- Author: Chuck Wendig
- Publisher: Del Rey/Random House
- Pub. Date: September 4, 2015
- Pages: 366
I read Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in 1991 when it first came out. I hated it. My memory of 25 years ago is vague enough that I don’t really recall the specific reasons I hated it, except that it just didn’t feel like Star Wars to me. It didn’t have the same sense of swashbuckling adventure that the movies or a lot of the old West End Games roleplaying material had. It explained too much. It tried too hard to be “cool.” Ultimately, I think Star Wars is a cinematic experience that just does not translate very well to prose.
That said, though, I rather enjoyed Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. As the first post-Return of the Jedi story in Disney’s new Star Wars chronology, it has a lot of work to do and a lot of expectations riding on it. Given my history with Star Wars novels, I was prepared to be disappointed, yet I was pleasantly surprised. The book mostly succeeds; it tells an enjoyable Star Wars kind of story and sets up a lot of threads that will surely be picked up in later outings.
The plot starts a short time after the Battle of Endor. The Empire is reeling and leaderless, but still strong. A rebel pilot returns to her homeworld on the Outer Rim to retrieve her son and discovers an Imperial meeting afoot. With the help of her son, a bounty hunter, an ex-Imperial officer, and a crazed battle droid, she has to find out what the Imperials are up to and somehow get a message off the blockaded planet to the Rebel command…all without causing her son to hate her even more for putting the Alliance above him again.
The main storyline is engaging and well-paced. It feels like Star Wars pacing! The scenes toward the beginning are longer, taking time to introduce the characters and the setting but without explaining them needlessly. As the tension rises, the scenes move faster and shorter until the climax where multiple characters in different locations all face different threats, cutting back and forth very quickly. It is written in the present tense, which was an interesting choice, but once you get used to it, it really engages you in the immediacy of the story. Scattered through the book are interludes featuring different locations and characters, short snippets that show the effect of the Battle of Endor on the rest of the galaxy, and even provide some hints of what is to come for favorite characters from the movies.
The book is not perfect by any means. My complaints are few and minor, though. I was a little put off by repeated mention of earth animals like rats, dogs, and hamsters, especially since in other places the author does a good job of making up animals and aliens without telling you anything about them other than what the context provides. On the flip side of that, there are a couple instances where the author references existing Star Wars aliens by their species name without telling you anything about them. Most of the time it is unimportant, but one of the main characters is a Zabrak and I had to look up Zabrak on Wookieepedia to know what I was supposed to be imagining. The stormtroopers are occasionally so inept it makes the ones who were defeated by Ewoks seem professional. The writing gets a little too much into the characters’ heads for my Star Wars sensibility, but I think that’s just the nature of cinema versus prose.
Star Wars: Aftermath is definitely not the best novel I have ever read, but it is the best Star Wars novel I have read. It’s the first one that gets close to capturing the right style. If you are like me and felt much of the previous expanded universe lacked that special Star Wars “something,” give this book a try.
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