Well, it’s been a slog, but I’ve finally made it through the third book in the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. It’s been a slog for many reasons, not all of which are to do with the book itself, weirdly. But I have to say this now: this book just feels too weird to me, and I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to review it. Prepare for lots of spoilers, and also lots of rambling!
The book continues the story of Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin, alongside the daemonic Mister Bones, as they continue to pursue high-ranking Imperials for trial. Discovering the Imperial fleet has assembled around the dirtball planet of Jakku, they head into the Western Reaches and almost get shot down – Norra and Jas make it to the surface in an escape pod, though Mister Bones is also ejected to look after them. Point number one on the weirdness chart: Norra abandons her son in the middle of a warzone in order to pursue her vengeance against Grand Admiral Sloane. Having previously abandoned him to go fight with the Rebellion, I find this woman to be utterly reprehensible, and literally went from having any interest in the character to absolutely zero sympathy in the space of a couple of sentences. At pretty much all of her subsequent appearances in the book, she just irritated the hell out of me, and I just can’t explain how awful this woman is.
Moving along, though!
Temmin and Sinjir return to Chandrila to warn the New Republic of the Imperials above Jakku, but they’re in the middle of electing a new Chancellor, as well as relocating to a new planet, so there’s a lot of politicking going on. A massive chunk of the book is then taken up with the manoeuverings of Mon Mothma, Leia, Han and Temmin and Sinjir (along with Sinjir’s former boyfriend, Conder), which seems to rob any sense of urgency that Jas and Norra being abandoned in the middle of the Empire ever had. Point the second on the weirdness scale.
Mon Mothma (who has always been referred to by her full name until this book, where people casually call her “Mon”, again a weird thing to me) is opposed by Tolwar Wartol, an alien whose world was subjugated by the Empire, the natives only managing to throw off that yoke by destroying their world to make it useless. Tolwar actually makes an assassination attempt on Mon Mothma’s life, but is thwarted in this. Sinjir takes up a job as Mon Mothma’s aide, along with Sondiv Sella (whose daughter Korr would later become Leia’s aide in Bloodline).
The Empire has been brought to Jakku by Gallius Rax as a failsafe planned by the Emperor back in the day. We slowly learn that Palpatine, thinking if the Empire fell, planned to relocate outside of the galaxy and create a new Empire there. Comparisons are made with chess, and it’s all very, very weird. Rax comes across as slightly mad (though not as bad as Yupe Tashu, who is definitely insane), and plans to destroy the failed Imperial Remnant as well as the New Republic fleet over Jakku, but cracking the world in twain. Lots of things break and snap and crack in twain throughout the book, and it’s all very archaic. But anyway.
Sloane and Brentin attempt to break through Rax’s defenses with the help of the thin Hutt, Niima, but the Imperials get the better of them and both are captured, though not held prisoner – Rax wishes Sloane to see the death of the Empire and the Republic. Things don’t go entirely as planned, however, when the New Republic eventually shows up and, after an uninteresting space battle, manage to tractor-beam-pull a Super Star Destroyer down onto the surface of the planet. Yeah, that happens.
So Rax sets the world to blow up, but is followed into his lair by Sloane and Brentin, and ultimately Norra too, and there’s another confusing fight between first Rax and Sloane, then Norra and Rax, then Brentin is shot, and finally Sloane and Rax again. Sloane kills Rax, who tells her with his dying breath of the Imperialis yacht that is waiting to take off into the uncharted realms with the future of the Empire on board – Brentol Hux, Armitage Hux, and a group of feral child-warriors. The yacht is a replica of the ship stolen by Lando and co in his comic book, by the way…
Sloane shuts off Rax’s doomsday device, and leaves in the Imperialis, while Norra is rescued by Jas and they manage to take Brentin’s body back to Akiva for burial. Niima begins to claim the enormous amounts of salvage that have resulted from so many spaceships crashing into the planet – you may recognise her name as being shared by the Outpost where Rey sells her tech in The Force Awakens?
