It’s the characters’ journeys that make the novel.
The final book in the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Wendig was released back in February of 2017, and I have finally found the time to read this rather lengthy addition to the Star Wars canon. The plot for Empire’s End has been teased since the first trailer was released for The Force Awakens with a Star Destroyer seen crash landed on a desert planet in the distance. It’s those first few tantalizing moments that had Star Wars fans eager to learn more. Well, the time for more has come.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
We left off the previous book, Aftermath: Life Debt with a terrorist attack going on at the New Republic’s capital on Chandrilla, and Grand Admiral Rae Sloane was on the run, trying to track down Gallius Rax for setting her up to take the fall for the attack. She is joined by Brentin Wexley, Norra’s husband and Temmin’s (Snap) father who is also after Rax for putting a chip in his head, forcing him to help carry out the attack. Norra then proceeds to make it her mission to track down Sloane.
Aftermath: Empire’s End starts “several months” after the attack on Chandrilla, which works out to approximately one year after Return of the Jedi. The crew has managed to track down Sloane to Jakku, an unknown, unimportant backwater world. When they arrive in the system they discover that the entire Imperial fleet has amassed at Jakku. Surprised by the Empire’s presence, Norra Wexley ejects from the ship in an escape pod accompanied by the bounty hunter Jas Emari, and followed by the modified B1 battle droid, Mister Bones. After they eject, Temmin Wexley and Sinjir Rath Velus travel back to Chandrilla to warn the New Republic of the Empire’s fleet and attempt to find a way back to Jakku to save their friends.
What follows is an emotional journey for all of our main characters who are struggling to come to terms with who they have become over the course of the war and what has happened to not only them, but to the ones they love.
This is it, the final book in the Aftermath trilogy and the one that we hoped was going to give us some of the answers teased in the previous two books, not to mention The Force Awakens.
Going into this book we knew several things:
- The Empire was utterly defeated at Jakku.
- The Battle of Jakku happened 1 year after the end of RoTJ (or 5 ABY for those chronology concerned folks).
- The end result of the battle has several star destroyers and a super star destroyer crash landed on the surface of Jakku (as seen in The Force Awakens).
- The book is titled “Empire’s End” and with the build up that has been coming in the previous two books, it promises to give us a full account of the Battle of Jakku, not just the brief glimpses seen in Lost Stars and the Battlefront video game.
What we ended up getting though was a book that brought out the raw, unfettered emotions of the characters. Breaking them down as far as they will go and even a little further to what is almost a visceral book full of blood and gore, but also hope. Hope that the characters keep going on despite how the odds are against them to staggering proportions. A hope that one day they will prevail against the Empire. This is a hope that we know we will see in the book, but how that comes across is unknown. Despite being a simple premise–locate the Empire and destroy–this is an Empire with its back against the wall and they are not going down easy. Everyone, Empire and New Republic alike, are at their wit’s end and it shows.
The entire Aftermath trilogy was partially about playing with expectations. You expect one thing (this series will be about the big three right after RoTJ) and get something completely different (who are these people? and what is going on?). Initially people didn’t know how to take this series with its new cast of characters and nary an original trilogy character to be found. On top of that, Wendig often inserted various social issues into the books, such as a prominent gay character or an asexual/non-sexual character.
However, the “gay” character never acts like a “gay character,”–he is just a character who happens to be gay. We even return to the gender non-binary pirate (thanks Chuck for the fix!), Eleodie with the “interesting” zhe, zher, and other rarely used pronouns. But this time it was better. I’m not sure if I was just ready for it or it was written to flow better, but overall it wasn’t a torture to get through and it fit into the story perfectly. Wendig also writes in a style offputting to many of his readers, with often choppy sentences set in the present tense. All of these things have led the Aftermath trilogy to be a rather contentious series of books.
Even in the third book Wendig continues to play these games. Empire’s End should be about the end of the Empire. However, that only is part of it. There is so much more that is going on here that the end of the Empire feels like an afterthought at times. This is clearly his intent while writing the story, but what it does is enrich the Star Wars galaxy way beyond where the canon had left it before. In the Legends universe, often the storylines would be the primary driving force of the novels. However in this trilogy of books, the storyline could be boiled down to a few simple lines, but it’s the characters’ journeys that make the novel.
Looking at the story, my favorite character has to be Sinjir. He is by far the most fleshed out character of the entire series. Within each and every book of the trilogy he has had his moments to grow and shine, whereas many of the others in the ensemble have a tendency to trundle along in the background. In Empire’s End we get much more of his backstory than we have ever gotten before and it truly shows how much he has grown as a character. Casting off the love of his life to protect him just to make an about face when he realizes that was not the best course of action to do. Yes it’s a gay romance, but it’s not really a gay romance. It’s a romantic plot between two characters, regardless of sex, race, or species. Wendig has a magical touch with this type of writing. He has the ability to insert the social issues without making the story about those social issues. It doesn’t always come off perfect (like the gender non-binary alien from the second book), but when it does, it’s seamless.
Overall, this was a fantastic addition to the Aftermath trilogy. Easily the best of the three and probably my favorite book of the new canon so far (of those I’ve read. I’m still three books behind). Out of the 100+ books in the entire Star Wars pantheon, which includes all of the Legends Universe, I only recall tearing up a handful of times and it definitely happened here. I cared about these characters. I liked them for the most part. And I wanted various characters to “win” regardless of which side they were on. Did we know the eventual endgame of the book? Kind of, but Wendig plays with that. We knew the Empire ended, but we didn’t know how and what happened afterwards. We didn’t know where our favorite characters ended up. This book is by far the best written of the trilogy and any issues that were brought up in previous books were seamlessly fixed and incorporated into this book. It seems as if Wendig took the criticisms laid at him and adjusted his writing style accordingly to provide us with an even better book than I could have hoped for. As the story went on I wondered how I would rate it. I was at a solid 8 for most of the book and it all depended on the ending, but Wendig hit the finale as a home run.