A fan review of Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig, 2015, Del Rey
Disclaimer: This review is <Spoiler Alert Level: 2/10, Low>
My Credentials: I have none as pertain to literature in general nor the Star Wars genre in the specific. My sole qualifications are that (a) Han Solo was my first crush and (b) unlike some Amazon reviewers, I read the book.
I will put it right out front that I had some reservations about this book, being as it is, one of the first pieces of new canon in the liturgy of The Star Wars Gospel According to Disney. Those reservations had nothing to do with the book itself of course, since they emerged before it was published. Call it loyalty or defensiveness, but the relegation to Legends status that befell many Expanded Universe (EU) fan favorites has been the source of much distress in the Star Wars enthusiast community. Playing, as I do, a Star Wars RPG and enjoying immensely, as I do, Timothy Zahn’s heroic Heir to the Empire series, I have always thought of those EU worlds and characters as being woven inextricably into the Galaxy Far, Far Away. But Lucasfilm, now of Disney, did extricate them, removing them with a surgeon’s skill. So I was nervous about a book set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi— the same era covered by Heir to the Empire. As I heard another fan put it, I knew I would be reading Wendig’s book with Zahn looking over my shoulder.
So how was it?
Aftermath keeps a good pace, and is easy reading. Some reviewers lament the jumping around and interludes but I did not find them difficult to navigate. This book contains a long list of characters with different trajectories into the plot and the author stitches their stories together with use of flashbacks and by dedicating a chapter to this character, a chapter to the next, and so on, eventually weaving them together as the book progresses. The deviations from the linear timeline for dream sequences and reminiscing are well-constructed and not confusing. They help fill out backstory and give the reader insight into historical events such as the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Deathstar from the perspective of new characters. For example, I read with great interest a bounty hunter’s account of being a hair’s-breadth from fulfilling a contract on Leia at the bunker door on Endor. A chance encounter in the forest between the hunter and an Imperial Loyalty Officer comes to bear years later, where the primary action of the story takes place. These flashbacks connect the events of the films up to now with future events by stamping the past with the new characters.
The major players arise from far different backgrounds and yet they each bring something essential to the plot. The author is able to make the reader accept that these people could come together in the ways they do and he does not require any major suspension of disbelief to get through the story. A few people are introduced and then not really explored. I assume they will play larger roles in future works. Wendig handles characters from previous canon carefully and faithfully, coloring in the existing sketches of a few lesser known characters with authentic shades, bringing them to life in a fuller way.
I found most of the characters immediately compelling, particularly the pithy and self-interested Sinjr Rath Velus. He has several laugh-out-loud lines that inject the right amount of humor into the story. I was also intrigued by Jas Emari, who is somehow believable as a crafty yet honorable bounty hunter. Wendig gives a scheming Imperial Admiral sufficient depth and shading to keep her from being a cliché. Notice that the Admiral is a woman. Aftermath has several female principals. A strength of the book is that Wendig’s use of female characters does not feel forced. To save spoilers, I will not go over all of the well-developed women characters here, but there are several.
The obligatory angsty teenage hero can be a bit tiresome, rather in the same way that young Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker and, to a lesser degree, Ezra Bridger, are sometimes annoying to me. However, this character type is almost a requirement; it seems that the journey-to-manhood saga is something one can not omit from Star Wars lore. Similarly, all Star Wars stories require an adorable droid sidekick. It took some time for the battle droid “Bones” to grow on me. For example, I found his repetition of the phrase “roger roger” a little tedious. That might have been because I did a fair amount of my reading of Aftermath by way of the audiobook version. Perhaps it is less irritating in print. Nonetheless, I felt that Bones’ character was too aimed at children. Meanwhile, there are elements of the book that make it decidedly not for kids– notably when one of the heroes coldly shoots a man in the back, or a subsequent scene in which Akivan citizens are manipulated with fabricated propaganda by our protagonists. Both are dirty dealing, I think.
Stylistically, I have very few complaints about the book. The author employs simple, descriptive language and judicious use of metaphor. The constructs of writing– words, punctuation, grammar– are scaffolding for the story. They are tools to create immersion and should never call attention to themselves. I mention this because Wendig’s choice of third person present tense bothers some readers. A good friend of mine who is an English teacher and an avid Star Wars enthusiast had to step away from the book because the tense bothered him so much. Even though it is not inherently wrong, if using present tense is a persistent distraction, it might be best to avoid it. That being said, writing from this point of view gives a feeling of the here and now. As in, these events are unfolding as we speak and the outcome is not yet written. That can potentially lead to a more immersive and active experience for the reader. Screenplays are written in third person present tense, a notable fact. When it comes to literature, ultimately it’s the author’s art and his choice.
Sometimes I find the climax of books and movies, well, anticlimactic. It’s often difficult to really cash in on expectations that are made throughout the story’s development with a clean, solid resolution. High-speed pursuits, explosions and that unavoidable mano a mano battle at the end are far too rote at this point. In this case, however, I feel that the climax, while perhaps somewhat expected, dispenses with the more obvious contrivances and delivers a crisp finish. Of course the epilogue opens new questions, but then, it’s part of a trilogy and it’s a movie tie-in so one can hardly complain.
So I am going to say that Wendig’s “canon”ball into Star Wars hit its mark. Is it a perfectly executed swan dive? Perhaps not, but it’s a far cry from the bellyflop some detractors would have you believe. Wendig draws us into a Star Wars world full of new people and places. He skillfully gives us enough familiar context so that we are sufficiently comfortable to relax and believe. Then he shows us into the lives of some new characters that did not exist until he made them breathe. And in the final analysis, these rich new characters do not threaten the corners of my heart occupied by Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Not at all. They light up new corners of my heart and imagination. The book has humor and excitement, moral and philosophical conflict and a little good old-fashioned space combat. So I am grateful. Aftermath does everything a proper cannonball should; it’s loud and fun, it makes a big splash and it encourages more people to jump into the pool.
Come on in, the water’s fine.