Sunday, January 3, 2016
Chuck Wendig's STAR WARS: AFTERMATH
Star Wars: Aftermath, published to both acclaim and controversy (which controversy I'm not going to address here because I don't really understand it) a few months before The Movie was, is further proof that just because there has been some retcon doesn't mean there can't emerge some great stories from the new effort. The galaxy far, far away is pretty big, and there is room for a lot in it, and a lot of it is awesome.
That being said, I can see where some fans might have been a leetle disappointed to pick this book up, because it is mostly lacking in what people have been hankering for ever since the prequel movies stank up the theaters: Han, Leia, Luke, Chewie, Lando, Jedis and the Force... But by now we've all seen that the The Force Awakens took care of them just fine, so let's focus on what Aftermath does not lack, which is quality.
The title here is key. The events of Return of the Jedi are still very, very recent as this new story unfolds. The ewoks may well still be partying down on Endor's forest moon. Thank goodness we don't have to see that, but it might well be. But one victory, however spectacular, doth not a regime change make, and while the Empire was pretty well decapitated, that doesn't mean everything in the galaxy is immediately hunky dory. As we've seen in our lifetimes in the Middle East, taking out the evil dictator and his cronies causes as many problems as it solves: power vacuums, chaos, opportunism, economic collapse, weapons of mass destruction in unknown hands, troubled war veterans, disruptions in commerce and shipping... the list is long and grim.
And it's this stuff that Wendig has chosen to imagine, to tackle for this new trilogy of novels. Which means he is unassailably writing Star Wars for grown-ups, making the long, long ago feel more real and challenging and gritty than any amount of practical special effects and exposition dumping opening crawls could ever do. He takes full advantage of the opportunities the novel form offers to really explore and fill out a world, with fascinating, if at times disheartening, results.
But that's not to say it's any less fun than the movies, etc. we've loved all these years. Just because the real problems of regime change and consolidation are the focus doesn't mean there isn't plenty of action, character drama, and, yes, humor as an ex-Imperial official, a kickass bounty hunter, a hot-shot pilot, her crafty and gifted son, and a host of other new characters struggle to figure out their roles and places in this new world in the brief bit of breathing room everybody is sort-of enjoying while the New Republic tries to form and begin to heal the galaxy -- and while the Empire struggles to regroup and plan to reconquer.
Of particular note is a droid that stole my heart even more completely than BB8 did in the latest film: Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones is an old Imperial battle droid, of risible memory from the prequel films. You know rolling around, committing acts of incredible ineptitude and saying "Roger Roger" every few seconds. But Mr. Bones, Mr. Bones is badass, because young Temmin Wexley (the hot-shot pilot's son) rebuilt it (partly out of animal bones, hence its name) and reprogrammed it with a lot of weird software modules that have made of the thing a seriously formidable bodyguard that has a bizarre tendency to laugh psychotically and break out into mondo crazy song and dance routines while it kills and maims. I would watch a spin-off series of this droid's adventures, yes I would.
Also notable is an Imperial admiral, Sloane, who is stuck balancing competing interests as she tries to pull together what's left of the Empire's military to take stock and figure out new strategies. Notice again the female pronoun: Aftermath, like the film that has followed it, is an artifact of a much more inclusive universe that may well be one without sexism, or at least without very much of it. Just as the film gives us the fabulously competent, fierce and sensible Rey, this novel gives us a gifted and dedicated female pilot, Norra Wexley (who is dealing not only with her military role in the rebellion but also with the effect her career has had on her relationship with the son she left behind in his aunts' care). The bounty hunter character is also female, and never once is anybody's gender an issue; never once is there any suggestion that they are exceptions to any rules, no "great pilot for being a woman" backhanded compliments, none of it. Even Sloane, who is on the receiving end of a lot of contempt as her side falls into in-fighting, doesn't get it for being a woman; she gets it for making a plan and sticking to it in the face of bullying opposition and dirty dealing.
It's all just so damned refreshing! Too bad it's just science fantasy. But it's pointing the way, and doing so without giving up any of the pew-pew-pews we go to science fantasy for.
But so, I'm pretty psyched to read the other two books in this trilogy when they're available. But then, I hope Wendig goes back to writing his very own stuff. His very own stuff is really, really good. Better than this, even. I mean, come on, this is the guy who brought us Miriam Black. I don't begrudge him his payday, but... cough. Thunderbird. Cough.
*I had to be physically escorted from the theater when I made the mistake of going to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, and got a scorching migraine for my troubles My concerns were real! To say nothing of all of the other ways that film sucked.