Having caught up on Aftermath close to when it was released I had waited to read the second book, Aftermath: Life Debt, until the final book in the series, Aftermath: Empire’s End, was released. Well the time has come and I present you with my review of Aftermath: Life Debt.
Writer: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Del Rey
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Aftermath: Life Debt starts off with a flashback to an unknown kid on Jakku (later confirmed to be Gallius Rax) from 30 years prior. We don’t know who this kid is at the time, but this will become important for setting up Jakku as an important place in the Star Wars mythos (or at least I hope so since I haven’t read Aftermath: Empire’s End yet).
We now fast forward to the “present day”. It has been two months since the end of Aftermath. (Supposedly we are looking at about 7 months after Return of the Jedi if my timing is right. We’ll know better after Empire’s End hopefully.) Our old team from the previous book (Jas Emari, Norra Wexley, Temmin Wexley, Jom Barell, the modified B-1 battle droid Mr. Bones, and Sinjir Rath Velus) are in the process of apprehending Imperials and ex-Imperials for justice for the New Republic.
The good guys return from their mission and are sent to find Leia Organa’s husband (what?!), Han Solo, who has gone missing. Apparently they got married in a secret wedding on Endor. It turns out that not only has Han been missing for several months, but Luke has as well.
The good guys split up to track down Solo and eventually narrow his last known whereabouts to a prison designer’s house. Upon staking out the house they are attacked by Solo himself. Solo tells them what had happened in the interim since the Interlude in Aftermath. After the Interlude, Han and Chewie had gotten a group of smugglers together to try and free Kashyyyk. However they were tricked, and Chewie ended up being captured and sent to a prison on Kashyyyk. Han refuses to allow the group to help him, but after being knocked out by Mr. Bones, Solo relents and they all go off to save Chewie.
The good guys storm the prison, freeing Chewie, as well as the long lost Brentin, Norra’s husband and Temmin’s father. The group splits up again with some taking the former prisoners back to Chandrilla while some stay on to fight to free Kashyyyk from Imperial control. Upon landing on Chandrilla with no Han in sight, Leia becomes distraught.
Within the Empire, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is now the Imperial figurehead with Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax playing the part of puppet master behind the scenes. Rax is in the process of forming a “Shadow Council” to help run the Empire and salvage what he can from it. Sloane does not like having Rax tell her what to do, especially since she doesn’t know much about him.
Sloane travels off in secret to try and find out some information on Rax from an Imperial data storage facility. Sloane eventually finds a picture of a child Rax with Mas Amedda. She confronts Amedda, who confirms Rax’s identity.
Sloane heads back to her Empire and is informed by Rax that he is setting up a meeting with the New Republic to agree to a truce. A truce that is really a ruse, according to Rax, one where he is going to combine the entire Imperial fleet and attack Chandrilla (the current seat of government of the New Republic).
A month has passed and the liberation of Kashyyyk is going well. They manage to free the Wookiees from their microchips, however the freedom of the wookiees comes at a cost. The leader of the planet orders an orbital bombardment right before his death. Leia, learning about the bombardment, convinces several people unofficially to come help her save Kashyyyk. She arrives with several x-wings in tow and eventually a fleet arrives to save the day and Kashyyyk.
During this, the celebration for the truce is being prepared, however the former prisoners including Brentin, are not acting “all there”. At the celebration, with Sloane on stage, the attack Sloane is waiting for doesn’t go off as she is expecting. Instead the former prisoners turn on the crowd and start attacking everyone. It is a massacre. Sloane manages to get away, barely, and on a ship that Brentin has stowed away on as well. They form a revenge team and head out to confront Rax. Sloane had previously learned that Rax was from Jakku and they start their search for him there. They arrive at Jakku, just as Rax arrives with his united Imperial fleet.
In the last scene we jump back to just after the prelude scene, 30 years before the book. Palpatine meets with Rax and ends up sending him back to Jakku to look after something very important that is being dug up there.
General Thoughts and Impressions
In the first Aftermath book, I felt that Wendig received a lot of undue criticism of his writing style, partially because people were just not used to that style of writing. With this second book, I feel like Wendig pulled back on that style. This could possibly be due to the backlash, or possibly due to some other unknown reason, but there is a definite, noticeable change in the writing style between the two books… to the detriment of the story. The writing style of the first book was a breath of fresh air within a genre that has a tendency to all feel the same. But in Aftermath: Life Debt, Wendig toes the line much closer to a “typical fiction” writing style with sentences that are much less “choppy”. He is still writing in the present tense though, although I don’t even notice it unless I am trying to.
