As exciting as it’s been to check out all the newly canonical Expanded Universe books, this has been the one we’ve all really been waiting for.
The first official story to take place post-Return Of The Jedi, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath posits the Star Wars universe as a place where following the decisive Battle of Endor, the Empire has lost the battle – and very possibly the war – but it’s not down for the count yet.
Retreating to the planet of Akiva, the remnants of the Imperial leadership plot their comeback, aided by the capture of the newly christened New Republic’s legendary X-Wing pilot, Wedge Antilles. However, they’re not counting on the intervention of a number of outside factors: Endor veteran Norra Wexley; her estranged son and his reprogrammed-to-actualy-be-dangerous Trade Federation battle droid; deserting former Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus, and Zabrak bounty hunter Jas Emari.
First off, those expecting a book-length base-touching session with Luke, Leia, Han et al will be disappointed. Although their current actions are acknowledged (with Han gaining a whole chapter to himself in one of the book’s various interludes that take place on known planets from the saga), the characters in the previous paragraphs are the book’s main focus.
Via the spotlight they share, they are able to effectively channel what it was that made Star Wars a success to begin with: the underdog spirit. The Empire may be in decline, but here it’s presented as a cornered tiger; wounded, but still deadly.
Moreover, the book questions what comes after victory. The Rebels may be today’s leaders, but are they equipped to rule? And what kind of life do the former fighters have left waiting for them when they return to their families? The victory parades seen at the end of the Return Of The Jedi special edition seem like a very distant memory.
In addition to this, Wendig plays his own small part in modernising the Star Wars universe. By teaming former Rebels, Imperials and bounty hunters together, the number of moral shades are many and frequent. Even supposed bad guys like Imperial Officer Rae Sloane are more complicated than they seem: it’s said that bad guys are good guys in their own mind, and that’s certainly the case here. A lot of attention has been paid to Star Wars’ supposedly first LGBT characters (although not if you’ve read Paul S Kemp’s Lords Of The Sith), but their introduction seems so natural that it only makes the controversy seem all the more baffling.
Coupled with Wendig’s elegant prose, and you have a journey that is both breathtaking yet restrained, throwing you headlong into a story that reaches it’s crescendo at around the half-way point and maintains this pace throughout, while subsequently making it clear that all these events are just the beginning.
The clues for what lies ahead are there for those who want to look for them (especially during the intriguing final chapter), but for others this is Star Wars fiction at a high standard done well. The Force is strong in this one indeed.