This review is as spoiler-free as possible.
"Star Wars: Aftermath," written by Chuck Wendig, is the first book of a planned trilogy that will bridge some of the gap between "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens."
Since Lucasfilm (wisely) opted to shift the existing stories of this era into an alternative "Legendary" status, this is the first glimpse we have of the state of the galaxy in the days after the Rebellion's major victory over the Empire. All is not well in the galaxy and the fight for the soul and governance of the galaxy is just beginning for a group of ragtag freedom fighters who must now transform into a legitimate government.
But all of this is in the background. The book follows a number of rebels, former-Imperials, bounty hunters, and a tinkering kid as they try to rescue Wedge Antilles from Imperial captivity on the planet Akiva where some remnants of the Empire are meeting to discuss the future of their slice of the galaxy.
Interspersed through the main story are interludes set in various locations across the galaxy that give us glimpses of the situation is as a whole. Two of these interludes will cause major debates among fans. The first because it's written so ambiguously that some fans will read it one way while many others will go the opposite direction. And it's a major issue to fandom. I'm interested to see how that plays out. The other interlude will cause many conversations because it's a story we want and we want it now. These are the two sequences that really feature (or reference) major players from the previous films, so those looking for a rollicking adventure starring Luke Skywalker at the start of his Jedi Mastery career will have to wait until that is addressed.
That's something I wasn't quite sure I realized I wanted with this book.
But Wendig delivered the goods for me. It took me a chapter or two to settle into the third-person present tense writing style that felt unusual at first but once I'd taken to it, it made the story feel both fresh and immediate. Wendig is definitely well-suited to writing in a galaxy far, far away. He peppers in lots of details that show that he's done his homework (or let the story group connect enough dots to make me squeal in delight.)
The only complaint I had about the writing was that I was a little taken aback by how many earth animals got referenced. Hamsters and dogs? I understand it's something that happens in the films ("We'll be sitting ducks!") but it was the only thing that felt off. Ultimately, these small pings of our reality pressing into the fabric of the story were not enough to pull me out. Through the course of the book I was fully engrossed. It's emotional, action packed, and had all the ingredients I love in "Star Wars" with a few more added in for good measure. It has reluctant heroes, hilarious droids, evil villains, and the stakes are high.
To Wendig's credit (as well as Lucasfilm's), the cast is appropriately diverse. Norra Wexley, the female lead of the book and the ragtag team, is a character I want to see more of and understand completely why this quickly turned into a trilogy. She's a complicated figure torn between her familial responsibilities with her son and her duty as someone who wants to make the galaxy a better place. Gay and lesbian readers will also find themselves well-represented in the text, as we're brought three more characters in the canon that identify as having same-sex attractions. I want to say people of color are better represented as well, but after reading the book I'm not sure if I simply imagined Norra and her son and the rest of her family as black characters, or if it really is in the text.
We're also given a cast that is generally represented equally on the gender front. About half the characters seemed to be of either sex. And the best of the bad guys was also a woman. Admiral Sloane (who first appeared in John Jackson Miller's "A New Dawn") is fast becoming one of my favorite characters in this new "Star Wars" universe we find ourselves in and I would happily applaud her jumping from the books into films.
The book itself is incredibly readable. I couldn't put it down, I consumed it rapidly over the course of two days. My time was limited and I had many deadlines, but found myself setting things aside in order to read instead. It moves quickly and is structured like you'd imagine a "Star Wars" book should be.
But like most things in the "Star Wars" universe, this book actually raises just as many questions as it answers. And the biggest question doesn't come until the last chapter of the book. And it leaves with such a tantalizing, dangling question that fans will be debating the identity of a certain character until the answer is finally, officially revealed. It's quite a tease, though, and it might rub some fans the wrong way, but part of my love of "Star Wars" comes in not knowing all the answers and having things to debate about.
This might be one of the biggest debates coming to fandom for a long time, at least until it's answered or "The Force Awakens" drops all of its mysteries on us in December. Whichever comes first.
The book is widely available today and I am giving it my highest recommendation. Of the books that are part of the canon, I can't tell if I liked this one or "Dark Disciple" more. They're both just so good. And if this book is any indication of the continuing quality of the work the story group is doing to tie the entire "Star Wars" saga together, classic trilogy, prequels, and what's coming next, I think we're all in great shape.
You can pick up the book at any local bookseller or order it on Amazon here.
And be sure to listen to the next episode of Full of Sith, where we'll be dissecting the book in greater detail and with spoilers.