BOOK REVIEW: CHUCK WENDIG’S EMPIRE’S END

There are three key questions in relation to Chuck Wendig’s final installment in the Aftermath Trilogy. The questions are as follows:-

  • Is Empire’s End an essential Star Wars Novel?
  • Having read Empire’s End how can the Aftermath Trilogy be judged?
  • What assessment can be made of Empire’s End as a standalone book?

So lets look at each of these questions in turn.

Is Empire’s End an essential Star Wars Novel?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. If you don’t read Empire’s End you will be missing out on Star Wars gold.

Two words describe why this book is essential reading. Mon Mothma. The character shines in the scenes in which she features. The political chicanery she is engaged in within the book, as well as a heart-pounding scene featuring a bombing at the heart of the nascent New Republic also seem to foreshadow the events of Claudia Gray’s excellent Bloodline novel.

Mon Mothma has been criminally underutilized in Star Wars; its been nice to see both Wendig and Rogue One move to highlight the character more. She was, after all, the primary political leader of the Rebel Alliance, and Chancellor of the New Republic. In Empire’s End, after the events of Life Debt, we see her struggling with debilitating physical impairment after the Liberation Day celebration attacks, the political pressures of differentiating her style of Government from the Empire, and the stormy seas of a democratic system in a big, big galaxy.

There is a lot of coverage given to Rae Sloane, and she has been great across a number of books now, but it would also be nice to see the sly and witty Mothma from these pages developed further in the novels. Wendig pulls a few surprises with the character towards the end of the book — her unconventional choice of Sinjir Rath Velus as her chief political aide is inspired, as is her ultimately handling of Senator Wartol. Revenge is a dish best served in a fruit bowl it seems.

As with the other novels, Wendig’s now infamous Interludes are peppered throughout the book. They are again essential reading, in particular the tragic fate of my favorite Gungan in a sad cameo performance, the cowardly Mas Amedda (last read about in a contrasting role in James Luceno’s Catalyst), and the standout interlude of this book, the Sith acolytes section, which was just chilling.

Finally, although not an Interlude it would be remiss not to must mention this…Mr Wedge Antilles…you wasted no time did you?

Having read Empire’s End how can the Aftermath Trilogy be judged?

So how do we judge the Trilogy? Well, it is no secret that the Partisan Cantina hosts many fans of Chuck Wendig’s work. The first book in this Trilogy, Aftermath was phenomenal and the Cantina’s patrons were mildly bemused at the criticism it received upon release. The issue at that time was perhaps the expectations that people had before they opened the book, against what the author’s intentions were. Thankfully, both the Cantina staff and its regulars were immediately hooked by Wendig’s prose style, the fresh new and diverse characters and the extensive canvas upon which he painted the post-Endor galaxy.

The second installment Life Debt took these strengths even further, we were blasted into a story which orbited around the liberation of Kashyyyk. The book brought in a greater focus on Original Trilogy characters (cue Han and Leia) as well as the new characters we knew well through the first book. The combination of the two worked brilliantly and there was a real pace to this book that gave it a thriller element. The first two books also served to compliment one another when read as a pair which enhanced their appeal further.

That effect now plays out across the completed Trilogy. Empire’s End, in particular Parts 4 and 5, brings the Trilogy to to a stunning close. When looked at as a body of work the Trilogy is an epic undertaking. When one considers reading the start of Aftermath and the elements outlined therein (e.g. the media handling of the new Government’s first actions on Chandrila), through to the ultimate handling of final victory over the Empire in Empire’s End, it really was an epic journey that we were taken on by these books.

The Aftermath Trilogy has delivered something unique and special in the new canon; something that will be hard to repeat. Wendig can look back proudly having delivered a fresh, crisp, new landscape of characters and plotting which can be built upon for years to come. He should be thanked sincerely for a wonderful addition to the Star Wars library.

What assessment can be made of Empire’s End as a standalone book?

That is not to say that Empire’s End is a perfect book when judged in isolation. Of the three books it was the one that is hardest to pick up and continue reading. It felt as though most of the book was spent reading about characters mired in the desert. This is because this was largely true. Readers can now finally empathize with Finn when he asks in The Force Awakens, “why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?

The book also lacked the interplay between characters that existed in the previous installments. This is because we have Norra Wexley’s “crew” scattered across the galaxy in ones and twos. We therefore lose the fun dialogue between them that really gave the plot a kick the first two books. There are also a lot of imprisonment scenes which don’t lend themselves to good times. Likewise we get a slim diet of Han and Leia (readers have now given up on reading about Luke until after Episode VIII).

There is a strange plot element centered on the use of bugging technology hidden in a droid by Senator Wartol to gain an advantage over Mon Mothma and Leia Organa. For this reader that plot point came across as too much of a reminder of the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Those books had famously depicted listening devices within Ch’hala trees on Coruscant as part of Delta Source (a vestige of Palpatine’s internal control network exploited by Thrawn). Wartol too has “an element of the Borsk Fey’lya-s about him” which makes one wonder if it would have been possible to give a “hat tip” to some Legends fans with the return of the Bothan spy network and the great Fey’lya himself in the Wartol role.

In the end though all these little niggles are cast aside as we crash towards the finale, and the final days of the Empire (or are they???). Parts 4 and 5 give us Lando and Lobot (spot the nod to the Marvel mini-series), Ackbar, a Mothma shock (almost), Mothma maneuvering, excellent detail which may explain why Armitage Hux (above) is such a nasty piece of work, the roots of the First Order, Rax’s fall, Sloane’s escape, and the consolidation of the New Republic .

It’s awesome, and totally worth the trek through the Jakku at the start to get to the treasure buried there.

Read it, enjoy it, and put it on your shelf alongside the other two books, and then sit back and celebrate with Mr Wendig in his achievements.

Score 7/10

Editors Note: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig— Published by Century in UK, Penguin Random House and now available on paperback in the UK from Arrow Books.

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