Sunday, 10 July 2016


Han Solo and Chewbacca are in it up to their necks in Life Debt, out now in hardback.


By Chuck Wendig

Out now in hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Note: this review contains potential SPOILERS!

“The Empire needs children.”

Chilling words from a mysterious and highly dangerous new game-player in the galaxy shattering, chaotic war between defeated Empire and pushing forward, though equally damaged, New Republic, as the second action-packed volume of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt, notably bridging the gap further between the timelines of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, makes a welcome and exciting debut at bookstores and on tablet.

This time out, Wendig’s band of newly created Rebel heroes, led by vulnerable but tough ex-Rebel pilot Norra Wexley, are hard at work combing the universe to apprehend Imperial war criminals for interrogation and trial. Once more alongside her in her old but sturdy freighter, Halo, are bounty hunter Jas Emari (whose ideology continually clashes with her instincts and heart in fighting the Empire), battle hardened Rebel Commando Jom Barell (sharing a special “relationship” (numerous times!) with Jas; the edgy, supercilious and sarcastic former Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus, always thirsting for alcohol, yet always coming up trumps in a crisis; and the young but skilled Temmin, son of Norra (now fully confirmed as TFA's skilled pilot-to-be “Snap” Wexley), paired with his trusty, bloodthirsty, and bizarrely reconditioned DIY Battle Droid in Mister Bones.

A new battle with the Empire awaits Han Solo...

What they do has never been exactly routine, but change is quickly on the agenda for this unlikely group, what with the shocking news that the legendary smuggler and rebel hero/maverick Han Solo, and his Wookiee partner Chewbacca, have suddenly gone missing in the notorious Wild Space, having pursued their own mission, with sadly no support from their former allies in the New Republic, to free the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk from the most horrific and continued Imperial enslavement- their situation and disappearance rallying a concerned Princess Leia to covert action, and the truly below the radar help of Norra’s band, a move which she knows will put her at odds with her New Republic allies previously citing lack of available resources to help, alongside situations occurring from events later in the book, adding further complications. What follows from the acceptance of Leia’s request will soon be a brutal and highly personal leap into action for all of them…

... and his trusty partner Chewbacca.

Only briefly shown here and there in Book One, vital characters from the Classic Trilogy now get a bigger share of the limelight in Life Debt, importantly ringing true on the character front, and now getting to interact with Wendig’s own creations- surely a dream come true for the author. From their temporary new political home on Chandrila, whose civilization and environments we finally get a closer look at, Mon Mothma and fish-head Admiral Ackbar make their presence known as the continued figureheads for the New Republic. Jedi icon Luke Skywalker is still sadly AWOL, and there’s no sign of the corrupting influence of Snoke, either, though fans of Leia will be very happy with her storyline and her developing marriage to Han Solo, who’s just as hip, dangerous and bad boy as ever!

Long-term supporting hero Wedge Antilles returns for another solid contribution, too, though still recovering from his injuries received via the conflicts on Akiva, his special friendship with Norra seemingly starting to blossom until fate, and a shocking discovery, throws a cruel hand…

Admiral Rae Sloane is an Imperial leader with clarity of purpose.

On the side of the enemy, fan favourite Rae Sloane, her blood group status pure Imperial, having escaped Norra and the Rebels at Akiva, has returned to the remnants of her fleet, though still with only a singular Super Star Destroyer to her credit, trying to solidify her power base of technology and firepower. Shrewd and dedicated to the original vision of the Empire, Sloane always proves her worth, though the book now introduces the man, the advisor, behind her actions, discreetly introduced in Aftermath, and bearing a mysterious history linked to a certain desert world from the sequel trilogy, and now planning a nasty strike back surprise against the New Republic. Further decision-making comes from an interesting and creepy new “Shadow Council” (including the father to TFA's General Hux), cementing its plans to restore tyranny and control, alongside a new public relations/propaganda war.

Millennium Falcon schematic.

Keeping the style of the previous book, Life Debt continues to show us the evolving state of the universe in the sustained wake of Empire and New Republic conflict via special and memorable interludes that so far pose more questions than answers: we get a glimpse of the remnants of the Alderaanian race and what they plan to do next, there’s a trip to the perpetually troubled Ryloth, as a new dawn awaits, small but powerful Maz Kanata on Takodana feels the changes taking place in the galaxy, and there’s a visit to Tatooine with the continuing story of the new lawman there, wearing recognisable Mandalorian armour. The most important interlude, however, must surely be the one set on Solo’s home world of Corellia, which sees the unpleasant arrival and building in numbers Cult of Vader acolytes, whose leader now has the Sith Lord’s crimson lightsaber- expect more trouble soon!

His prior critical negativity towards the Prequel Trilogy seemingly abandoned for this official series, Wendig wisely brings in Palpatine’s shady second-in-command and confidante, Mas Amedda, for an interesting appearance, stuck on a Coruscant now entrenched with Rebels fighting guerrilla style warfare in and out of its skyscraper streets.

Mister Bones schematic.

Though I’m still not fully enamoured with Wendig’s main characters, the book’s plotting is strong-the author throwing in some ingenious and original moments of darkness here and there, plus a welcome surprise or two, of which the epic battles sprung from the middle onwards are well handled and quite adult. The Kashyyyk sequences are a worthy continuance from the explosive incidents well delivered by James Luceno in his Dark Lord novel of ten years ago, which, amazingly, was never confirmed as an official part of STAR WARS history.

Life Debt ends on a satisfying note, with our characters, separate or together, all heading towards a gargantuan conflict that will be fatefully decided over a raw world in the Western Reaches. A dust ball soon indelibly intertwined to galactic history: The Battle of Jakku!

AFICIONADO RATING: A superior tale and continuance to Aftermath, Life Debt’s satisfying storytelling moves at a never dull, near lightspeed pace. 4 out of 5

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