Canon Novel Review: Star Wars: Aftermath

Star Wars Aftermath

Spoiler Review –

Star Wars: Aftermath, sharply written by Chuck Wendig with a style that might be off-putting at first, is the most thrilling adventure of the new canon, stars a multi-dimensional and diverse cast, has an engaging character driven plot, sets a new tone and path for the expanded universe, and has a series of short stories begging (maybe too much) to be expanded. 

Aftermath, the first of a trilogy, has the honor of taking the first big step towards the larger world known as the post-Return of the Jedi era and with it tons of hype, hopes, fears, wishes, resentment, and dreams of the fans. It’ll never meet or beat those expectations, but it can forge a new path and be a solid book; And, as the final pages of Aftermath draw to the close, it becomes apparent the book does exactly that by, “forgetting the old way,” and doing something different. Now, it feels like this era between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens needs a new name instead of post-RotJ, like say pre-TFA, not only because of Aftermath‘s forward facing ideals, but also due to its brave steps on a new path that might leave fans of the old way with a slightly bitter taste in their mouth.

Set a few months after the Battle of Endor, Aftermath starts when Wedge, doing some solo recon, runs into a couple of Star Destroyers—over an Outer Rim world named Akiva—and finds himself their captive. A fellow member of the Alliance—now being called the New Republic—Norra Wexley returns to her home world Akiva after 3 years to get her son and find themselves a new home. But Admiral (promoted since being a Captain in A New Dawn) Rae Sloane’s blockade of the planet to secure it for a top secret Imperial meeting to determine the fate of the Empire throws a wrench into everyone’s plans, including the other main characters like Sinjir Rath Velus, Temmin Wexley, and Jas Emari. Sinjir is a Imperial loyalty officer, questioning his future and own loyalty at the bottom of as many bottles as he can find; Temmin finds himself torn between sticking to the independent life he made for himself after Norra went off to fight for the rebels and possibly having to give it up to be with his mom; the bounty hunter Jas sees her reward getting sweeter with the arrival of more Imperial big-wigs than the one she’s after. As they find their goals intersecting, the group teams up to all get what they want, though their ultimate goals might be more closely aligned than they all realize.

The group of hodgepodge rebels is Aftermath‘s greatest strength, covering a wide gamut of species/genders/professions/and orientations, never once settling for stock characterizations. In fact, even side characters who get the spotlight both in the main story and the interludes (more on those in a bit) feel unique and entertaining, providing lots of character to the proceedings, both literally and figuratively. Normally when I’ve said a book was diverse in the past, it’s largely been only a handful of characters not white/human/or straight, but Aftermath is full to the brim with actual, literal diversity. It’s rather refreshing and helps make the novel that much more entertaining, as it feels like we’re in a galaxy far, far away where anything is possible and assumptions won’t help you guess who or what each character is next. Jas, Norra, Rae, Imperial General Jylia Shale, Mon Mothma, Adea (Rae’s attendant), and many more women are introduced or continued here, and being a woman isn’t any one of these characters’ defining traits in the novel, instead they are all characters who happen to be female, alien, or non-white. It’s what they want, think, or do instead that makes them memorable characters.

On top of that, not only is a main character of the LGBT persuasion, so are some of the smaller side characters. While Paul S. Kemp got the ball rolling in the new canon (in Lords of the Sith) by introducing its first LGBT character, Moff Mors, Aftermath adds another character to the list, Sinjir. What I love about Aftermath‘s LGBT character is how the reveal is almost similar to Legends novel Kenobi‘s non-twist twist regarding the Tusken A’Yark: it takes advantage of our assumptions and challenges readers to stop being narrow-minded. In the end, Sinjir being gay isn’t his defining characteristic, far from it actually, but instead it’s just one of his many characteristics. On top of Sinjir, Temmin’s Aunts (cleverly introduced by using our assumptions against us again) aren’t two separate aunts, but rather a lesbian couple, while one of the interlude’s characters had two fathers. Science fiction can’t be all straight males and females, nor all white characters, as that betrays the very fundamentals of our society and ignores the all-magical word fiction, where everything is possible. More of this inclusion will always be welcomed, especially handled as well as it was here.

