21 January 2016

Books: Star Wars: Aftermath By Chuck Wendig (2015)

I have some trepidation about returning to the new Star Wars Expanded Universe. When Bantam began the original EU back in 1991, Heir to the Empire was only the second Star Wars novel set outside the original trilogy. The first, of course, was 1978’s Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, which was –more or less- story ideas cobbled together from George Lucas’ notes on a potential sequel to his original movie (and compensation, I guess, for writer Alan Dean Foster whom ghostwrote the novelization of Star Wars). And a lot of things that happened in that book, certain ideas and what not, would be eventually be contradicted by both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. So in many ways, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy could be considered the first real novel in what would eventually be called the Expanded Universe.

 I began reading these Star War novels, enjoying some, and disliking others. And as much as I like Star Wars, much like the Star Trek novels, so many came out so fast and furious, I was quickly falling behind in other books I wanted to read. And while I know some people who just read exclusively every Star Wars novel that came out between 1991 and 2012, I could not devote my time to just one genre, to just one series. So I gave up. Not sure when exactly, but it was probably around 1995-96 that I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to part ways with the EU. And that restriction continued, even as the prequel trilogy began. 

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 and began work on this newest trilogy of films, they also made the decision to abandon the twenty-one year old EU book line. Though the books would remain in print, they would be labeled “Legend”, and none of the stories, characters, and other aspects would be considered canon in this new universe (but they never were to begin with). Then again, no novel in the Star Trek universe was ever considered canon, either. Still, with Disney tossing those novels aside, many long-time fans felt this was a bad idea. Yes, there were certain books that could be forgotten, but the EU did have some cohesiveness to them, that they appeared well planned out and that all the books were connected by some massive continuity. 

But like the rebooted Star Trek franchise, it was this continuity that was holding the new Star Wars movie series back. To re-launch with the The Force Awakens meant throwing away hundreds of novels and comic books released (really) since 1983 and create a new one, what they call a “unified canon”, specifically set NOT to contradict anything that would come up in this new film series and anything that will come after Episode IX in 2019. 

So now we get this New Expand Universe, which will lead to The Force Awakens. Currently (in 2016), it begins with The Clone War TV series, which became the first canon based animated show. The novel Dark Disciple is next  followed by Revenge of the Sith (I will note that there may yet be novels in the future set between Episode II and III, but this is the current  list) and then the novels Lords of the Sith, Tarkin, A New Dawn, and Rebels animated TV series. All of which then leads into A New Hope, then the novels Heir to the Jedi and Battlefront: Twilight Company. As of now, there is no new novels set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, though I expect we’ll see some in the next few years. Also note that there are some Young Adult titles, like Lost Stars, that is part of this new unified canon, but while they should be counted, most will not be read by me or (even) casual readers. Maybe the hardcore fans will?

This, of course, leads us to Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, the first novel in the NEU that is set months after the events of ROJ. Much like Zahn’s Thrawn series, while the Emperor and Darth Vader, along with the second Death Star are gone, the galaxy is not as free from the grip of the Empire as some would believe. A vacuum has been created and many, both Empire loyalist and criminals, are seeking to fill that void:

“As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance- now a fledging New Republic- presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy's scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy's strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but is taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders. Meanwhile, on the planet's surface, former Rebel fighter Norra Wexely has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles's urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn't know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be. Determined to preserve the Empire's power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven't reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical genius son, a bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire's oppressive reign once and for all.”

Much like Stars Lost, this book is also subtitled with “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and because its “canon” everything revealed here is essentially background information on the new film series. We get glimpses of Han Solo and Chewbacca, whom seem still unable to take orders, and decides to divert their ordered trip to Dasoor when contacted by an old friend who claims the Chewie’s home planet of Kashyyyk is about to fall after the Empire’s rule and she could use his help. I’m guessing this is a set up for a novel down the line and another reason why Han and Leia go their separate ways (beyond other reasons) we see in the new film. We also get glimpses into the idea that most people, especially those in the Outer Rim, think both the Sith and the Jedi are myths –hell, even most of the commanders in the Empire believe this as well. This idea, as we saw, was continued in The Force Awakens. And, of course, we visit Jakku, which appears to be the ass end of the Outer Rim and makes Tattoine seem like busy Coruscant. Reading this here, explains a lot.

But while we get all of this, the book itself is a bit of a let-down, somewhat. There has been much criticism thrown at him for his writing style, and it is something that can be distracting –it is very different and will not be every ones cup of tea. Good or bad, though, Wendig is given a lot of story to set up here, and maybe his urgency style is perfect for this new trilogy. Much like the old EU, these new ones will not always focus on our main characters, and beyond Han and Cheiwe, the only other known character to appear in this book is Wedge, yet he’s regulated to merely a side role. What disappoints me is that none of the main roles in the book are that interesting, except maybe the villainous Sloane (who was introduced in Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller), Sinjir, the former Loyalty Officer of the Empire (and one of two gay characters in the book), and the bounty hunter Jas. Norra and her son teen son Temmin, who appears to grow up and be played by Greg Grunberg in The Force Awakens, are tropes. Yes, Temmin takes one of the silliest and easiest to defeat droids from the prequel series, the B1 Battle Droid, and turns it into a lethal bodyguard, but beyond that, they’re stock figures, with stock problems that will eventually be tied up by novels end. So no surprises there.

Perhaps I should not look at this book as novel, per se, but more of a bunch of new ideas that will be filled out in other novels and, perhaps, just added background information for the hardcore fans of Star Wars movies. This new unified canon may have irked the fan of the original Expanded Universe, but it’s very clear that at least this time, most of the novels will be forthcoming will all be connected –however tenuously- to The Force Awakens, Episode VIII, and Episode IX.

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