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Renegade Review: STAR WARS: Aftermath Triology

Sean Etter, Editor-in-Chief

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Spoiler-Free Summary:

The first series in the new Star Wars Expanded Universe tells the story of what happened after the credits of Return of the Jedi. While its main characters, as well as antagonists, are well written and complex and author Chuck Wendig goes the distance to add tons of new lore to the SWEU, the writing sometimes feels less than stellar and pacing issues prevent readers from feeling too invested in the actions of the story. I recommend this book to the Star Wars fans who are interested in finding out how the Galactic Civil War concluded after the Battle of Endor.

WARNING: The following review contains minor spoilers for Star Wars: Aftermath, Life Debt, and Empire’s End. While no major plot points are spoiled, don’t read on if you wish to go in blind. Also, the following review is just my opinion. I invite you to read the books and form your own opinions as well.

When Disney bought Lucasarts and announced they would be making a brand new Star Wars Trilogy set after the original trilogy, they also announced that the existing extended universe would no longer be canon and would be replaced with a brand-new extended universe. The first new entry into this new universe was Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. This book, the first in a trilogy of the same name, would take place a few months after the end of Return of the Jedi. The entire series went on to chronicle the events leading up to the end of the war as well as the war’s conclusion.

There are a lot of things that the books do well, but there are also a few too many missteps that prevented me from really feeling invested in the story and characters.

Let’s start with what went well. For starters, the characters. The trilogy follows a core cast of four main protagonists: Norra Wexley, a pilot for the Rebel Alliance and, following Endor, the New Republic; Temmin Wexley, Norra’s genius young son who feels abandoned by his mother; Sinjir Rath Velus, an ex-imperial officer who left the Empire during the Battle of Endor; and Jas Emari, a bounty hunter who has inherited a ton of debt to gangsters from her deceased aunt. In addition, the story spends a great deal of time on its main antagonist, a woman named Rae Sloane. She is the new Grand Admiral of the Empire, the most powerful person in the Empire following the Emperor’s death.

Character development is by far the series’ strongest asset. Each character gets an extended story arc throughout all three novels that does a tremendous job of turning all of the main characters, including antagonist Sloane, into complex and well developed people. I ended up feeling sad when they were sad, happy when they were triumphant, and hoping that everything turned out alright for each of them. In the case of Sloane, I really began to understand why she fought, why she tried so desperately to hold the Empire together even though I knew the Empire needed to fall in order to have peace. To be completely honest, at times it felt that these books were more about the personal journeys of these characters rather than the overarching plot, which was not a bad thing. These characters are awesome and believable.

The book even goes on to give character development to existing characters in the Star Wars universe, most notably Mon Mothma, the Rebel Alliance leader turned Chancellor of the New Republic, and, everyone’s favorite space squid, Admiral Ackbar (It’s a trap!).

The story even spends a great deal of time following up on Han Solo and Princess Leia, who are now married and expecting their first child. Each of the characters from the movie are written perfectly, making it clear that Wendig cares about the Star Wars property and wanted to make these characters as true to their movie selves as possible. Han is still as charming as ever, even without being portrayed by Harrison Ford.

Next, there’s the story. The story is comprised of three relatively independent adventures. They include liberating Norra and Temmin’s homeworld of Akiva, the search for Chewbacca, and the final battle against the Empire. These adventures are solid stories that explain a lot about what happened in the years between episodes VI and VII of the movies. Additionally, there are frequent breaks in the story called Interludes. These chapters are often one-shot mini-stories, and their sole purpose is to build the new lore of the Star Wars universe.

This is where the first problems arise with the trilogy. In theory, these interludes are a great way to give readers looks at what else has been happening around the galaxy away from the main story. They introduce new characters (like a space-pirate planning on making a move for galactic control), new factions (like a cult of non-force users devoted to Darth Vader and serving the Dark Side), and, occasionally, check in with old characters (like Lando Calrisian back in Cloud City).

However, these interludes also create the trilogy’s biggest problem: pacing. Sometimes, these interludes will be placed right into the middle of the action, completely derailing the narrative momentum of the story and diffusing the tension created in previous chapters. I grew frustrated every time I turned the page on a cliffhanger chapter just to see the word Interlude at the top of the next page. When these interludes are use during moments of the main story in which little action is going on, they can make it feel as though the plot has ground to a halt.

Additionally, these interludes have no bearing on actual plot of the series, nor any of the books’ various subplots. With the exception of one Han Solo-centered interlude in book 1 and a couple of interludes in book 3, these are self-contained, one-shot stories. However, that is not how they feel. A good number of these interludes introduce new characters and stories that end on a cliffhanger, creating the feeling that these interludes will work their way into the main story. However, that is not the case. Almost every cliffhanger interlude is never mentioned again, making me wonder why they were even included in the first place.

