A review by Nalini Haynes
After the death star exploded over Endor in Return of the Jedi, there is Aftermath. Norra Wexley, a crack Rebel — sorry, Alliance — pilot returns to her home planet to rescue her son, Temmin. Only Temmin doesn’t want to be rescued. Oh, and Empire upper-echelon types haven’t given up just because the death star was destroyed over Endor. That wasn’t the end of the Empire, it was just a setback. Chuck Wendig introduces a new band of rag-tag heroes who will go zipping about the galaxy fighting the Evil Empire. And we will never mention Jar Jar Binks again.
Aftermath taps into Return of the Jedi, framing the world for the New Canon books and movies after all the old books were deemed “non-canon” or merely reduced to the status of “mythology”, thus excusing inaccuracies and wild flights of fantasy.
The story itself is as engaging and improbable as the original movies with new heroes surviving time and again when they should have been smears on the pavement or vapor in the atmosphere. Action is counterpointed with humor and heart, of which parent-teen angst is a not insignificant portion.
Teenage Temmin is obviously the Luke/Anakin of this set. His modified battle droid Mr Bones substitutes for C3PO and R2D2 with hints of… Data? Terminator 2? Other robot-types, anyway.
There’s been a big hoo-ha online about the sexytimes for queers in Aftermath so I had to read the novel in spite of giving up on Star Wars in the 90s. WTF is all the fuss about? A mommy and a daddy loved each other very much so they made Temmin; Temmin’s mommy ran away to rescue daddy, thus justifying teenage resentment. Norra left Temmin with her sister and her sister’s partner, a queer couple. Someone propositions someone else only to be rejected because “you’re not my type”; played for laughs, check one more queer person. I heard that there were 3 queer relationships in the book. I must have blinked and missed them. There might have been a queer couple who were bystanders but I’m pretty sure there were also straight couples who got pissed off, got up and started shooting the crap out of the Empire guys. With all the furor, I thought Chuckles’s Star Wars must have been as groundbreaking as Star Trek was back in the 1960s but no: it’s not even as groundbreaking as Modern Family and even more suitable for a younger audience.
Interludes introduce characters who usually then disappear, never to be seen again in this novel. One time one of the random characters reappears; he’s Chekov’s Gun (y’know, that gun placed on stage in Act 1 that has to be fired by Act 3). The interludes expand the readers’ horizons, developing perspective of this universe, but they feel more like interruptions to the story, somewhat like advertisement breaks.
The combination of the interludes and the main story felt like a reboot of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars trilogy. In this, Wendig’s Aftermath is a huge upgrade. I slogged my way through the first two Zahn novels thinking “This isn’t Star Wars, this is more like a strategy game in outer space”. Maybe a game of Masters of Orion written without character, a mere recital of actions on the board. I waited a long time for the third novel while Zahn did a re-write because, apparently, the powers-that-be didn’t like his flavor. The third novel was better and more consistent with the movies but it didn’t achieve the same feel. Later books by various authors flipped and flopped all over the place until I stopped reading them. Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath feels like Zahn’s novels died and were reincarnated into the actual Star Wars universe: a huge improvement on those original books. I’m looking forward to the new improved canon and I’m now more interested in the upcoming movie. (The minion had to buy tix for this week.)
Overall, Star Wars Aftermath is consistent with the flavor of the original movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi for those who came in late). The furor about queer characters taking over the Star Wars universe is ridiculous; there are very few queer characters in the novel, probably proportionately representational of society. Aftermath is as violent as the original movies and as suitable for younger audiences so it’s a parent or librarian’s call as to how young kids can be introduced to this world. (I introduced my daughter to Star Wars when she was 8; she spent the next year asking how people travelled to the planet with 2 suns to make the movie. I felt like a broken record explaining it. Because of her, my son waited until he was 6 to watch it; he loved Star Wars and didn’t have a problem differentiating fact from fiction. And he was mad at his sister for being the reason he had to wait so long.)
Aftermath and the new movies may be intent on patching the faux pas of the prequels by focusing on the original movies and building a new future. Star Wars Aftermath is a light action romp with unrealistic action scenes and characters with backstories adding depth and heart. It will appeal to a wide audience and, hopefully, will encourage primary-school-aged reluctant readers to get in on the fun. Highly recommended.
Format: Hardcover, 366 pages plus extras including an excerpt from a Battlefront novel
Publisher: Del Rey (Random House)