Star Wars: Aftermath – A Discussion
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.