Star Wars: Aftermath is the wrong title for this book. I propose a few alternatives:
Star Wars: Some Stuff that Happens to People You’ve Never Heard of on a Planet You’ve Also Never Heard of
Star Wars: First LGB Characters EVER!
Star Wars: Present Tense (we’ll talk about that one in a minute)
There are some serious problems with this book. The plot(s), the approach, and the structure all have some pretty significant flaws that I am very surprised got past Disney’s editors. I can’t really find fault with the ideas that gave rise to the story, but to be perfectly honest the execution of this book so muddled that I’m not sure I even know what they are.
Author Chuck Wendig’s prose has technical issues that I believe are typically weeded out in most college Freshman Comp classes. The plots, while fast-moving, have little in the way of clear resolution. While the characters are somewhat nuanced and complex, enjoying them is profoundly difficult amidst all of the technical issues with Wendig’s writing.
Despite the (unprecedented?) use of LGB characters in a Star Wars novel and a setting just brimming with potential, this book falls far short of being satisfying. Let’s discuss:
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
The Gay Thing
Let’s just get this out of the way. Some people (some of my personal friends among them) had issues with the use of LGB characters in this entry. One guy, who is an admitted homophobe, wouldn’t read it because he just didn’t like reading about gay people. He and I have had that particular issue out a few times over the years, but when a guy’s been your best friend since you were 14 whaddaya do? Others simply thought that the inclusion of such characters implied an “emphasis on diversity” that had otherwise been absent from the SW universe… a clear change of form to line up with a new political agenda, if you will. Whatever.
I didn’t have any problem at all with the character of Sinjir being gay, or Temmin’s “aunts” being not siblings but married, committed lesbians. I didn’t even find their inclusion ham-fisted, as other readers have. No, my problems with this novel go far beyond these menial surface issues.
Besides, Sinjir, a defected Imperial loyalty officer on an extended bender was one of the few delightful characters to read.
From a plot standpoint, the book is about a secret meeting of the highest ranking members of the remaining Imperial leadership as they try to figure out the future of the Empire, months after the Battle of Endor. Do they keep fighting? Do they surrender? Do they just mark off some territory and ask the Rebels to leave them in peace? The struggle of the Imperial leadership, as told from the new character of Admiral Rae Sloan (not to be confused with Rey), is essentially a crisis of faith amongst the upper echelons of the Empire, even as each personality makes moves to consolidate his or her own power.
The Imperials cling to their old ways, even as they recognize the failure of Palpatine’s policies. They’re almost sypmathetic, in that we repeatedly hear the rationalizations that accompany tyranny: Order. Stability. Peace, at all costs.
Then, on the other side, there are the Rebels struggling with their identity as the New Republic. Do they wage an all-out war with the Empire? Do they sue for peace? Do they militarize and risk becoming the thing they fought against? There’s tons of meaty philosophical issues to address here, and they all center around commitment to ideals that is respectable.
Lots of potential, right? However, this overarching “where do we go form here” plot, like most of the plots in this novel, does not resolve. Oh, it ends, but there is no resolution. Rae runs back to her Star Destroyer and reports to her shady master, who is almost certainly Grand Leader Snoake from TFA. The Rebels get infinitesimally closer to their goal of defeating the Empire, I guess. No one really makes any decisions or has any sort of epiphany about the direction that anyone is going in.
There’s also this side-plot about Wedge Antilles. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t go anywhere.
The Context and Approach
Strategically, introducing brand new characters and places in the first outing of novels in the new EU doesn’t make much sense to me. Why not follow the characters we know and love? There is 30 years’ worth of history to make up between RotJ and TFA. Unlike the Truce at Bakura (a middling-quality former EU entry), which picked right up with Han, Luke, and Leia almost immediately after Endor, Aftermath keeps these cornerstone characters frustratingly offstage, only mentioned here and there by those who have heard of them or maybe even knew them once.
Mind you, I don’t particularly dislike this “hide the ball” approach so much as I do its execution. Disney wants brand new characters, I get it. New planets; fine. New factions; check. That much is abundantly clear in the design, if you will, of this book. Again, nearly every complaint I have about this book is in the execution of the ideas behind it.
