Aftermath: Empire’s End

Hey everybody,
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).

Anyway.

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!

Aftermath trilogy

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!

Aftermath: Life Debt

Hey everybody,
I’ve made good use of my time off work by reading the second novel in the Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt, and I have to put this out there now: this novel is weird to me. I alternately really, really like it, and find it so annoying that I wonder why I was even spending the time reading it.

First, let me tell you what happens – spoilers will be all over this blog, so you have been warned!

Picking up where the first novel ended, we see Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin as a group of Imperial-catchers, travelling the galaxy picking up rogue Imperial officers and bringing them to account for their actions during the years the Empire was in control. The opening sequence also introduces Jom Barell to the team, a New Republic commando from the first book who I’d actually forgotten about. Anyway, the Imperial they catch ends up dead, but as soon as they return to Chandrila, they’re given a new mission: Han Solo has gone missing, and Leia wants him back. We learn that Leia is pregnant, too, providing even more motivation. So Norra and the team split up to find some clues as to where he could be, and find themselves on the trail of an Imperial prison-designer, Golas Aram. During an attempt to break into his compound, Han shows up and tells them Chewie has been taken prisoner by the Empire, and he was after Golas to attempt to find out where. Sinjir manages to get the details on the prison, which happens to be on Kashyyyk, and so they all head off to the Wookiee homeworld, just about managing to evade the Imperial blockade of the world, though their passage does attract the attention of Admiral Rae Sloane.

That should actually be Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, who is being used as a figurehead for the new Empire by the mysterious chap from the end of the first Aftermath book: mysterious, no longer! Gallius Rax was an orphan from Jakku who managed to stow away aboard the ship of Imperial Advisor Yupe Tashu, who we met in the clandestine meeting on Akiva in the first novel. Sloane is determined to find some kind of history on this guy, as she doesn’t trust him despite all that he has done for her career. There is a lot of intrigue around the new Empire in this book, as we see Sloane head to Coruscant which is still under ISB control and the like. It’s a really interesting look at the galaxy post-Endor, I must say!

Things come to a head when Sloane contacts the New Republic to offer to begin peace talks, coinciding with the return of the prisoners from the Kashyyyk prison, several of whom are high-ranking Rebels, Norra’s husband Brentin among them. While the prisoners return, Han doesn’t, however, having stayed behind with Sinjir, Jom and Jas to help liberate Kashyyyk. A month passes, and the celebrations for the return of the prisoners take a horrific turn when they are revealed to have been sleeper agents for the Empire, and they all try to assassinate Mon Mothma. In the confusion, Sloane escapes Chandrila having been shot, but steals a shuttle that Brentin has also stowed-away on.

Meanwhile on Kashyyyk, Jom is captured by the Imperial governor of the planet, who has not so much gone native as gone feral, and pulls out Jom’s eye for the hell of it. Thankfully, we don’t actually see that. Turns out the Wookiees are being controlled by a chip in their brains, so Sinjir masquerades as one of Sloane’s men to attempt to disrupt the signal to these chips. He gets soundly beaten-up in the process, but it works, and the Wookiees rise up against the Imperials and, with the timely intervention of Leia, Ackbar and Wedge, the blockade is broken.

The novel ends with the fall-out from all of this, as Sloane and Brentin learn of Gallius Rax’s origin on Jakku, and decide to head there to find out what’s going on. Rax, for his part, has decided to make a final stand against the New Republic at the planet, and arrives there with the entire Imperial fleet…

Like its predecessor, there are a number of Interludes that continue to show the state of the galaxy post-Endor, and while some of them are a little bland, I do like they way the break up the main narrative, and allow for an even wider scope for the book. Not many of them stick in the mind, though there is one that is set in Maz Kanata’s Castle, and being a big fan of her from Episode VII, I did enjoy seeing that one. It didn’t really tell us anything new, but it was good to see her again!

So that’s the story, broadly speaking. Overall, I thought the storyline was pretty great, and I think it would have been more deserving of being the one to come out before Episode VII last autumn. The first novel had a massive hype, and really fell flat as we learnt next to nothing of any real use, in my opinion, as to how the galaxy had changed. This book, however, shows us a lot more of the galaxy, and its wider scope is certainly to be commended. I love galaxy-spanning epics, and this definitely delivered on that! There are also some really great action sequences, such as breaking into the prison on Kashyyyk, the assassination attempts and Sloane’s escape from Chandrila. Indeed, the overall plot is exactly what I want and love from Star Wars novels.

