With the release of the film Return of the Jedi, it seemed to indicate that the Empire had been vanquished and all was right with the universe once again. That might have worked in the eyes of the 17-year-old that I was at the time, but in reality, it would have been quite the messy affair. In his series of novels, author Chuck Wendig attempts to give us a glimpse of just how messy the galaxy was after the Empire collapsed and left a vacuum of authority.
Aftermath takes place a short time after events in Return of the Jedi. However, there’s no more than a glimpse of the cast of heroes from that film. There’s one scene of Han and Chewie, that likely precludes his falling out with the Rebel Alliance. Leia is mentioned, as is Luke, but that’s it. The only peripheral characters who figure into this story are Wedge Antilles, Admiral Ackbar, and Mon Mothma.
Much of the action takes place on the planet Akiva. Several of the remaining leaders of the Empire gather here to try to formulate an alliance and a strategy against the rebels. At the same time, however, the planet has attracted Jas Emari, an assassin who sees an opportunity to do more damage to the Empire. In a series of coincidences, she finds herself allied with Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial Loyalty Officer, and Norra Wexley, a Rebel Pilot trying to repair the relationship she has with Temmin, the son she left behind when she took off to fight the Empire. They make an unlikely group of heroes trying to draw the New Republic’s attention to what’s happening on Akiva.
Rebelling and toppling the Empire is one thing, governing the universe after that is quite another. The destruction of the second Death Star and the apparent deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader has left a gaping hole in the authoritarian structure the Empire maintained. Filling the gap seems to be crime lords and gangsters on the various planets. Mon Mothma is loathe to send heavy-handed forces to rule in the name of the New Republic, lest they be seen as the other side of the same coin as the Empire. While her approach might seem correct to diplomats, it’s harder in those worlds where criminals have moved into the leadership vacuum.
Touted as a bridge between the original Star Wars trilogy and The Force Awakens, Aftermath does a great job of setting up the geopolitics of the galaxy once the Empire suffered a devastating blow. Although we all thought after Return of the Jedi ding-dong-the-Emperor’s-dead and now everyone is going to get along and things will be wonderful, it doesn’t shake out that way. On Akiva – and likely other planets across the galaxy – no one is thinking about diplomacy and forming a new central government. Everyone is just trying to survive. In some cases that means tolerating the criminal gangs who maintain some kind of order. However, there’s also a path to getting the citizens to begin overthrowing the crime lords that rule them, and that’s what happens inadvertently on Akiva.
The new characters are interesting. I did enjoy the four people who team up to vanquish the remains of the Empire. Their adventures were interesting and fun. In between, Wendig has added “interludes” that show us what is happening on other planets and in other corners of the galaxy. There’s a bit about how Cobb Vanth gets the Mandalorian armor he sports in The Book of Boba Fett. There’s a glimpse of life on Naboo. And this is where we see Han Solo and Chewbacca faced with a choice that explains why he and Leia have some distance. At the same time, I can’t entirely blame him for the choice he makes.
I thought Aftermath had a good deal of action and was well done. The only downfall I see is that Wendig likely had some constraints as to what he could do in regard to creating a bridge between the two stories. It shows in the fact that there are so few characters on the canvas that readers know from previous adventures in the Star Wars universe. Still, it was a lot of fun and a very realistic depiction of what happened to the galaxy once the Empire was overthrown.