Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Blue Blazes are excellent novels with vibrant worlds and complicated heroes. Needless to say that I was pretty excited to hear that Chuck Wendig was scheduled to be the man in the pilot’s seat for the first post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars novel in the new canon. When early samples of Aftermath were released ahead of the novel’s publication my excitement was somewhat dampened by Wendig’s chosen style. The present tense narration, coupled with the short quick sentence structure was completely off putting for me and I was immediately nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get past the narrative style. Thankfully, while Disney and Lucasfilm, have in a sense “abandoned” previous canon they have not abandoned Star Wars audiobook narrator Marc Thompson. Thompson’s skill as a narrator combined with some rather insane production quality (official sound effects and music) meant that, like with the previous Fate of the Jedi novels, I was definitely going for the Aftermath audiobook experience.
Aftermath opens in the time following the destruction of the second Death Star. While the decisive Rebel victory has prodded many systems to action, the former-Rebels now struggle to consolidate their power and transform a military-based rebellion into a full-fledged political body. Meanwhile the Empire, while grievously wounded, is still around lashing out against those who dare join the Rebels and trying to desperately to consolidate their forces in the face overwhelming support for change from much of the general public.
In the opening scenes of Aftermath readers a treated with a glimpse of some of the actions that resulted from the Rebel victory, as dissidents tear down a statue of the Emperor, as well as the Imperial reactions, as those dissidents are viciously attacked by Imperial Security. Aftermath paints a very chaotic situation for the Rebel Alliance. One of the actions of the Rebels after the victory near Endor was to send out scout units to various systems. One such scouts, fan favorite Wedge Antilles, enters the Akiva system only fall into the clutches of Imperial forces gathering there for some sort of meeting. Wedge manages to get out a distress call which catches the attention of Nora Wexley, another Rebel pilot who just happens to be on Akiva in order to reconnect with her son Temmin. Readers are also introduced to Sinjir a former Imperial Loyalty Office and perhaps my favorite new character. A dry-witted drunkard Sinjir is laying low on Akiva after having stolen the clothes off a dead Rebel’s back during the Battle of Endor. Our motely team of heroes is rounded out by Jas Emari, a lone-wolf Zabrak bounty hunter on Akiva to take out a high-level Imperial target. The tightening grip of the Empire on Akiva draws these four characters together over the course of the novel.
Aftermath has a huge job ahead of it. Not only does it have to tell an interesting and entertaining story but it also has to lay out the state of the Star Wars universe at large while simultaneously being attractive for new readers and the notoriously cantankerous entrenched fandom (who are already frustrated over the loss of their beloved canon). As such Aftermath definitely struggles a bit in trying to tell a tight, constrained story about a rag-tag group of heroes while bouncing around the universe to give readers glimpses of what is going on around the universe. The interludes which often feature familiar characters such as Han Solo, Mon Mothma, and Admiral Ackbar definitely provide fascinating insight in to the Star Wars landscape. However, as entertaining and enlightening as they are I found that they felt more like a barrier to telling the story of the events on Akiva than anything else. Aftermath desperately wants to be both epic in scope and an intimate look at the effect of the Empire on the Rebellion on individual lives and I often felt that those two goals were at cross-purposes.
While I found the novel’s narrative voice distracting in the beginning I adjusted as the novel progressed. Once the main plot of the novel kicks into high gear my problems with narrative voice faded into the background. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph above I chose to listen to the audiobook version of Aftermath and I can’t say for sure how easily I’d be able to shake my feelings regarding the narrative without the aid of Marc Thompson and the production crew at Random House Audio. It is really just a top-notch production and I highly recommend that reluctant readers give the audiobook a shot. I will note that Thompson’s Wookie sounds were a bit off, but that’s my only complete regarding his performance.
I really wish the characters of Aftermath were given a little bit more breathing room. Of our four heroes Nora feels the least developed though Wendig’s description of her PTSD worked quite well. Similarly, her son Temmin could have used a little more work as both characters feel to explicitly defined by their relationship to one another with little room to explore who each is absent of that part of their identity. Sinjir was definitely my favorite and his rapport with Jas was entertaining in the highest; I’d love to see adventures with just these too characters. Sinjir and Jas certainly felt like the most developed characters and their growth over the course of Aftermath felt more natural than either Temmin or Nora. I should send a shout out to Mr. Bones. I never thought a battle droid could be terrifying. But this one is.
While it’s almost inevitable I’m not sure comparisons are entirely to Heir to the Empire are entirely fair. Star Wars fans were in a completely different emotional and mental state in 1991 as compared to now. With no new Star War sequels in sight it was easy for Zahn to focus on the main characters of the Original Trilogy and it’s difficult to say how much reader’s initial emotional investment in Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, and the rest of the gang influenced their response to Heir to the Empire. To place things in further perspective between 1977 and 2014 while only 6 “main” movies were filmed there were over 300 Star Wars books published (in 2007 alone Del Rey/LucasBooks printed 1.5 million copies of Star Wars books). With the vast majority of those novels no longer official canon it’s easy to see the mountain of material that Chuck Wendig and Aftermath is essentially competing with. I’m not even sure his work would have a chance when it comes to the reader who picked up Heir the Empire in 1991 and spent the better part of a quarter century following his or her favorite characters. How can you compete against that? The easy answer is: you don’t. Aftermath has the unenvious moving Star Wars forward into a new era underneath the shadow of a veritable mountain of printed work. With such an immense burden placed upon this book and it isn’t a surprise that bows under the pressure. Aftermath is an entertaining Star Wars novel that sets up a new era of adventure in a universe that while familiar may not be exactly same one that many fans remember. I for one look forward to seeing where things go next.