And handled wonderfully all the characters are, making each of them ones you want to root for no matter their allegiances, backstabs, or internal conflicts. Watching Sloane, one of my favorite characters from A New Dawn, handle the room of squabbling Imperials and each new situation the rebels cause in a calculating, crisp, and authoritative manner is enjoyable to read, as well is her different mindset towards what the Empire should be after an Emperor is gone. It’s a unique mindset for an Imperial character, but very welcomed and follows the adage “forget the old way,” to help propel us into this new pre-TFA world. Jas’ surprising previous jobs open her up from being a one-dimensional bounty hunter out for the money to one who has a moral compass and code making her even more interesting than Boba Fett (there, I said it). Sinjir’s fleeting loyalty, ironic for someone who was a Imperial loyalty officer, offers one of the better internal struggles of the novel, and I want it to be no secret both Sinjir and Jas my two favorite characters from Aftermath. Norra and Temmin’s fractured relationship might seem familiar, but they’ve both changed in ways during their separation that make an estranged mother and son story work so well. And extra bonus points for giving us a female mother lead!

The Empire’s side of characters is chock full of stereotypes and backwards thinking Imperials we’ve been used to dealing with throughout Legends. But the details of their meetings, despite their adherence to the old way of doing things, helps signal a path the Empire might take that could see them become a group like the First Order (described by JJ Abrams as a group who revered the Empire and thought it’s work was left unfulfilled). I found myself really enjoying the arguments and ideas put forth by these desperate members of the Empire, even if they weren’t thinking of the big picture and constantly reiterating the same points. I’d argue these talks are more interesting than anything the New Republic senate will be discussing, at least at this point in the timeline, and Wendig fills the room with characters that provide colorful and unique viewpoints on the situation. In the end, as I mentioned before, you’ll be rooting for Rae Sloane and her way of thinking, whether you’re a fan of the Imperials or not.

It’s the focus on character which keeps Aftermath‘s events feeling like the other canon books before it: contained. At first one would think a book which is basically setting the precedence for what follows in the wake of the Battle of Endor needs to be on a larger scale, but the more intimate focus allows for this newly unknown future to starting feeling both explored but still open for many other stories. On top of that, events within Aftermath, especially on the Empire’s side in Rae’s parts, certainly will have much larger consequences—the ending showing the novel’s true scale—and as being part one of three, Aftermath sets up more than enough intriguing possibilities and open paths for the rest of trilogy to swallow up and use. We have thirty years of in-universe history to cover, there’s no need to rush into it.

As thrilling and character packed as the main story is, making Aftermath a hard novel to put down, it’s peppered with Interludes in-between the action which give us a peek into the larger galaxy in this time period of a couple months after the Battle of Endor. In them, you’ll meet many new characters, new planets, and new situations in this transitioning galaxy, but also some familiar planets while old faces and names are doing things you’ve never seen them do before i.e. paving over the old Legends stories as this new canon bravely is want to do. For some, the Interludes might actually overpower their feelings towards the main narrative, for certainly many bits introduce some exciting tales that beg to be covered in some form in the very near future. I found myself scribbling more notes about them than for the main story and eagerly anticipating their new revelations from time to time, but never enough to ruin my attachment or enjoyment of the main narrative. If you want a spoiler-heavy look at the Interludes, check out the spoiler section at the bottom of the review for the all the little details they reveal about the pre-TFA galaxy (though I’ll include less spoiler-y ones in the “Here are a few other things” section).

Much will be said about Wendig’s prose style, which is both fresh and chaotic, but I’d argue his strength as a wordsmith within this style and the breakneck pace it can create makes it way more engaging than the last stylized writing in a Star Wars novel (cough, cough Heir to the Jedi). Before Aftermath I did pick up Blackbirds, the first of Wendig’s Miriam Black series, and suddenly I found myself picking up the rest of the currently available books in the series. In a way I cheated and got used to his style before reading this novel, but it’s extremely easy to get used to it once the ball starts rolling and I find it hard to see why people don’t enjoy it. Wendig not only puts some fun play on words we’ve never seen before in GFFA writing, but also makes a whole bunch of references/name drops of places, people, things/in-jokes along the way, though no-where near the level of Luceno’s works (Tarkin, Darth Plagueis) nor as heavy with references as say Ready Player One. Just remember people, there is more than one way to write a novel, so taking a chance and opening Star Wars to new styles was a great idea and Aftermath benefits greatly from such a strong author.

Normally, I have a spoiler section in the middle here, but since there are more spoilers than normal with Aftermath, I’ve placed it at the tail end of the review, even below the links to my other novel reviews. Instead of you scrolling past and catching a spoiler you don’t want to read, you’ll have to go out of your way to see them!

