Star Wars: Aftermath Trilogy Spoiler-Free Review

Chuck Wendig – photo: Amazon

The Hype Train was running at lightspeed during the months leading up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Friday, September 4th, 2014 (also known as Force Friday) launched us into the Wild Space. Toys, t-shirts, costumes, comics, and books. As someone who followed a great many of the Star Wars novels that are no part of Legends continuity, I was particularly excited for the first adult-marketed The Force Awakens tie-in novel in the new canon – Star Wars: Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, but can certainly say that the heavy hitters of the Legends canon created a lot of preconceived notions. I expected a light, pulpy story focusing on our “classic heroes.” I figured we’d see Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie blasting across the galaxy, merrily saving planets every hundred pages. I expected blatant call-backs to the films to remind me with a heavy hand that this was part of the Star Wars saga. I didn’t expect the threats to threatening or the danger to feel dangerous.

I say to anyone who is going in with preconceived notions based on the old novels and their conventions: toss those in the trash compactor. This is not the canon of your youth, and to be frank, that can be pretty jarring. I think this is why so many folks reacted negatively to Aftermath when it was initially released, and in hindsight I think that because of his bravery to go in this direction that Wendig never got a fair shake when it comes to the first book in the series.

That being said, the Aftermath Trilogy is still one-hundred percent Star Wars. It is a testament to Wendig’s strength as a writer that he manages to capture the feel of a galaxy far, far away without a lot of the traditional crutches. The story does not focus on the protagonists from any of the feature films, though some of them do play a supporting role. Wendig also doesn’t lean on the tired tropes we’ve seen in Legends canon. No rogue Dark Jedi or Sith Lord, no lightsaber duels, no hidden Imperial Super-Weapons. Instead, Wendig builds his trilogy on the true core of the Star Wars saga: A band of idealistic outsiders who grow to become a family.

The Aftermath Trilogy’s ties to The Force Awakens (and presumably The Last Jedi) are subtle and organic. The Force Awakens, as a film, paints a galaxy on the edge of chaos. There is a lingering, growing, ever-present darkness in The Force Awakens. Wendig mirrors this perfectly and provides the reader with a believable path of how we get from the happy ending of Return of the Jedi to a crumbling peace that shatters in The Force Awakens.

The core heroes of the story as rag-tag as ever. Norra Wexley, a Battle of Endor veteran and Y-Wing pilot returning from war to the son she abandoned to join the Rebellion. Her son, teenage-aged Temmin Wexley, who has been left to be all but an orphan by the terrible choices made by both his parents. His gleefully murderous bodyguard and B-1 Battle Droid Mr. Bones. Jom Barrell, a Rebel soldier and New Republic Special Forces Agent living only for a solitary sense duty. Jas Emari, a Zabrak Bounty Hunter searching for something more than just the next job. And, most vibrantly, Sinjir Rath Velus, an ex-Imperial Loyalty Officer finding a new purpose as he struggles with himself and to climb out of the bottom of a bottle.

No Chosen Ones strong in the Force. No hot-shot smugglers. No royalty. These are, for lack of a better term, working class heroes. That makes them infinitely relatable. I started Aftermath wondering why I should care about these characters and by the time I closed the cover on Aftermath, I was genuinely sad that there wouldn’t be more adventures with this crew I had come to know and love. Wendig creates characters who are reliable, but still have quite a bit of depth. This is of key importance because when our new heroes are on the page next to Han, Leia, or Chewie, they’re never overshadowed by these icons.

The villains are no less compelling. Key to this story are fan favorite character Rae Sloane and newcomer Gallius Rax. What’s most interesting about the antagonists here is that they, like the Empire itself, are not always allied – though they all serve the Empire in some sense. Rae Sloane, as shown in previous novels, is still absolutely dedicated to the Empire while struggling against its inherent biases that constantly keep her from achieving her true potential. Meanwhile, Rax is a more traditional Star Wars villain – zealously loyal to Emperor Palpatine and the plan that Darth Sidious had set in motion so many years ago. And that plan. Oh, that plan. Palpatine’s contingency plan is a thing of pure evil that made me literally cry out “Wait, what?!” in shock and then begin to laugh with gleeful relish because it felt so very Palpatine. I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what ol’ Sheev would do. Perfect.”

The Aftermath Trilogy builds to the Battle of Jakku, which is easily the best space battle ever told on the page in any Star Wars canon – possibly in all of Star Wars ever. Jakku is the lynch pin of Palpatine’s contingency plan. Its importance cannot be overstated. When the reasons for that importance are revealed and the climax begins, you can almost hear John Williams’ score soaring over the last hundred pages of Empire’s End. In the last, shadowy passages we see the First Order slither into the darkness where it will fester into the terrible threat we see in The Force Awakens.

There are two unique aspects to Wendig’s trilogy. All three novels are told in a third person present tense. This creates an active, tense pacing fitting to the style of Star Wars storytelling. It can take a bit of getting used to as the reader begins Aftermath, but once you get in that groove its as smooth as a Death Star trench. Secondly, and more importantly, are the Interludes. While our four working-class heroes are the backbone of this trilogy, Wendig’s interlude chapters provide a critical sense of scale and context. This is not just the struggle of half a dozen Rebels to put the last coffin nail into the Imperial war machine – this is chaos and uncertainty across an endless number of planets that can only be born of war. Normal people on both sides of the Galactic Civil War (along with countless bystanders) are caught in the bloody conflict – and so are a few forgotten heroes and villains.

When Star Wars: Aftermath was released a two-and-a-half years ago, Wendig didn’t get a fair shake. For various reasons there was a lot of unfair backlash. It was new and unfamiliar. Wendig’s style and characterization was unconventional. Fans expected Zahn, Stackpole, or Anderson. What they got was something fresh and familiar; something courageous and powerful. But Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath Trilogy is undeniably Star Wars and proves that a galaxy far, far away has room for heroes and stories of all stripes.

Star Wars: Aftermath, Star Wars: Life Debt, and Star Wars: Empire’s End are all currently available for sale in hardcover or audiobook.

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About James Spahn 40 Articles
James Spahn is a life-long fan of all things Star Wars. His earliest memories are of sitting on the living room floor, watching the original film on Beta Max. He is a father, husband, and writer who has done extensive freelance work in the table-top gaming industry. He is obsessed with all things related to the Jedi and a total Luke Skywalker fanboy. Follow him @ObiSpahnKenobi on twitter.