You must unlearn what you have learned…
Such is the mantra of Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, the most ambitious and groundbreaking entry in Star Wars literary canon since 1991’s Heir to the Empire.
Aftermath is the first officially canon novel (and tie-in product, in general) to explore the aftermath of the Death Star II’s destruction and the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. Does it answer all the seething questions you may have about the newly wiped clean 30 year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens? No, but Wendig does a fine job of telling an intimate family drama on Imperial-controlled Akiva while also painting broader strokes of the galaxy-at-large, caught in a war between the Galactic Empire and the fledgling New Republic.
Wendig’s distinct method of prose might be off putting to some fans; rather than painting a scene via infodumping like most Star Wars authors before him, Wendig uses a combination of short and snappy sentences alongside present tense, making Aftermath’s storytelling tight and concise with a nice flow.
At the core of Aftermath is the relationship between Rebel pilot Norra Wexley and her son, Temmin, simultaneously a childhood prodigy and a rebellious, angry youth who is reluctant to forgive his mother for leaving Akiva to fight the tyrannical Galactic Empire. After the shattered Empire reconvenes in the Akiva system and effectively blockades the sector, capturing ace Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles in the process, Norra is forced to drag her son into the conflict he never wanted part of, and crosses paths with a colourful supporting cast of allies: Snarky Imperial turncoat and drunkard Sinjir Rath Velus, aspiring alien bounty hunter Jas Emari, and a reprogrammed Trade Federation battle droid named Bones who just about steals every scene that he’s part of.
On the other side of the war is the Imperial Future Council led by Admiral Rae Sloane, a strong and cunning officer determined to bring the Empire back from the brink of death. She’s caught between a squabbling cabal of Imperial advisers, financiers, and military officers who have their own vision of a future Empire. Sloane, introduced in John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, is already one of the most intriguing aspects of the new canon, and Wendig handles Miller’s creation with utmost care and reverence to her original appearance: “Forget the old way”. Her Imperial cohorts are a bit more two dimensional, though a standout in the cast is the enigmatic Tashu, a dark-side cultist and adviser of Emperor Palpatine.
In between chapters focusing on the main storyline are “Interludes”, painting a picture of how individuals across different planets affected by the war respond to the changing status quo and the shift of power to the New Republic. You’ll meet familiar faces and concepts in these little vignettes, many of which may be setting up story threads for The Force Awakens and future novels. You’ll learn more about the true fate of Boba Fett, dive into the politics of the New Republic through the viewpoint of Supreme Chancellor Mon Mothma, and catch up with a certain scruffy nerf-herder and his walking carpet. These interludes break up the story nicely without disrupting the narrative’s flow.
Chuck Wendig brings a fresh new voice to the Star Wars saga with his distinct prose and an eye for diversity, while his snapshots of galactic life bring a sense of scale unlike any Star Wars novel has seen. If this is any indication of the direction this franchise’s storytelling is headed, sign me up.