Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath

Written by Chuck Wendig

Published by Del Ray Books

aftermath

“Star Wars” isn’t about war.  The movies are adventures, with thrilling chases, dazzling special effects, and last-minute rescues.  Throw in a few cute aliens and droids for comic relief, and cinema history is born.

This isn’t to say I don’t like Star Wars. They are (at least three) of my favorite films.  But there was always a feeling of slight-of-hand about the consequences.  We watch the destruction of Alderaan from the bridge of the Death Star, not the surface.  We hear a lot about Jabba’s grip on the Outer Rim, but what we see is the pleasure barge.  There is a lot of grungy corners in the Star Wars universe, but the movies focus on the brightness of the lightsabers.  Valuing plot over character, and spectacle over consequence, the films, particularly the prequels, are fun, but never quite mature.

With Star Wars Aftermath, the first novel set after “Return of the Jedi” since Disney did away with the previous ‘extended universe,’ Chuck Wendig has certainly pushed the property towards adulthood.  That isn’t to say the book is ‘mature’ in the sense of gore and sex, although both skirt the edges.  Like the title implies, this is a novel about what happens when the battle ends, and examines whether they ever really do.

Wendig takes the bold step of delivering a Star Wars tie-in that has almost no beloved characters in it.  Luke is nowhere to be seen, and Han and Chewy show up for a brief two-page interlude.  Instead, our heroine is Norra Wexley, Rebel pilot and survivor of the Battle of Endor.  After following Wedge Antilles through the second Death Star, she’s returned to her home planet of Akiva to collect her teenaged son and start a new life for themselves.  But their reunion is complicated.  The remnants of the Empire are gathering on Akiva for a summit.  Her remote, Outer Rim world is blockaded.  She evades it, but Wedge, in the area on a routine scouting mission, isn’t so lucky.  And then there is the fact that her son Temmen, a technical genius and junker, has gotten himself in deep trouble with a local crime lord.  He’d rather stay and fight it out with the criminals than leave the planet with his absentee mother.

While Wendig’s present tense style is a bit to get used to, and this particular entry could have used another editing pass in parts, he does a great job of delivering these characters and fleshing them out.  Also excellent are the interludes, which take the reader across the galaxy and into the lives of anyone from newly named Chancellor Mon Mothma to a back-world farmer trying to keep his sons, each having chosen a faction, from killing each other.  These feel like the complex, emotional scenes George Lucas left out.  The characters are not just a monolithic band of evil facing off against a team of scrappy yet hopeful rag-tag heroes.  Wendig shows us once-idealistic people  on both sides, ground down by years of violence.  It’s a brave and striking move, but I think it pays off, while still delivering a solid adventure story.

Speaking of brave moves and what Lucas left out, this next bit will be a bit spoilery, but needs to be addressed.  Wendig has included not one, but three queer characters in the story, and has been getting a lot of flack for it.  This is unwarranted, and the reveal for one of them is certainly something I had spoiled for me.  The other two are minor characters mostly uninvolved with the action, Norra’s sister and her wife.  That’s right, Wendig also brought gay marriage to the Galaxy, and good for him.

Often, telling a story with diverse characters isn’t lauded, but greeted as something that simply should be done.  And the disincentive to include these characters is strong.  The novel has come under a hail of one star Amazon reviews for forcing the issue ‘down our throats,’ as one reviewer so eloquently put it.

I think this is a big deal, and we should be noting it.  And then continuing to support Wendig’s approach, in which diversity is not something to be overcome or avoided, but a facet of his deeply rich and interesting characters.  Our fantasy worlds are reflections of our own ideals, the landscapes of our collective imaginations.  The original trilogy had a handful of women, only three of whom had speaking roles.  It had a few aliens, Lando Calrissian, and an entire cast of young, white, and canonically speaking, straight men.  Chuck Wendig’s view of the Galaxy is a bit more complicated, but it’s the Star Wars I’d rather see going forward.  If this is the face of the new Expanded Universe, I’m ready for a lot more stories in a galaxy far, far away.

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