To be honest, I think they would work as great Star Wars short stories or novellas that could see them to their conclusions. Unfortunately, we only get unanswered cliffhangers that ultimately feels like unwanted distractions that break up the pacing of the main plot, making it harder to feel invested in the story.

I will say, however, that these interludes are not entirely bad. When done right, these stories can be very entertaining. One particular interlude from book 2, which reintroduced a planet from the Clone Wars TV series into the Star Wars continuity, was very fun to read, mostly because it told a complete story. Like I said, my primary grievance with the interludes are the ones that give readers cliffhangers that go unanswered, or ones that do not serve any purpose at all (like an interlude in book 2 that, much to my infinite disappointment, reintroduced a certain pathetic lifeform from the prequels. Meesa very upset at this.)

Other pacing issues plague the main story as well. There are often times when the story grinds to near stops that last for a good number of lengthy chapters, without any interludes placed between them, which often make reading the story feel like a chore. There are also breaks in the story listed as chapters, not interludes, that break away from the main action to check in with side characters like Mon Mothma and Ackbar. While these chapters offer character development for both iconic characters from the movies that never were explored on the big screen and the new characters introduced by Wendig, they sometimes interrupt fast-paced moments in the story and kill the momentum of plot progression.

Another problem plagues the third book: divided attention. The story splits up the main characters and often has trouble dividing attention between them, which is a shame because some characters have a far more interesting story than others, yet those are the stories that are largely ignored. There were a solid ten chapters that ignored Norra’s very interesting plot to focus instead on Sinjir’s story, which was far less interesting at the time. These pacing issues resulted in a few weekends where I, a lover of reading and of Star Wars, didn’t feel like picking up what was supposed to be the story’s intense final installment.

My final story issue is, unfortunately, the main characters. Or, more precisely, their general lack of involvement in the REAL plot of the story.

For far too long, the core four characters are completely oblivious to the main threat and the real antagonist of the story. What’s worse is that Sloane, the only person who knows what’s really going on, seems to take on the role of main protagonist. Norra, the actual main character, is left looking like a fool who’s fumbling around in the dark chasing the wrong enemy. She doesn’t learn the identity of the real main antagonist until nearly three quarters into the final book. This results in a main character with zero connection to the main villain, which seems like a misstep for a Star Wars story. In the original trilogy, Emperor Palpatine had an active connection to Luke Skywalker: Palpatine turned Luke’s father evil and was actively trying to turn Luke as well. Anakin had a close mentor-like connection with Palpatine in the prequels, and Obi-Wan was like a father to Anakin. Even Jyn Erso in “Rogue One” had the Director Krenick, the man who killed her mother and separated her from her father.

Star Wars has a thing for connections between the protagonist and the antagonist. Here, the connection is not between Norra and the main villain, but is instead between Sloane and the main villain, essentially turning Sloane into somewhat of a main protagonist to replace Norra before Norra’s story has even concluded.

The only other issue I have with the story is the writing. Sometimes, author Chuck Wendig’s writing nailed descriptions, which made me feel immersed in the story he was telling, and his detailed inclusions of Star Wars aspects both familiar and obscure will certainly please both casual and veteran fans of the Star Wars universe. More often than not, though, the writing comes off as more than a bit awkward. These sudden awkward missteps break the immersion of the story and have me struggling to picture just what Wendig was trying to portray. Additional, there are some characters who have no purpose. Take, for example, Conder. This character was completely absent from book 1 and was suddenly introduced in book 2 as Singer’s new boyfriend (yes, Sinjir is gay – Wendig does a great job of creating a diverse cast of characters). Conder gets little to no growth as a character, and so I found myself questioning what made him so special that Sinjir was constantly pining over him. To be honest, I would have preferred Sinjir to remain single than have the author give him an underdeveloped romantic interest just for the sake of having a romantic subplot.

Let it be said that I do not think that these are bad books. The overall story is very interesting and fills in a lot of the gaps left by the 30 year jump from the end VI to the beginning of VII. I did, for the most part, enjoy the series and its characters, and I believe it to be valuable addition to the Star Wars mythos.

Conclusion:

The Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy is a good addition to the Star Wars Universe and provides a good start point for the revamped Star Wars Expanded Universe. Its entertaining story-lines fill in a lot of the gaps left by the 30 year jump from the end of Episode VI to the start of Episode VII. The main characters, including its antagonists, are phenomenally written and developed, and the established Star Wars characters are true to their on-screen selves and receive some well deserved development of their own. However, the pacing issues and a few underdeveloped characters reveal cracks in the series, and the interludes feel as though Wendig was a bit too ambitious and tried to cram too many things into one series.

For Star Wars fans, this is definitely a series I would recommend checking out. As for casual fans, this is a good place to start venturing into the Expanded Universe, but if you are a fan of fast-paced action driven stories, this one may end up being a struggle.

Final Rating:

3.7 out of 5

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