Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt (Book)
Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush—resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance.
This week brings about the next new Star Wars novel adding to the canon and working as a direct sequel to last year’s Star Wars: Aftermath. While not everyone was thrilled with Chuck Wendig’s first foray into the galaxy far, far away, Life Debt brings a fast-paced story and endearing characters I think fans will find much more to their liking. Come inside to check out my spoiler free review!
Star Wars: Aftermath arrived last year along with Force Friday, kicking off a series of “Journey to the Force Awakens” media. Being the first new-canon novel set after the events of Return of the Jedi, many fans were eager to dive in and see what was going on. So far, all the books we’d seen took place before, or during, the Original Trilogy movie time period. With the old Expanded Universe relegated to “Legends”, many have wondered what happened in the 30 some odd years between ROTJ and The Force Awakens.
Because of this, Aftermath came with a lot of hype and expectations for fans. In a lot of ways, I feel this is the primary reason for the book’s negative backlash. Sure, there are plenty of people who enjoyed the book despite some valid criticisms (myself included), but it’s been inundated with a lot of ire. Frankly speaking, people just wanted a different book. If fans are being honest with themselves, what they wanted was something more akin to a history book, chronicling that gap and giving us some idea of where our heroes went after the second Death Star blew.
Aftermath is not that book, and instead presented fans with almost entirely new characters with a smaller/more personal adventure. The “Interludes” offered up some tantalizing hints of things to come, while establishing events in the galaxy at large, but overall the story is pretty focused on a group of unlikely heroes. Now that we’ve seen The Force Awakens and even had some more questions answered from Claudia Gray’s incredible Star Wars: Bloodline, I think fans should go back to Aftermath. It gives out more information than initially thought (we just weren’t looking in the right spot) and a fun story with some neat and unique characters.
I digress, however, as I’m not really here to talk about Aftermath but it’s sequel, Life Debt. I mention all of this because even if you didn’t care for Aftermath, I think you might want to give Life Debt a chance...Let’s talk about it!
Life Debt picks up several months after the end of Aftermath where the characters from the previous story have formed an unlikely, but effective, team for the budding New Republic. They’re tasked with hunting down high-ranking Imperial Officers in order to bring them in for war crimes and information. Despite their odd backgrounds and strange dynamic, the team of Norra Wexley, her son Temmin (Snap in The Force Awakens), Mister Bones, Jas Emari, Jom Barell, and Sinjir Rath Velus comprise one of the Republic’s best task forces. In their few months of operation they’ve brought in more Imperial targets than any others.
The book starts off in the middle of a mission, mostly as a way to reintroduce readers to these characters, their various eccentricities, and what they’ve been up to since we saw them last. Once back on Chandrila, the current capital of the New Republic, the team grabs some quick R&R before being tasked with an under the table mission of high importance.
I’m trying to veer away from spoilers in this review, so I’ll leave out the details of the mission, but the majority of the book is centered around it and what come after. As many expected from the title, a large part of the story puts the focus on Han Solo and Chewie attempting to liberate the Wookiee world of Kashyyyk, which has been enslaved since the events in Revenge of the Sith.
In many ways, Life Debt is a “bigger” story than Aftermath, with events that have more galaxy spanning repercussions than the previous book events. Even so, it doesn’t lose the personal moments and brought about some of the most emotionally gripping moments I’ve encountered in any of the new canon novels.
Pacing and Characters
While Life Debt is a longer novel than Aftermath, it doesn’t feel like it. Honestly, it only took me two days to blow through the book and I don’t think I took many breaks in between. It was hard to put down, as each chapter really moved things forward and sucked you in. The minute one chapter ended, I HAD to know what came next.
In this regard, the pacing was much better this time around and really kept things on track and the story running smoothly. A lot of this has to do with the fact that this time around, the story doesn’t have to spend much time in establishing the new characters. Since we’ve already been introduced to them and understand how they came to be in the place they are, it frees up the story to move without slowing down.
Speaking of the characters...they’re really great. Even though the cast of characters is fairly large, including a much heavier influence from the movie characters, each of them feel unique and individual. They have their own personal journeys and grow within the story, leaving them both the same, and improved, than they were from the start. The same holds true for the book’s villains, especially Grand Admiral Sloane. Her journey is just as engaging, and filled with twists, as the heroes.
As I mentioned, we’ve gone beyond having to do all the character set-up, which brings a certain freedom to how the characters act and react to certain situations. Everything they do and say feels natural to the characters, with nothing out of place. As such, the humor (of which there is plenty) flows naturally and feels perfect for the moments they pop up.
The Han, Leia, and Chewie are also written incredibly well and do justice the characters we knew and fell in love with from the movies. They only popped up in the interludes last time, but most agreed they were pretty well handled, and that remains true now. Life Debt puts them more in the focus this time around, but not at the expense of the new characters.
Personally, I loved this approach. While some fans out there want their Star Wars stories to always feature the big three, it was one of the major issues I had with the old Expanded Universe. For Star Wars to thrive and continue on into the next generation, the storytellers have to be able to endear you to new characters. Overreliance on the same characters over and over again will get old quickly. Life Debt feels like the best of both worlds. We get to see a few of our favorites doing cool things, but it is the new characters that continue to drive things forward.
Of Surprises and Writing Style
It’s actually really difficult to talk about Life Debt and it’s finer points, without delving into spoilers. Some of the most powerful emotional moments and examples of all the good points, involve pretty big plot points. I won’t go into them here, but suffice it to say the story has way more going on within it than you initially think.
Aftermath ended with a mysterious villain popping up. This lead to a lot of fan speculation. While we find out who he is right at the start, his past and how he rose to power is still unknown. There are some hints and teases, which actually bring about a strong connection to Jakku and The Force Awakens. Answers won’t be coming until the final book, Empire’s End, which hits in January, but there are a lot of things to keep fans talking.
One of the issues many had with Star Wars: Aftermath, was the author’s choice of writing style viewpoint. A tight perspective that uses a present tense rather than the past tense readers are more familiar with. I remarked on this in my review of that book. It takes a little bit to get used to and resulting in me having to re-read paragraphs to make sure I understood things...but I never saw it as a deterrent to the story itself.
Life Debt keeps the same writing style, but honestly, it didn’t bug me at all this time around. I don’t know if it’s because I was expecting it and prepared for it, or the plot’s faster pace made it less noticeable. Regardless, the story and characters are still very strong and make it easy to keep up with. If the writing style deterred you before, I think you’ll be okay this time around. At least give it a shot.
Even if you didn’t care for Aftermath, I think you’ll find much more to like within Life Debt. While I don’t think it has quite the same impact as Bloodline did, there are some surprising emotional moments and a fun ride.