Review written by Clark Valentine
Before I get to the stuff parents should know about, I’ll kick this review off with a bit of subjective gushing.
I love Star Wars. I have since I saw A New Hope (well, then it was just called Star Wars) in the theater in 1977 at the ripe old age of (*counts on fingers*) five. I lived and breathed it growing up, to the point where peers who thought I should be paying more attention to football than to Star Wars made this opinion known to me in no uncertain terms. But despite that, I couldn’t keep track of what was called the Expanded Universe, the dozens of novels written to carry the story forward after Return of the Jedi. Too many of them, too variable in quality to bother with them all, etc. etc. By the time I thought maybe I’d try to catch up, I was hopelessly behind and couldn’t figure out how to even get started.
Well, Disney tossed all that Expanded Universe stuff out the window. Which means: You only need to have seen the Original Trilogy of movies to get Star Wars: Aftermath. You don’t need to have read any novels, watched any TV shows, anything like that. You don’t even need to have seen the prequel trilogy. This new on-ramp for resurrecting my fandom made me very happy. (Expanded Universe fans out there, you have my genuine sympathy. But, for me, I’m glad.)
So, the next question is, is Aftermath worth reading? My subjective opinion is heck yeah it’s worth reading. I liked this book. I liked it a lot. It’s a war story and a family drama. It’s a swashbuckling Star Wars tale with blaster fights and starfighter battles and daring rescues and bad guys getting what’s coming to them. It’s an examination of the complexity of parental love and conflicting duties. It hints at a wider world, at the consequences of the collapse of a titanic galaxy-spanning government, while letting you feel those consequences right down at the dinner table level. Wendig writes in a very distinctive style—highly informal and conversational, in the present tense. It makes the story feel immediate, urgent, and uncertain, perfect for an action-adventure story.
It’s NOT a continuation of the stories of the main characters from the movies. Han and Chewbacca make a brief appearance, but none of the other principals do. There are no Jedi in this book, so fans of lightsaber duels and The Force won’t find it here.
NOTE: There’s a lot of people running this book down in Amazon reviews, even attacking people who review it positively. There’s some legit distaste for Wendig’s prose style, and while I love it, fair enough. But most of the people slagging the book are really out of line. I won’t speculate about their motives, but if you check out any of the Amazon reviews, I suggest you apply some skepticism to the really critical stuff.
Now, to the Reads4Tweens part of the review.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Seriously, there are spoilers here. Major plot twist spoilers. Read on with care.
This is a war story, and people get killed, sometimes on-screen and at the hands of the heroes. A stormtrooper gets tossed to his death from a flying ship. People get vaporized by huge laser cannons. Laser blasters leave holes in people. Ships with people in them get blown up. A droid goes absolutely bonkers on the bad guys, and it isn’t pretty.
The main character, Norra Wexley, is a veteran fighter pilot who fought in the big space battle in Return of the Jedi, and she carries some mental scars.
Imperial characters are, well, the bad guys, and they do some bad things to people. Stormtroopers shoot indiscriminately into crowds of civilians. A father is kidnapped in front of his family. Torture is hinted at but not shown directly.
Twice, the fate of a main character is left ambiguous after a spaceship crash. The character(s) survive(s), but you don’t discover that until later.
Interesting questions are raised about governments and legitimacy. Wendig hints that it would take very little for the Rebels to become indistinguishable from the Empire, and you can see why: when you have a galaxy to keep unified, being the tough guy has its advantages, and some of the Rebels-turned-New-Republic want to lean that way.
We’re reminded that in the Star Wars movies we see a very narrow picture of the war. Common people around the galaxy have no idea what’s been going on. Some common people lament the fall of the Empire, or refuse to believe that it’s fallen at all. Propaganda abounds, both pro-Imperial and pro-Rebel/Republic.
Readers are given the chance to get into the heads of Imperial characters and see their motivations, and even to sympathize to an extent, without being asked to agree with them. Some Imperial characters demonstrate compassion and aversion to needless violence, while still being Imperials and bad guys.
Family and Duty
The main character is a warrior and a mother, and she goes off to war rather than care for her teenage son. The conflict between this notion of abstract, bigger-picture “for your good” vs. immediate and practical “for your good” is the defining aspect of the mother/son relationship for most of the book. The interesting thing is that the characters work through it, but don’t really resolve it. I think it will still be an issue in subsequent books, as it should be. No “wrapping this one up with a bow” quite that easily.
In flashback, a father is kidnapped from his home in front of his family and “disappeared.” Finding out what happened to him will clearly be a plot element in the ongoing story.
One of the central characters sells the others down the river. This character atones by saving the day later, but still, it was kind of a punch in the gut. Careful if your child is the sort who takes this kind of thing personally. For what it’s worth, the other main characters are a lot more forgiving of it than I’d have expected them to be.
One of the central characters is a former Imperial political officer who did terrible things to people in his former career. How former this career really is is left somewhat in question. (Kudos to Wendig for this little addition to the universe—elements of real world tyrannical power structures make the fictional one seem more real and scarier.)
Sex & Romance
There’s certainly no on-screen sex or romance. A woman propositions a man, a proposal that goes nowhere, mainly because…
…one of the central characters (the aforementioned man) is gay, and two peripheral women characters are married to each other. Nobody bats an eye about it, it’s accepted as matter-of-fact, and everyone gets on with their day.
Some characters use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Despite Wendig’s reputation as a gifted practitioner of the art of profanity, Aftermath contains only some mild cussing of the “hell” and “damn” variety, along with the occasional pseudo-F-bombs: “frakking,” “frag,” and the like.
Star Wars Universe Knowledge
As I said above, if you’ve seen Star Wars: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, you’re good to go for this book. The only exception is that the names of several of the setting’s more obscure alien species are tossed about assuming you know what they are. Don’t worry too much if you don’t, it’s not terribly vital you nail down the visuals perfectly. Google is a great resource for the curious.
Writing Style and Editing
If you are a stickler for ensuring your children see only formal and proper use of the Queen’s English in the written word, this book is going to give you a headache. Wendig writes in a very conversational style that emphasizes efficiently communicating ideas, imagery, and emotion over formal rules of grammar. Expect onomatopoeia. Incomplete sentences. That sort of thing.
The text, frankly, could have used another editing pass. It’s mostly fine, but I found some usage errors and minor inconsistencies that should have been caught. I doubt any children will be horribly scarred by this, but hey I don’t know your kids.
Aftermath is a really fun story and, to borrow a phrase, a wonderful first step into a larger world. Given that it delves a bit into big ideas and does have its share of messy consequences of blaster fire, I’d guess the ideal young end of Aftermath’s age range to be 13. The key developmental stage is for the kid to understand that the world is a more nuanced and complicated place than they might wish that it was.
Our 13 year old started reading it and found the descriptions in the fight scenes a bit too intense. He’s kind of sensitive along those lines, so it might be fine for most kids. But he’s going to wait a while before he tries again.
Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Published in 2015 by LucasBooks
First in a series
Read the hardcover