By the Force, where do I begin. This is probably going to be long so I’ll cut to the chase: “Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End” is a poor conclusion to a disappointing series. Do not read it. I don’t want to alarm you all, but I would suggest re-watching the prequel films before grabbing this book.
Ok let’s backtrack a bit. “Empire’s End” is the final installment in the Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Wendig. The series has been exploring the events that came after the destruction of the second Death Star in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. This installment focuses on the formal end of the Empire during the battle of Jakku, which we learn about indirectly in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
So what didn’t work for me?
Let’s start with the villain. Every protagonist needs a good antagonist to raise the stakes by presenting them with seemingly insurmountable challenges. This make the story that much more engaging. Case in point, the almost indestructible Darth Vader from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, who kills the last Jedi Knight in the galaxy.
In “Empire’s End” we get Gallius Rax, the Emperor’s protégé, who is tasked with watching over Jakku and ultimately the Empire. But we don’t see Rax do anything that establishes him as an imposing warrior or cunning tactician. Under Rax, the soldiers of the Empire become very sloppy and disorderly. While we know that the Empire will end, that doesn’t mean it should go out without a fight. The Empire should still be seen as a threat to our heroes.
But even if the antagonist isn’t very interesting or threatening, you can still get away with protagonists that are likeable and compelling. We don’t have that, either! Characters feel two-dimensional and their character arcs are basic. We’re not seeing much that we haven’t seen before in other books and movies. Nora Wexley abandons her responsibilities as a leader and instead focuses on trying to save her brainwashed husband. Jas Emari is the tough bounty hunter with a heart of gold who has a hard time talking about her emotions. Snap Wexley is the whinny teenage son of Nora who hates authority and wants to be an X-wing pilot. Mister Bones is the homicidal droid who feels like a bargain bin version of HK-47. Copy, paste and repeat.
I will say that the one exception to this is Sinjir Rath Velus who does feel like a complex character and the one saving grace of this series. Sinjir is a former Imperial loyalty officer who interrogated fellow Imperials to root out traitors. He was good at his job, but lost much of his humanity in the process. He’s portrayed as a broken man who uses a wry sense of humor and steady inebriation to live with himself. He starts off as a selfish character who eventually becomes noble and selfless. He is the closest this series has come to capturing the “feel” of Star Wars. If the care, creativity and attention that was used for Sinjir was used for more characters then this would be a much better book.
Ok, so the villain isn’t great, the heroes aren’t great (except for Sinjir who belongs in a much better series), what about the plot itself? Surely that can salvage things a bit? Nope!
The basic plot is that the Empire has gathered their entire fleet above the planet of Jakku and are trying to force the New Republic’s hand and get them to attack. This is actually a ploy by Gallius Rax to destroy the rest of the Empire and the New Republic fleet. Things don’t go according to plan, the New Republic wins and members of the Empire escape to presumably start the First Order.
Yes, you read that right, the Battle of Jakku isn’t the Republic’s heroic victory over the Empire, but Rax trying to destroy both factions. Emperor Palpatine had a plan called the Contingency, where he wanted the Empire destroyed when he died. This bothers me for a couple reasons. I would think that the hubris of Emperor Palpatine wouldn’t allow him to entertain the thought of dying. After all, in Revenge of the Sith he claimed his master Darth Plagueis could prevent death (even if he was lying to Anakin, this would have been a more interesting idea to explore). Then, since this is a ruse by Rax, it undercuts the efficiency of the New Republic fleet. If the leader of the Empire is trying to have it destroy itself, then the New Republic should have been able to destroy them without a problem.
The plan to defeat both forces involves blowing up Jakku, which in a universe where ships can destroy planets, is still kind of ridiculous. A large planet-like sphere has not been an effective weapon so far in the Star Wars universe. Multiple ships were able to survive the destruction of two Death Stars and Starkiller base. The Millennium Falcon alone has survived all three of those! Granted, since the planet doesn’t actually explode we don’t know what that effect could have been, but it comes out of left field near the end of the book. There could have been a scene earlier establishing that planets can do this. Once again, they did that in A New Hope, the Death Star blows up Alderaan so that the audience understands the gravity of the weapon. I wish there was an introductory vignette set in the Old Republic, thousands of years before the main story, where a planet is blown up and it destroys a fleet of ships. Throw Darth Revan in there for good measure!
My favorite book in this series was the first one. It was a relatively small story about the liberation of a planet. We’re introduced to characters that don’t really tie into the Star Wars universe. but it paved the way for new stories. “Empire’s End” didn’t feel like Star Wars. I think that tying it into the larger conflict and characters was over-ambitious at this point. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of things that may or may not happen in the next movies. Until then, read Star Wars Catalyst instead.
Miscellaneous things I hated:
- There’s a scene where Ben Solo has hiccups in Leia’s womb, which I didn’t know was a thing until this book. I looked it up, apparently, it’s a thing. It’s as weird as it sounds.
- Modified battle droid Mister Bones has a program that allows him to rebuild himself which is never established. Deus ex machina much?
- Apparently, bounty hunter Dengar is a fan of Bob Dylan and at one point literally says, “Times they are a’changing.”
- Sadly, not a joke, there is an out of place Hamilton reference, “Leia put it best when she said, ‘The Rebellion was easy, Lando. Governing’s harder.’”
- The Empire feels a lot smaller than it felt before this new canon. I understand that the New Republic is wearing them down but still, they feel a lot less threatening.