Released on “Force Friday” and teased with appropriate fervor, does Star Wars: Aftermath live up to the inevitable expectation of a book meant to be the much-vaunted “first step” on Lucasfilm’s Journey to The Force Awakens?
Here is my answer.
Were I to sum up my feelings on this book into one word, it’s “disappointed.” Naturally, as a Star Wars fan dating back to my youngest years in the 1970s, it would be easy to chalk up that reaction as a result of my expectations for the story. However I assure you that, as someone who literally rejoiced when they announced the destruction of the old Expanded Universe (EU) and the construction of something new, the only expectation or hope I had for this book was that it would be compelling and engaging.
It is neither. It is at its best moments serviceable, offering a tantalizing glimpse of those first sprouts that, if nurtured appropriately, would have grown into a wonderful story.
The largest issue is that the characters in this narrative are inconsequential.
Nothing they do feels important. The story feels not like the Journey to the Force Awakens, but rather “just another disposable EU book.” While that’s not always a bad thing in and of itself, author Chuck Wendig does no favors by pandering to those old EU sensibilities.
What saved and protected so much of the dreck that was the EU before Disney took it over was the presence of impactful characters. Whether Luke, Lando, Han, Leia, or even side characters like Wedge, their very presence lent an importance to the story that could paper over the gaps.
Gaps & Interludes
In Aftermath, the gaps are glaring. The main quest reads like a video or RPG game module synopsis. That makes sense since Wendig’s primary field of focus is that arena. But it makes for an inevitable progression as we pick up necessary characters along the way, until we reach the top boss level and duke it out. Win or lose, there are no real stakes or fear for the characters.
Hurting things further are “interludes” that were apparently part of the list Disney/Lucasfilm gave Wendig for things that “had to happen” to tie into the building back story ahead of the Episode VII release date.
The interludes are jarring and irritating. What could have been engaging is instead a frustrating break during an already-mediocre story struggling to keep your attention; Everything as a result feels scattershot and disorganized.
The only exceptional interlude involves Han and Chewie. We get a hint of the path they’ll choose between the films and how it impacts their place in the new storyline. The one thing that gave me pause is that it reads like Han’s going to regress from “evolved and sensitive man with a character arc” in Return of the Jedi to “hey fanboys Han’s all super-cool like Star Wars* and Empire again.”
There are some interludes which also deal with Mon Mothma’s actions as Chancellor during the fragile New Republic’s first months. Those details would have made for a fascinating, impactful book and truly gone the extra mile toward the world-building they’re trying to do between the films. It also would have provided a great counterpoint to one of the plot lines in the book, which is the Empire figuring out how to reorganize and survive the devastating loss at Endor.
So that you know I’m not just in the mood to trash the effort, the book truly takes off when dealing with the Imperials. Since it’s titled Aftermath, that makes sense since they’re the ones dealing with the aftermath (get it?) of their world collapsing. Having both of those plots play off each other would have spoken as well to the recurring themes of the Star Wars saga, balance and rebirth. As one falls, the other is born and the dance between good and evil continues. (Watch the coda from Revenge of the Sith, if you need a refresher.)
In Aftermath, though, we get Wendig jerking the audience around on his own merry way.
The best example is the a throughline of everyone-was-at-Endor that plays like Back to the Future II‘s gimmick of everyone-in-the-Future-McFly-family-is-played-by-Michael-J-Fox. It’s cute when you first notice it, then grating as the gag progresses. The title of this book could have been, We’ll Always Have Endor.
Of course, this book is the first in a planned trilogy (of course!) detailing this time period between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Many people have been tempted to absolve its shortcomings as a result, saying this is all just set up on the way to a satisfying whole.
To that I say, “Balderdash.” There were elements in this book that, if properly developed, would have made for a rollicking good and impactful set-up story. Wendig consciously chose instead to foist a cheap and easy tale on all of us. While it’s certainly possible that he could redeem this effort by tying it strongly through the next two, nothing will erase that this book achieves nothing more than mediocrity at its best moments.