I’m a big Star Wars nerd. It might be (probably is) my favorite fantasy universe. Not that I’m saying every property within the universe has been fantastic, or even good, but the universe itself has everything I could ask for in a fantasy series. Sword fighting, magic, diverse locales and peoples and races, big epic battles and small, personal confrontations. Anything is possible in the Star Wars universe, and who hasn’t spent some time dreaming of one day being a Jedi (or a Sith, as the case may be).
I say this becuase I always like to let me biases be known at the start of an article. I tend to give Star Wars properties a little bit of a leeway, judging them a little less critically than I would something else. God help me, I even like the prequels, as popular an opinion it is to bash them, though it would probably take me another entire article to explain why.
That said, I have never read any of the Star Wars books before. I’ve played the games, I’ve watched the animated series, even read a handful of the comics, but the books held little interest to me. That’s becuase, to me, Star Wars requires a visual medium; you want to see the lightsabers clash, witness the dogfights between tie fighters and x-wings, and so on. So the interest in the books just wasn’t there, I had always kind of just hoped the stories would see adaptations either on screen or in a game. Course, now Disney has come along, made the whole swath of previous books non-canon, and released a series of books on their own.
I received two of these books over Christmas time, ‘A New Dawn’, which takes place during the time between the prequels and the OT and serves as a prequel itself to the Star Wars: Rebels animated series, and Aftermath, which takes place a few months after the OT. A mix of curiosity, as well as a need to read something now that I’m done with the Wheel of Time series, caused me to give them a read.
A New Dawn follows the Rebels characters Kanan, the Jedi padawan who survived the purge as a child and has hidden his Force talents since, and Hera, the Twi’lek rebel agent at a time when the rebels weren’t really an organized force yet. Together they have to take on an imperial bureaucrat / cyborg before he blows up a moon in the name of efficiency. Overall, a fairly cut and dry story of the good rebels versus the big bad empire, though the addition of the Clone Wars veteran turned PTSD-fueled mad bomber adds some chaos and much needed shades of gray to our party of heroes.
The book was really at its best when it was the perspective of the imperial characters as opposed to the heroes. Here we so multiple factions competing for power and influence, each with different motivations. It really paints a picture of the leadership structure of the Empire under Palpatine, one that encourages backstabbing and competition to see who survives to get to the top. The books primary antagonist, the efficiency expert Vidian, is a product of that structure, for good and for bad. He has rose up the ranks through manipulation, deceit, and his cut-throat attitude, and is willing to take whatever extreme action is necessarily to hold his position, even at the cost to the Empire as a whole. And that, I think, is telling: the Empire’s leadership structure promotes loyalty to one’s self more than the Empire as a whole.
Aftermath is set in the month’s following the destruction of the second Death Star, as the fledgling New Republic is hosting its first senate meetings and the remnants of the Empire struggle to maintain their holdings. The main story takes place on the Outer Rim planet of Akiva, where the last remaining imperial leaders try to come up with a course of action moving forward. New Republic pilot Wedge Antilles stumbles across the meeting and ends up being captured, but not before setting off a chain of events. Our group of heroes must try to free Wedge / capture the imperial leaders.
Here we see a bit of reversing of the roles of the imperials and the rebels / New Republic. The Empire is definitely the underdog by this point. At one point in the book they are literally hiding their Star Destroyers to try and avoid New Republic attention. They’d almost be the underdogs you root for, if not for the fact that their leaders were clearly still arrogant and evil. Still, it creates kind of an odd situation for the author; in order for there to be any kind of tension in the book the heroes need to have a force to struggle against against, and the Empire on its last legs, down to its last three Star Destroyers and with Stormtroopers who were the ‘bottom of the barrel’ or had never finished Academy were not a threatening force. To that end, we see an incredibly cautious, bordering on indecisive, Akbar, who avoids sending New Republic forces to Akiva for most of the book in fear of running into another imperial trap, thus leaving our heroes without support, as well as a Crime Syndicate who provide the majority of the pressure against our heroes.
Fortunately, the cast is pretty interesting, so even when the plot isn’t necessarily tense it is still fun to read. You have the imperial deserter who was formerly a ‘loyalty officer’ (aka the torturer for the Empire’s HR department), the tech-savvy kid and his heavily modified B1 battle droid Mister Bones. Rounding out the cast are the less interesting rebel pilot Norra there to reunite with her son and a Zabrak bounty hunter there to collect the price on the heads of the imperial leadership.
One complaint I have. Is the abundance. Of sentence fragments. Like this. Perhaps the author had the same concerns I did about Star Wars requiring a visual medium and decided to write it similar to a movie script (there were quite a few times during reading when I made that comparison, like when it seems the story is giving direction to a character on how he feels). It comes off a bit clunky at times.
Overall, two unoffensive although unremarkable books. I quite enjoyed them, but that was more my Star Wars fandom than anything. I think, if you were only a casual fan of the series, you might not enjoy them so much. Aftermath does answer some of the questions of what happened to the Empire in the days after Return, though it is only the first part of a trilogy. Jakku does briefly make an appearance, though not in any way that would be relevant to Force Awakens.
So, yeah. If you’re a superfan, probably worth a read, but otherwise, probably not so much.