Interludes Are Our Only Hope – STAR WARS Aftermath Review

That I devoured STAR WARS Aftermath in just over a day probably speaks to how much I was anticipating it and my overall interest in where STAR WARS is going post-Return of the Jedi in the new canon, stepping on and all over Timothy Zahn’s galaxy and mythos expanding and just plain damn good Heir to the Empire from 1991.

Let’s make the jump to light speed and get to this — did Chuck Wendig fill the shoes?

I’m going to skip a lengthy prologue about Aftermath and personal peripherals that I brought with me into the book and just get into what’s actually in Chuck Wendig’s book. If you want to read a bit about where I’m coming from as a STAR WARS fan, in particular in regards to the late expanded universe, you can read some thoughts I had after reading an excerpt released from Aftermath a few months ago. You can also check out my thoughts on previous new canon releases Dark Disciple, Lords of the Sith, and Tarkin on this site. I’ve seen some extreme reaction on twitter and I will let other people sift through that and draw their own conclusions.

First, Wendig’s style is fine. It’s not my preference but because some instances in Aftermath work, I liken it a bit to what Peter Jackson was going through with the frame rate on The Hobbit films. You get used to it, even if admittedly the first film suffers the worst, BUT it will remain topical if you otherwise also didn’t enjoy the film because its an easy target for being different.

I’m not really willing to hang Aftermath for Wendig’s style. I suspect most people picking the book up our adults and when you are grown and read books you will be confronted with numerous styles, narrative, and perspective choices and the truth is most people get used to it, whether they are reading Cormac McCarthy, Gene Wolfe, Mark Danielewski, or Harry Potter. I firmly believe a good STAR WARS novel can be written utilizing any one of numerous author methods and choices.

I am willing to hang Aftermath for the story. I may skip the ceremony and just shoot first.

While and after you are read this novel the thought that presents itself and never leaves is that Wendig should just write interludes. For the first 200 pages I found myself coasting, completely disinterested, because the problem with this book is that the central story and the new characters involved in them are completely boring, happening on a completely insignificant planet, and are doing things both as individuals and later together that don’t matter to us because we really don’t care if any of them survive or not. This can change as soon as the next book and we could very well be reading the humble beginnings of characters that a decade from now will prove to be new classics in the STAR WARS mythos, but the day after reading it, all these characters feel like those that get out of the way of the plot for more awesome characters, not ones that can carry one, and merely having a mother-son relationship in the midst of it doesn’t automatically add emotional currency to it — and Wendig tried. For me, the proposed Norra and Temmin emotional core of the story just never had weight, and I actively found myself wondering which one being offed would be preferable to me (I was good with both dying, for the record), because I suspected on would go to drive the other’s narrative. Nope, we are stuck with both of them.

I typically enjoy the “getting the band together” scenarios, and while this is a motley band that has an intriguing mix of talents and diverse background that could star in future stories of interest, what they actually did in this story wasn’t very compelling because I guess the question is… what if none of them survived? How is the story different? What if they did live and simply did nothing? If in the end they all died and didn’t form a team what have I lost? I wouldn’t get the C-list stand-ins for a disgruntled Imperial, a bounty hunter, an annoying kid on a backwater planet with daddy issues who built a robot friend, and a veteran rebel? I guess the same could have been said of STAR WARS Rebels, but Rebels didn’t have the responsibility that the first post-film new canon novel does.

In fact, if you consider Rebels for a moment, an entire novel, THIS entire novel, feels like what could occur in a single episode of a 20 minute cartoon. The character’s don’t matter. They could in the future but by the end of this novel they do not, and that’s the problem. None of them do.

My issue is that every character, particularly the Imperials, seem like poor man’s versions of what we had before. For example, Moff Valco Pandion doesn’t present the overbearing, sneering, but too far reaching Governor that Disra did. And, sure, we can make the same case for many of other expanded universe books when comparing character-to-character but Wendig doesn’t get that privilege — Aftermath is the book that even the fans who passed on the initial new canon novels circled when it was announced. It’s our first new official venture into the STAR WARS universe after Return of the Jedi. It cannot simply be what the previous new canon novels have been, automatic bestsellers by association but average. Yet this is what Aftermath is.