Here are a few other things:

  • A new action figure has been confirmed by actor and frequent JJ Abrams collaborator Greg Grunberg to be his character in TFA. Interestingly enough, he’s named Snap Wexley and yes, he’s more than likely related to the Wexley’s we meet in Aftermath! (Update: Snap is actually Temmin!)
  • Wedge mentioning he worked for Fulcrum, a.k.a. Ahsoka Tano, adds a whole world of exciting possibilities, the least of which could be an appearance in an upcoming episode of Star Wars Rebels. Wedge isn’t as main a character as the opening chapter leads one to believe, but his tale throughout the novel is still important to the proceedings, including one of my favorite scenes with Sloane when she asks him some personal questions later on in the novel. It also seems Wedge’s history as known in Legends is largely intact.
  • Chuck Wendig was at Dragon Con talking Aftermath and Tosche Station was there covering his panel. You can hear the entire thing on their website, as Wendig discusses including Rae Sloane, a diverse cast of gender/races/and orientations, and that the next two books in the trilogy will come out in 2016 and 2017.
  • In the first Chandrila Interlude, there’s mention of a mural of stormtrooper helmets painted in all sorts of unique ways, but before the artist can be named, the speaker is cut off. Considering Sabine Wren from Rebels has a penchant for painting over helmets, could it be her work?
  • Mister Bones is definitely a stand-out character, as I never thought a B1 Battle Droid could be both as much of a badass as Bones is nor that I’d ever find a battle droid this entertaining. I love how most characters all think the battle droids are the ass-end of the warrior scale in the most recent of wars and how those feelings die upon meeting Mister Bones. The new canon has been rather good for droids, introducing the grumpy Chopper, the adorable BB-8, and the deadly dynamic duo of Triple Zero and BT-1.
  • One of the Interludes makes mention of Cut Lawquane, a clone who deserted during the Clone Wars, seen in the Season 2 episode aptly named “The Deserter,” in The Clone Wars. Chronologically, the episode following it introduces us to a Zabrak bounty hunter named Sugi, who just so happens to be an Aunt to Jas Emari. Being in the middle of a rewatch of the series, I just watched these episodes about a week before Aftermath‘s release, so it was cool to see these references when they were so fresh in my mind.
  • The Interlude on Cloud City is a set up for the events in the mobile game, Uprising. Never thought I’d write a sentence like that, but hey, that’s the cool new connected universe we’re in!
  • Jas introduces us to the true meaning of body surfing just when I thought I couldn’t love her anymore than I already did.
  • The planet of Akiva might be an overlooked factor in this book, but the world-building it receives makes it feel lived-in and very foreign but yet oddly familiar.
  • Entertainment Weekly has a three part interview with Wendig and it gets into slight spoiler terroitory, but nothing major. Part One is a basic overlook of the novel; Part Two discusses Sinjir’s orientation; Part Three has mentions of how Wendig got to have Han in the novel and some of his background as a fan.
  • Another Interlude takes us to Jakku, the planet featured in the second TFA teaser and the subject of DLC for Battlefront. Nothing eye opening, but it’s the first introduction to the planet and boy, it seems more backwater than Tatooine. And for those of you who don’t want to play the Battle of Jakku but read about it, consider Lost Stars as the next book to check out.
  • An interesting thing is said by Palpatine’s ex-adviser and dark side acolyte (though he’s without the Force) Yupe Tashu, in which he mentions they know Luke is Anakin Skywalker’s son (page 161). So who all knows Luke is Anakin’s son? Does that mean they all knew Vader was Anakin? How did they know Luke is Anakin’s son in the first place? Does that mean they know Padmé was the mother too? It’s a throwaway line, but it raises some questions.
  • Knights of the Old Republic fans might recognize mentions of Czerka arms and echani fighting style.
  • There seems to be a lot of “Save Legends” sentiment throwing shade at Aftermath, but that’s not an actual critique of the book nor should it be the basis of which anyone considers whether to read it or not. For other reviews along the lines of mine, visit Club Jade, Tosche Station, and Den of Geek. And Wendig even covers the Amazon one-star review raid and other topics in a personal blog post at his site Terrible Minds.
  • The last two Aftermath Trilogy entries are titled Life Debt and Empire’s End. Chew on those for a bit!
  • UPDATE 6/19/16: We’re less than a month away but fans are still just finding out about and enjoying Aftermath in different ways. Carsten Bradley, who goes by @vagabondartist on Twitter, has been making some exceptional alternative covers for the novels so far. Here’s his take on Aftermath, which includes his renderings of Norra, Mister Bones, Temmin, Jas, and Sinjir!