Take Temmin Wexley, for example. He’s a scrappy boy genius making his way on a desert planet after his parents get caught up in the conflict with the Empire. (sound familiar? Sound like Luke fucking Skywalker? Yes. Yes, it does.)
However, in something of an inversion of that trope, his mother, Norra, comes home from war with the aim of taking him off-planet because a faction of the Empire is about to occupy it. Her struggles to reconnect with her son without getting pulled into the escalating conflict feel real enough… until she just decides to abandon this whole purpose and hop into a TIE fighter when things get hairy. She spends countless inner monologues talking about how her pilot days are over, she has to rebuild her family, she can’t take risks anymore… and then she just says “fuck it!”
Hilariously, she dies fighting almost instantly… but wait! It’s a fake-out. She makes up with Temmin (who is mad at her for almost dying when she supposedly gave up that life to return to him) and promises not to do it again. Then she jumps in another TIE fighter and she dies again… Nope! Another fake-out. You can imagine my repeated face palms while reading this.
Did I mention this entire novel is written in present tense? In case I didn’t, this entire novel is written in the present tense…. And from the third-person point of view. Let me try, for a second, to write the way Wendig writes Aftermath.
Wendig writes the entire novel in present tense. Wendig, perhaps, thinks he is clever for having written an entire novel in the present tense. Mobi-wan writes this review in utter frustration at the fact that Wendig has written this entire novel in present tense. Mobi-wan relives his exasperation over this fact. A mild form off PTSD takes hold of him. Mobi-wan has to take a break and get some fresh air. Mobi-wan will return… or so Mobi-wan hopes.
Really. Fucking. Annoying.
And then the prose. Oh, the prose. I’ve never seen so many hyphens, made-up adjectives, and sentence fragments in an adult-authored English composition. There are some great examples of other reviewers’ reactions to Wendig’s prose online, and here are my favorites from Amazon.com: (user reviews, of course)
“Never seen so many short sentences. Very short. Super short. Choppy? Yes. Hard to concentrate? Yes. Hyphens? Oh—the hyphens. Never seen so many hyphens—in my entire life. His writing style? Hard to follow. Just like this review.”
“‘The TIE wibbles and wobbles through the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrrann rooftops - it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.’
And that was the moment when my eyes started bleeding.”
“It was as to thoughtful prose as a brick is to a glass latrine.”
“This. Book- like an amalgamation of dialogue, drafted, hewed, from the thoughts of Christopher, Walken! Working in; conjunction with William, Shatner.
Awful. Awful. Awful.
But, I digress.
The Whole Point?
In the end, I powered through this thing for one reason: I wanted to know what happened. I was curious as to how this new brand of Expanded Universe fits into the larger SW picture. For those of you who want to skip this headache-inducing word salad and just find out what happened in the new EU that will be part of the upcoming films, well, here’s all you need to know:
- Mon Mothma is made Chancellor of the New Republic and wants to end the war as soon as possible.
- Han and Chewie bail on a “go drum up support for the New Republic” mission to go liberate Kashyyk. It’s their only scene in the book and it’s cute.
- Bobba Fett’s armor is found on a Jawa Sandcrawler when some corporate type tries to buy it. The corporate type is shot by a man proclaiming himself to be the “new lawman” of Tatooine, who takes the armor.
- A shady merchant sells what is allegedly Darth Vader’s lightsaber to a group of Dark Side cultists. The cultists say they will reunite the lightsaber with its master “in death,” whatever that means.
It’s worth pointing out that all of these salient plot points are introduced and completely summed up in “interludes” that take place in between chapters. Not all of these interludes bother telling you who they’re about, mind you. One is just some dude who’s family got killed by the Empire getting drunk at a bar in the middle of nowhere. Another is an argument between some bureaucrats in Cloud City about the decline of the Empire.
All in all, I would not recommend this book to people who are not die hard Star Wars fans. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend this book to people who are die hard fans of Star Wars, especially if they are also fans of things like, you know, the English language. If this is the foundation of Disney’s new EU, then we are in trouble. Capital T. Rhymes with P. Stands for Pool.
There was some real potential here, but it got run over, backed up on, and run over again by poor execution and an author’s whimsical commitment to dysfunctional and ill-fitting writing devices.
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for your patronage. If you’ve read Aftermath, please share your thoughts below. If you haven’t, feel free to share them anyway.