The Aftermath Trilogy – Is it Worth Your Time?
Author Chuck Wendig just concluded his post-Return of the Jedi book trilogy with Empire’s End, and now that all the books are out – you may be wondering if they are worth taking the time to read. Or maybe you read the first one and you are apprehensive about the sequels as you discovered disappointment more than delight in Aftermath. If you find yourself in one of these two categories then this review is for you.
Sequels to a book or film usually just don’t measure up to the original – and with the mixed reception of the first book in the trilogy – many fans were hoping for the opposite trend with the follow-up entries in Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy. I am happy to say that fans can rest easy. The Aftermath trilogy has found success where most have failed – each sequel is significantly better than the last.
Aftermath: Empire’s End is a rare jewel to be sure. As I mentioned in my review for Aftermath: Life Debt, I didn’t hate the first book as some did, but I certainly found it lacking. The big problem with the original Aftermath was that Wendig seems to have been given so many constraints in his storytelling due to its proximity to the release of The Force Awakens that the story felt stunted at best. Any forward progress after Return of the Jedi was impeded and replaced by the introduction to new characters that – let’s be honest – none of us wanted or cared about.
Then came Aftermath: Life Debt – a breath of fresh air after the stagnant first entry. With Life Debt, Wendig was given some room to play, and it really came through in his very capable storytelling. With his new found freedom, Wendig was able to juggle multiple intriguing subplots (which he tells through various interludes interspersed throughout the book) while still maintaining a laser focus on his main narrative. The second entry did wonders for the development of characters like the formal Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus and Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, while satisfying fans by putting Han Solo in the spotlight, a much needed remedy after the recent on-screen death of the beloved character.
Similar to how second entries like Aliens and the more recent The Dark Knight did for their respective properties, Life Debt raised the bar and brought the Aftermath trilogy to another level. Unfortunately, cinematic and literary greatness as far as sequels are concerned, is typically followed by a mediocre third entry into the franchise.
The sci-fi horror classic that was Aliens was followed by the sub par Alien 3, which checked all the boxes but failed to deliver anything of lasting value, and The Dark Knight Rises also failed to live up to its predecessors in any meaningful way. While it would have been so easy for Wendig to fall into the third entry trap – with Aftermath: Empire’s End, he proved instead that old adage – “the third time’s a charm”.
Empire’s End is the Star Wars book that its fans deserve (or maybe we don’t deserve – guess it depends on what kind of fan you are). Wendig accomplished so much with this book. By the end of the trilogy, readers should have a pretty solid grasp on how the New Republic was established following the death of the Emperor, as well as understand the eventual need for Leia’s Resistance as we see it in The Force Awakens. As the title promised, we also see the fall of the Empire – and in effect – the rise of the First Order.
Aside from the grander story of the ongoing political dichotomy of the New Republic and the Empire, Wendig revealed the motivations behind the mysterious Gallius Rax, a key player in executing the Emperor’s Contingency for ensuring that the Empire would not survive after his death. Apparently, the Emperor was the epitomy of greed, narcissism, and vindictiveness. Who knew?
As Kyle mentioned in his review of Empire’s End, Rae Sloane is really the star of the show. Up until this book, Sloane has been our connective tissue throughout the Star Wars canon. Since her first appearance in the pre-ANH novel A New Dawn, she has been an antagonist against Kanan Jarrus in the Kanan comic series, and has taken an even larger role in the Aftermath trilogy as the self proclaimed leader of the Imperial remnant.
Sloane is a unique character in that, although she is primarily an antagonist against the New Republic, she garners sympathy from readers who ultimately come to see her as one who is not necessarily evil, but who holds to her ideals and remains loyal to the cause she believes in. Sloane sees the Empire as the means to bring justice and order to the galaxy. Unlike Palpatine though, she has no ulterior motive – she literally wants true justice and peace to reign, and she views the Rebellion and now the New Republic as an obstacle to the establishment of her ideals. It is this trueness to character that makes her so endearing.
Perhaps Wendig’s greatest strength is his ability to juggle multiple storylines simultaneously while never losing focus on the bigger picture. Beginning in Aftermath, Wendig chose to utilize interludes to break up the main narrative. He continued this device in Life Debt and the final book of the trilogy is no exception. These interludes provide readers with a glimpse of what was going on in the larger galaxy apart from the New Republic and the Empire. These stories serve to reveal how other worlds were being affected by the sudden political vacuum that was created after the death of Palpatine.
Though Palpatine was dead, the war was not over, and that much becomes increasingly evident as we travel briefly to worlds like Coruscant, Naboo, Tatooine, and Bespin. There are so many pieces in play and Wendig’s ability to maneuver them all in place without it all falling apart is no small feat. The interludes answer questions about the fate of some of the characters from the films that do not appear in the main story, but still have an impact on it in some capacity. Some of the characters introduced in the interludes do eventually find their way into the main narrative and seeing these smaller plots come together and serve the larger story was like icing on the cake.