 

 

Without a doubt in my mind, Aftermath is the best new canon novel, the first to beat out A New Dawn in that category since its release last year. Yes, it isn’t Heir to the Empire, but it never will be and no book ever will be; Instead, it’s a brave new step into this strange new landscape of the pre-TFA galaxy, setting up intriguing plot-lines not just for the other entries in the Aftermath Trilogy, but also for any other story—and there will be many—who want to play in the next 30 years of in-universe history. Because right now we’re in a thrilling time to be a fan, where everything is new though has a sense of familiarity hanging over it at the same time, and Aftermath is the perfect launching point into the newly created void.

(Don’t forget, full spoilers are still below!)

+ Thrilling adventure

+ Diverse, inclusive cast

+ Well-written characters drive plot

+ Setting new direction i.e. now the pre-The Force Awakens era/ “forgetting the old way”

 Interludes might overshadow main plot for some

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath: Life Debt
Bloodline
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Dark Disciple
Lords of the Sith
Tarkin
A New Dawn
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
Lost Stars
Before the Awakening

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS SHORT STORY REVIEWS:
The Perfect Weapon
Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS COMIC REVIEWS:
Shattered Empire
#1#2 | #3 | #4

MOVIE REVIEWS:
Episode VII: The Force Awakens

CANON COMIC REVIEWS

LEGENDS NOVEL REVIEWS:
Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void
Kenobi

THIS IS YOUR FIRST AND LAST WARNING

AFTERMATH‘S BIGGEST SPOILERS ARE BELOW

Spoiler Warning 1

Spoiler #1: It’s funny to call this first one a spoiler in a way, considering we don’t know the character’s identity yet. But at the tail end of the novel it’s revealed Rae Sloane has been working for someone else, a fleet admiral. His name is never mentioned, nor species or age or any other physically identifying features. But, not only did he set up the entire situation as a trap for Sloane (he or someone he commands being the Operator Ackbar has as an inside source throughout the novel) to test her for inclusion with his plans for the Empire, but he has a penchant for the arts. While it might be music (instead of paintings), a fleet admiral, shrewd mind, and affection for the arts made my mind (and I’m seeing several others) wander towards only one person: Grand Admiral Thrawn (here’s a full speculation piece on how Thrawn might be used in the new canon). Could they be bringing the much revered villain into the new canon, albeit with their own take on him? His Legends past seems to make him the ideal candidate to help push the Empire in a different direction in the new canon, but I wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest if this Fleet Admiral is a new character. Remember, this is all speculation because his identity will seemingly remain a secret for the time being, but it seems inevitable we’ll see Thrawn pop up at some point.

Spoiler #2: Some of the Interludes would be considered spoiler-ish, so I’ll discuss those here: A) Set on Tatooine, two men find themselves fighting Wild West-style over acid covered Mandalorian armor aboard a Sandcrawler. It’s never said it’s Boba Fett’s armor, but it’s heavily implied. The scene leaves one with questions if it is Boba’s suit: did Boba disintegrate from the acid while inside the suit or did he survive and escape the Sarlacc and abandon the armor? Boba Fett fans will be dying to learn that answer for awhile.

B) Han and Chewie, also doing recon missions like Wedge, receive info from an old friend, Irma, that now is the best time to try liberating the still Imperial-held Kashyyyk. As you can imagine, Han and Chewie decide to break off their New Republic mission and FREE KASHYYYK! How exciting of a story will that be!? There’s also a mention of mercenary Wookiees who were freed from Kessel before the Rebellion truly started, so could those Wookiees be the one’s from Star Wars Rebels‘ first movie, Spark of Rebellion? Irma also seems to be the cause of Han being boarded/the price on his head from Jabba pre-A New Hope, as he states in the passage. In the end, this was definitely one of the Interludes that almost made me forget the main story.

C) A group calling themselves the Acolytes of the Beyond buy a red lightsaber on Taris, hoping it’s Vader’s so they can destroy it so he may use it in the afterlife. Whether these are just some messed up kids or potential threat later on, they at least sound like the beginnings of the Knights of Ren and how Kylo Ren might revere and be obsessed with Darth Vader.

D) Mon Mothma discusses stripping all the emergency powers the Chancellorship gained under Palpatine’s rule and demilitarizing the New Republic, the latter of which is definitely different from Legends and both things I’ve never considered/thought of before. Could that be why a Resistance is needed to fight the First Order in TFA, because the New Republic doesn’t have its own army to fight?

E) In Coronet City, Corellia, Dengar battles a younger bounty hunter named Mercurial Swift, hoping to bring the younger one to his side and start a union so they might survive better in a galaxy with a government that might not like their methods….though if they hired Jas I doubt the New Republic would completely shut them down.

F) There are several sections devoted to the insurrection on Coruscant, introducing us to the Anklebiter Brigade, a group of young children fighting with rebels to take the planet