When you don’t come to care about any of the characters, when you don’t know or care about the setting, there can’t be stakes. We do have Wedge, who was featured in the excerpt, but the character we saw portrayed in Aftermath could have been any random rebel veteran pilot. That he was Wedge never really matters and I think this speaks to where Wendig’s style might be validly critiqued. I have not read his other novels, I know he has his fans, but for me, in this one book, I never felt individuality in any character or place. We got titles, names of places, and backstory but we never earned them, passed through, or lived it. I don’t feel like anyone got their own shine, and while it can be said there is a large number of new characters in play, we live in a world where George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson drop novels with dozens upon dozens of characters that all create minor or major space for themselves. We want to talk about them, we want to know there they come from, we want to know what color eyes their mom’s had. I don’t give a damn about any of these characters and if they got shot out of the sky and killed I wouldn’t be entirely sure that it was supposed to matter to me.

This is a universe where fandom goes full blown ride or die mode for new characters like Ahsoka, Rex, or Sabine. They love Mara Jade. They love Jaina Solo, and you saw Force Friday where people went out and bought millions worth of merchandise featuring characters they have never seen in anything. Contrary to corners of criticism that think they do but don’t understand real fandom, people WANT to love this shit. They will gladly go into hate mode if you underperform, but their first move is to find something they love, and then go buy whatever that is across dozens of other mediums. It’s how STAR WARS kind of has worked since its inception.

It’s hard for me to not remember how I was instantly, literally from page one, with Pellaeon and Thrawn. Remember that? Remember how the Empire and STAR WARS was completely bad ass again from page and chapter one and it never let up? Remember the new characters we were introduced to that we remembered instantly? Mara Jade and Talon Karrde? Remember that the kids Leia was pregnant with became characters that propelled entire lines of books almost on their own? Remember how much happened in that single book? Even after the original Thrawn trilogy, remember how instantly interesting Tierce was? And I tried to avoid this feeling because I’m actually not in the dumps about a clean slate. I have those stories still. I don’t need Luke, Han, or Leia to have an excellent STAR WARS story. I’m very open to a fresh start because I’ve done it before — I was #teamJacenSolo. To write this review right after I read the book, I had to look up everyone’s name. EVERY SINGLE ONE, and I’m used to remembering the name of a random creature mentioned once by China Mieville, or the description of a random passerby in some Paul Auster or Ishiguro novel. I am that guy that notices the hair color of dozens of character in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The only character whose name I wanted and would have most assuredly remembered was kept from us.

I guess there is a valid question regarding even if no matter how well it went over, if Aftermath really is a table-setter and should even be judged as such anyway. The truth is that the post-RotJ galaxy is only going to matter that much for a few months, just until the post-The Force Awakens universe is what takes precedence, with new heroes featured in billion dollar feature films. I know that for myself, even with no films, I became concerned with the future adventures of Jaina, Jacen, Jagged, Ben, Tenel, Vestara Khai, and even Allana, than I was the old white folks that I loved for years, so I assume a similar and even quicker assimilation to occur with the young and good looking cast this Christmas. Hell, the thing is even branded “Journey to STAR WARS: The Force Awakens”, basically telling us what we really want is coming.

There was also this bit about the New Republic that irritated me. In STAR WARS we seem to always have very stupid people making very stupid decisions in extreme positions of power which have incredible ramifications. Jar Jar style. I talked about this tangentially regarding the Jedi when I wrote about Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple. Here we have Mon Mothma, who I always thought was, if not a smart person, not a total idiot, talking about cutting back the New Republic military to 10%. NOT reduce it by 10%, but reduce it to 10%. As a socially progressive person in real life (aka simply being a good human being) I still cringe when I see this kind of talk by people who seem to not recognize the circumstances of the world they live in. Simply put, in any ecosystem there is going to be an apex entity — it’s always better to be that than anything else in a violent setting. I cannot think of any circumstance in any setting where an intergalactic Rebel faction of a few years ago would disband their military to 10% of its number. It’s the height of patent hipster stupid.

