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Star Wars: Aftermath – A Discussion

Aftermath (cover)Star Wars: Aftermath is a good book. You should read it. Let’s get that out of the way right now, because in the days since it was released, Aftermath has taken an undeserved beating. Despite what the naysayers would have you think, it is most definitely a Star Wars novel. It is true to the spirit of the movies, of The Clone Wars, of Star Wars: Rebels. It feels at once familiar and brand new. It is, without a doubt, a beginning. And it is being judged unfairly. So let me say again: Star Wars: Aftermath is a good book. You should read it.

Unless you don’t want to.

Because if you’re one of those Star Wars fans that can’t accept that the old EU is truly gone, who thinks the prequel trilogy “destroyed their childhood,” and can’t get over Lucas tinkering with the original trilogy, this book is—unequivocally—not for you. This is not the Star Wars us thirty- and forty-somethings grew up with. It is new. It is evolved. It is challenging. Divisive in fact, if not by intent, Star Wars: Aftermath will be viewed by many as the opening salvo in a war between what was and what is and will be. So if you like your Star Wars static, stay away. You won’t like Aftermath.

Because Aftermath is all about what’s next, not what has come before.

When I was asked to put together a review of Aftermath, I was both excited and filled with trepidation. For a site like Fantasy-Faction, any mention of Star Wars means hits and traffic above and beyond the norm. There are fantasy fans that are fans of Star Wars, sure. But there are also scores of Star Wars fans that wouldn’t know a halberd from a mangonel and an orc from a kobold. Star Wars is, in many ways, a genre unto itself. So whenever I write about Star Wars here I get nervous. I know there will be discussion and dissent and some people will agree with me and more will tell me I’m nuts. But Aftermath is a Big. Deal. So I feel a great weight of responsibility to do both the material and the site justice.

I’m nervous about writing this review. Imagine how Chuck Wendig must have felt writing the book.

Heir To The Empire (cover)Fans can talk about Timothy Zahn all they want, but Timothy Zahn never bore the same weight of expectations that Wendig has shouldered. How he managed to put finger to keyboard is beyond me. Based on interviews I’ve read since the book has been on shelves, it seems like he just focused on what he was writing, as opposed to what he was writing. A subtle, but important difference. And considering the circumstances in which Wendig was crafting his tale, he did one hell of a job.

Aftermath doesn’t feel one bit like Heir to the Empire. It doesn’t feel like Return of the Jedi, or Revenge of the Sith or The Clone Wars. And I think that was wholly by design. Whether by Wendig’s or Disney’s is irrelevant because when you get down to brass tacks, Aftermath had to be new. That is the only way the “Journey to The Force Awakens” could succeed. Otherwise it would be crushed under the weight of expectations.

Wendig did an excellent job crafting a novel that—first and foremost—told a story with a beginning, middle and end. And above and beyond that, he planted the seeds for the “New EU,” which actually isn’t an “EU” anymore, but just part of the same “U.” It is all canon. It all counts. No more wondering. No more shoehorning continuity. Aftermath counts. This is what happened post-Endor on one little backwater planet in the Outer Rim.

I’m not going to talk much about the plot or the characters. There’s a plot. There are characters. Some you know, most you don’t. Luke Skywalker isn’t in the book. Han Solo is for all of two or three pages. Lando is mentioned. Leia is a hologram, which made me smile. Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar are in it quite a bit. And Mr. Bones is going to be Wendig’s legacy in the Star Wars universe. Mr. Bones is the best. Roger roger.

The Avengers (poster)In general, non-spoilery terms, the book is about a disparate group of individuals that the fates have thrown together. They have to work together to overcome an Empire-shaped obstacle. It is neither deep nor particularly original. And that is perfectly fine, because it didn’t need to be. Just like the first Avengers film, Aftermath is more about how the band gets together and subsequent books will, presumably, be about the songs they write.

The original characters Wendig has created do the spirit of Star Wars justice while driving the galaxy forward. Star Wars has, for the most part, been a very black-and-white affair. There is Good. There is Evil. There is the Light Side and the Dark Side. Jedi and Sith. Rebellion and Empire. Attempts at injecting a bit of grey into the galaxy have been ham-fisted at best (at least as far as the movies are concerned). Wendig, with the backdrop of an Empire reeling from the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Vader and Palpatine, has created wonderfully complex characters that feel like people. Moral ambiguity, questions of ethics, internal conflict—all of these are present in Aftermath and more than any Zabrak or Ithorian, those grey areas feel alien. Different. It feels, to me anyway, like Wendig succeeded in dragging Star Wars into the 21st Century.

