Sheev’s Bored Game – STAR WARS: Aftermath Empire’s End Review

star wars

So I just finished Empire’s End even earlier than I initially thought I would, though I’ve always been a quick reader. Whether that’s a positive reflection or not is something I mentioned in my previous post but to summarize Empire’s End almost feels like a practice in repetition, as the same qualities inherent in the final chapter of Chuck Wendig’s post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars new-canon trilogy also aptly describe my feeling of the series as a whole.

It’s kind of all momentum. It will, in the end, give something to make people happy but not with what I think most wanted and readers will have to decide whether it was all worth it or not. Before you go on understand that I will be spoiling this novel, so stop if for some reason that offends you, I’m not here as a public service, I’m only here to relay my experience.

You know that common stereotype of a reader who reads the end first to see what happens? I always thought that was pretty silly and just something people wrongly thought was cool to say in conversation but never actually did, but I’m starting to see applicable uses for it. Not all of this is Wendig’s fault no matter how we try to keep and judge these novels, particularly the sort of public mandate put on this particular book series, as entities that exist on their own. We WANT some things out of this series that have something to do with billion dollar films that Wendig has nothing to do with. We WANT things out of this novel because Zahn’s books were taken away from us and we, either optimistically or just here for a pound of flesh, have our judge robes on in ways we didn’t when other truly awful EU or even new canon books (yes, Heir to the Jedi is truly and uniquely awful – sorry, I don’t get off on saying so but it was memorably bad) were released.

Wendig, being a functional human being of the planet earth, is aware of this and because of this the endings of each of these novels tries to placate us. Sure, mystery is more an excuse than actual craft in these cases but I dare say it’s enough (barely) to keep us sated. That’s what crazy fandom is. We will make you a bestseller for promises and chum.

In Empire’s End Wendig gave me something in the end that made me happy but still left us at the doorstep of true revelation. In three books, we have yet not been able to breach that door. He switched up the messenger on us but he didn’t give us the message. In three books. Of course, we were given no promises, our expectations were completely our own devices but if looking at it logically we have almost nothing that checks off questions I think most people had coming into this series.

And this brings me back to the idea of reading the end first. I’m not sure if this an internet-age thought but this book gave me that feeling I have much more now where I’d find the wiki about the book better than the actual experience of reading it because all I really got here was that Sloane, a character I really enjoy, was to be our avatar to unknown space and our probable in to the First Order we see in the the new films. I like Sloane, I’m happy she survives, I was not expecting it. But…

It’s a bait and switch. It totally just shuffles her in for Gallius Rax who is just some guy. The mystery of Rax, the “fleet admiral”, is fruitless, wrapped up and written off by a creation of Wendig involving a remark by the Emperor and two game pieces. He does not earn the mystery and he wasn’t one because there was an actual one there, he was there exclusively so the book could end on a cliffhanger or talking point that doesn’t actually matter. He’s just a guy.

Look, it sounds interesting, right? That the great Emperor had planned everything out, even made serious preparation for the demise of the galaxy but even for me, a Palpatine fan, it feels really like a device to give this trilogy reason and not something that makes a hell of a lot of sense. I mean if you’re that calculating and smart, with that many resources, hey brother, just stay the fuck alive and not confront the son of the goddamn chosen one and his pop alone in a room in a battle station that’s the #1 target in the galaxy whose location YOU leaked. This dude literally was like if it didn’t work ruling this galaxy he was going to find another one to rule and had that contingency plan set in motion.  He really sucks at chess, which by the way, I think became canon in this novel. Instead, Sheev was sitting back the whole time like “fuck yo demense!”, the thought of which almost makes me like Empire’s End.

