Welcome, welcome, everyone to the darker (or, longer at any rate) middle chapter of the Aftermath series. Of all the books in the series, this is the one I remember the best, both in the interludes and in the main plot points. Can’t really say why that is but I bet it’s because it so heavily features characters I’m familiar with.
The subplots are many, the roster of characters is ever expanding, and the galaxy far away is hurtling straight into disaster while everyone pretends it’s fine. It’s time to dive into Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.
The New Republic is continuing to build itself up and strive to find it’s place and purpose in a post-war galaxy. Though Chancellor Mon Mothma prefers the peaceful, negotiation approach, it is becoming rapidly clear that it’s not possible to make that dream a reality.
The Empire still holds many far off worlds in its grasp, and Imperial leadership still refuses to concede that they lost the war. While maintaining overtures of peace with the New Republic, Admiral Rae Sloane and the mysterious Gallus Rax persist in trying to build the Empire back up from the shadows.
Through it all, Norra Wexley and her team have started working for the New Republic, bringing formal Imperial officials into custody. This seems to be working well enough until Leia Organa approaches them with a secret special request: Han Solo has gone missing and she wants the team to find him and bring him home. They do find him, on the Wookie homeward of Kashyyk, where the Empire is not only still enslaving Wookies, but is also keeping prisoners of war, one of whom is Norra’s missing husband Brentin.
Half the team heads home to contend with the growing political turmoil while the other half stays behind on Kashyyk to help Han and Chewie liberate the planet.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
Leia is a big part of this book, which was somehow totally to be expected given how big a role Han plays, but was also a delightful surprise.
She spends the bulk of her time on Chandrila as Mon Mothma gets the New Republic underway. But she finds herself increasingly left out of the proceedings, as Mon favours a negotiation approach, and Leia is more willing to take risks and go in recklessly, guns blazing to solve problems like they did in the days of the Alliance. She quite rightfully points out that by dithering over negotiations, innocent people and entire worlds are left to suffer.
Some of her urgency to see the galaxy put right and to have Han back home is because she’s pregnant with Ben. It’s actually in meditating on her pregnancy that she is able to connect with the Force on demand for the first time. It is the first time she’s able to feel it “flowing through” her, the way Luke had described it. It is in this meditation that she also connects with Ben for the first time, and also feels the pull and influence of the Dark Side. I’ve long suspected that this pull of the Dark Side that she feels is attributable to Palpatine (I initially thought Snoke, but…well…same thing I guess?), since her mind goes to such a tragic place very quickly. She feels this pain, worry, and sadness deep down, and so suddenly I’m hard pressed not to think of it as outside influence, though granted this isn’t confirmed in the book.
And finally. Even though her life has changed, she is still the Princess Leia we all know and love. So when the New Republic won’t act fast enough to bring her husband home, she hops in the Millennium Falcon and brings him home all by her damn self.
2. Chaos in the Republic
As mentioned above, the Republic is not doing well. They are so determined to separate themselves from the Empire, they overcorrected in the wrong direction.
Leia cannot get them to intervene on behalf of worlds whose people are suffering. It actually reminded me of Padmé’s speech to the Senate in The Phantom Menace, where she shames the Chancellor for allowing her people to continue to suffer and die, all in the name of an investigation and negotiation. It was exactly that kind of ineffective bureaucracy that allowed the Empire to rise. But where the old Senate had hundreds of years to reach this point, the New Republic gets there almost immediately.
It’s no wonder they lost.
3. Chaos in the Empire
While the New Republic struggles, the former Empire has struggles of their own.
Because neither Palpatine nor Vader had children that the Imperials know of, there is a power vacuum at the top of the chain of command.
Admiral Sloane most naturally fills the leadership role, holding the most firepower at her command. But then there is the shadowy figure of Gallus Rax, who declares himself Emperor in practice if not in name.
Beyond the power vacuum, there is also the question of building up their population. They bring Brendol Hux, head of an elite stormtrooper training academy, to sit in on the council. The refrain is always the same: The Empire needs children. In the absence of Imperials actually having them, they have to get the kids from somewhere. This is where we see hints of what we know is to come: The Empire stealing children from their families.
Where the New Republic is being overly cautious, the former Empire is fractured and reckless. And the conflict is not just between the two sides. As Maz Kanata points out in her interlude, conflict in the galaxy is always between thousands of forces each pulling their own way and flighting to win. It’s never black and white.
4. Seriously, just so many plots
Not counting the interludes, there are at least 2, maybe 3 Imperial focused plots, and at least 3 New Republic focused plots.
Where in the last book my issue was that some of the plots weren’t given the space to be fleshed out, here we have kind of an opposite issue. All the plot points are decently fleshed out, but there are SO MANY of them to bounce between, that it started to feel like a lot.
Where Alexander Freed’s books feel dense for the amount of time and detail spent on one plot point/scene, this book feels dense for the sheer number of people, places, and things we are meant to keep track of.
Points Left Hanging
- Wedge and Norra’s relationship. I need some happy Star Wars romance, I am begging you. We had a bit of emotional drama when Norra came home with her husband, much to Wedge’s shock, and I look forward to the payoff.
Wedge is the one who gave Temmin his nickname, “Snap”, which is just so cute to me
One of the interludes is about a group of Sith Acolytes who firmly believe that Vader still lives. Though it’s possible these are the same people who become Palpatine’s cultists in TROS, that feels like a bit of a stretch. It would have been cool to see such a dark plot point appear in the movies in a significant kind of way.
The Rancor keeper from Return of the Jedi gets his own interlude! Nothing to add here, it was just a sweet moment.
Maybe it’s just because Hux is played by Domhnall Gleeson in the movies, but anytime they mention Brendol Hux (the characters father) I keep picturing Brendan Gleeson (the actors father). I can’t help but feel like the description is deliberate, too.