“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.
“The tyrant Palpatine is dead. But the fight isn’t over. The war goes on even as the Empire’s power diminishes. But we are here for you. Know that wherever you are, no matter how far out into the Outer Rim you dwell, the New Republic is coming to help.” — Leia Organa
Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig is a milestone in the new Star Wars canon, as it is now officially the first novel in the canon that takes place after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and is part of a series that is meant to bridge the gap between that movie and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. It is the first book of a new trilogy. This novel has been heavily promoted (at the expense of other Star Wars books that were released on the same day) and has generated a huge amount of excitement in a way that no other book of the new canon has until now. This book is a big deal, and I could not wait to get my hands on it and start reading it as soon as I could.
So, that’s what I did. Friday, September 4th was dubbed “Force Friday”, as it was the day that the first slew of merchandise for The Force Awakens went on sale, along with five other books that really didn’t have much to do with each other at all, apart from having “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” slapped across their covers. One of those books is Aftermath. I was actually completely unaware of this “Force Friday” stuff, but I did know that Aftermath was released that day, so I ran to the bookstore and grabbed myself a copy. It was the first time I had ever gone to the store to pick up a new Star Wars book on the day of its release. I was so excited to read this book. I was actually with my family when I bought it, and left them to go back to our car so I could start reading it immediately, while I was on vacation in California with them. Screw vacations, right? I had a new Star Wars book to read, and it was far more important!
So I opened it up, started reading the prologue, and it was awesome. The prologue sucked me right in. It literally started right where Return of the Jedi left off. Remember how in the new ending to the movie, it shows shots of celebrations happening on Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo, and Coruscant? Aftermath starts in the middle of that celebration on Coruscant. The weird thing is, you find out that the movie cut away from that shot right before it abruptly went from being a celebration of freedom to a battle between civilians and police, who were still loyal to the Empire. Just like that the celebration is over, and a riot breaks out. The Empire is not going to disappear as easily as we would like.
The prologue and various interludes scattered randomly throughout the entire novel take us away from the main story and bring us to different locations across the galaxy to show us little snapshots of what life is like in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star and death of the Emperor. This is something I haven’t seen in any other Star Wars book to date, and it was an interesting idea. One of these interludes takes us to Jakku, a planet that has significance to the story of The Force Awakens. The interludes were honestly some of the most fascinating parts of the novel, but they all felt so out of place. They abruptly pull you out of the main story for a few pages, and then shove you right back in to the middle of the main plot. Although the events in the interludes were interesting, they were mostly irrelevant to the main plot, and they just felt like they were there to set up a whole bunch of other stories without developing any of them in this book. I found the interludes annoying in that respect. Honestly I’d rather read full novels about the contents of some of these interludes than read the main story we get in Aftermath.
By the way, this book is not about Luke, Leia, or Han. If you want a story about them, then this is not the book you’re looking for. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue…
In the actual first chapter, we’re now out in the middle of space, and Wedge Antilles is our new main character! This is not something I expected, and I was excited to get to follow a character I already like so much in a book that I was already so excited about! This is a Wedge Antilles story… or so I thought.
Things started going downhill pretty fast. Wedge disappears from the story after the first chapter, and only appears a few more times throughout the next 360 pages. Instead, we are introduced to a cast full of all new characters. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have read Star Wars books starring completely unknown characters before, and I loved those stories. But for me it just didn’t work in this book. The first third of this book is a mess, introducing us to new character after new character, and jumping between characters every time we got to a new chapter, until eventually, finally, all the characters come together and the book stops having to jump around like that. It is hard to keep track of what is going on and who is who for the first third of the book, and it’s hard to tell which characters are going to be important or reoccurring, after already being tricked into thinking you were reading a book about Wedge in the first chapter. The interludes that happen every few chapters made it even worse by introducing us to even more new characters, and then never referencing them again.
The worst part is, I don’t even like the main characters we end up getting stuck with. Some of them seemed so promising too.
Take Norra Wexley for example. Norra was a Y-Wing pilot who flew through the Death Star with Lando Calrissian at the Battle of Endor. Taking a random character with a backstory like that has the potential to be amazingly interesting. But I think it fell flat. Norra is honestly quite boring.
