Empire’s End: Aftermath finale closes the book on one era, gives birth to Star Wars’ future

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Aftermath: Empire's EndWe’ve quickly come to the end of the Aftermath trilogy of Star Wars novels. How did that happen? It seems like barely yesterday when the massive Expanded Universe was getting a hard reboot in the “aftermath” of Disney’s purchase of the Lucasfilm empire.

And as one Empire ends, so begins another. That’s the thrust of Aftermath: Empire’s End, Chuck Wendig’s grand finale. Norra Wexley and her team of New Republic sympathizers are still hunting Imperials — their greatest quarry, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, is on a personal hunt of her own — but more familiar “cardinal” Star Wars characters are there, too. Princess Leia Organa is very pregnant and gives birth to Ben Solo, with her smuggler/scoundrel husband Han Solo squirming as he tries to adjust to his new role; we know how all that goes. … And a certain clownish character from the prequel trilogy makes a brief appearance after many years of obscurity. … But the Organa-Solo family’s blessed moment comes almost literally as the Empire’s figurehead ruler signals surrender, and the greatest remnant of its war machine goes down in flames over a sun-scarred nowhere called Jakku.

Aftermath Ben Solo birth announcementMon Mothma gets an impressive amount of time in Empire’s End, which is nice considering her recent appearance on screen in Rogue One and Rebels. As the New Republic develops and the elusive Imperial Starfleet becomes vulnerable for a killing blow, her leadership faces its greatest challenge — sadly, it’s against some unimpressive, cardboard-cutout opponents with predictable and unconvincing motives and methods.

Kind of like the recent Earth elections!

Aftermath: Empire’s End has a refugee crisis, as well as hyper-partisan politics between a progressive, “elite” female politician and a loutish, progressive challenger. It’s all a bit too real.

The machinations only serve to delay the inevitable showdown — it’s not clear why, exactly, but it serves to build tension and anticipation for the fireworks.

The Battle of Jakku lives up to all the hype. Star Wars-style space combat is notoriously difficult to bring to life on the printed page. Wendig pulls it off spectacularly here, giving us a legendary “Battle of” that is right up there with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Scarif and Episode VI — Return of the Jedi’s Endor in its imaginary scale. If you’ve seen Episode VII — The Force Awakens, you know there’s an Imperial Super Star Destroyer coming down here — that’s the derelict dreadnought Rey flies the Millennium Falcon through during escape from Jakku with the runaway stormtrooper Finn. The moment does not disappoint, and it’s an example of Rebel-style bravery and ingenuity that rivals the takedown of Scarif’s planetary shield in Rogue One.

As amazing as the Battle of Jakku is, the reason for its location there is less impressive. Aftermath has been building up to this for some time, with a top-secret “Contingency” prepared by the prescient Emperor Palpatine having an important component buried in the sands of Jakku. Even after it comes to near-fruition, this element remains too vague and uninteresting — though it does lead some characters off in a new direction that heralds the Empire’s successor, the First Order. The meaning behind that cryptic name is finally hinted at in Empire’s End, and characters from the old Expanded Universe novels, Star Wars Rebels TV series and The Force Awakens are woven in as the tense political situation that will dominate the galaxy three decades later begins to take shape (a foundation that gets further explored in Claudia Gray’s Bloodline along the way).

Aftermath: Empire’s End, in hardcover at 448 pages, is available today.

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