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Friday, 6 November 2015

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS - AFTERMATH'



STAR WARS: AFTERMATH

By Chuck Wendig

Published in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING

Reviewed by Scott Weller

The war is not over…

Write a new trilogy of books acting as an important lead-in to what will surely be one of the greatest cinematic treats of the decade? A re-start to a massive, world-loved franchise, helping to build-in the introductions of new characters alongside iconic classic ones? Sure- no problem! If author and STAR WARS fan Chuck Wendig, who at first seemed a surprising choice in landing the plum job of penning the recently released STAR WARS: AFTERMATH, has felt any type of daunting pressure in bringing his tale to the printed page he clearly hasn’t shown it- the final results of his apparently fast-written work ultimately riding a whirlwind of mostly positive critical notice and strong sales.

With the continuity slate established from the near two-decades long Expanded Universe now almost completely scratched, the fractured universe after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI, and the chance to restart official history, must surely have been an incredible creative firing point for Wendig, who wastes no time launching his narrative from the events on Coruscant after the Emperor’s statue went down- that celebratory uprising scene from JEDI of which we now get a what happened next moment proving far from jubilant, setting a dark tone for the story ahead, and for the eagerly anticipated conflicts and intrigue of EPISODE VII.

The end-of-Empire celebrations soon prove all-too short!

News is gradually going out to the outer worlds of the Empire’s incredulous defeat at Endor, and the death of Palpatine and his most lethal enforcer, Darth Vader. The remnants of the Empire since the Battle of Endor- with many of its officers and soldiers under resourced - now facing disillusionment as the Rebellion pushes their boundaries. But on the flip-side of the coin, our heroes are also facing similar and uneasy problems from the results of their conflicts, bringing much disarray and problematic devastation to the peoples they have sworn to help and protect.

This uneasy state of affairs for this fragile universe book saga presents Wendig with the opportunity to create all-new, equally imperfect characters to populate it, the majority of which are effectively introduced, some bearing unique ties to the previous and history-making Battle of Endor, particularly main female lead Norra, a former top-fighter pilot during the X-wing squadrons attack on the second Death Star, along with a dicey former Imperial officer now gone rogue, Sinjir (who I suppose has a touch of the fey and biting Benedict Cumberbatch superiority complex about him), and an efficient female Zabrakian bounty hunter, Jas, once out to kill Princess Leia, and whom witnessed Sinjir’s cowardly escape from the forest battle, but soon recognizing the importance of the Rebellion’s struggle for victory, uncovering a meeting of top Imperial commanders initiated by the calculating Admiral Rae Sloan (last seen in the STAR WARS REBELS novel A New Dawn) on Norra’s run-down homeworld of Akiva.

Then, setting up Norra’s joint storyline within the book, there’s her young and daringly impetuous son, Temmin – an often annoying older variation on Anakin Skywalker- ultimately the reason for her travelling back to Akiva- and his scrap metal junk dealer with a reconfigured Battle Droid- the creepily named Mister Bones, who provides companionship and highly effective bodyguard protection to the boy whilst he gets into all kinds of messy trouble with a local gangster king, the bullying Sullustian named Surat. Mister Bones is Wendig’s clear attempt to make up for that droid type’s mostly useless abilities as fighters during the Prequels- an era for which he particularly and vocally showed little interest in. And boy does he succeed, as Bones gets some brutally violent and memorable action sequences!

Back in action: Wedge Antilles.

Whilst many had thought the outer-rim world of Akiva seemingly too far out of the galactic struggle to be important to anyone, such ideas are soon shattered with the additional arrival of top Rebel Pilot and George Lucas’s “token survivor” Wedge Antilles- the final ingredient in this heady mix, stumbling into some heavy Imperial conflagration linked to the remaining aforementioned elite officers. Antilles soon has to make the most of his training and physical endurance when captured by, and pitted against, Sloan, for what proves to be his most life-threatening mission yet.

