Empire’s End is the conclusion of the Aftermath trilogy, a series of novels carrying the weight of being the first post-Return of the Jedi, as well as having to deal with the blowback and hyperbole that ensued. ‘Punished’ by sections of the fandom as being responsible for wiping out a generations worth of EU content – writer Chuck Wendig was trolled, and harangued online with a campaign launched to down vote his novel on Amazon and other online stores. A campaign that untimely failed, and saw his novels hit the bestseller charts around the world. The downside of said campaigns were that they actually hid some genuine grievances that people had with the books (the style of prose being a prominent complaint) and also stifled the debate surrounding the characters and situations developed by Wendig – which after all should be the focus of any debate of a book!
Beneath the drama surrounding the novels publication however, came a series of rich characters, with intriguing settings that would come to start a ripple that may well impact into the events of the movies of our beloved franchise. With Aftermath: Empire’s End, we finally get the conclusion to what happened to the remnants of the Empire following Return of the Jedi. At least in part, at least for now…
In each of the prior novels, Wendig has showcased his story best in the final third of the novels, with this being the third part of his trilogy I had high hopes and he did not disappoint. With all the building blocks in place, there is a great pace and rhythm to the novel with it escalating to a scintillating ending. Some may still criticize the fact that is the later part of Empire’s End that really delivers, but it is clear to me that it is Wendig’s style to raise the reader to a crescendo. I found myself racing through the novel as he led me more an adventure that I just had to know its conclusion.
Once more Wendig uses interludes to perfection in the novel. Controlling the pace of the novel, and offering a nice distraction to the overall narrative without pulling you out of the story. In Empire’s End two characters of ‘controversial’ status appear, Jar Jar Binks, and Lumpy. It was somewhat startling moment for me, yet wonderfully heart-moving and emotional to see Jar Jar return. It was such a touching scene, and wonderfully written. So much in fact that I could have quite happily read a novel based solely around any of these interludes. The journey of Jar Jar read like something of a metaphor for his treatment as a character by the fandom, it kind of makes me happy that there is a little gleam of happiness in him if his status in the world is greatly depleted.
The main storyline whilst intertwined has two key narratives. The respective journeys of Norra Wexley, and Grand Admiral Rae Sloane on Jakku – two stories of vengeance, and both with the end goal of ending the war at least from a certain point of view. The ever mysterious Gallius Rax of course is manipulating Slone, but she remains largely unaware of this and spends much of her journey angry at the way Rax has changed the very nature of the Empire without truly appreciating quite how much she has been changed by his manipulations as well.
In some regard we as a community perhaps wanted the series to touch on more of the film characters, and whilst they have featured in the series, the core of the book has always been the new characters Wendig has created, and this is the conclusion of the their journeys.
With the war between the New Republic and Empire playing out to its conclusion as a fitting backdrop to the novel, we get a little deep into the politics of government. I could have lived without this at this time, but the more it played out the more I felt that Mon Mothma as a character could carry her own novel. Perhaps we are ready for a very deep political novel, the building blocks have certainly been put in place for this.
The Battle of Jakku is played out in style in the novel, a battle it feels we have been part of in cross media platforms (Lost Stars, Battlefront, etc) for a long time – but we quickly realize we have barely touched upon the conflict. This is THE major confrontation of the Galactic Civil War we have been watching since 1977 and with the wealth of weight Wendig provides it through character personal sacrifice, and utilizing it to tie up threads of his trilogy – it feels like it gets a fitting end. Yes there are many unanswered questions left, but that is part of building a storyline that crosses novels. The need to create room to grow and revisit events will never disappear and we shouldn’t feel the need to have every question, and event clarified in minute detail.
The development of the planet Jakku was intriguing, the planet itself has become somewhat of a character and it feels like it has a massive part to play in the future of Star Wars canon. I enjoyed the storyline of Nimma the Hutt – another cult like figure, on a planet with an ever-rising number of cults!!!
With recent real world events still looming large in my find, on an emotional level I wanted more of Leia in the novel. To be fair the storyline didn’t merit it, it is just a personal desire of mine at this time. We do however have a seminal moment for the Solo / Organa family, and the laying of seeds of doubt in the relationship. I expect the Solo family dynamic to become a core focus as the canon develops.
Rax; a character I entered this novel with very high hopes for his placement in the narrative of the sequel trilogy is revealed to some extent. Perhaps not as expected, and perhaps that disappoints. I haven’t quite decided on that point, as the reveal of his ultimate goals works very well in the context of the novel, and sets up great potential for the literature coming up in the next few years. It feels like we have created a future for the Empire, a future for the First Order and what happens in Wild Space will not stay in Wild Space.
Wendig’s third person present tense prose has been a dividing factor across the trilogy, but as the trilogy climaxed with immense battles it really shone. The un-wielding chaos of the battle, the desperation of the characters all bled through the pages. It was page-turning drama at its finest, and as the trilogy ends I can only salute the passion, strength of character, and drama delivered by Mr Wendig. This was a master class in world building, in character development and delivering upon the build up of trilogy. The scope of this novel was impressive, and raises this trilogy to stand head and shoulders with the best of Star Wars prose under the new canon.