“I saved him, at least that’s what he says, the big fuzzy fool, but really, he saved me. I was on a bad path, and Chewie, he put me straight. Saved my shakes more than once, too. He said it was part of some life debt . . . But that’s a hot cup of bantha spit, is what it is. He doesn’t owe me. I owe him. I got a debt to Chewie to get him his home back. So when this chance came up, I leapt at it.” – Han Solo
Well, here we are. The first review I ever published on this blog was my review for the first book in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series. For those of you who read that review, you know that I am not a fan of Aftermath. In fact, I disliked it so much that I finished the review saying “Aftermath was a huge letdown for me. Enough of a letdown to leave me questioning whether or not I even want to continue reading the new canon novels after Episode 7 comes out.”
I wrote: “I’m not sure I would even want to read the next book, whenever it comes out.”
Well. It’s out. And I did read it. And guess what?
I liked it.
Aftermath: Life Debt was released July 12th, 2016. Ten months after the first Aftermath novel was released. That’s pretty quick, I gotta say. Despite not liking the first book, somewhere in that ten-month gap I had a slight change of heart and began to feel a little more optimistic about Chuck Wendig’s sequel novel. I actually became excited to read it. So I picked it up at Barnes & Noble the day it was released (because the Barnes & Noble version came with a cool illustration of Temmin’s battle droid, Mister Bones. So why not buy that version?).
I could talk (again) about all the things I didn’t like about the first book to better explain why I liked the second book better. But here’s the one big improvement: Life Debt isn’t boring.
I thought the first book was kind of a scattered mess, and it took until the very end of the book for it actually begin to hold my interest. Life Debt grabbed my attention at the beginning and held it all the way through the story. So, that’s probably the biggest and best improvement this book could have ever had. It was entertaining the whole time.
I complained about the interludes in the first book, saying they felt irrelevant and it felt like they pulled you out of the main story far too often. I didn’t feel the same about the interludes in this book. For one, there were less of them in this second book. A lot less of them (at least I think there were. It didn’t feel like I was being pulled out of the story all the time when I was reading this one). The interludes we did get were, like in the first book, pretty interesting. The interludes this time around don’t feel like they distract from the novel, but rather add to it.
I mentioned that the first book wasn’t about Luke, Leia, or Han. That wasn’t really a complaint to be honest. I’m fine with that. However, Leia and Han actually have pretty big roles in Life Debt which I definitely enjoyed. Wedge Antilles also plays a big part in this story, and it’s always good to see him. It is fun to see what these characters are up to in the months following Return of the Jedi.
I loved how this book explored Han’s relationship with Chewbacca a little deeper. In my review of Han Solo at Stars’ End I said that one of my favorite things about the book was that Brian Daley expanded upon Han and Chewie’s relationship, delving deeper into their friendship and exploring the reasons why Han Solo will act completely reckless in order to help his friend. The second two books in Daley’s Han Solo trilogy didn’t do that as well as the first, but here, in Life Debt, we get to explore this partnership even more, and it’s great. Chewbacca really is Han Solo’s best friend in the entire galaxy, and seeing how far Han will go in order to help is best friend is something I really love.
A noticeable absence was Luke Skywalker, though. He was not in this book once. He doesn’t have to be in the book. But after just finishing Bloodline and then going on to this book, it feels pretty obvious that Lucasfilm is not allowing writers to write anything about Luke Skywalker in the time period between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. We’re getting Han and Leia stories, but whatever Luke was up to in between the trilogies is top secret stuff.
The main cast from the first Aftermath returns for the second novel. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cast in the first book. I liked two characters in the first book: Sinjir Rath Velus, and Rae Sloane. These two characters are still my favorites in the second book. But, I actually enjoyed the rest of the cast this time around. Characters that I found boring before, like Norra and Temmin Wexley, Jas Emari, and Jom Barell, caught my interest this time, and I grew invested in them. Unlike the first book, this book had the benefit of coming out after The Force Awakens. So, now that I know what Temmin “Snap” Wexley looks like as a 45-year-old man, it was kind of funny to try to imagine the movie version of Temmin as a 15-year-old boy. What did Greg Grunberg look like as a teenager? Who knows.
Oh yeah, and remember how I hated Mister Bones? The annoying battle droid that sings and dances and hums and is just super not-funny? He was definitely toned down in Life Debt, which I really appreciated. He felt less like Jar Jar Binks in this one. I still don’t really like him, but I wasn’t constantly annoyed by him this time. Thank the maker!
Rae Sloane may be my favorite character in the off-screen Star Wars canon. This is now the third novel in which she has a starring role; the first being John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, and the second being Aftermath. It’s been really fun to watch this character grow over the course of multiple novels (and a few short stories) and I can’t wait to see her future Star Wars stories. In Life Debt, she is now Grand Admiral and is essentially the new leader of what is left of the Empire. She has taken the place of Emperor Palpatine, and it is great to see how she does things differently than he did. Though she is working with (or working for) the mysterious Fleet Admiral that we met at the very end of the first novel. Gallius Rax. He is working behind-the-scenes, basically controlling the Empire on his own behind her back, and Grand-Admiral-basically-the-Emperor-Sloane is not happy about it. I found myself more interested in Rae Sloane than any of the other characters.
Speaking of Palpatine, this book is, to my knowledge, only the second book ever to use Palpatine’s first name. Sheev. Sheev Palpatine. After learning that his name was Sheev in James Luceno’s novel, Tarkin, and then never seeing that name in anything else ever again I sort of wondered if that was going to be the only reference to the man’s first name that we’d ever get. Nope. He is referred to by his first name on more than one occasion in this novel.
The new Star Wars canon is starting to feel a lot more cohesive as time goes on. There were plenty of references to other stories in here. There were probably many that I didn’t even notice. But off the top of my head I recall nods to Lost Stars, Bloodline, A New Dawn, and even the Star Wars Rebels tie-in series Servants of the Empire. Characters from The Force Awakens even show up. Everything feels very connected, which is great. It would be nice to see the movies (or even the TV shows) reference the books for once though, and not have it be such a one-way thing. After two seasons, Star Wars Rebels has never once called Kanan Jarrus by his real name, “Caleb Dume.” Why not? It still feels like on-screen canon and book canon aren’t totally at the same level. Which is annoying. But I digress…
The first book, despite being part of the “Journey to The Force Awakens” series of books, really had nothing at all to do with The Force Awakens. This book, however, starts to feel like it is setting up for the events of that movie, which is cool. The 30-year-gap between the original Star Wars trilogy and the new trilogy is slowly being bridged.
One thing I wish we could have seen in this book is Chewbacca’s family. Chewie goes to Kashyyyk to liberate the planet from the Empire (the events for this were set up in an interlude in the first Aftermath). Chewbacca’s family is there, and they are mentioned multiple times in the story. But we never see them. We never meet them. Mostly, I just want to know if his canon family is the same as his Legends family. Will we ever get to see these glorious characters from The Star Wars Holiday Special again? Will Chewbacca’s dad’s porn virtual reality chair ever be recanonized? Only time will tell.
I really, genuinely enjoyed this book. No, it’s not among my favorite Star Wars novels I’ve read. But it’s a good book, and definitely a massive improvement over the first book in the trilogy. Instead of finishing the book and thinking I don’t even want to read the books in the new canon anymore, I finished the book very excited about the direction the new canon is going, and I am now eagerly awaiting the release of the final chapter in the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. Chuck Wendig is a good writer. Of all the criticisms I had about the first book, him being a poor writer is not one of them. I enjoy his writing style a lot. I would be very happy to see more Star Wars stories from Wendig once the Aftermath trilogy is finished.