Tag Archives: Chuck Wendig

Aftermath: Empire’s End – Review

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This review was originally posted at The Star Wars Report.

Star Wars fans’ first taste of the end of the Empire came in Lost Stars as the Imperial characters in that book experienced the Battle of Jakku. It was the first taste of the end of all things for the Empire as seen in The Original Trilogy. Now, in Chuck Wendig’s final Aftermath book, Empire’s End, fans finally have the particulars of what led to the showdown between the Empire and the New Republic over this remote world.

Is This All There Is?

This series has followed two big characters, Rae Sloane and Norra Wexley. Each of these women has been moving closer to the other throughout the story, and it’s in this book that they come face to face at last. What’s most interesting is that even though they are on opposite sides of the war, they find themselves driven by the same thing, revenge. Each woman wants revenge on the person they believe has taken everything away from them. Norra desires revenge on Rae for attacking the New Republic and for brainwashing her husband to help carry out the plan. Rae’s object of revenge is Gallius Rax, who has taken the Empire she loves away from her. As these two women wrestle with how to get their revenge they see that they are truly not that different from one another and are even left with the same question plaguing them: “Is this all there is?” Is revenge truly enough to live for? Their answers will be different in the end, but the outcome will be the same. Revenge is not enough.

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Who is the Enemy?

Building off the previous theme is also this question, “Who is the enemy?” Norra will find that in the end, her understanding of the answer to that question was wrong and she must put aside her presuppositions about Rae, specifically, to fight the right fight.

What is most interesting is to see the way this struggle is mirrored on a galactic scale and how it will plague the sequel trilogy of Star Wars. The New Republic and Mon Mothma specifically have grappled with the challenge of identifying who the enemy is and what actual threat that enemy poses. All throughout the Aftermath series she’s longed to have peace and put war behind her. She might have been too late to act correctly if not pushed by her opponent in the upcoming election to take a strong stance on the security of the New Republic. Seeing the galaxy the way it is and not as she wants it to be is hard for Mon Mothma, but in the fight to bring democracy, the lesson that freedom is never free cannot be lost.

Finding the medium between safety and freedom is never easy. Sinjar says of Mon Mothma she is, “…a woman that wants to give democracy to the entirety of the galaxy. Freedom for all. Oppression for none.” It truly is the noblest of goals. The book does a good job of showing this struggle in all its messiness.

It is fascinating to see how this connects to The Force Awakens. Ancillary materials fill in the details of a senate that does not wish to see the First Order as a threat. Because of their lack of understanding of what’s truly happening in the galaxy, or worse, a blatant disregard for the signs before them, their blindness becomes their doom. A poignant lesson in any galaxy.

Spoilers begin after this point


The Good

The book has some things worthy of praise. The plot. The plot of the book is honestly what many expected from the first book. The portrayal of the inner-workings of the New Republic, seeing characters like Mon Mothma and Leia in their roles, trying to take care of the Empire while at the same time transitioning to a new galactic government, is excellent.

The book also continues one of the best things about the series, the Empire. The power plays and infighting between Grand Admiral Sloan and Gallius Rax as they try to find a way forward for the fledgling Empire are great. Another standout comes in the character of Rax and the revelation of his connection with Palpatine, Jakku, and what’s happening there, ultimately leading to the formation of the First Order.

The Bad

Empire’s End, like the rest of the series suffers from Wendig’s prose; it’s just frustratingly prosaic. There is also a lack of exposition and detail with major plot points, such as the Black Sun and Red Key crime syndicate’s involvement in the attempt to destabilize the galaxy or the full scope of Palpatine’s contingency plan. Each would benefit from more explanation and detail. There are also times throughout  where there seems to be a jump in the story and fuller connection of the dots would be welcome. This is so important because tie-in fiction that’s being written concurrently with a tv series or films will always come in second to those mediums. The major revelations will inevitably be saved for the next movie or episode, and because of this, it’s a struggle for the books to feel important. The Aftermath books suffer from this problem. There really are no major revelations in them and it leaves the series feeling a bit hollow. Therefore good writing is essential to making the reader feel they are being rewarded for their time and that the book is necessary to the canon.

The interludes continue to be an issue. Most of them are unnecessary. With all of the pre-release hullabaloo about Jar Jar’s fate, the actual reveal lacks any punch. The interludes that do work would be better served by being worked into the narrative in a more organic way. The space for the others could better be utilized to flesh out the main plot with more detail.

Most frustratingly, the character’s voices still sound off. Han and Leia do not sound like themselves. Tie-in fiction, when it is at its best, plays like an extension of the show or film it draws from. The best way for that to happen is to capture the “voices” of the characters so that the reader can hear the actor in their heads as they read. Unfortunately for this book, just as in Life Debt, this does not happen.

Conclusion 

Empire’s End is an improvement on the previous two books in the series. The plot is more engaging and seeing the end to the Empire is enjoyable. But with continuing prose, “voice” and importance issues, it’s still not one of the new canon’s best, landing somewhere in the middle with a rating of 2.75 downed Star Destroyers out of 5.