Yet, I’m at a crossroads. I’m a lore fan. I’m a guy who would read Dungeons & Dragons manuals but not play the game. When I was in middle school I’d get in trouble so I’d have to be sent to the library (a kind of during school time detention) so I could pick up Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth tomes and read the hell out of them. I’m a guy who looks up obscure DC Comics weapons or cosmic entities on wiki and have no desire to actually read the stories they appear in. And Empire’s End feel like a lore manual with a perfunctory story featuring uninteresting new characters wrapped around it with some cameos of familiar faces. Excluding the couple of revelations we’ve been waiting for, whether we liked them or not, again, in the interludes is where the best Wendig can be found. I went into REAL length about this when I discussed the first Aftermath book.  It’s like when the short is better than the feature movie it leads into but this isn’t PIXAR where that can be true but the feature is still a classic. The interludes are dramatic, atmospheric, full of tension, legitimately engaging with character in tactile situations we touch on only briefly but want to know more about, while the main cast of Norra, her annoying child, his robot, some bounty hunter, an ex-Imperial (who an arc is attempted to be given to at the last minute in a haphazard political subplot that just never really matters to us – pitting him and Mon Mothma against very poor man’s Borsk Fey’lya for old EU fans) are literally mind-numbing pages we wished didn’t exist as we search and yearn for a hotlink to get to the wiki entry they will lead us to that does.

We have two characters, one hunting the other, who are simply out for vengeance. We have another character trying to save her mom. We have another character trying to find another character who found them earlier. None of it matters because all we want to know is which dot is going to connect to the dot that will eventually connect to the films. These characters exist but their lives, at least for me don’t much matter outside of Sloane, and while I like her character, and while she succeeds, she fails the reader because we don’t know who she meets at the end. Thrawn is name checked in Empire’s End  but in a manner by Rax that almost seems minimized. Either that or, and this would be interesting, Rax himself didn’t know the extent of Palpatine’s trust in Thrawn. At this point we simply just don’t know but will probably learn in the upcoming Zahn novel focused on Thrawn. It hasn’t been so great for those in what amounts to be in Palpatine’s inner circle. I wonder if Thrawn will be the exception.

In the end it didn’t matter if it was Sloane or Rax who survived and took us because we didn’t get to see or meet anyone. If you didn’t read this novel, and some brave good person took the bullet for you and aided the information being put in a wiki this is where you’d stop and be like.. .that’s it??? Three books? The big mystery that built up again is just some dude. The real mystery where that dude was going to lead us, we don’t get that either. Instead we are left just to be pleased that Sloane survives because we know the original cast already does from the films and we don’t care about any of the other new characters. Instead we are left with interludes that we try to connect to things we haven’t seen much of but think are cool like The Knights of Ren or who Del Toro might be playing, and sweet Sith masks and why I want one (like now). Yes, I’m bringing masks back. It’s literal lore. Like do I get +3 STR from that mask or what? Give me the +6 Charisma mask, because I’m going to the club tonight.

I want to be clear I’m not attempting flippancy in writing this, I literally do not recall their names, something I usually don’t have an issue with as I must have hundreds of names of characters from Tolkien, Erikson, Peter F. Hamilton, or GRRM locked in my brain, ready to go with their best known quote and favourite colour. These people simply don’t matter. And it’s odd because in the aforementioned interludes are people who matter. People who have stories I may want to read so it’s truly baffling reading the main story, where it’s arguable that this series is about Norra Wexley whom I began and left this series not giving a shit about. And what that does is that it makes Empire’s End about stuff not story or character. The most interesting characters in Empire’s End to me are the characters at the end we don’t get to meet with Sloane.

I never really had an issue with Wendig’s writing style. And that’s not me being insincere in hindsight, I said as much when the excerpt for the first novel was released. I’ve read enough books and author of all kinds to know that there are dozens of ways to approach and tell a story but what did strike me as the momentum of this novel was reaching the point we had been waiting for it… it just doesn’t nail it. Unlike the interludes the ending, much like the much talked about one  in the first novel just kind of happens. I know, I know, I already see the people who liked the  first novel or even didn’t like it but enjoyed the ending and reveal of the Fleet Admiral are rolling their eyes at me but I implore you to read it again. I have. That entire scene’s weight is given to it by you the reader. We want to know if that’s Thrawn or Snoke and when you take that away it’s a pedestrian scene. It’s not Luke and Mara finding Thrawn clones, it’s not Jacen’s showdown with Mara, it’s not Vader stepping through in Hoth. It just doesn’t sing, it merely occurs, offered up to us almost in apology but not even a sincere or heartfelt one. It’s not a flourish one expects out of a scene like that and the only thing more disappointing is that  by the end of Aftermath we understand why because the reveal was without meaning. Rax is just a game piece. When I say that I mean we literally read about him realizing he is a literal game piece. It didn’t sing because the author knew then there was nothing there to sing about.