AFTERMATH’s theme of a mother trying to reconnect with the son she’d abandoned in order to fight for the Republic, though soon discovering he’s become quite independent and wary of her during their period of separation, tries to establish strong character interaction and building drama within the varied action set pieces, but it didn’t fully capture my interests compared to other aspects of the book. Meanwhile, the idea of an unlikely group becoming almost like a family in their fight against the Empire, has all too obvious comparisons to STAR WARS REBELS and James Luceno’s post ORDER 66-set DARK LORD novel of a few years back.

Though our assembled heroes plot improves as it goes along, especially when they go on the offensive (featuring the late addition of a tough rebel commando who could give Daniel Craig’s durable 007 a run for his money!), far more enjoyable to me was Wendig’s writing for the scheming and duplicitous Imperials and their relationship with Akiva’s greedy puppet ruler, as Rae Sloan gets some worthy development in between showing fine antagonistic steel in her banter with/against rivals after the commandship of what’s left of their surviving Imperial Fleet.

But what about the other much-vaunted lead-in material to THE FORCE AWAKENS, I hear you ask? Well, such material is not specifically spotlighted but merely teased-mildly and cleverly weaved through many special interludes peppering the book, hopefully building stronger bridges across the next two books, including the future state of the bounty hunters and space pirates in this new era, the destiny of Darth Vader’s red lightsaber, plus a welcome segment on Han Solo and Chewbacca, soon on a very special mission of the heart beyond their Rebel duties. All of this happening from the consequences of the Empire and Rebellion’s struggles in the galaxy beyond Akiva– revealing the true aftermath of the title to the inhabitants of those worlds that have since become unwilling battlegrounds.

Dark days ahead for Mon Mothma and her allies in The New Republic.

In portraying this on-the-brink- universe, Wendig taps into the kind of real-life historical events that had previously inspired Lucas during his writing of the original STAR WARS back in 1973- swapping that era of Watergate and Nixon for father and son Presidents Bush actions with the dire consequences and fallout from the two Iraq Wars. The attempts by the Rebel Alliance to create The New Republic and stabilize it clearly echoing President Bush senior’s appeal to the Iraqi people to turn against their oppressive leader, Saddam Hussein and his forces, back in 1990, which led to disastrous results. In AFTERMATH this scene is given the STAR WARS treatment, as holovid appearances by Princess Leia, the ultimate poster girl for Rebel recruitment, tell the oppressed to rise up in defiance.

Additionally, there are little moments like the a pack of cards given out to Bounty Hunters to help them find top-tier Imperials- not unlike those handed out by the Army and CIA during the search for Al-Qaeda’s top leaders after 9/11. I’m sure there are other little “fact in fiction” moments to be revealed with later re-readings.

As well as the brief cameo from Leia, it’s nice to see other classic favourites in the mix, like Mon Mothma (based with her new senate on her home world of Chandrilla), and our favourite Mon Calamari, Admiral Ackbar- both important to the universe during this post RETURN OF THE JEDI timeline.Classic planets visited from the entire film saga include Tatooine (after the battle with Jabba), Bespin (a mention of a certain smoothie and his bald servitor), Naboo, and a last interlude that takes place on a new desert world familiar to fans from the three phenomenal movie trailers.

Equally of very special interest, the book’s final chapter may feature the premiere reveal of the eventual FIRST ORDER’s Supreme Leader, the reptilian tactician Snoke- though its face and physical frame are deliberately non-described by Wendig. If it is indeed Snoke, then his unique plans still have a long way to go before they reach fruition...

AFICIONADO RATING: AFTERMATH doesn’t quite live up to the prior hype initiated by LUCAS BOOKS, but it is most likely the best overall STAR WARS novel/adventure of 2015, of which author Wendig’s storytelling grasp, despite a choppy writing style that takes a little time to get used to, proves solid and ultimately rewarding. Book Two, out in 2016, promises much. 3.5 out of 5.


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