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Star Wars: Life Debt – Review

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Last year during the craziness of Force Friday, fans tried to satiate their desire for anything Star Wars with new toys, coffee mugs, shirts and books. In all the mayhem, one book stood out from the rest as the one that people could not wait to devour, Aftermath. This was going to be the start of the new canon, the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi and set up for The Force Awakens. Sadly the reception for the first book, a planned trilogy, was lukewarm at best, leaving fans hoping that the second book would redeem the series.

Themes

There are a couple of interesting themes in the book. The first is the way in which the Empire looks to reestablish itself after all the losses it has sustained. It’s idea, propaganda.They will just feed the populous a fictitious narrative backed up by various acts of staged benevolence to sell the facade. There is an exchange in the book between Rae Sloane and and Gallius Rax that feels chillingly familiar,

“He stops her there. “Rae, do you know much about opera?”….“I know opera, though I am not an enthusiast.”
He clasps his hands together. “Become one. It will make our partnership more rewarding for you. Opera moves me. And yet none of it is real. Therein lies the crux of what you need to understand: Something does not need to be real for it to have an effect. The instruments and song, the drama and melodrama, the pathos and tragedy. It’s a lie. A fiction. And yet what happens on the stage speaks a kind of truth just the same. Facts and truth are separate things. I am more interested in truth than I am fact. I am comfortable with artifice when it suits our needs. And here, it does.”

The idea of truth as weaponized artifice created at will, and that facts are not really important, is the best theme of the book.

Second main theme is the struggle of the New Republic to establish itself in the galaxy, finish the war with the Empire and continue to bring freedom to enslaved planets. It is clearest in the character of Mon Mothma and her reluctance to liberate Kashyyyk or to truly see what needs to be done to finish off the Empire for good. She’s become tired of war, looking at people as numbers in equations instead of living beings with a right to life. She’s looking for ways to demilitarize before the war is truly one, sticking her head in the sand and crafting a narrative for herself that they’ve done enough. It’s powerful, poignant and sadly all too commonplace today. The theme is crystallized in Leia’s conversation with Mon Mothma,

“We argue,” Leia says suddenly, “about whether it is the time to build up the military or to dampen its effect. And all the while we forget that we have the privilege of arguing from comfortable chairs many parsecs away. We argue about what’s prudent or what’s practical while people suffer. Do you know what people want to see from the New Republic? Do you, truly?”
Mon cedes the floor. “Please.”
“They want us to be heroes.”
A moment passes where everyone chuckles uncomfortably. At least until they realize she’s quite serious.
Mon says: “I know. You’re not wrong. And you are a hero, and you helped us all be the heroes needed to get to this point. But such passion and idealism have to be tempered by reality. This is a government. It has a lot of moving pieces.”
Leia stiffens. “And that is where we’ll fail. This isn’t a machine, Chancellor. When did we start to see this as a government and not a collection of people helping people? We’ve started seeing…territories and battle logistics and votes. We’ve stopped seeing hearts and minds and faces. The more we do that, the more we lose. Of ourselves. Of the galaxy”

Frustratingly, the themes of the book are not truly fleshed out to really give them the resonance they deserve. They are there and that is a positive, but they lack the followthrough to ring clear as they should.

The Story

The story is pretty simple. A new leader begins to emerge in the fractured Empire, who has  a plan to destabilize the New Republic. His plan has it’s fingers in every part of the story as he channels his inner Palpatine, using Han’s desire to liberate Kashyyyk in an attempt to deal the New Republic a serious blow and weed out road blocks in the Empire to his rule.

Characters

One of the complaints about Aftermath was favoring new characters over established ones, and that failed to resonate. In Life Debt, readers are given more of Han, Leia, Mon Mothma, Wedge, Chewie and a few others; this should be a plus.

The problem is they are not written in a recognizable way and they lose any recognizable voice (except Chewie). When using established characters, the most important thing in tie-in fiction is to write them so they sound like themselves. When you read the dialogue, you should be able to hear the actor’s voice.

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The new characters do not fair much better. Norra Wexly and her motley crew are relegated to CW melodrama, as bad romances are popping up all over, plus there is a twist worthy of Days of Our Lives. Unfortunately these characters are just not given interesting arcs or written well enough to be stimulating.

Conclusion 

Life Debt is all over the place. It lacks the focus to tell a good story. There is too much going on and none of the stories feels coherent enough to be satisfying. The best storyline is about the Empire as it slowly morphs into what will become the First Order. If this had been the major focus, like Lost Stars it could have been great. I had hoped that with the release of The Force Awakens that Life Debt would benefit from more freedom and opportunity to give us the old characters.

Sadly it all feels as hollow as a burned-out wroshyr tree. Life Debt is rated 2 out of 5 stars.

