In the years that followed 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans had few options for their fix. Television shows about Ewoks didn’t really cut it. The Marvel Star Wars comics were good, but weren’t as developed as a well thought out film. Then the novels began to hit the market, and that is where the post-film Star Wars universe really blossomed. Personally, I was enthralled by the Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command—all penned by renowned sci-fi wizard Timothy Zahn, who I get to meet this year at SoonerCon!) and would have been tickled pink had Disney/LucasFilm decided to turn those into Star Wars Episodes 7, 8 & 9. Instead, they scrubbed the entire Expanded Universe (any Star Wars media that wasn’t a film) and set out to start their own narrative. They’ve kept some characters, like Thrawn, but for the most part, the world of Star Wars that occurs off screen is being rewritten.
Cue The Aftermath series, with the final novel in the series dropping recently from author Chuck Wendig. I’ll admit that I’m late to the series and that caused a few hiccups that I’ll discuss later, but Aftermath: Empire’s End is the final chapter in this storyline that takes place after Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens. We discover from the very start of this book that Emperor Palpatine not only was the most devious of political strategists, but that he had plans on top of plans, plans beneath plans, and wasn’t going to let something as inconvenient as his death stop him from galactic domination. I’m not spoiling anything….it literally is a prelude in the book. Enter Admiral Gallius Rax. He has a history with Palpatine, and is secretly charged to carry forth the work of the Sith Lord should things with the Death Star II not work out.
What follows is a dense, multi-player plot that leads the reader down a path of bounty hunters, aliens, Rebels and spies. And by dense, I mean pea-soup thick. Having not read the first two books in the series (Aftermath and Aftermath: Life Debt) I was a severe disadvantage as an entire coterie of new characters were marched out in the first 100 pages. I was lost, and I struggled to make it through the new names and personalities. I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe more Han and Leia? They appear in the story, but more as tertiary functionaries. Compared to the Thrawn Trilogy, where they could be considered main characters, they seemed to be pushed to the back of the story, more set dressing than main attraction. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I almost put the book down for good. Boy, I would have missed a great Star Wars tale if I had.
Norra Wesley and her crew are on the hunt for Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, whom Norra holds accountable for the atrocities perpetrated in Chandrila on Liberation Day. Joined by her son, Temmin, an ex-Imperial named Sinjir Rath Velus, a Zabrak bounty hunter Jas Emari, and murder droid Bones, we join the team as they are in pursuit of bounty hunter Mercurial Swift. They believe Swift knows the whereabouts of Sloane, and in rogue fashion, are not afraid to use torture to extract that information. What they find is much more compelling than Sloane’s location: a hidden Imperial army that is occupying the planet Jaaku (that’s right, the same Jaaku we first meet in The Force Awakens). With this knowledge, the team splits up in an attempt to capture Sloane and to inform the New Republic of the Empire’s location.
Even though I was not up to speed on the trilogy before picking up Empire’s End, I did feel like Wendig failed to create an easy transition to the Star Wars world. Maybe it is because the main characters weren’t the hero clan we’ve come used to following—Luke, Han, Leia—maybe it was just me. It felt like the character names were very multisyllabic, too sci-fi-ey, and that slowed my ability to dig deep into the story. I’ve read a few other of the new Star Wars novels, and those authors seemed to find the right catch phrases and imagery that gently pulled me into the story, even though the characters were new and the plots original.
Where Wendig hit big was by allowing his wit and humor to seep in. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while, and I really appreciate his insight and comments there. From his inclusion of Lumpwaroo (Chewbacca’s son—named and introduced to the world in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special) to using terms like “shadows of the empire” (a reference to the 1996 series that attempted to capture the excitement of the films, but in book, comic, toy and video game form), I laughed at these mentions. Wendig is certainly a fan, and I appreciate his contribution to the new Expanded Universe. I just wish that the first 100 pages hadn’t been so hard to digest.
After that, the stories begin to unfold more naturally. The multiple missions eventually overlap, the political sub-plots pay off, and the action of the final act had me skimming to get to the conclusion as fast as possible.
Something that makes the book unique is the use of interlude chapters. Wendig uses them as flashbacks, sidetracks, and wrap-ups for characters like Lando Calrissian. I won’t spoil them by detailing them here, but I’d be interested to know what other readers thought about their inclusion. I did very much enjoy the fact that this book sets up events for The Force Awakens, and very possibly the upcoming sequel, The Last Jedi. So if you’re looking to make some sense of those films, or just super stoked for the December release of Episode 8, you’re time would be well-spent by checkout out the Aftermath Trilogy. If you find yourself struggling with the new characters, just don’t give up on it too quickly. It will all come together, I promise