things:
- For more on the Battle of the Jakku, I absolutely recommend purchasing and reading Lost Stars! And as a bonus, you get a really enjoyable book to read.
- The Messenger droids from Shattered Empire make an intriguing appearance…especially with a minor, but importance difference the ones here have over the ones in SE.
- A fan-favorite The Clone Wars character survives and their appearance was one of my favorite cameos.
- Wendig makes a reference to Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality“ and everything is right with the world.
- The Interlude on Kashyyyk? HOLY TEARS people, holy tears. Loved that one.
- There’s a whole Interlude about a group of people who belong to the Church of the Force, which is what Lor San Tekka is a part of, and it was…a bit of head-scratcher. It almost comes off like it’s supposed to be a parable of some sorts, but it also feels like a stretch these people go on such a pilgrimage and no one on the planet they visit notices/helps?
- I really like the idea that crime syndicates are going to be a bigger problem than Imperial remnants in the future for the New Republic, as the Imperial warlord of the week got a little dull in the ol’ Legends tales and crime bosses and their schemes can have a little more variety.
- Once you meet Niima the Hutt, you’ll never look at Niima Outpost the same way again. Also, I really loved the Mad Max-vibes her and her followers had!
- Rogue One featured the Guardians of the Whills (in Baze and Chirrut, who are getting their own book), The Force Awakens‘ novelization had a passage from the Journal of the Whills and now so does Empire’s End. I don’t expect we’ll be uncovering everything about the Whills anytime soon, but it’s nice to see the seeds are being planted for them and the Journal that dates back to the original scripts by George Lucas.
- Here’s some great fan-art of Rae and Rax, as inspired originally by Life Debt.
- The official site’s interview with Chuck Wendig has him reflecting on the trilogy (and is spoiler-free).
- On the exact opposite side of spoiler-free, io9 has a cheat-sheet of sorts to all the big changes/revelations about the galaxy by the end of the novel.
- I’m for one very happy the Aftermath Trilogy didn’t answer every big question out there right now as it helps preserve the mystery of in-universe history and why rush to answer everything when the Story Group can take their time because they know their audience isn’t going anywhere.
The first trilogy of the new canon comes to a gratifying end in Empire’s End, answering some of the bigger questions about the future ahead and introducing new questions to ponder in their stead, while the characters within take center stage through it all (specifically Sinjir Rath Velus and Rae Sloane).
+ Sloane, Sinjir character arcs the most satisfying and rewarding
+ Rest of original characters arcs still satisfying…
+ New answers come with new and exciting questions
– …though are not all terribly surprising
– Opening half gets a little bogged down since you already know where it’s all going
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (by Chris)
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening