Star Wars: Aftermath - Review


DISCLAIMER: While there don't appear to be any explicit references to future events, it is possible that aspects of Aftermath are intended to foreshadow developments in Episode VII: The Force Awakens this December. Also, given the lack of pictures from the book (since this is, y'know, a novel), the in-text images will be stills released for The Force Awakens instead. 

The short version, for those not wishing anything in-depth, is that I liked Aftermath. Quite a bit.

However, those wishing to remain clean of any possible spoilerage should tread lightly in this review with a POSSIBLE MILD SPOILER WARNING.

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When it comes to Star Wars, I'm a massive fan of the books. In addition to all the Old Republic and Prequel Trilogy stories like Outbound Flight and The Rise of Darth Vader, I bought a lot of the old post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe novels back in the day. More than I'd care to admit, actually. Had I spent that money on other things, I could possibly own an Omega watch, or perhaps a secondhand car.

But back in the days of Timothy Zahn, James Luceno, Matt Stover, Karen Traviss and, yes, even Kevin J. Anderson (shut up, Darksaber was a great novel), I bought those novels because they were excellent. As with any pop culture property they did, of course, have their low points - the less said about Planet of Twilight and The Crystal Star, the better - but were ultimately an excellent continuation building off the ending of Return of the Jedi. I even enjoyed The New Jedi Order, where the Star Wars universe went toe-to-toe with the crab-wearing, Force-nullifying alien empire of the Yuuzhan Vong.

Given my fondness for what is now termed the Legends canon - being all the stuff wiped from continuity to make way for JJ Abrams's new stories - I experienced a lot of trepidation before diving into Aftermath. It's billed as the first of a new trilogy bridging the gap between Jedi and The Force Awakens, meant to explain events between Eps VI and VII. It's the first post-Jedi text of the new canon released since all the Legends stuff got kicked out. It's replacing aspects of books I've been reading since I was in single-digit ages. To say I was concerned that Aftermath was going to purely be a marketing and hype exercise rather than a novel in its own right is putting it very mildly.

Colour me pleasantly shocked, then, that Aftermath is not a bad book at all.

Set almost immediately after Return of the Jedi, the book follows less a single plot thread than it does several that are triggered by an instigating incident. Wedge Antilles, Rebel pilot responsible in part
for the destruction of both Death Stars, is on a reconnaissance gig for the Rebellion - now known as the New Republic. He stumbles upon a high-level Imperial meeting ground on the backwater jungle world of Akiva, and is soon captured by Admiral Rae Sloane, one of the last surviving commanders of the Empire and a woman hellbent of reforming the Imperial Order from the ground up.

Wedge's distress call shortly before capture gets the attention of Norra Wexley, another Rebel pilot who's arrived at Akiva looking for her son, Temmin. They both attract the attention of Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial Loyalty Officer with a smarmy tone and an alcoholic streak, and Jas Emari, a Zabrak bounty hunter out to kill Sloane and her cohorts. Together, the four of them must unite to rescue Wedge, take down Sloane, liberate Akiva and stop the new Empire's formation in its crib.

Whew.

So there's a lot of plot going on here, and that's not even getting into the brief interludes that show different planets - such as Tattooine, Naboo, Coruscant and Jakku, the desert planet from the Awakens trailers - recovering from the defeat of the Emperor and the new galactic order. Rather than focusing exclusively on the events at Akiva, Aftermath also goes for little snapshots of life in the galaxy as a whole during the twilight of the Empire. Those bits are nice, and some are quite interesting, even if most of them are pretty blatantly sequel hooks for either the rest of this novel trilogy or the upcoming movies themselves. Other bits, such as the opening scene that recontexualises the ending scene in Jedi where the Emperor's statue gets pulled down on Coruscant, can get a little grim at times.

The central plot on Akiva doesn't disappoint. There's more than enough character development of our main quartet and villains, woven nicely around the greater narrative movements. Every character - including a few you'd be familiar with from the movies - gets a good chance to shine and has some nice backstory included, and the group dynamic of the protagonist foursome is quite well-balanced. Some characters come through clearly - especially Sinjir, who I imagine played by a constantly half-drunk Michael Fassbender - and the plot was engaging enough that I never felt bored. It also felt a little like a harkening back to A New Hope with the switching between the main plot with the heroes and the villainous Empire-building with Sloane, which felt like a good balance. There's also quite a bit of the Legends universe's DNA in characters and plotting for this story; Sloane manages at times to channel the more competent aspects of Admirals Daala and Isard, while Temmin sometimes plays up the more irritating qualities of characters like Anakin Solo. I also found what may have been - and what I sincerely hope was - an oblique allusion to a very well-known Legends antagonist, but we'll have to wait for the next books to see if that pans out.

If I have one overwhelming problem with Aftermath, it goes thusly: the book needs to be read one of two certain ways. It's either a bridge between Jedi and Awakens, or it's a good post-Jedi novel in the new canon. Personally, I prefer the latter reading, because those going for the former are going to be disappointed. As I said, there are plenty of sequel hooks used throughout that will pay off either in this Aftermath trilogy or in Eps VII, VIII and IX, and there are quite clearly seeds of Awakens planted in several key scenes across the galaxy, but it's not really a transitional text the way it was advertised.  On its own, Aftermath seems much more concerned with telling a story that just happens to be coming on the heels of Jedi, rather than being a specific bridge between film eras. That might change when the other two books of the trilogy are released, but for now it's just a nice stone in the path that is the journey to The Force Awakens.

As a post-Jedi novel, it's still damn good. Pretty high up there with a lot of other Star Wars books, actually. It's not on the level of Zahn, Luceno and the like, but it's still a nice little story all of its own. The closest existing comparison I'd have would be the contemplative tones present in Matt Stover's Revenge of the Sith and Traitor books; while it doesn't hit exactly the same grace notes as Stover, writer Chuck Wendig still has a similar kind of introspective, see-through-their-eyes style in his present-tense writing. I felt very much on the ground with the protagonists, in the halls of the Akiva palace with Sloane and her cohort, and in the shoes of the various one-off characters in those interludes. It was definitely engaging prose, and I'd be keen to see more.

Some of the emotional beats may not land as strongly as they could've, and the pile-up of sequel hooks as opposed to actual information can get a little tedious. But overall, I really enjoyed Aftermath. As the first post-Jedi book following the creation of Legends, there was onus on Aftermath to show diehard and casual fans that the Lucasfilm story group, tasked to create the new Expanded Universe, knew what they were doing. If Aftermath is indicative of their style going forward, they're off to a good start.

- Chris




Star Wars: Aftermath is available in bookstores from September 4th.

Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens is in cinemas from December 18th.

 This review is part of our series on Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Other reviews from this series include:

Star Wars: Bloodline

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company

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