Admittedly she says she wants to initiate the reduction when she can officially declare the end of the war but its still baffling given the history of not only the galaxy, but human and social beings. The goal is not have a universe devoid of power, it’s to put the right people in power and sustain it. Sometimes those right people need to smash some people who aren’t. It’s the way of things. I wondered if her platform differed from Leia and in the future, the Resistance, as she was absent beyond propaganda holos promising New Republic aid to those that turned on the Empire. While we the reader understand why the big 3 are mostly absent in Aftermath with The Force Awakens looming, it may speak to the beginnings of something that Leia is not present at high level discussions with the New Republic leadership and speaking a somewhat counter, even if on the same side, message. Han and Chewie are rolling on their own, fringe style, about to do something forbidden by the New Republic, and Luke is totally ghost. These are people who are looking to finish things, not for an exit.

This is not at all an example of bad writing on Wendig’s part though, many such people live in our own world and fiction is supposed to present characters who think and do things we don’t agree with, even if they have the best motivations.

We are also left with the mystery of the whereabouts and current identity of Norra’s husband (Temmin’s father). I might have missed this reveal in another novel, but is it possibly the secret agent feeding information to the Rebels who seemed to have a personal interest in that planet (Akiva)?

So, overall how was Aftermath? We have to change gears for a minute and look at the whole picture to decide. Sometimes a Hail Mary will win you a game

STAR WARS Aftermath: What’s Actually Kind of Cool About It?

I think we all need an interlude from the STAR WARS: Aftermath review and in the spirit of the novel, take an interlude to focus on some of what actually cool happened in our introduction to the new post-film official STAR WARS canon given to us by Chuck Wendig.

We need a place to get away from the central story narrative and character of Aftermath, and talk about the good stuff Wendig dropped on us, or at least the parts that make me happy to talk about.

Or… if you just want to skip the book and get what’s good. Spoilers abound.

Almost all of these instances happened within interludes scattered in Aftermath, offering readers these short vignettes that at least for me became these in-read goals to get to, oases booty I earned for not having given up in between them. These brief cuts were all that I took away from Aftermath.

Almost. But we will, again I think quite aptly, save that for last.

Almost universally, the interludes feel alive, characters claim personal space, environments are not uniform, shit is happening that has tension and at least feel like they matter. These are the STAR WARS stories hidden within a kind of shit Rebels-lite script, and the characters I’d like to see more of in a way I don’t the central cast of Aftermath. This is where John Williams could be heard in the background.

Darth Vader’s Lightsaber and Acolytes of the Beyond?

The legacy of a Skywalker lightsaber seems like its going to be a focal point in The Force Awakens, and in Aftermath we get a scene where members of the Acolytes of the Beyond are purchasing a lightsaber they are being told is that of Darth Vader’s. There is some question to its authenticity, but I suspect there aren’t a ton of red lightsabers lying around in this era and there is a somewhat too on the nose appearance of Vader graffiti in the background as well. I guess it could be Palpatine’s as well. I do think having either of them would feel like a pretty mean trick though given the circumstances of the last time we saw them.

The buyers, a group of three, two in robes, call themselves “adherents” and “Acolytes of the Beyond” and say they wish to destroy the lightsaber so it can rejoin its master in death. I think its worth noting that that the two in robes are concealed, need a translator (the third who is not concealed), and have a box with “strange sigils”. These maybe outsiders even in a setting that is potentially huge — literally from Beyond?

We get a reference to beyond in the central story as well, where Yupe Tashu explains that the Emperor thought his power came from beyond the known galaxy, and that he sent and spent resources to build outposts in the unknown territories. This in many ways mirrors what Palpatine had Thrawn doing with the Chiss — among the best and brightest of the Empire and presumably those Thrawn conquered outside of the known Galaxy. Back to this in a moment.