Aftermath (detail)Sure, there are heroics. Sure, there are jokes and battles and light sabers and Star Destroyers. Aftermath is, first and foremost, a Star Wars book. But Wendig has given his characters a very human complexity that, if we’re being honest, is missing from most of the canon that remains. Imperial deserters, bounty hunters working for the Rebellion, refugees, socio-political considerations – all of these things are different tones of grey Wendig uses to paint a portrait of a galaxy in flux.

It is the violence of birth that Wendig focuses on. The abrupt and bloody transition from one state of being to another, followed by the inevitable doubt and fear that comes with change; the absence of the comfort of the known that forces difficult questions to the fore. Wendig captures this feeling perfectly. He manages to cast both the Rebellion and the Empire in their most unlikely states—victory and defeat, respectively. And neither side knows what they’re supposed to do next.

Creating something new whole-cloth is, in many ways, easier than re-building something that existed before. Particularly if you’re building on a foundation of the blasted remains of what came before. This is both the subtext of Aftermath and perhaps a meta-commentary on the evolution of Star Wars itself.

Star Wars (poster)Wendig gets it. He knows that millions of fans are invested in this world and those millions feel a very real sense of ownership towards all things Star Wars. And he also knows that a giant corporation literally owns Star Wars and that corporation has a marketing map that needs to be followed. So to take the road less traveled was a brave choice. And to populate a Star Wars novel with a cast that was diverse in age, sexuality, race, and species was braver. And to do so while following a corporate mandate to foreshadow any number of “coming soon” projects that likely involve billions of dollars is to be commended. Wendig managed to write his book and their book without sacrificing much in the way of voice or flow.

Someone much smarter than me once told me that the only fair way to review something is to look at it and determine whether it accomplished its goal. That statement has stuck with me, and I think it is true. Everything else is a matter of personal taste. Don’t like the point of view of a book? So what. Doesn’t mean it is a bad book. Prefer the way things used to be? That’s fine. That’s your prerogative. Doesn’t mean that the actual status quo is lacking. Chuck Wendig accomplished what he set out to do. In Star Wars: Aftermath, Wending has crafted a tale that remains true to the heart of the Star Wars universe while documenting the first breaths of a newly born galaxy far, far away. He’s set the stage for what comes next without debasing what has come before. Star Wars: Aftermath is a good book.

You should read it.

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Rating: 8.2/10 (17 votes cast)
Star Wars: Aftermath – A Discussion, 8.2 out of 10 based on 17 ratings
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8 Comments

  1. Kechones says:

    The story could be gold for all I know, but the writing is distracting. It’s written in the first person, with short, stubby sentences. It lacks flow and cohesion. Wendig might think that’s edgy, but I and a lot of other people can’t stand it. This is judging off the the online excerpt, which was about the size of a chapter. My curiosity might get the best of me and I may give this a chance when it comes out in paperback, but it will take a lot of positive reviews to convince me.

    • Zack Matzo says:

      Just as a point of clarification, it is not written in the first person. It is written in the third person present/limited.

    • RoldGoldGuy says:

      The book did start off with the “short,stubby sentences”, but after getting through the first several chapters the writing definitely seemed to smooth out a bit, and was in no way distracting. I am by no means a die-hard Star Wars fan, having little exposure to much outside the feature films, but I genuinely enjoyed the story overall, and look forward to reading the next book.

  2. Zach Davis says:

    I really enjoyed this book.I thought the characters fit well into the whole of the Star Wars experience.
    The only stumbling block I encountered was how many characters and points of view the book started with. Before the gang gets together, it got confusing as to who was who and what was going on.

  3. Austin says:

    Great review! I think the novel was fantastic. All the haters over this book seem to be people who are still in love with the Expanded Universe.

    • Yora says:

      What do you mean, still in love? Are we supposed to stop liking it just because there’s no longer any official new releases? That’s like stoping to like Star Trek just because there’s two new movies in an alternate universe.

  4. rob says:

    sorry I disagree that it is a good book. I really enjoyed the style of writing in terms of his descriptive choices. What jumped out at me is my complete lack of interest in the characters. Say what you will but when I read the first Zahn book I could not put it down. I struggled to finish this one. I was super excited when I saw the release date of this book. 3 chapters in, not so much.

  5. Mike says:

    Still mourning the EU. Aftermath was a good but not great book. It just wasn’t part of a continuity I soent 2 decades reading and was a part of my childhood. For me, the films were not Star Wars to me. The original 3 were good depending on the film. The prequel 3 were terrible. The EU was so encompassing, fleshed out such a history, that it is hard to just give that up due to a press release. I hope aftermath is the beginning to a new history. But I am wary that 1. Disney will “disnefy” Star Wars and 2. that they will never approve the sheer amount of novels that were written during the EU time period. Why would they. It closes off avenues for the films. Will we ever see a new jedi order or legacy of the force length series. Will we even see a trilogy of books? That press release ended a chapter of my literary life. We shall see what comes.

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