Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig
|Book Name:||Empire’s End|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Science Fiction / Fantasy|
|Release Date:||February 21, 2017 (US) January 1, 2017 (UK)|
Spoiler Warning: This review does not spoil Empire’s End. However, events of the first two books in the trilogy are discussed and, to a certain degree, spoiled. I’ve tried to leave as much unspoilt as possible. Proceed at your own risk.
And now we know how all those ships crashed on Jakku.
With the third volume of his Aftermath trilogy, Chuck Wendig puts a bow on the first cornerstone trilogy of the Disney-era “New EU.” Empire’s End is a successful ending to a new kind of Star Wars tale, one that springs from 21st Century sensibilities while maintaining its roots in a galaxy far, far away. Whether the seeds planted in Empire’s End (and Life Debt and Aftermath preceding it) will bear fruit remains to be seen, but viewed as a complete work, I can’t help but consider it a success.
With the galaxy again on the brink of war and a new, sinister Imperial threat seemingly ascendant, Empire’s End picks up mere days after the end of Life Debt, with Chandrila and the New Republic government trying to recover from a devastating terrorist attack following the illegal liberation of Kashyyk. Norra Wexley and her crew are reeling and rudderless. Some are going through the motions, others are seething with anger, and Norra herself is consumed by revenge. None of this is new territory–either in Star Wars in general or in the Aftermath series specifically. The nexus of war, family and hope is where Star Wars lives, and Wendig knows it. With that cycle as the backdrop, Wending continues to do an excellent job presenting complete characters–characters that are heroes, to be sure, but heroes that are flawed, vulnerable and prone to make mistakes out of anger. Heroes that decide to act selfishly, rashly or irresponsibly, despite knowing better. And as Empire’s End begins, mistakes are made.
There’s very little in the way of buildup. The New Republic and the Imperial remnant–led by the mysterious Gallius Rax–are on a collision course. The final battle in this decades-old war is imminent and both sides know it. The stakes are higher than ever, considering the deep division within the New Republic Senate. Mon Mothma’s time as Chancellor has been divisive and her rivals, smelling blood in the water, are circling with knives out.
And what of our band of heroes? After their unsanctioned–although highly successful–liberation of Kashyyk, a very pregnant Princess Leia and a restless Han Solo are spinning their wheels. Wedge Antilles has been grounded, along with the rest of Phantom Squadron. And Norra and Jas Emari are offworld tracking the bounty hunter Mercurial Swift while Sinjir, Temmin, Jom Barrell and Mr. Bones languish on Chandrila. Tensions are running high.
The discovery that the remains of the Empire have gathered in orbit above Jakku, a backwater planet with little or no galactic significance, shocks everyone into action, setting into motion a landslide of events that will resonate years into the future. The events of Empire’s End are highly relevant to The Force Awakens, and viewing Episode VII through Wendig’s lens is a treat. I wouldn’t consider the Aftermath trilogy a companion to the current films in the way Catalyst is essential to Rogue One, but I do think that reading Empire’s End adds a new layer of depth, mystery and foreboding to The Force Awakens.
On the Imperial side of things, former Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is on the run with an unlikely companion, heading straight for Jakku in an attempt to either discover Gallius Rax’s true endgame or put an end to his machinations with extreme prejudice. She’s like a wounded animal lashing out, and the loss of her command and rank have hardened her to the point of shattering. Wendig’s take on Sloane is one of the highlights of the series. Much like Abrams did with Finn in The Force Awakens, Wendig uses Sloane as a window into everyday life in the Empire. And while Finn’s arc was shorter and more boots-on-the-ground, Wendig has used Sloane to excellent effect over the course of three books. Despite her high rank, her arc sheds light not just on the military aspects of Imperial life, but the humans wearing the uniforms. It is by no means a heartwarming or redemptive perspective–the Empire is truly horrifying, and Sloane ultimately reinforces that sense of pervading evil.
It is difficult to discuss Gallius Rax without spoiling too much of the book, but suffice it so say that he has a major role in the events leading into The Force Awakens. Rax, firmly at the center of one of the Emperor’s most diabolical schemes, is an egomaniac and a sociopath. He is truly a child of the Empire, and Wendig pays off Rax’s story in spades. His arc in the trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion, with just enough left dangling to encourage speculation.
Some of the strongest chapters of Empire’s End are the interlude chapters. With the interludes, Wendig steps away from the main story to visit characters and locales throughout the galaxy. Some of the interludes in Empire’s End build upon interludes in the prior books, creating mini-tales that will in all likelihood blossom into books or series of their own. Others are brand new. The most interesting interlude in Empire’s End is one that came completely out of nowhere. It was a story I didn’t know I wanted until reading it–surprising, funny and heartbreakingly tragic–and my fervent wish is that Disney explores it further.
After three novels in the Star Wars universe, Wendig has definitely found his voice. While I understand that the writing style and choice of tense is jarring to some, it has become more of a quirk than a distraction. I think Wendig had a tough task with the Aftermath trilogy, and while some readers will forever deride it for all that it isn’t, I think it should be praised for what it is–an action-packed, thought provoking tale that serves as connective tissue between the first six Star Wars films and The Force Awakens and introduces and populates the new, Disney-era Expanded Universe with a diverse and entertaining cast of characters.