Back in 1991, a book came out that rocked the world of ten year old Josh: Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, the inaugural book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It officially opened up the post Return of the Jedi galaxy for exploration, for better or for worse. Most of the time I remember loving the EU– back before it was necessary to differentiate between levels of canon– and I only remember a few stinkers in the mix. (I’m looking at you,Crystal Star.)
Fast Forward– I guess we really should say “chapter skip” now?– a few years, and the trailer for The Phantom Menace hit. I was excited as the next dude, but I remember having misgivings even then. There’s a double-bladed lightsaber? I thought only Exar Kun was so skilled and savage as to be able to use a double-bladed lightsaber, and he’s been dead for thousands of years, but heck. It’s a big galaxy. Maybe this Sith lord is just that awesome.
Well, we all know how that went.
I said good bye to most of the EU somewhere along the lines of the second prequel film. It wasn’t just that the prequels were subpar, or that they contradicted the previously established “canon” of the novels/games/comics– and until the prequels came along, it was Canon– it was that they did it cavalierly, in little ways that showed utter spite for what had been written. The Clone Wars glimpsed through the lens of Zahn were something terrible and unnatural. In the prequel films, they’re a muddled mess, and clones, an unnatural abomination that felt terribly wrong to Luke in Zahn’s trilogy, are suddenly… good guys. Qui Xux was no longer the Death Star’s naive designer; its origins lay with some bug people on some planet in a muddled and incoherent conflict. Jedi are no longer the badasses that they were in the EU, capable of knocking Star Destroyers out of orbit with the force (albeit at the cost of their life), they were chumps who, universally, didn’t have the Force sensitivity to see betrayal coming. The biggest fight put up by a Jedi during the slaughter was from a youngling.
Anyways. The only thing I felt when Disney canned the previous EU was some sadness at the loss of Zahn’s wonderful villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn and quite a bit of schadenfreude. But then Star Wars Rebels came along, and all of a sudden it felt like the old Star Wars was back. And the Clone Wars cartoon turned out to be not half bad. And that trailer? Man, that trailer. All reasonable expectations went out the window the first time I saw the Millennium Falcon in the Episode 7 trailer.
So when Star Wars: Aftermath came out while my wife and I were taking a weekend in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I cheerfully logged into Bronner’s wifi and downloaded the book on to my Kindle, stole away to their snack bar, and holed up with my book, some deliciously terrible nachos, and a Coke while my wife browsed endless selections of Christmas ornaments. It was time to see the new EU! Lets see what wonderful glimpse of the future of Star Wars awaits!
And Aftermath was…. not very good. Really. I stopped reading Somewhither for this? I’m back on it Somewhither now, after taking a month and a half to read Aftermath, which should be telling. Yes, I’m in seminary and I have to spend most of my days reading Tertullian and a giant, terribly boring book on Christian counseling, but this was light science fiction. I should’ve destroyed it. I should’ve chomped that thing down into little bits, because there’s no easy like reading science fiction after fighting your way through Patristic era writers easy.
Star Wars: Aftermath opens immediately in the Special Edition’s added scenes of citizens rejoicing at the Imperial defeat at Endor. And then, wonderfully, logically, Imperial police come along and put down the riot on Coruscant. Because an Emperor’s death doesn’t mean the end of an Empire, y’know? After that, we pop in with our real characters: Rae Sloane, an Imperial Admiral, fighting to keep the Empire from falling apart after the massive loss of troops and equipment at Endor. Norra Wexley, a Rebel pilot, returning home to find her son after fighting for the rebellion. Temmin Wexley, Norra’s son, who tinkers with droids and gets in over his head with the local crime syndicates. Wedge Antilles, on a scout mission searching for Imperial remnants in the Outer Rim. Sinjir Rath Velus, an Imperial loyalty officer who deserted at Endor. Jas Emari, a Zabrak bounty hunter that once hunted Rebels for the Empire and is now hunting Imperials for the New Republic.
Aftermath is, largely, a long comedy of errors in which fan favorite Wedge is captured right off the bat, and where largely unmemorable characters do unmemorable things on an unmemorable planet. If this sounds harsh, it probably is. But Wendig’s writing isn’t to my taste at all– and I checked some of his other books on Amazon to see if that was him or this book, and it’s him– and he doesn’t do a terribly good job, typically, of making the book feel like Star Wars.
There are moments of very interesting things here, to be sure, but that’s all they are: Moments. Putting two and two together gives us a glimpse of why The Force Awakens has a First Order and a Resistance instead of an Empire/Imperial Remnant and a Rebellion/New Republic; the Empire is decimated, and a character mentions secret research bases in the Outer Rim, where the Imperial forces can hole up and lick their wounds. Most of the Imperials seem to feel this is a good thing. My inference is that they do just that, afterwards, and come back as the First Order and steamroll the New Republic.
Another standout is, bizarrely, an ancient battle droid from the clone wars. Not one of the fancy destroyer droids, one of those goofy, terrible droids, that exist solely so that Jedi could chop them into pieces without getting the films an R rating for dismembered limbs. Norra’s son, Temmin, has modified “Mr. Bones” and uploaded a fair amount of combat programming into his head– possibly including Grevious’ skills– and some dance and acrobatic programs, creating a droid that is both hilarious and deadly. Mr. Bones’ fight scenes were among the best scenes in the book, and I found myself laughing, for the first time ever, at “ROGER-ROGER.”
Sprinkled through the book are little interludes that show snippets of life going on away from the book. These are largely less successful than they were probably meant to be, but at the very least they give you an end to the war that’s not quite as unrealistically neat as it was in the EU. One of the best things that’s been happening with the new canon is that they’re showing us an Empire that is evil— in the original trilogy, life didn’t seem so bad as long as you weren’t trying to overthrow the Rebellion. (We all know Alderaan had it coming.) But between Rebels and Aftermath, we see an Empire that will torch a village just to draw a Rebel out of hiding, and who has Soviet-style loyalty officers trained to be on the lookout for disloyalty and wrong-think. It’s some how strangely more effective, narratively, than blowing up an entire planet. I suppose it breaks the evil into manageable chunks.
All things considered, it’s hard to say that I hated Aftermath. I didn’t. It wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t so bad that I’d throw it out of the canon like The Phantom Menace or the almost equally regrettable Crystal Star. (Which, being part of the EU, technically was thrown out of the canon.) But it’s also not very good. It’s a very… mediocre book. The highs aren’t so high, and the lows aren’t so low. I’ll read the next one in the trilogy, but to be honest, a lot of that comes from a mysterious figure appearing in the epilogue that gives me a lot of hope (that I’m certain will be dashed) for some future awesome.