This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK.
Spoilers for Star Wars: Aftermath and Star Wars: The Force Awakens lie within.
When Disney rebooted much of the Star Wars continuity back in 2012, it allowed a new generation of storytellers to create new adventures for Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie, while also jumping 30 years into the future for the Sequel Trilogy, which kicked off with last year’s The Force Awakens. While this was a necessary move in order to build the new Star Wars canon timeline, it also left a lot to cover in terms of what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, for all intents and purposes, was both a critical and box office success, introducing us to great new characters and another galaxy-spanning conflict between an oppressive, tyrannical force and a band of freedom fighters. But in order to build that story while also paying homage to what came before in a two-hour movie, a lot of backstory had to be left out.
So it’s been the job of the Star Wars expanded universe of books, comics, TV shows, and games to flesh out what led up to the events of The Force Awakens. One specific trilogy of novels has the task of bridging the gap between Episode VI and VII. Written by sci-fi scribe Chuck Wendig, the Aftermath trilogy shows us the complicated times that resulted from the Rebellion’s victory over the Empire. We get a front row seat to the formation of the doomed New Republic and the final days of the Empire, and how that all gave birth to the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance.
Here’s how Star Wars: Aftermath has gone about bridging the gap between one war and another:
The primary reason I bought Star Wars: Aftermath—the first in a trilogy of novels bridging the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens—was to find answers to the questions that had been rattling around in my head post-Episode VII. Questions like, how the heck does the First Order have so much power? Why has the New Republic become so weak despite overthrowing the evil Empire? What’s the deal with the Knights Of Ren? What happened between Han and Leia to push them apart?
And although Aftermath didn’t answer any of these questions outright (it is part one of three, after all), I was very satisfied with the extra information that Chuck Wendig’s novel added to the filmic canon. I still don’t know exactly how the not-particularly-utopian political landscape of The Force Awakens came to be, but I’ve seen the groundwork laid.
Aftermath picks up a little while after Return of the Jedi’s famous Battle of Endor, with the galaxy far, far away in a state of unsteadiness. The Death Star is destroyed and Emperor Palpatine with it, but that doesn’t mean that the Empire itself is dead. There were plenty of Imperial employees stationed elsewhere, and now they’re attempting to regroup and hash out a plan to hold onto power. Should there be a new Emperor now? And how would they be chosen anyway?
Meanwhile, the Rebel Alliance has given way to the New Republic. Mon Mothma has been elected the first leader of this new government, gaining with this role the emergency powers that had previously been given to Chancellor Palpatine during the Clone Wars. Uneasy with this level of control, Mothma expresses an interest in reinstating democratic decision-making.
Her other big idea is to vastly reduce the size of the Republic’s army once the last remnants of the Empire have been wiped out. Just from this small hint, you can see how the Republic would end up with one big fleet instead of a sprawling army of Imperial proportions. This is a nice idea for peacekeeping, but will in time allow the First Order to wipe out all of the New Republic’s major defenses in one fell swoop.
On a large scale, Aftermath gives us glimpses of how the Star Wars galaxy could transition from Return of the Jedi’s euphoric Yub Nub ending to the scary Kylo-Ren-attacking-Jakku opening of The Force Awakens. While the Republic is aiming for peace and disarmament, the Empire is attempting to regroup. The Battle of Endor is over, but the war between good and evil is far from finished…
Between the chapters of Star Wars: Aftermath’s main story, Chuck Wendig has inserted brief interludes on other planets. These give us opportunities to see what other people make of the political situation, explaining that not everyone sees the Rebel Alliance as heroes and the Empire as villains. As with any crumbling society, there are some people trying to cling to the old ways.
This recurring storytelling device was a lovely surprise, giving the book a scale of operatic proportions. Yes, the fall of the Empire is the business of the galaxy’s most prominent political players, but it also affects the lives of the little people (and I don’t mean Jawas). And as recent British politics has taught us, ordinary people can’t always agree on what’s right.
One particularly enlightening interlude takes place on the planet Saleucami, where the Taffral family are utterly failing to come to a consensus on the state of galactic politics. When one chap claims that “The Empire’s days are done,” his brother accuses him of treason. A fight breaks out, before the father of the family interjects with some sage words:
“I’m old enough to remember when the Republic shot itself right in the knee. It wasn’t taken over by the Empire. It became the Empire slowly, surely, not overnight but over decades and decades. Fruit always tastes nice when it’s ripe. But it can’t stay like that. Every nice piece of fruit will rot on the branch if it hangs there long enough. You remember that.”
We see disagreements like this throughout the novel, some in the form of discussions and some through contrasting imagery. In certain parts of the galaxy, gleeful locals tear down statues of the Emperor. In others, a high price can be fetched for a lightsaber that might have been Darth Vader’s. Some people see recent events as an end to oppression, while others see this as merely a blip in the mighty Empire’s reign.
