As Return of the Jedi faded from theaters in late 1983, Star Wars fans entered what would become known as the “Dark Times”. Toys began disappearing from the shelves and slowly Star Wars faded into the cultural zeitgeist. Before faint whispers about Special Editions and Prequels, Heir to the Empire awakened a hunger for Star Wars that had been just under the geek surface for years. It was the first book to be licensed by Lucasfilm to continue the story after Return of the Jedi. Bringing back Luke, Leia and Han as well as introducing us to Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde and a plethora of others who would become staples of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Timothy Zahn cemented himself as the second coming of George Lucas for fans. The SWEU flourished with varied success over the 23 years it ran, ending when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced that the EU would be reorganized in the Legends line and a new official run of canon books and comics would be forthcoming.
This history has lead us to the weekend of September 4th, 2015 when the first official book about what happened after Return of the Jedi was released. Star Wars: Aftermath replaces Heir to the Empire as Star Wars gospel, giving fans their first taste of the aftereffects of the Rebel victory at Endor and the state of the universe in the wake of Vader and the Emperor’s death. For many fans, even though there have been other books in the new canon, this is the one they have been looking to as the “official” start since it begins them on the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Can the book live up to these expectations?
The plot is relatively simple. As the Empire scrambles to hold on to systems in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star, a secret meeting is held on the outer rim world of Akiva. Wedge Antillies, on a reconecesne vacation, stumbles upon the meeting and is captured. At the same time Rebel pilot Norra Wexley has retured to Akiva to bring her son back with her to Chandrila, the home of the Senate of the New Republic. Mayhem ensues as Norra, her son Temmin, a former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir and bounty hunter named Jas Emari join forces to rescue Wedge and destroy the Imperials. The book also features interludes that give glimpses to the state of the galaxy on different worlds, plus what can only be called miniscule cameos of Leia, Han, Chewie, Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.
One of the strongest points of this novel is its unification of the Star Wars universe from the Prequels to the Originals. Wendig deftly weaves the two parts of the Saga together seemlesly. So for fans worried that the Prequels would be forgotten, at least here, they play a wonderful supporting role for character back stories as well as the feel of the universe. It’s nice to have the Prequels feel respected and important in the new canon.
The book is well written. Wendig captures the ambiance of Star Wars in the dialogue and in the characters. There may be too many instances of Imperial officers yelling at Rebels, “scum” but that’s to be forgiven. It’s a testament to the writing that without the major players from the Original trilogy that you care enough about the new characters to want to continue on with the story. On a whole, they all feel like they fit right alongside any of the characters from any part of Star Wars.
The major issue with the story is that it feels like the background to what should be the main story. The interludes hurt the book by the reminding you that the story you want to read with Leia, Han, Chewie and Mon Mothma is happening, just not in this book (Poor Luke is only a reference). Honestly there is just no excuse to not be following the major characters from the Orginal trilogy at this point. Star Wars has always been from the point of view from the main characters and any side character (on screen that is) has a relationship with a major character to help you understand their place in the Saga. A prime example of this is Star Wars Rebels and the way it has used, Tarkin, Vader and Ahsoka to give us a context for why characters like Kanan, Hera and Ezra are important to the overall story of Star Wars. In Aftermath, there is none of that. We’re never left with any other feeling other than this is a minor story that amounts to little more than a footnote in galactic history. SPOILERS: The very end of the book does tease us with a shadowy Imperial admiral that feels similar to a Thrawn-type character.
It’s clear from this story that there were some serious reigns on the author from the story group as to what he can cover. With The Force Awakens a little over 3 months away, the history of Luke, Leia and Han is being kept a closely guarded secret and their absence from this book is glaring. Honestly it might have been better to have this book come out after the movie so that the “surprise” of where the trinity is would not have to be kept anymore. Aftermath is a trilogy, so the next two books, coming out after The Force Awakens may offer more of these characters since the release date for number two is not till sometime in 2016. Author Chuck Wendig did an interview with Grantland.com where he said
“There was a great article about Age of Ultron, and that it felt like a highway with a bunch of off-ramps to other Marvel properties,” Wendig says. ‘I don’t want this book to feel like that. I don’t want it to feel like, ‘Well, it’s just a trip down memory lane, and don’t forget to buy these other great books, or other games, or other movies.’ It needs to still stand on its own, while still speaking to the fans and other properties and other stories that are out there.”
Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened. With the “it’s all connected” mentality, the story has become a mere side road to the main road we all really want to be on. The book, though well written feels like staging for the big show, never feeling truly needed or essential. I wrote in my review of A New Dawn, the first book of the new Star Wars canon that,
If you are going to have the books, comics and games be canon they need to have weight. People need a reason to read or play, so make the stories important and not just filler. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has suffered with this very issue, so please be careful to not allow this to happen with the these Star Wars properties. The fun of the now Legends line, were the big, galaxy altering events that took place. Just because there are new films or shows does not mean readers and gamers don’t want meat to the stories, something that matters.
Aftermath, like Tarkin and Heir to the Jedi all fail this test. Sadly the book never rises above feeling like filler, the light beer of Star Wars books. The real saving grace with Aftermath is that Wendig is a good writer who is able to transcend the material enough to make this a weak recommend. Aftermath is rate 3 out of 5 lost A-Wings.