Her son, Temmin, is equally boring. He is upset at his mother for leaving him to go fight with the rebels, after he had already lost his father, and he clashes with his mother for most of the book. Temmin owns an old battle droid (ugh, why?) named Mr. Bones who drives me crazy. One thing I always hated about The Clone Wars TV series was the idiocy of the battle droids. They drove me up the wall. I couldn’t handle how infuriatingly annoying and stupid they were all the time, and how they were used as cringe-worthy comic relief. Well, Mr. Bones is just like those droids, but takes it to another level. He makes stupid comments all the time, and sings and hums to himself, while dancing around. A dancing, singing battle droid. Why? Why?! He is an excellent fighter however, and has some pretty awesome fight scenes (some of the better scenes of the book, honestly) but when he wasn’t protecting his master he was essentially the Jar Jar Binks of battle droids.
There is a Bounty Hunter named Jas Emari, a blue-skinned Zabrak who was on Endor when the Death Star exploded. There isn’t much to her either, except that she is a bounty hunter, and she takes jobs that pay her well. She’s not necessarily a “good guy.” She just works for whoever’s willing to pay her better.
Then there’s Sinjir Velus, the one character I actually really liked in this story. Sinjir was an Imperial who deserted after the destruction of the second Death Star. The Empire assumed he died in the battle, but really he just decided to lay low and spend his time getting drunk at bars. It’s hard to tell exactly where his loyalties lie for a good chunk of this story. He seems content being away from the Empire, but at the same time you don’t know if he’s still loyal to it or not. Even towards the end of the book, you’re still doubting where his allegiance lies. To me, this made him by far the most interesting character in the story. If I end up reading any more canon Star War novels after this one, I would like to see more of him.
Along with all those protagonists, we’re also introduced to an equally annoyingly-large cast of new bad guys. The only one worth mentioning is Admiral Rae Sloane, who actually isn’t a new character, as she was first introduced in the canon novel A New Dawn. She’s desperately trying to bring order back to an Empire that has fallen into chaos since the death of the Emperor. The Empire is shriveling, while the “New Republic” is gaining power throughout the galaxy.
The main plot of the story revolves around Rae Sloane trying to hold a secret meeting with some of the higher-ups from the old Empire on the planet Akiva, so that they can discuss the future of the Empire and start getting reorganized and taking back the power they have lost. Wedge Antilles accidentally comes across their Star Destroyers and is abducted. The good guys find out about the meeting and decide that they have to put an end to it and save Wedge, which is much easier said than done (by the way, this is the extremely abbreviated version of the story).
Sadly, I just found this book boring. It wasn’t until the last 100 pages or so that things started to get interesting, and that’s a problem, because I had to read through 250 pages of boring to get to that point. Even when it did start getting more interesting, it still wasn’t that interesting. The story is overall insignificant, and clearly this book is just trying to set up for future books. Another minor complaint is that I fail to see how this book is preparing me for The Force Awakens. Isn’t that the point of this “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series? It was a pretty self-contained story that really doesn’t seem like it will affect anything else in the long run. Hopefully the sequels will, but those aren’t part of the “Journey” series. This one is, so this one should have had more to do with Episode 7.
This book is not all bad, but it’s just not good. There were a few subtle nods and references to The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series that made me smile. One was a very brief reference to Cut, a clone trooper deserter from one of my favorite episodes of The Clone Wars. Another was the revelation that Wedge Antilles was recruited to join the Rebel Alliance by “Fulcrum”. There were a few fun cameo appearances from characters I love during some of the interludes. One of the characters in this book mentions that Palpatine used to send people “beyond known space” in an attempt to learn about or gain more power. I couldn’t help but think of the Timothy Zahn’s old Expanded Universe stories, as some of them explore this idea further.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it so badly. But I just didn’t. I would not recommend this book to others, unless somehow the second book in the trilogy ends up being amazing, and it is important to understand what happened in the first book to appreciate that one. Honestly though, I’m not sure I would even want to read the next book, whenever it comes out.
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 might just stick to the old Expanded Universe instead.