It’s really interesting to see a sci-fi novel approaching its story from a multitude of different points of view. Every powerful government will have its fanatics, and every dictatorship will have the freedom fighters that stand up to it. In the movies, the Empire is portrayed as pure evil, hated by all outside of it, but in Aftermath we see a broader range of opinions.
We also get to see what Han Solo has been up to during one of these interludes, with Wendig capturing the essence of Harrison Ford’s grumbly space cowboy rather well. Aftermath is mainly about the new blood, though…
Cool new characters
While Star Wars: Aftermath does feature familiar faces like Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, Wedge Antilles, Leia Organa, and Han Solo, the main bulk of the story centres around new characters. There’s some really cool ones, actually, which again show us how the war between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire affected people differently.
Temmin Wexley is a young man from the planet Akiva, who was left behind by his mother when she left to join the Rebel Alliance and help save the galaxy. Temmin has become a junk dealer since then, and has renamed an old battle droid as Mr. Bones and repurposed it as his personal security detail. Temmin is a feisty one, and Mr. Bones—his utterly unhinged robot companion—is Aftermath’s standout character. (He’s depicted in Radetzky March’s fan art above, which Wendig has singled out as a particular favorite.) Greg Grunberg played Temmin “Snap” Wexley in The Force Awakens. By that point, he’s an X-Wing pilot for the Resistance.
Temmin’s mum, Norra, is an ace pilot and a hero of the Rebellion, but she’s not a particularly good parent. She struggles to reconnect with her son after years away at war, which adds a personal and relatable touch to a giant fantasy war that featured furry little bear men. Again, here Wendig is showing us interesting new sides to the Star Wars story.
Sinjir Rath Velus is a former Imperial, who, as a loyalty officer, used to keep the Empire’s recruits in check via unkind and violent means. Now he’s a heavy drinker who’s beginning to question everything he used to represent. He’s still handy in a fight, but unsure which side he wants to fight for. Sinjir is also one of the first LGBT characters in the franchise.
Rae Sloane is an Imperial Admiral (previously seen in John Jackson Miller’s novel A New Dawn) and a survivor of the Battle of Endor. Now she’s attempting to bring the Empire back together and increase her power within it. She’s a stern presence and more than capable of standing up to the Empire’s slimiest employees and allies. There’s someone above her in the Imperial pecking order, too, but not much is said about him in this book. Intriguing.
There’s no answer to the big ‘who is Supreme Leader Snoke?’ question here, nor any revelations about what Luke Skywalker got up to between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. But there are some interesting new characters, who are bound to become more important as the new Star Wars canon continues to grow.
Heaps of action, and references
It wouldn’t be Star Wars without plenty of running, sneaking around enemy bases, and scrapes between good and evil. We all want some answers regarding the political landscape of the Star Wars galaxy, but we also want action. Nobody wants to hear the term “taxation of trade routes,” and thankfully Mr. Wendig understands that.
Aftermath packs in action-stuffed sequences at every turn: Mr. Bones puts his weaponry to good use on several occasions; Wedge gets trapped on Sloane’s Star Destroyer; Norra steals a TIE fighter at one stage, pre-empting Poe Dameron’s The Force Awakens moment; Sinjir shows off the brutal skillset that the Empire taught him; and there are bounty hunters and Stormtroopers, too, making it impossible for Aftermath not to feel like quintessential Star Wars fun.
Indeed, this is a book written by a man with clear affection for every era and incarnation of Star Wars. As well as the rejigged battle droid Mr. Bones (a successful attempt to make something from the prequels seem cool), there are also trips to Naboo, Cloud City, Tatooine, and Jakku, a reference to General Grievous, and even a nod to the ditched Star Wars: 1313 video game.
Make no mistake, this is Star Wars by a fan and for the fans, capturing the essence of the original movies through the sheer onslaught of action while also including nods and references to previous incarnations of the franchise, adding interesting new characters to the canon and teasing at answers to some of our big questions. And the best bit is this…
It’s not over yet
There’s still plenty to come from Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath saga. The second book in the trilogy—Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt—went on sale this week, with a lot more Han and Chewie action than the first book. (You can read our review here.)
After that, Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End will hit shelves in January 2017, concluding this trilogy-bridging series in time for Star Wars Episode VIII.
It seems certain that we’ll know far more about how Return of the Jedi’s happy ending gave way to The Force Awakens’ grim opening by the time the Aftermath trilogy is finished. But will this book trilogy answer all our questions or just give us new ones? Already, Life Debt has raised some much bigger questions about the events and characters of The Force Awakens that should keep readers talking until the release of the final book and Episode VIII. 2017 should be a thrilling ride for Star Wars fans…
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