Of course, here comes the “but”…

The characters were just so off for me, I can’t quite express how distressing it was sometimes to read. Let’s start with the movie people. Han knows that Leia is pregnant, but follows up on a lead with Chewie that might be able to save the planet Kashyyyk (it’s the lead we see them discuss in the interlude from the first novel). So Han willingly leaves his pregnant wife (we learn they married on Endor) to travel across the galaxy and put himself in danger. He’s also more of the cocky smuggler from A New Hope, which pretty much negates his growth that we see across the original movies – the Han of the ending of Return of the Jedi just doesn’t seem like the kinda guy to just abandon his nascent family like that. And the excuse he keeps giving is “it’s a thing I have to do…” which is just so damn stupid.

Leia isn’t much better. A lot of writers have had trouble writing Leia, because they seem to confuse the take-charge princess for a bossy, overbearing woman. This was certainly the problem with a lot of the Bantam novels, and a lot of the earlier Del Rey stuff. Leia here comes across as fairly erratic, particularly with her dealings with Mon Mothma. Spoiled brat springs to mind, actually. I think what’s worse is that I get the impression we’re supposed to put it down to her being pregnant? Hmph. That said, there was a nice little spark of character for her when she heads off to go save her husband without NR approval, that sort of take-charge attitude is definitely in character for her.

I was really surprised to see Evaan show up from the Princess Leia comic, wasn’t really expecting to see that, so it was nice to know that these things don’t exist in a vacuum, and they are all bleeding into each other.

Chewie is Chewie, but I was a bit dismayed to see that he still has the life debt thing to Han. Reading Bloodline, it looked as if they’d decided to do away with that, as it was wholly an EU creation, and even given the title of this novel, I was hoping it would have some other connotation. But no. It does look, at least, like it won’t be quite the issue it was for the Bantam and Del Rey series’, as our two favourite smugglers look like they might actually be parting ways now, rather than Chewie continually following Han around because he has to, ad infinitum. So that will hopefully be a thing, anyway.

Norra actually interested me in this book. She is still mostly just a bit of a blank character, unfortunately, but there are moments where she comes across as genuinely interesting. Her burgeoning romance with Wedge was nice to see, and I’m left wondering once again how her story will progress in the third book in the series.

I think the biggest let-down of the book, and one that I kept wincing at whenever I came across a scene with him, was Sinjir. He’s one of the earliest gay characters in the Star Wars universe, but I felt this was really quite badly handled in the first book, insofar as it seemed to come out of nowhere. The idea of Sinjir’s character really interests me, an ex-Imperial Loyalty Officer whose job was to root out dissension within the ranks, finds he’s actually losing his own faith in the regime so deserts, and wallows in self-pity at the irony of the situation before stepping up to the challenge in the last book, and now finds himself in a position where his particular set of skills can be put to good use. That’s a character arc I can get behind. The fact that he’s gay is interesting insofar as we have seen just one other such character (I believe) up to this point, and I find it interesting to see if the Empire would have any kind of reaction to that in its heyday. However, so many of Sinjir’s scenes show him to merely be a caricature of the campest of gay men, it’s borderline offensive, but also has little to no impact on the storyline. I’m just bemused as to why it’s even in there, to be honest.

Sloane, and her stuff with the Empire, was definitely the highlight of the book, much as the scenes with the Imperial Future Council on Akiva were probably the most interesting from the first book. As said above, I really enjoyed seeing Coruscant, almost under martial law, and the addition of Mas Amedda as the Grand Vizier of the Empire was really nice. Of course, I am a bit sad that they seem to have done away with Sate Pestage in this regard, though he is still a name in Tarkin, so maybe we’ll see some more of him and what he’s up to. It’s stuff like this that I feel really ought to have been in the first book!

Gallius Rax was a bit of an annoyance, if I’m honest. I think his appearance at the very end of Aftermath was touted as being the new-canon version of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and so my expectations were high. However, he comes across more like he wants people to think he’s more of a big-player than he perhaps is. Whether this is actually the author’s fault or not, I don’t know, but he’s definitely no Thrawn. (Of course, while I was in the middle of reading this, the announcement came out of Celebration Europe that Zahn is writing a Thrawn novel for April 2017, so in that sense, Rax is kinda superfluous).

Speaking of comparisons with earlier novels, I thought the stuff with the sleeper-agent prisoners highly reminiscent of the Lusankya prisoners from Mike Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron series of novels. Very interesting to see how the old canon is informing the new canon, and while I do think that Stackpole implemented it better, he did essentially have three novels to build the storyline over, but still, it was a nice little throwback.

