Star Wars: Aftermath (Book)
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.
The new canon has taken a turn towards The Force Awakens, with the launch of the Journey to the Force Awakens series of books. The most prominent, at the moment, of which is Aftermath, our first canonical look at the Star Wars galaxy after Return of the Jedi. With a lot of history coming before it, and expectations high, how does the new novel stack up? Check out my full review to find out.
While the old Star Wars books (now labeled Legends) were what I grew up with and had essentially been my window into the galaxy far, far away for a couple decades, I was looking forward to the new canon books. Sure, I was bummed initially, but the potential of new canonical stories overrode any bummed feelings I had. From the outset, the stories I was MOST looking forward to seeing, were the ones taking place AFTER Return of the Jedi.
Sure, those stories would almost undeniably replace some of my favorite Legends books, but I was eager to see where the new canon would take the story of our heroes and the galaxy in general. Sadly, we had to wait a while before we started getting our first look at the post-ROTJ universe, but it's here and Aftermath is ready to show the world what happened after the Rebels 'won'.
Setting it Up
From the outset, Aftermath has been marketed as a direct follow-up to the events of Return of the Jedi, giving Star Wars fans their first look at what happened, canonically, after the second Death Star was destroyed. The results of which have been polarizing for fans, but I won't touch on that here, as it has no bearing on my individual review. In this basic set-up, the book jumps almost right into the action, showing what happens to the people tearing down the Emperor's statue at the end of ROTJ.
In short, things don't work out so well for those in the crowd, but it serves as a great way to show that the way against the Empire didn't END after the movie credits rolled. Form there, things get a little less direct, and move a little further in the future that shows the rebellion turning into a New Republic and how things are basically in a Cold War standstill. The Empire is reeling, and without their leader gone, there's a void no one is sure how to fill.
A clandestine meeting ensues between the biggest Imperials left, to try and see what the best course of action is. A rebel trying to get home to her son gets caught up in the process and has to figure out how to balance her sense of duty, with the son she left behind. Those are the basics, and I'm not about to ruin the whole thing here.
It's not a broad-sweeping story that spans the entire galaxy, nor does it involve any of the "big three" heroes from the movies. Instead, it's a smaller story with big implications for what happens next for everyone, but it's no less exciting. The action scenes are tense, the drama is high, and the cast is intriguing. While the story doens't cover as much scope as many fans would have liked, the smaller scale allows for more emotional beats and page-turning excitement.
Early on, there was a big to-do about how the story features Wedge Antilles, but (SPOILER) he's not really in the story for any significant amount of time. About 80% of the book sees him captured and in a holding cell being tortured...though we don't even 'see' that. We literally only have a couple chapters with him. So the majority of this book are entirely new characters.
Connecting the New to the Old
In speaking of the new characters, it's important to talk about how well they're presented. While the new canon has seen its fair share of new characters pop up, this is the first book in which they take over the leads entirely. It seems like a risky move, considering this is the first BIG story to show what happens after the original trilogy, but it works. I found myself becoming engrossed in these characters, and in the case of Sinjir Rath Velus (a formal Imperial "Loyalty Officer") specifically, almost immediately wanted to know more about his story.
Far and away, this is what Aftermath does best. It throws out new ideas and characters that are so easy to like, it's kind of scary. Through these characters (on both sides, mind you), you find yourself eager to learn what happens next, or what came before. They are unique characters with their own quirks and ideas which are begging to be explored. As such, you find yourself NEEDING to turn the page to see how they interact with one another next.
To be entirely honest, here, if Disney is going to keep the Star Wars franchise going, and expand it exponentially, THESE are the kinds of characters they need. It's obvious they can't sustain multiple films and a bigger franchise solely on the "big three" fans know and love. If they're going to succeed, they have to get fans enamored with other characters in quick fashion. Chuck Wendig does that incredibly well in Aftermath and at the end of the story, I find myself just as eager to see what's next for these new characters as I am for the overall story.
In terms of connections to The Force Awakens, these are presented in the "Interlude" chapters of the book, which take a few pages to show the rest of the galaxy beyond the primary story being told. In these we get to see how the New Republic is forming, where they're setting up shop, who's in charge, and some intriguing hints at a Dark Side cult. There's vague hints and teases, but they do more to set up the events leading up to The Force Awakens than anything we've seen so far. It's going to be fun to speculate, but I imagine that's PART of the reason why some fans haven't been happy with the book.
What Doesn't Work
By now, you've probably gathered that I was very happy with Aftermath, but that doesn't mean it's a perfect book. The largest issue I had with the story had to do with the manner in which it's told. It's written in the present-tense third person perspective...which is HARD to read. I know many people who've been turned off by the POV to the point of no getting past the first couple chapters.
In this I feel for them. It's not an easy style to get accustomed to, but after a few pages you get used to it and hardly notice the odd style. The main reason I mention it here, is that I had to get used to it EVERY single time I picked up the book. It wasn't something I was able to acclimate to and be fine throughout; once I set it down, I had to readjust to it every sitting. I know of several moments in the book I had to re-read because the meaning of the paragraphs weren't clear; and it was entirely because of the POV used. The style made it unclear who was talking/thinking and who was performing which actions. While the quick re-read on those sentences (I'm not talking whole chapters here people) clarified things, it was an annoyance that could have been avoided.
Besides this, the only other issue, comes from the fact that we KNOW it's a trilogy of books now, and there are a plethora of story threads introduced that remain unresolved. Sure, they're going to be addressed in the sequels, but for now, it makes the book feel less than complete. For the most part, it's a fairly self-contained story, but there are enough loose ends to make you grit your teeth a bit.
* Much like many of the new canon novels so far, Aftermath has a lot of little nods to the previous Expanded Universe and brings minor things into the canon. It's nothing major (yet), but plenty of things for long time Star Wars readers like myself, to enjoy.
* There's a HUGE tease at the end of the book for a mysterious character. We have NO idea who it is, but if it turns out to be who many think it is, the old EU fans will be through the roof.
* There's been no mention of Luke at all and what he's doing.
* The Imperial meeting brings up interesting ideas about ideology and why they lost.
The New Canon Gets New Life With Aftermath
While Aftermath isn't without it's problems, it manages to do something only one other (in my opinion) new canon novel has been able to do: feel essential. Not only as a Star Wars book, but as a book in general. It has good pacing, and hits a point where you simply can't put it down. It's a page-turner in every way with new characters you come to care about with clues about what's coming next.