Book Review: Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt

aftermath_life_debt_coverIn April 2014, when Lucasfilm announce that the Star Wars Expanded Universe would no longer be considered canon. While many people were upset over this decision, I was guardedly optimistic. While there were some fantastic Star Wars books that continued the stories from the films, there were also some really bad ones that didn’t feel like they belonged in the canon. The new books coming for Lucasfilm are aimed to fill in the gaps between the existing movies and the new ones.

“Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt” by Chuck Wendig is one of these new novels. It is the sequel to Wendig’s “Aftermath” and continues the story of what went on after the destruction of the second Death Star in “Return of the Jedi.” Unfortunately, like its predecessor, “Aftermath: Life Debt” does little to enrich the story of the Star Wars movies and is just a decent sci-fi book.

temmin_wexleyThe book follows the story of a rag tag group of Rebels who were introduced in the first novel and are now flying across the galaxy arresting Imperial war criminals. Norra Wexley is the group leader and a Rebel pilot who flew a Y-Wing during the attack on the second Death Star. Her son Temmin “Snap” Wexley is an aspiring teenage pilot who eventually becomes Greg Grunberg in “The Force Awakens.” Temmin’s homicidal droid, Mister Bones, is a repurposed battle droid from the Clone Wars with some upgrades. Sinjir Rath Velus is an ex-Imperial loyalty officer and deserter from the Battle of Endor. Bounty hunter Jas Emari, a female Zabrak (the same species as Darth Maul) and Jom Barell, a New Republic commando, round out the team.

I wasn’t really attached to anyone other than Sinjir who provides a lot of witty quips to cover up his guilt over what he did in the Empire. Sinjir is also one of the first gay Star Wars protagonists but faces more animosity over being an ex-Imperial. It’s great to see the new Star Wars universe take a more diverse approach to characters.

house_exterior_rmqThe group is eventually tasked with rescuing Princess Leia’s husband Han Solo who has gone missing after trying to help his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca, liberate his home world of Kashyyyk. While this is going on, we see how the once great Empire is now starting to fall apart. With no clear successor to Emperor Palpatine, Imperials have started to become divided over how the Empire should be run. I found the plot plodding, which is unfortunate. An eclectic group of rogues storming the Wookiee home world to rescue Han Solo should be a blast but it takes most of the book to get there and when we do, it’s not satisfying. The political intrigue of the Empire isn’t much better. Everything feels too simple. The grand Imperial plan at the end isn’t foreshadowed in a way that makes it pay off at the end. It just happens.

One of the interesting stylistic choices in this book is to have vignettes between some of the main chapters showing slices of life throughout the galaxy. Sometimes these are about bit characters from the original movies (like the guy who cried when Jabba the Hutt’s rancor died) and other times they are new ones dealing with the changing political landscape. I found them to be hit or miss. It was nice to see how the fall of an empire was affecting common folk but usually these sections were a little obtuse because they were foreshadowing something bigger.

I went with the audiobook version as opposed to print. I know that audiobooks aren’t for everyone but if you do check this one out then I recommend going with the audiobook. Thanks to the extensive sound catalog and music selection for Star Wars, book sounds a lot more vibrant than other audiobooks. Also narrator Marc Thompson does a great job of creating voices for different characters, especially his Han Solo. Voices for droids and some aliens are modulated to make things even more immersive.

As a hardcore Star Wars fan, I felt like I had to read this book to get a sense of what is now canon. I don’t know if I can recommend this to many casual fans, especially since we get a new movie every year. If anything the books are so subservient to the movies that we won’t see any major revelations in them, just backstory. When they are foreshadowing things, it’s hard to tell if it’s for the next book or movie. If you’re on the fence, then just check out Wookieepedia for this one.