“The Rebellion was easy, Lando. Governing’s harder.”
The Empire takes its last stand on the planet of Jakku in the final book of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy. And while this trilogy has been less “journey to The Force Awakens” and more “what happened right after Return of the Jedi,” we get a tiny glimpse of the start of the First Order in a tale of old favorites, new favorites that I hope we’ll see more of, the birth of the New Republic and the last gasp of a foe that’s dangerous even when it’s dying.
In three books the story has gone from “deceptively simple” to “almost unmanageably sprawling”. There’s a lot going on in this book. Wendig uses every opportunity to include more and more details about the Star Wars universe: more planets, more alien races, more incomprehensible alien names. I’ve enjoyed getting a new Star Wars book every year, but I think it might have been better if I’d waited for all of them to be released so I could read them one after the other. With so many tertiary characters and plots and side stories going on, there were times that I was left flailing when someone was introduced and I had to figure out what plot point were they involved with in the last book.
Having a third of the book devoted to politics made things even more convoluted. Mon Mothma is fighting to keep her position after the disastrous attack sneak attack by brainwashed former hostages on Liberation Day, and she’s having to deal with the second worst form of government in existence: democracy (the worst being: everything else. Hat tip to William Churchill.) Progress moves at a snail’s pace, nothing can be approved until it’s been voted on, and there are always underhanded deals behind the scenes, so you can expect some skullduggery going on with Mon, Leia, Han, and the beloved (to me, anyway) crew of bounty-hunters, pilots, former soldiers, and one adorably lunatic kill-bot from the previous two books.
“See, you’re a good person because you worry about others. And I’m a good person because I didn’t actually hurt Geb Teldar. And Norra’s a good mother and Temimin is a good son and Mister Bones is a very good murder-droid, and we’re all good people doing a good thing and let’s just shut up and get it done, hm?”
I’ve really grown to love the little crew of characters Wendig created specifically for this trilogy. Norra lost me for a bit towards the beginning of the book when she kept doing impulsive, unbelievably stupid things. (Jas Emari lost her temper at one point and slammed Norra against the side of a ship and I was actually saying, out loud, “Hit her again, Jas!”) But the team still got all the best lines (especially Sinjir), and the best chapters (especially Jas; there’s a bounty-hunter who is not to be messed with), and they keep the plot moving forward as Wendig juggles several interlocking stories.
The plan is simple: Fly in with the Falcon, fast and furious.
The plan is also very stupid.
Things I really enjoyed about the book: the short interludes giving us tidbits about what’s gong on in other parts of the galaxy (there’s one about Lando on Cloud city! And one about Chewbacca! And one about Jar Jar Binks for crying out loud, and I didn’t hate it!), epic battle scenes (remember that crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku? Wendig paints an amazing picture of what a starship crash looks like at ground level), the fascinating details about criminal organizations fighting for control (including what a Hutt looks like when it’s scary), and a little more information about what happened to the pieces of the Death Star after Endor.
Things I didn’t enjoy: characters making stupid decisions (Norra was the worst for this, but everyone took turns to do things that didn’t make sense), zero appearances by Luke Skywalker, a couple of plot twists that were supposed to be a surprise but were very obviously telegraphed, a doomsday device that didn’t have nearly enough lead-up, and that poem from the Interlude before chapter 17. No, just, no.
But beyond the good points and the bad, the quirky dialog and sometimes shocking violence, the heroic deaths (and there were a lot of deaths. At least one was tragic and convenient, another was predictable but it still made me sad, and one that genuinely surprised me,) and the from-beyond-the-grave plot that spanned whole star systems and was at it heart so damn small, the Aftermath trilogy was about just that: what came after the Rebellion.
Return of the Jedi left us with a happily ever after, but I think we all knew that the story wouldn’t be able to stop there because that’s not how things work. There will always be people who think democracy is a cure-all for everything, and others who believe total Control is the only way to keep civilization from chewing itself to pieces. The people who tear down a government aren’t always the best suited for all the nasty compromises that come with running a new government, especially since people blindly obeying the rules can be convinced to do terrible things (or nothing at all), but someone going against orders even with the best intentions can get people killed, and how in God’s name are you supposed to tell the difference?
The transition from a ragtag bunch of dissidents and mutineers to a proper government is a hard one. Many of them still have rebel hearts beating in their chests – it’s in them to question orders, to fight back when something doesn’t seem right. Even if it’s coming from someone you trust. People trusted Palpatine, once.
If you’re like the characters of Empire’s End, you muddle through, make terrible plans, and break a lot of rules to make those plans actually work. And if you’re very lucky, you get a long-delayed celebration for the end of the Empire. Which in an odd way brings the story all the way back to the celebrations at the beginning of the trilogy. The reader will have to decide if it’s worth the trip.