In STAR WARS AFTERMATH: Empire’s End (2017), Chuck Wendig shows us the fateful battle on the desert planet Jakku; we see the Contingency left in place by Emperor Palpatine, and we discover that none of Leia and Han’s friends understands the concept of a baby gift.
The AFTERMATH trilogy starts immediately after the destruction of the second Death Star. Empire’s End follows Wendig-original characters Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, his crazed battle-droid Mr. Bones, a bounty hunter named Jas Emari and a turncoat Imperial loyalty officer named Sinjir, as they track Imperial war criminal Admiral Rae Sloane. We follow some canon-characters, too; Leia Organa, Han Solo and Mon Mothma primarily. (Chewbacca has a cameo.) Rae Sloane is not a canon-character but isn’t original to Wendig either, and I don’t know what to call that. (Quasi-canon-character?) Sloane is the most interesting character in this book, and her story the most powerful, as she chases the treacherous Gallius Rex to Jakku and discovers his endgame. Empire’s End was not my favorite book of the three, but it successfully brings to a close the storylines introduced, and I enjoyed spending time with some of these characters, especially, to my surprise, Sloane.
Throughout the book we get interludes that follow other people on other planets. Some of these, like the Ankle-biters Brigade on the planet Coruscant, have plot value, while others still seemed random, as people adjust to no longer being part of an empire. At this point in the story, I thought there were too many interludes, and they diluted the tension.
Wendig uses a “mosaic” style with multiple points of view. In the first two books, Aftermath and Life Debt, this created a plausible sense of the chaos following the end of a war. In Empire’s End, by the second half of the book, these shifts impeded the story’s momentum. Norra’s crew has found the remains of the Empire’s fleet; Rae Sloane, Gallius Rex and Norra Wexley, all of whom want to kill each other, are all on the same planet, while there is political skullduggery afoot back at the new senate. The pace of the story should have been picking up. Instead I felt mired in far less interesting subplots. In particular, a scheme involving Mon Mothma’s campaign for chancellor and a successful attempt to undermine a key vote baffled me. The senate is voting on whether to mount an attack on the dregs of the Imperial fleet. Excuse me, isn’t this a no-brainer? The first vote fails by five votes, and Mon Mothma quickly decides that there has been undue influence on the vote. Not only does this subplot pull half the crew off onto a non-critical plotline, but… wait, does this mean half the Senate didn’t want to go after the Empire and wipe out their ships once and for all? Where was that developed? The vote-suborning story seemed to be there to let Sinjir work out his issues with Conder Kyl. Couldn’t they have just gone out to dinner and had The Talk?
The good thing that came out of this detour was that I found myself liking Mon Mothma, a character I had no real interest in before this book. I have to say I appreciate Mon Mothma’s work with a fruit basket.
One of my favorite characters, Jas Emari, disappears for long periods of time during the Jakku section. She shows up whenever Norra needs her to provide a rescue or a distraction. Otherwise, she does very little to advance her own storyline until the last few pages. Probably the best of the original characters remains Sinjir, who still struggles to come to grips with who he is.
The battle in space over Jakku is intense and thrilling with the actions of a lone New Republic captain providing the centerpiece. There is a nice nod to Frank Herbert’s DUNE books when we are on Jakku, with the character of Niima the Hutt.
Wendig is telling these stories inside an established, corporate-owned world with a rigid timeline and other constraints. These books take place before other events we’ve already seen in movies. Certain events are locked in; others are forbidden. For example, some characters can’t be killed off. This created a “redshirt” problem for the story; I had a pretty good idea who was going to die in the place of the canon character. Similarly, it was hard not to roll my eyes when pregnant Leia was contemplating hopefully the effect her son would have on the universe.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book. Wendig continued to make stylistic choices that created a cinematic feel to the story. I thought the Emperor’s “Contingency” was exactly the kind of thing Palpatine would have come up with. Empire’s End is a satisfactory conclusion to the series.
I was waiting on this trilogy until I knew your verdict for all three books–and I’m glad to hear that, some issues aside, you enjoyed all of them!
I’ve been thinking about the inherent difficulties of writing a tie-in book, when you are limited about what you can do with the characters. It isn’t just that you can’t kill them off; you’re even limited romantically.
You’re limited in a number of ways, when you think about it. Who you can kill or all ow to live, how the established characters can act and speak, which existing characters you can use and how many new ones you’re allowed to create… I imagine it’s a massive challenge for any writer, even (or maybe especially) one who is a fan of the pre-existing material.