One very noticeable change in Life Debt was that it felt like Wendig brought the homosexual relations to the front. Previously this was much more subdued, to the point I didn’t even realize one of the couples in the story was a “couple”. There is also a weird interlude where the audience is introduced to the pronouns “zhe”, “zher”, and similar (all starting with a “z”) for a character who does not go by one specific gender (think alternatives to “he” and “her”). These pronouns apparently stand for someone who does not associate with either of the binary gender categories. In a galaxy as large as the Star Wars galaxy, you can imagine that this type of person would not be unheard of. I am fine with the inclusion of this in the story as I feel it adds an interesting dynamic, however reading it in prose is really distracting and pulls me out of the story. On top of that, these pronouns are used A LOT in the five pages of the chapter. So much so, that I just wished the chapter would end. I am not sure a better way to integrate this type of character into the story, but I’m pretty sure this was not the best way.
Just looking at the subtitle of the book Life Debt, I was under the assumption that this book would be about the freeing of Kashyyyk, or Han and Chewie, or something about them, since it was called “Life Debt” and that is the term that was applied to Chewie’s indebtedness to Han in the Legends continuity. However, upon reading the story, a very large chunk of the story had no Han or Chewie even in it. I know eventually we get them in the story, but even then, they were barely there. It felt more like they were on a parallel course through the story that sometimes interweaved with the story of Aftermath instead of this being a book about them. Again, along with the previous Aftermath book, this comes from expectations for the story to include larger named characters and not really getting what we expected. We are given a vague reason for the Life Debt title though. As in the Legends continuity, it is Chewie’s life debt from when Han saved him. But nothing is stated as to what Han did, only that Chewie feels indebted to him, and in response Han is indebted to Chewie for saving Han from himself.
After I had read Aftermath, I was under the hopeful delusion that perhaps the Interludes would continue on, or lead to some important aspects of the next couple of books in the series. However, I’m not so sure that had worked out. Like I said in my previous review, I don’t really recall what happened in those Interludes, besides the Han and Chewie one. But in this book, it appears the interludes are much more integrated into the story. In the previous book they felt like separate entities all together but here they are often setups for plot points and characters that will come up later in the story. A change that I greatly enjoyed.
One interesting thing here is the characterization of the Empire. Not only is it clearly laid out that the Empire is prejudiced against homosexuals, but the entire Imperial mindset alone is interesting. As a character, Sloane wants to be the “smartest person in the room”. This contrasts with an axiom I have often heard that “if you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room.” Sloane’s mindset shows that the Empire values personal ambition to be the best, but not actually the ambition to get there. They don’t want people to work at being better, they just want the best. If you are not currently the best, you are not worth anything to them. Yes, this is one person’s point of view (Sloane’s) but it is a perfect analogy to the whole. Why be train people to be better when you can just find someone else who is already better? It makes almost anyone really disposable in the mind of the Empire.
Various Items of Note throughout the Story
- Mas Amedda is alive! Although never seen in the Original Trilogy (OT), he is now the de facto ruler of the Empire on Coruscant, since the Empire had fractured along the different military branches.
- The name “Snap”, a nickname bestowed upon Temmin by Wedge, is first uttered chronologically (I believe) as it is Temmin’s habit (adopted from his father) of snapping his fingers when he thinks.
- The homosexual nature of Sinjir is much more in the open here than it was in the last book. But they mention in the book that it appears the Star Wars universe is not as open as we were led to believe before with no one caring about such relationships. The Empire it seems employed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, however they much more preferred “breeders” (of which homosexuals could not do).
- One of the interesting ties back to The Clone Wars was that Jas is Sugi’s niece. Sugi was a bounty hunter seen a couple of times during the series who apparently had too big of a heart (as was seen in the show) and did a lot of pro bono work, ending up with a lot of debt upon her death. This debt was passed on to Jas.
- Maz was not the original owner of her castle on Takodana. It apparently had been long before she came along.
- Palpatine refers to himself as “Emperor” even though this is 7 years before he has proclaimed himself Emperor.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Aftermath: Life Debt. I much preferred the writing style in the first Aftermath book but I think this story was much tighter and flowed a hell of a lot better. The Interludes felt much more integral to the plot and many of the characters had decent development. Sinjir, my favorite from the first book, evolved into a truly great character, and even Mr. Bones grew throughout the story. Life Debt progressed us along the timeline between Return of the Jedi and the Battle of Jakku, set one year after Jedi (which we will probably see in the next book) giving the reading audience a good foundation for the state of the Empire at this time.
Aftermath: Life Debt is a fun, in depth view of the Star Wars galaxy post Return of the Jedi, and at 430 pages, also one of the longest Star Wars novels to date. But don’t fret about the length, it’s far from a trudge to get through.