What has happened in the criminal underworld after the death of Jabba the Hutt? What did Lando do after he blew up that second Death Star? Did Chewbacca ever reunite with his family? What ever happened to Jar Jar Binks? That’s what the interludes are for. They answer questions like this that may not fit into the main story or warrant a separate tale of their own. I found these interludes to be some of the most rewarding elements to the trilogy, especially in Empire’s End.
The most satisfying part of the final book, and perhaps the trilogy as a whole, was the climactic Battle of Jakku – a confrontation that fans have been looking forward to since we first saw that crashed destroyer in the trailer for The Force Awakens. I was hoping that the battle would be a substantial part of the trilogy’s third act and not relegated to just a couple of chapters at the end of the book. I have to say, I was not disappointed. The Battle of Jakku spans a large portion of the final book, and once the action starts, it doesn’t let up until the fat-lipped Pa’lowick sings (or at least until the Super Star Destroyer Ravager comes crashing down to the vast wastelands of the desert planet).
As revealed in Empire’s End, Jakku was a battle that stretched out for months, not just a one and done like the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One. I think this detail was very important, as the sheer destruction and amount of wreckage on the planet’s surface which would employ scavengers for decades to come, pointed to a much larger scale conflict than a single attack would provide. However, although the fight dragged on for some time, the initial attack basically clenched the victory for the New Republic. The rest was just a matter of cleaning up the straggling Imperial forces that remained.
Wendig pulled out all the stops for this climactic battle, drawing upon the plethora of ships, vehicles, , troops, and battle tactics from previous Star Wars action pieces. AT-AT’s, Chicken Walkers, TIE Fighters, TIE Strikers, Sandtroopers, X-Wings, Y-Wings, U-Wings, Republic Commandos… it’s all there in this battle for the ages…the Empire’s last hurrah and the Republic’s greatest victory. Seeing how the Republic defeated that Super Star Destroyer in a way that rivaled the destruction of the Shield Gate in Rogue One was one of the stand out sequences in the battle, and my only regret is that we didn’t get to see it play out on screen.
Empire’s End has it all – it provides a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, gives further development to the newer characters, gives insight to the galaxy at large, and sprinkles a healthy bit of fan service on top to boot. If you haven’t yet checked out the Aftermath trilogy, I highly recommend that you do. It will enrich your enjoyment of the franchise and give you a lot of background going into the sequel trilogy era. If you can hang on through Aftermath, let Life Debt begin to heal your disappointment, and just throw out all your inhibitions and treat yourself to Empire’s End, I think you’ll be glad you did.
As much as I enjoyed the Aftermath trilogy in the end, it is far from perfection. With the monumental cast of characters involved, some of them regrettably fall to the wayside, and tragically, the main character in the book, Norra Wexley, ended up being one of these throwaways herself. While Rae Sloane shines and secondary characters like Sinjir Rath Velus, Bones (a repurposed battle droid), and Mon Mothma are very well developed, Norra never really struck a chord with me as a truly meaningful character. Really, I could say the same for her husband Brentin as well. Her son Snap has his moments, but for the most part, I could have done without the entire Wexley family in this series.
This is not to say that they are not vital to the story – it’s just that I didn’t really find myself connecting to them the way I did to Sloane or Sinjir. Jas Emari, the Zabrak bounty hunter, was fairly well-written and given some moments to shine, but I felt like the conclusion to her romantic arc with Jom was rushed and proved that, really, the whole relationship between them was forced for the sake of sexual tension in the previous book. I was hoping for something more here, but alas, it didn’t really get off the ground.
However, with a gripping story and a great overall cast of characters old and new, the good outweighs the bad when all is said and done. Speaking of old characters, I enjoyed every moment with Han, Leia, and Lando so immensely that I completely forgot about the shortcomings of Norra and family. That tender moment where Han picks up his crying infant son for the first time as baby Ben nuzzles into his chest falling instantly silent was particularly powerful, especially after knowing the tragic end to their relationship thirty years later. It’s moments like these, partnered with intense action and other defining character moments, that make this trilogy worthwhile and satisfying.
I find myself wanting to know more about most of these characters, and to me, that speaks of Wendig’s overall success in his follow-up to Return of the Jedi. Many fans will undoubtedly compare these books to Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy (pictured above) and question which one is the more worthy successor. In fact, many have already done so. I love the Thrawn trilogy myself and it will always have a special place in my heart, but in hindsight, Wendig’s version of events actually comes off as a much more believable and natural progression from the Battle of Endor in my opinion.
I think that the world established by Wendig and the Lucasfilm Story Group makes a lot of sense, and in many ways, sets up more interesting opportunities for future stories. I could argue that although the Thrawn trilogy is a shining beacon in the Legends continuity, most of it went down hill after Zahn’s addition to the mythos – whereas the canon continuity, although not without its own shortcomings, looks very promising with a future that seems brighter than ever before.
In the end, you ultimately have to ask youself one question: did I enjoy this story? Answer that question for yourself and make up your own mind about it. Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of these books, and I can’t wait for the next chapter in the Star Wars story. There are still over twenty years in between Empire’s End and Bloodline that have not been touched by any of the creative minds behind our favorite galaxy far far away. So much time, so many possibilities – a bright future awaits us indeed.
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.