Star Wars: Aftermath – Review

star-wars-aftermath-cover-625x951As Return of the Jedi faded from theaters in late 1983, Star Wars fans entered what would become known as the “Dark Times”. Toys began disappearing from the shelves and slowly Star Wars faded into the cultural zeitgeist. Before faint whispers about Special Editions and Prequels, Heir to the Empire awakened a hunger for Star Wars that had been just under the geek surface for years. It was the first book to be licensed by Lucasfilm to continue the story after Return of the Jedi. Bringing back Luke, Leia and Han as well as introducing us to Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde and a plethora of others who would become staples of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Timothy Zahn cemented himself as the second coming of George Lucas for fans. The SWEU flourished with varied success over the 23 years it ran, ending when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced that the EU would be reorganized in the Legends line and a new official run of canon books and comics would be forthcoming.

This history has lead us to the weekend of September 4th, 2015 when the first official book about what happened after Return of the Jedi was released. Star Wars: Aftermath replaces Heir to the Empire as Star Wars gospel, giving fans their first taste of the aftereffects of the Rebel victory at Endor and the state of the universe in the wake of Vader and the Emperor’s death. For many fans, even though there have been other books in the new canon, this is the one they have been looking to as the “official” start since it begins them on the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Can the book live up to these expectations?

JTTFA-1536x864Plot

The plot is relatively simple. As the Empire scrambles to hold on to systems in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star, a secret meeting is held on the outer rim world of Akiva. Wedge Antillies, on a reconecesne vacation, stumbles upon the meeting and is captured. At the same time Rebel pilot Norra Wexley has retured to Akiva to bring her son back with her to Chandrila, the home of the Senate of the New Republic. Mayhem ensues as Norra, her son Temmin, a former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir and bounty hunter named Jas Emari join forces to rescue Wedge and destroy the Imperials. The book also features interludes that give glimpses to the state of the galaxy on different worlds, plus what can only be called miniscule cameos of Leia, Han, Chewie, Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.


The Jedi

One of the strongest points of this novel is its unification of the Star Wars universe from the Prequels to the Originals. Wendig deftly weaves the two parts of the Saga together seemlesly. So for fans worried that the Prequels would be forgotten, at least here, they play a wonderful supporting role for character back stories as well as the feel of the universe. It’s nice to have the Prequels feel respected and important in the new canon.

Wendig tries to capture the ambiance of Star Wars in the dialogue and in the characters. Sometimes he captures it and sometimes he does not. There may be too many instances of Imperial officers yelling at Rebels, “scum” but that’s to be forgiven. On a whole, the new characters are good and they all feel like they fit right alongside any of the characters from any part of Star Wars.

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The Sith

The major issue with the story is that it feels like the background to what should be the main story. The interludes hurt the book by the reminding you that the story you want to read with Leia, Han, Chewie and Mon Mothma is happening, just not in this book (Poor Luke is only a reference). Honestly there is just no excuse to not be following the major characters from the Orginal trilogy at this point. Star Wars has always been from the point of view from the main characters and any side character (on screen that is) has a relationship with a major character to help you understand their place in the Saga. A prime example of this is Star Wars Rebels and the way it has used, Tarkin, Vader and Ahsoka to give us a context for why characters like Kanan, Hera and Ezra are important to the overall story of Star Wars. In Aftermath, there is none of that. We’re never left with any other feeling other than this is a minor story that amounts to little more than a footnote in galactic history. SPOILERS: The very end of the book does tease us with a shadowy Imperial admiral that feels similar to a Thrawn-type character.

It’s clear from this story that there were some serious reigns on the author from the story group as to what he can cover. With The Force Awakens a little over 3 months away, the history of Luke, Leia and Han is being kept a closely guarded secret and their absence from this book is glaring. Honestly it might have been better to have this book come out after the movie so that the “surprise” of where the trinity is would not have to be kept anymore. Aftermath is a trilogy, so the next two books, coming out after The Force Awakens may offer more of these characters since the release date for number two is not till sometime in 2016. Author Chuck Wendig did an interview with Grantland.com where he said

“There was a great article about Age of Ultron, and that it felt like a highway with a bunch of off-ramps to other Marvel properties,” Wendig says. ‘I don’t want this book to feel like that. I don’t want it to feel like, ‘Well, it’s just a trip down memory lane, and don’t forget to buy these other great books, or other games, or other movies.’ It needs to still stand on its own, while still speaking to the fans and other properties and other stories that are out there.”

Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened. With the “it’s all connected” mentality, the story has become a mere side road to the main road we all really want to be on. The book, though well written feels like staging for the big show, never feeling truly needed or essential. I wrote in my review of A New Dawn, the first book of the new Star Wars canon that,

If you are going to have the books, comics and games be canon they need to have weight. People need a reason to read or play, so make the stories important and not just filler. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has suffered with this very issue, so please be careful to not allow this to happen with the these Star Wars properties. The fun of the now Legends line, were the big, galaxy altering events that took place. Just because there are new films or shows does not mean readers and gamers don’t want meat to the stories, something that matters.

Aftermath, like Tarkin and Heir to the Jedi all fail this test. Sadly the book never rises above feeling like filler, the light beer of Star Wars books. The real saving grace with Aftermath is that Wendig is a decent writer who is able to transcend the material enough to make this a weak recommend.  Aftermath is rate 2.5 out of 5 lost A-Wings.