Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig is the final novel in the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, which take place after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Norra Wexley and her crew of Imperial hunters have been tracking hunting down a lead on Grand Admiral Rae Sloane for months after her flight from the New Republic planet of Chandrila, where a devious attack by the Empire killed many officials and nearly ended the life of the Chancellor Mon Mothma. Their search leads them to Jakku, a world at the edges of known space, where they discover a massive Imperial fleet of Star Destroyers. Determined to track down Sloane, Norra launches herself to the surface in an escape pod, accidentally taking bounty hunter Jas Emari with her. Her son Temmin’s droid Mister Bones is sent in a pod after her to protect her, while Temmin and ex-Imperial Sinjir evade TIE fighters and return to Chandrila to report the Imperial presence to the New Republic.
A change of pace I enjoyed about this book was how it kept characters grounded to specific locations and/or settings. Norra, Jas, and Bones spend almost the entirety of the book on Jakku, as do Sloane and Brentin (Norra’s husband), who seek Counselor Gallius Rax, the true orchestrator of the Empire who double-crossed Sloane in the previous book. Sinjir and Temmin end up back on Chandrila, the current seat of power for the New Republic, and are forced to navigate politics in order to help their friends on Jakku. It lent a good deal of gravity to their situations. It made the story of those on Jakku feel very final, like they’d finally reached the end of the line for their journey, while the others kept at a distance maintained that the growing conflict didn’t simply revolve around their personal fears and vendettas.
I was most interested in the story that took place on the ground of Jakku, but a problem that has kind of recurred for me with this series took place here too: I just don’t care for Norra much as a perspective character. I’m not sure what it is. Whenever I was following Jas I was enjoying it, I loved reading from the perspective of Sloane and the inner struggle she goes through with losing her Empire and coming to terms with the lies it propped up. We even get some first-person glimpses into the mind of Bones, who was sadly underutilized in this trilogy when all was said and done. Norra is generally vapid as a perspective for me. I don’t hate her as a character or anything, but her perspective was unsubtle in each book and usually all over the place, and that was no different here.
I really liked the way Jakku was fleshed out and made a little more distinct in this novel, considering Star Wars already has a well-known desert world with Tatooine. Jakku is painted as a much harsher world with seemingly no indigenous people, populated by scavengers, religious zealots, and mindless savage slaves in the thrall of a serpentine Hutt so grotesque she makes Jabba seem handsome. It’s a world that wears down the body and minds of those upon and it and this was reflected in the characters stuck there.
The Battle of Jakku—the remaining wreckage you can witness yourself in The Force Awakens—was built up to quite nicely, erupting into a compelling conflict on multiple fronts. Capital ships bombard each other for domination in orbit, Starfighters swarm the skies, and ground troopers push back and forth for any quarter they can. I was especially fond of the way Wendig shifted between levels of the battlefield during the more impactful moments of the battle. The differing perspectives of a massive ship colliding with the planet, for instance, really absorbed me into the action.
In the background there were politics at play slowing down the gears of war appropriately. We get a closer look at Mon Mothma’s perspective as Chancellor and the stresses that come with that job, especially with the political opponents that begin to crop up. Crime syndicates, fearing the rule of law from a New Republic no longer distracted by the Empire, begin to meddle as well, interfering with a vote to attack the Imperial presence on Jakku. Despite his distaste for it, Sinjir finds himself tied up on the political interplay adding an amusingly cynical perspective contrasted well with Mothma’s more sincere ideals. Leia and Han play parts in this part of the story as well, though much more limited than the previous book. I did however enjoy seeing Han squirm in a more domestic setting as well as Leia’s more intimate thoughts on her impending motherhood. Wendig captures their voices quite well.
Though only featured briefly, a number of iconic characters from the series have some pretty great moments, be they within the chapters of the plot itself or the interludes peppered throughout. I especially enjoyed learning the fate of Jar Jar Binks, an infamous character among fans. I’ve found him grating often in the past, but this chapter was bittersweet and painted him as rather sympathetic. There was also a heart wrenching scene between Han and a newborn Ben; a tender moment between father and son that’s tragic if you have knowledge of what is to come in their distant future.
Empire’s End wrapped up the story of the Aftermath trilogy enjoyably, telling a story from numerous angles that captures the final days of the Empire. Much of the core group end up in interesting places as well, with some surprisingly abrupt losses along the way. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on I felt a little underwhelmed by the book at the same time. Sometimes I was caught up in the story and at other times I felt like I was coasting along through it. Characters like Norra are given prominence over others and I’m just not that compelled by her, and it often feels like the book is trying to have too much going on at once. It was never too much to follow, just not as cohesive as I would’ve liked.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5