What is exciting is speculating who these buyers are and how they tie into the force or the First Order from The Force Awakens. Are they the Knights of Wren or a branch of the same organization? A rival or precursor? This exchange occurs on Taris, which does have quite the history under the now Legends stories, but has been name dropped in both new canon Tarkin and Dark Disciple.

Boba Fett Alive?

Well at least his armor might have made it out intact. On Tatooine where we last saw Fett alive we get a scene with some Jawa goods, including a full set of acid tarnished Mandalorian armor. Some pieces of a Hutt sail barge are also in the inventory to add to the probable vintage of the armor.

If Fett is alive, somebody else has his armor because a Sheriff shot another man over it in this chapter.

Seems like a cool character too though I can live very well never having to go back to Tatooine again. The trailer park of the universe inexplicably was the childhood home of two of the most famous men in the Galaxy’s history. Enough already.

Han and Chewie

I just wanted to mention it because of the magnitude of two characters. I don’t really care about smugglers joining up to liberate Kashyyyk. Sounds like the plot of a boring STAR WARS novel.

Han Solo’s status seems to be not so great in from what we may know of The Force Awakens, this might be the start of his fall back to social and political mediocrity if that’s how it turns out in the film.

At the very least, a return to fringe.

Faux-Thrawn

This was the part that wasn’t in a interlude. Let me first start with Admiral Rae Sloane.

Sloane, a female Imperial Admiral, is the only semi-consistently semi-interesting character in the main narrative. Even though she’s Pellaeon-lite you find yourself enjoying Aftermath when we are with her almost specifically because we admire her for agreeing with us that everyone around her, members of remaining Imperial elite, are not worth spending time with.

It’s like we survived a life trauma with her in having to be exposed to these characters.

At the end of book, we have this shared fact, both of us wasting our time, pretty much confirmed to us by a mysterious character described as simply the “Fleet Admiral” — who was thought dead by the rest of inner Imperial circle we meet in Aftermath. He, in fact, was held back with the remaining Imperial Super Star Destroyer, and is Sloane’s commanding officer. What should be noted is that he is not revealed to the reader but he is someone who was known to, or at least known of, by the other Imperials.

I do include this in the “good” happenings within Aftermath but truthfully I’m conflicted.

This happens at the very end of the novel and is supposed to be what makes all of this seem worthwhile and leave that final taste to be the best one. And it feels like its supposed to. It’s hard to explain because as a reader when you enter an epilogue you kind of prepare yourself to be moved that extra bit that only the final pages of a book can. It’s something so honest of a tactic that films now try to emulate it with post-credits all the time.

This one went through the motions, and while we still have the mystery and the obvious toying with fans who want Thrawn, if you survived to get this far in the book, you aren’t really in the mood for mystery, you finally want something of substance. Instead it served as this final notice that you really aren’t going to get shit in Aftermath from the actual main plot line unless it is Thrawn, and it feels most likely it is not — otherwise just by his mere presence Aftermath becomes actually good and Wendig is my squad. Thrawn is life. See how strong yet easy fandom is?

Instead, for now, he makes us recall Thrawn. An Imperial Admiral who outranks at least one other admiral, ala a Grand Admiral, talking about beyond known space, ala where Thrawn and Chiss were from and where he in the EU mapped expansive new territory for the Empire, was introduced with music (Thrawn’s vice was art), and who knew the value of not fighting just to fight. We are given no physical description of him, but we certainly are led to believe we are dealing with a calculating, refined, mind.

That his command ship, The Ravager, is described to us as the last remaining Imperial Super Star Destroyer, it makes one wonder if it’s the one we see crashed on Jakku in the The Force Awakens trailer.

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I also felt like this epilogue was, while still not fantastic, the best written part of the book along with interludes. Involving the one character that mattered and a mystery character, for the first time Aftermath slowed down and breathed, and real dialogue that has something to do with the big picture was uttered. I want to know what these two talk about — no one else matters, something that the Fleet Admiral basically confirmed to us and Sloane. Readers, you have wasted your time until now, you’ve been tested and, yes, if got here, we are the survivors of an average novel and story.