Throughout all of the book, Leia has been pregnant, and Han hasn’t known what to do with himself, what with Chewie on Kashyyyk with his family. Leia finally has her baby boy when the formal peace accord is signed between the New Republic and the Empire, Mas Amedda finally having escaped Coruscant with the help of some children. Norra heads off to Corellia to teach piloting with Wedge, Temmin being among the first intake of students, and it all ends a bit sugary, somehow…
Throughout the novel, we also get Interludes that tell tales of what is going on across the galaxy, and they have to be some of the best parts of the book. We see Lando reclaiming Cloud City with the help of Lobot and some New Republic soldiers; we see Mas Amedda’s escape from Coruscant; we even catch up with the weird asexual pirate from the previous book. Notably, we also catch up with Jar Jar on Naboo, and learn that he’s now entertaining people as a street clown. That interlude is actually really quite emotional, and I wonder if anyone will re-evaluate how they feel about the Gungan in light of this. I really liked these things, but having now seen the structure of them across all three books of the trilogy, I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t have been more interesting to have made the three books feature these stories more prominently…
See, these interludes predominantly have one common theme: the galaxy is a changing place. I sometimes wonder if this book isn’t a little too self-aware, and the interludes are casually showing us that the universe is no longer the swashbuckling adventure-ride of the Bantam era, and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Conspiracy theories aside, the interludes have a tremendous sense of “anything can happen now the Empire has fallen”, and I absolutely loved this freshness from them!
Overall, I think the Aftermath trilogy has got to be among the weirdest, uneven fiction set in the Star Wars universe. It’s not Bounty Hunter Wars awful, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think it’s that great for it to hold up against the old canon stuff. I’m not about to lurch into a “back in my day” rant, but this stuff essentially replaces most of the X-Wing series of novels, and a good portion of the Thrawn trilogy, as well. I think the X-Wing series is probably a very close comparison here, actually, as those novels were also propelled by characters from outside of the movies, and we even get to see Wedge form a squadron of washouts (Phantom Squadron, rather than Wraith Squadron, but you get the idea). Now, I used to be a big fan of the X-Wing books, but went off them when I last re-read the series. Even so, the basic premise of those books is somehow a lot more interesting, and certainly a lot more tightly-wrought, than this trilogy. While Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston may have assembled a cast of tropes and grafted them onto the universe, the main characters from this trilogy just don’t honestly feel like they belong there. The most interesting character, to me, is Sinjir, and the way he is treated as a drunken smart-mouth is really quite the waste.
I think a lot of my negativity on this score has to do with the distinct lack of movie characters involved in such a big story, though. There’s literally no Luke; Leia spends pretty much the whole book being pregnant, and Han does have some moments, but he’s once again the cocky smuggler, though feeling out of his depth with fatherhood pressing down upon him, and his interactions with baby Ben near the end once more seem to fly in the face of any personal growth he may have made over the course of the original trilogy. When I think of how present the big three movie characters were in stuff like the Thrawn trilogy, and compare that to this, it is just a crushing disappointment. There is still an important story being told somewhere in these pages, for sure, but it’s told through a focus being on entirely the wrong people, in my opinion.
The trilogy certainly had a tall order when it began: connect Return of the Jedi to the as-yet unreleased The Force Awakens. The hype for the novel was insane, and I’ve talked already about how much of a let-down I felt it was. Life Debt, without having quite so much weight on it, wasn’t exactly a great book, but I did find a lot to enjoy there. The conclusion to the trilogy, however, seemed to set itself up to fail almost immediately, having a massive story to resolve, yet following only a part of that.
There are still a number of questions left, for me, which also makes it feel like something of a let-down. I mean, we only learn a modicrum of what exactly the Emperor was planning out there beyond the galactic rim, with Thrawn’s name thrown into the mix in a manner that is clearly intended to anticipate Tim Zahn’s new book that is set to release in April. The whole plot with the Imperial Remnant was by turns confusing and weird and bad, and I feel like a trick really was missed here. Indeed, I feel that the entire point of this element of the book was just there to explain why there are so many wrecks on Jakku in Episode VII. There are so many things that I wish had been focused on in this novel, but instead we got to meet the withered Hutt of Jakku and her weird slaves…
All through writing this blog, I’ve been trying to think of something good I can say about the book. True, I did like a lot of the interludes, and wish we’d had more of those, or that they had been expanded upon. We also get some throwaway bits sprinkled into the mix, such as the canon confirmation of Durga the Hutt being a character in the lore, here said to be based on Ulmatra. Things like this made me feel annoyed, because there is a story between the lines that I want to be reading instead. The main thrust of the story just felt like such a lacklustre way to end this.
To sum up: this book (and really, this trilogy) just didn’t do it for me.
While this entire blog has pretty much felt like an attack on the whole trilogy, I think it’s important to say that you should still read the book for yourself, or get it on audio or whatever. I am a huge believer in forming your own opinions on stuff anyway, but in particular I think it’s important that any Star Wars fan picks up these novels to take a look, as I feel the story will be crucial background in the years to come. While it’s true that this message is perhaps a bit disingenuous to come at the end of a long ramble about what I disliked about it, I would still say read it for yourself first – and then by all means come back here and we can talk about it!