One part that had had  tension and emotion, minus some of the interludes, involved Mas Amedda. Why? Because we can understand where this dude is coming from. Here he is, his team recently took a giant L, he’s the boss in the capitol and has been minimized by the Republic, Rax and Sloane. He’s a symbolic target for the Rebellion and merely a symbol to be used by the other Imperials. He was there with Palpatine when he took control of the Republic and here he is on house arrest. He has to accept the aid of CHILDREN of the rebellion, straight out of some Dickensian neighborhood on Imperial Center, just so he could surrender. We feel him. We feel the kids. And this scene somewhat mirrors another where the vantage of children are highlighted and it works…

It’s already been much publicized already, but Wendig’s handling of Jar Jar is damn near perfect. It’s on the nose, but that’s how it has to be treated. It’s perfectly stated. It also doesn’t preclude that Jar Jar might still be a Sith master who just found a new apprentice. Ha. Just sayin‘.

If Wendig pens a novel about the Artful Dodger of Coruscant I’m IN.

I want to refrain from bringing up Zahn and the Thrawn trilogy and follow-up duology much because I do believe in the concept of “all good things…”, read some really atrocious original EU novels w/o a platform to complain about them,  and am on board for a wipe and relaunch in general. I do think the one thing that is applicable in comparing these two though is that while Zahn did have the benefit of writing what happens next without films looming in a climate where Star Wars is gigantic again and social media is instant access to a cesspool I think just on a fundamental level what he accomplished was writing what, yes,  first had to be a continuation and companion piece to the original trilogy but coming out of his new additions, his new characters, merited dozens of others novels to star in. Thrawn, Mara, Karde, Pellaeon… his later throwaways were like Tierce and Disra which IMHO are better characters than Jax (and if you think about it the plot is almost exactly the same – contacting Imperials Palpatine sent out into unknown space charted by Thrawn), who was not an interesting character, instead we were sold on the POSSIBILITY that he was and what occurs as we approach the end of the novel and series and start thinking to yourself what could really bring it home and it’s not anything Wendig has done… we are hoping to see Sloane get to her destination with baby Hux and meet Thrawn, or Snoke or even Ezra. Like Sloane we are looking for salvation and hope after what we just had to go through.

Instead we are forced to surrender like Mas or shuck and jive like Jar Jar. And the joke isn’t that Wendig makes Jar Jar a home(r)town clown, and it isn’t that we are even the adults who don’t pay him any mind, or the kids that laugh at him for what he was and is, it’s that he makes us the damaged survivor who follows him. Oddly, I’m still more interested in their future adventures than those of the family Wexley after 3 books.

So in short: Interludes good, kids good, Sloane survives yay! Sweet masks! I can do without the rest. Empire’s End is not awful, it’s SUBSTANTIALLY better than the first novel in the series and if you liked Life Debt (which I did but with very similar reservations I had here) this isn’t a gigantic step down once you realize you aren’t getting anything of substance or a giant Star Wars moment to conclude the trilogy. There is no bold period or exclamation, it’s ellipsis. Nothing here comes near challenging Lost Stars though as the crown new-canon Star Wars novel though.

Also, Lando is the shit. My man.

And look, if you love the crew Wendig has put together it’s a must read for sure. I just can’t even wrap my head around that possibility though. Maybe I’m just a rook with tunnel vision and too much freedom but the content of these 3 books feels like something that could have been a truly interesting single 500 page+ page novel centered in the Imperial remnant and the interludes because the Republic material and that crew just add nothing for me and seem present simply because they had to be but I think an opportunity is missed because they really didn’t since Luke is obviously mandated off the board anyway.

I will say that this novel and series, even at its lowest depths, are never worse than some of the crazy shit reaction I’ve seen, especially of the first novel. It’s just a book, it’s just Star Wars. One thing Star Wars may have taught us all is that it’s never too late for redemption and join everybody at the rad tree fort party and drink until we see ghosts. For some of you it won’t help, you’re just awful people we unfortunately have to share this with, even as you miss you every lesson it offers.