Aftermath: Life Debt – Book Thoughts [Mild Spoilers]

The second book in the Star Wars: Aftermath series authored by Chuck Wendig.

I didn’t like Aftermath.  The characterization was poor, and the story was a small and rather insignificant.  It didn’t really push the overall Star Wars Saga forward.  It really was a story that didn’t need to be told.  It certainly had a few good points.  But just a few – not $13 on Kindle’s worth though.  In short, this was a great story, told poorly.

Aftermath: Life Debt is a decidedly better story.  It’s actually very good and I’m happily surprised by it.  Even better, you don’t even really need to have read Aftermath to understand what’s going on in the story.  The characterization was far better this time, with each of the main characters have a more pronounced personality and clear role and perspective in the overall story’s events.

The A-Team

We learn to see the crew formed in Aftermath become a sort of A-Team with Norra Wexley playing a sort of less-assertive Hannibal.   They (eventually) get ‘hired’ by Princess Leia to go find Han and Chewie who disappear.  That, then, kind of leads into them into a war-like scenario that isn’t even the climax and isn’t even related to the book’s rather interesting climax.

Mr. Bones is back and better too.

The Imperials

Most interestingly, we get a view into the inner sanctum of the Empire’s remaining leadership (or at least a faction of them).  We get to learn more about the mysterious character introduced at the end of Aftermath (one of its few points of interest).  We actually learn very little about this character, but see his interesting manipulations.  We learn more about Grand Admiral Sloan’s struggle to maintain her hold on the Imperial fleet while still fighting a war.  We also get to see the assembly of remaining imperial loyalists with some references to both The Force Awakens as well as the Servants of the Empire series.

Rae Sloan shines in this book.  Her machinations really moved the plot forward and led us to understand the internal conflict within the remaining Imperial forces.

The ending is also quite interesting as it seems to (finally) set up the Battle of Jakku. We also got a great opening and closing scenes that really place our main Imperial character in an interesting and sinister light.  This is perhaps the only plot point that makes me interested to read the third and final book in this series.

But this story was told quite poorly.

Whereas Aftermath was kind of a big nothing-burger, Life Debt felt like going to a great restaurant with terrible service.  You get something good, but the bad elements are overly distracting and the good parts feel fleeting.

There were too many unnecessary scenes.  There are too many characters with too many similar names to keep up with.  These were really just distractions that took away from an otherwise interesting story.  There were really large time jumps that seemed unnecessary (I’m not even sure they’re consistent with the overall Canon timeline).

The climax was a rip off of another popular old movie plot.  That’s actually quite common in Star Wars stories, but this wasn’t even done well lacked the gravitas of the original and didn’t depart sufficiently from the plot to where it wasn’t obvious.  But it did, in its defense, further the overall Star Wars storyline.  It played very well into the overall plot and reveals a lot of characterization for a number of the Imperial characters.

The most annoying thing about this book is that it’s clear that it was written backwards. It seemed as though the author started with a (great) twisty ending and then back-tracked into the earlier parts of the story.  So most of the book consists of these seemingly random and unrelated events that end up being vitally important and the genius character(s) totally foresaw.  It forced characters, then, to serve this plot structure rather than the other way around.  This is too bad because the story – the interactions between characters, the settings – are actually great.  They just seem to be assembled in a rather obviously contrived manner.

Fugazi Thrawn

The main villain, this mysterious imperial, while an interesting character, ultimately suffered from this rather poorly constructed conspiracy.   He came off as a fake intellectual who had everything all planned out because the author made it so.  It felt like a quite interesting character who came off as lame.  Or, said, another way, he seemed like a poor man’s Grand Admiral Thrawn.  What’s terrible about this is that if this is the character that Lucasfilm wanted, I would have rather they not had Wendig write this series, but had Timothy Zahn write it and have the actual Grand Admiral Thrawn.  The plot elements aren’t dissimilar with the Thrawn Trilogy.  Why do all of this rather than something people already love and want to be Canon?  Maybe they needed a poor-man’s Thrawn – Thrawn would be too powerful for the story to end up with a bunch of destroyed Star Destroyers littering Jakku.  But c’mon.  This was a great character and could have been better with some plot refinement.

Do you even Leia Bro?

All this might be somewhat forgivable.  The biggest annoyance to me was how terribly the established characters were portrayed.  Leia sat around the entire book lamenting that she couldn’t find Han Solo and having heated arguments with Mon Mothma about it.  What?  Leia doesn’t sit around and argue and lament for something she wants – she gets on a ship and goes to get her man.  Wendig totally de-fanged Leia in this book and that’s kind of unforgivable.  You could say it’s because she was pregnant.  But keep in mind that Padme Amadala was running around the Galactic Senate, went to Mustafar, and gave birth to twins on an asteroid base.  Leia couldn’t get on a ship and go find Han by herself?  She had to hire the A-Team?  Mon Mothma was blowing her off… Princess Leia… for months?  It was really off-putting.  I stopped reading the book for two days because of it.

I suspect that about 20% of this book could have been cut from this story through refining certain plot points and just straight eliminating unnecessary scenes.

I could go on, but I’m going to leave it here.  I’ve made my point: this book was constructed and presented poorly.  That’s a shame, because the presentation of characters and story elements were great!

Great, but it could have been better

There seems to be a mismatch between Chuck Wendig’s writing style (from a structure standpoint) and the elements that make up a good Star Wars story.  The Interlude vignette’s that he writes are far more descriptive and emotional.  The scenes that really work in this book focus on only a few characters and something very significant happening to them in that short period of time.  This story falls flat when he seems to add scenes and characters unnecessarily in order to cram them into the ending that he was trying to cram together.  The story, while quite interesting, seems to meander to one random thing to the next only to serve a rather contrived – though quite interesting – ending and resulting cliff-hangar.

This book needed a lot of refinement.  Simplifying the overall plot and focusing on the emotional character interactions that Wendig does well would have made this book far more enjoyable.

I’d recommend reading it, but only if you’re a dedicated Star Wars fan.  It’s great, all the plot challenges notwithstanding.

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