Finally, we have Yupe Tashu and the whole Jakku thing. I read somewhere in the run-up to this book’s release that Life Debt will demonstrate that Jakku is more important to galactic history than we were expecting (or something like that), and this book certainly delivers on that front. The book starts with a prologue set 30 years beforehand, and shows a young Rax stowing away aboard Tashu’s ship, after he had set some droids down in the middle of the desert. The book ends with a scene between Rax and Palpatine, who asks the boy to return to Jakku and guard whatever it is those droids are doing. It’s all very mysterious, but there’s clearly something going on down there, and while part of me is rolling my eyes at how Jakku is almost becoming the new Tatooine, I’m nevertheless really intrigued, and looking forward to the third novel in the trilogy to see how this all ends up. Looks like the bulk of the book will be the Battle of Jakku, which has already been dealt with in parts, but since when has Star Wars had a problem with re-telling a story multiple times? (Death Star plans, I’m thinking of you!)

Oh, and Luke’s absence from any and all new-canon stuff is now becoming really annoying. What’s worse is we probably won’t get anything until Episode VIII, either!

This blog has been a lot bigger than I actually thought it would be, and I think that shows the mark of a good book. I mean, as much as I could say I dislike the characterizations, I still have a lot to say about it! Like the first, it’s also told in the present tense, which really helps you to propel through the pages, and I do think that perhaps it would be worthwhile going back through and re-reading the two of them, though I might wait until the third book, Empire’s End, comes out in January.

So yeah, something of a love-hate thing with this book. It was a lot better than the last book simply because of the scope, and while I wasn’t entirely impressed with the characters, getting to see the wider picture of the Star Wars galaxy has made reading this book definitely worthwhile overall!

More Star Wars!

Well, this was unexpected…

So soon after the GAMA Trade Show stuff for Armada and Imperial Assault, we’re given yet more Star Wars goodness from FFG at this weekend’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim!

Yes, I still haven’t played Imperial Assault, and while the expansion model of lots of small packs of miniatures is a little worrying for the bank balance, it is nevertheless pretty exciting to see the game expand in this modular way, as you can pick and choose what you want – especially for the skirmish play, but also adding in actual miniatures for the scenario stuff is cool.

Next deluxe for the LCG is, of course, a welcome announcement, and by the looks of it, we’ll be getting Imperials and Smugglers. As a side note, Imperial Entanglements always reminds me more of the West End Games supplement than Obi-Wan’s line in A New Hope, and I always feel happy to see stuff like that 🙂

Wave 7 for X-Wing was a bit of a surprise, though a lot of folks will probably think it’s long overdue. My guess would be we’re getting one rebel, one imperial, and two scum ships, the Kihraxz Assault Fighter being affiliated with Black Sun of course (and already in the LCG, to boot!)

Anyhow, it’s good to see all the lines looking healthy, and the promise of lots more Star Wars games to come!

But wait – that’s not all!

The Lando story sounds like it could be good. Of course, I’m a big fan of AC Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, and don’t really relish the idea of that being wiped away, but the comic is set sometime between Rebel Dawn and The Empire Strikes Back, so it’s possible that nothing will contradict the Bantam series there.

The Shattered Empire has already been briefly mentioned as part of the run-up to December’s film, and while I’m intrigued to see what Disney have decided to do with the post-Jedi era, the EU fan within me feels a bit insulted that the press release begins:

“The world has been wondering what happened after the fall of the Empire since the credits first rolled on ‘Return of the Jedi’ in 1983,”

We’ve known what has happened since 1990, and Heir to the Empire, thank you very much! Bah! So it’s with a degree of trepidation, and some scepticism, that I’ll most likely be reading this book when it comes out in September.

So while I’m still a bit sad about the loss of the EU as I knew it, the one bright spot on the horizon comes from this article on sw.com about the upcoming novel Aftermath, part of a trilogy that bridges the gap between episodes VI and VII with both new characters and “familiar faces”. Maybe Talon Karrde and Mara Jade live, after all? For all my love of the EU that I’ve just discussed, it’s something that I actually feel Bantam didn’t do all that well – the Empire fell at Endor insofar as the Emperor and Vader died, but what happened to the galaxy at large? Somehow, that epic sweep that the new trailer seems to sum up so nicely in the depiction of a crashed Star Destroyer was lost, and instead we got the X-Wing series, which was basically a set of novels showcasing just how awesome Corran Horn is as a person. But I’ve had that rant before. We do somehow lack that immediate sense of, just what the hell happened next?

Y’know, this may be the first Star Wars novel I buy in hardcover…

Star Wars: Aftermath