This review is spoiler-free.
In the third installment of the Star Wars Aftermath series, Chuck Wendig takes the long road to and through the Battle of Jakku. Aftermath: Empire’s End picks up pretty much immediately after Life Debt with defacto Imperial hunter Norra Wexley chasing after fugitive Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, who is chasing after the Empire’s leading scope-creeper, Gallius Rax. Meanwhile both governing sides in the limping-to-a-close Galactic Civil War are a tad chaotic, albeit for different reasons.
For all the chasing that’s going on, you’d think this would be a fast-paced book. It’s a long-read, though, with the most engaging moments being made into cliff-hangers by the redirecting interludes that always follow. Yes, the interludes are back and if you didn’t like them in the previous books – well, you may find them slightly better here depending on your attachment to the characters featured in them. For me they were hit or miss.
I can’t blame Wendig for wanting to write as many Star Wars characters as he can feasibly pull into his novel, but the concept of there being a lingering Imperial presence, refugees, and groups looking to get their footing in this changing galaxy are already well established in the rest of the series as well as elsewhere within this book. And as touching as the Kashyyyk-set one is, I’d give them all up to better the flow of Empire’s End overall.
The present tense is still there and remains easy to adapt to. The author continues to describe things three times before moving forward, not constantly but consistently. The hand is a little heavy on getting the reader into the right emotional place so what follows will have a bigger impact. And there are still enough characters that a Dramatis Personae would be handy.
For all the inner-conflict Norra has dealt with and all of bounty hunter Jas Emari’s growth in previous books, it was disappointing to see them effectively sidelined through a good portion of this one. There’s something to be said for Jas’ peace with herself and confidence in her own future. Norra, though, is a mess. At wit’s end and blinded by revenge, it wouldn’t be surprising if you forgot she’d ever been part of the Rebellion before. It’s hard to cheer someone on when you know they’re running towards the wrong goal post. While we can see where Temmin “Snap” Wexley gets his blinders-on approach, his own behavior in the book is going to make it hard not to grumble the next time I see Greg Grunberg portray him on screen.
The standout of the original crew is Sinjir Rath Velus. He’s easy to imagine as a spiritual kin to Battlestar Galactica’s Gaius Baltar – astute, slightly neurotic, capped off with a dry wit and a desire to be left alone. The ex-Imperial loyalty officer and gray-area New Republic operative continues to reveal layers, grow, and generally keep things interesting. It probably helps that he’s one of the few who don’t seem 100% in over their head in this book.
Meanwhile Grand Admiral Rae Sloane has some interesting parallels to Norra’s path within the confines of this story, except Sloane is way more on top of things regardless of her situation. She’s a compelling character due to her circumstances as much as to how she reacts to them.
Leia and Han are here too, although there’s not much to report about them. They’re just being themselves and it’ll probably always be a little weird to see them treated as both everyday people and myth while hanging on the periphery of the story at hand. Mon Mothma has her moments and Wedge is… probably wishing life was more like the X-Wing book series.
If you’re looking for the Battle of Jakku to answer a bunch of Who? What? When? and Why? questions, you’re bound to still have several at the end. Although in the actual battle itself there is a very cool tactic that rivals the very cool tactic featured towards the end of Rogue One. With how much is tied in and info-dropped as far as characters and movie connections go, it was surprising there seemed to be no reference at all to Lost Stars – another Star Wars book which also covered a bit of the same battle. I didn’t expect any of those characters to play a big role in this point of view, but I thought there’d at least be a ship name-drop or some small nod.
Last but not least: I can’t tell if it’s intentional but there’s a quiet yet persistent undertone to the whole novel that everything that has happened before will happen again; it is so easy to feel and be powerless. It’s in the interludes of characters trying to take charge of their own fate and having to be rescued by others. It’s in the fall of several characters. It’s in the impending arrival of a baby who we already know will cause heartbreak. It’s in the idea that no matter what you strive for as chancellor of a difficult new start, it’s not enough. It’s even in the inclusion of pre-emptively re-using several exact lines from The Force Awakens. Any of these things on their own are one thing, but all together – they’re a bummer.
Aftermath was overwhelming. Life Debt made me feel like hope was in short supply. Empire’s End is a story of uncertainty, of a galaxy worn down, wanting to look forward. There’s definitely a place for stories like that in the galactic realm of Star Wars. At this time, it’s not quite what I’m looking for from a galaxy far, far away. In the end, it’s up for you to decide if it’s what you want to read right now.
The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book for review.
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