Empire’s End is one of the best Star War books written.
Empire’s End conjurs up many scenes with call-backs to the feature films. We get a scene in Niima the Hutt’s temple (RoJ). We have visions of Star Destroyers falling to the ground, the results of which seen in The Force Awakens. We see our heroes marching through a desert.
Wendig’s style for Empire’s End is far more gruesome than what we’ve seen in most other Star Wars novels. While this was certainly started in Life Debt, Empire’s End describes a violent, apocolyptic world. But this is what Chuck Wendig does very well. There isn’t just your standard blasters and X-Wing violence. We get broken fingers. We get limbs blasted off. We get children and droids committing horrible acts of violence.
The story starts strong: Sinjir tortures the bounty hunter sent after them by Rae Sloane to get information on where she might be. Upon arriving at Jakku, they see the remnants of the Imperial Star Fleet, but not before they come under attack. Three things happen during the attack:
Norra and Jas take an escape pod down to the surface. Temmin sends Mr. Bones after her. Sinjir and Temmin barely make it to hyperspace and return to Chandrila to tell Princess Leia and Mon Mothma what they’ve seen.
Jakku is a Character
The most moving part of this book is the way in which Jakku is described as a character itself. Jakku is a force that has dramatically effected the remnants of the Empire. It has work the discipline from storm troopers. It has eroded the luster of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane. It has tested the resolve of Brendol Hux.
Norra must survive imprisonment until she is saved by Mr. Bones. Jas has to harm herself in order to escape her captivity. Everyone on Jakku must give up something to it in order to survive.
Jakku is also an important world, being home to one of the Emperor’s final contingency plans. We learn more about Palpatine’s relationship with Rax, sharing his final contingency plan for him to carry out.
Perhaps the most extreme element of this story was the acolytes that served Niima the Hutt. These beings were frightening on the page. They conjured images of the Thuggie Cult from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. More broadly, they make Niima a force to be reckoned with in a way that we never really got from Jabba.
Rax is who I thought he was….
I called Gallius Rax a fughezi Thrawn. I think that’s proven true in this book. While Thrawn is a strategic genius, Rax was following a plan that only he knew about. Though containing his own type of guile and ambition, he was certainly not the insightful leader that Thrawn was. Rax is, by contrast, a more deranged schemer. That’s perhaps worse.
Rax’ purpose that was teased in Life Debt is revealed in this story. His work is unveiled throughout the course of the story where he is actively doing the final work of the Empire per Palpatine’s instructions to him.
Central to Empire’s End is the political backdrop of the New Republic recovering from the surprise attack by the Empire that killed many delegates. Mon Mothma physically injurred and weakened politically in the attack is on the defensive against her political adversaries.
Mon Mothma plays her adversaries masterfully. She intentionally delays a second vote on if the New Republic should attack Jakku given the information of the Imperial star fleet – the first tainted by corruption. She employs Sinjir and Temmin to investigate her political rivals and uncover the corruption that is motivating them.
Wendig gives us just enough political maneuvering to illustrate the precarious nature of the New Republic. But it’s exciting and confrontational enough to earn the name Star Wars.
The Final Plan
The ending of the story is a significant twist: Rax’ intention is to carry out the Emperor’s final plan. However, this plan is not to save the Empire, but to destroy it. This is a signifiant plot twist which Wendig presents masterfully.
The Emperor believed that if he did not survive then the Empire did not deserve to survive. His final plan, given to Rax, was to those who are salvageable and go to the Unknown regions. It is in those regions where a dark presence persists that something new can emerge.
Though the unknown regions are… unknown, even to Palpatine, The Emperor sent probes to investigate. Thrawn, as is mentioned, provides significant insights into the unknown regions – where he is from.But more importantly, Palpatine has always sensed a dark presence in the unknown regions:
The Emperor was convinced that something waited for him out there—some origin of the Force, some dark presence formed of malevolent substance.
This is a significant plot point that sets up the origins of The First Order whose roots lay in the Legends Thrawn Trilogy. It further underscores how significant those novels were/are to Star Wars and continues to influence the Saga.
The Ending, the beginning
The other twist at the end of this story is that Sloane returns to what will become the First Order.
“That is our first order. To begin again. And to get it right, this time.”
This is strange because she only reached that point through help and support from Norra. But it is also poetic in that ultimately she is looking to rebuild the Empire that she understood. In many ways, it is Sloan that preserves the Imperial nature of The First Order, limiting the feral nature instituted by Rax’ efforts on Jakku. They are the survivors of The Empire and the only ones strong enough to remake it.
And not to be outdone, we get glimpses of characters that we know from The Force Awakens. Armitage Hux has his own role in this story where we see the seeds of his relationship with Rae Sloane forming. We also hear of a tall girl trained on Jakku who we can believe to be Captain Phasma.
And lastly, though almost as an aside, Leia gives birth to Ben and we get our first glimpse of Han as a dad.
Though I wasn’t a fan of the presence of the interludes, we do get better ones in this story. The interludes were more related to the main story.
I won’t detail them. But perhaps the best was Lando’s where he retakes Bespin. The most intriguing was the one that included Jar Jar Binks. The most important to the story may be Mas Amedda’s escape from captivity.
Each of the interludes, though, present stories that are a bit more relevant to the goings-on of the main story. A few refer directly to the main story.
References to General Hux, Captain Phasma, and maybe.
The gritty nature of Jakku.
Mon Mothma’s political maneuvering.
Mr. Bones’ death.
The crashing of a Super Star Destroyer into Jakku.
Is Thrawn on the Eclipse waiting in the Unknown regions? Is he around somewhere otherwise? This would seem to leave the door open to the events of the Thrawn Trilogy being more or less Canon.
Are the Acolytes on Deveron (Interlude) who seem to worship Vader a prelude to The Knights of Ren?
In various systems, the Acolytes have gathered on different worlds to slaughter enclaves and outposts of the New Republic. They do not have the number or the power to achieve bigger, not yet.
This would seem like a group that would hold Ben Solo in high regard.
What happened to the Imperial Fleet in the Queluhan Nebulah named at the end of Lost Stars?
Is the Dark presence sensed by The Emperor in the Unknown Regions a reference to Snoke and/or something else? Is the
Just a few nit picks:
I’m not sure why, but the author seems to want / need I just find it hard to believe that with so many dire circumstances occurring that things would stop for political maneuvering. I just think the Aftermath crew would not have gone back to Chandrila and would have gone after Norra.
Norra was a bit too strung out. I recognize that she had some dire things occur in Life Debt. But she was also a rebel fighter who lost many friends along the way. I would have expected someone with her experience and maturity to handle her circumstances differently.
One questionable science issue – one critical scene involves an imperial shuttle going into a stall while flying in-altitude. I’m not sure this is reasonable. The general take of the technology underlying Star Wars vehicles is one that is not inherently aerodynamic. We see ships take off vertically and fly at different speeds through atmospheres and space alike. Stalling an aircraft typically occurs when air flow over wings is insufficient to provide lift. But if you’re brute-forcing your flight, how would that happen? And if it did happen – i.e. the thrusters were dying/dead as may have been the case in this scene – then a shuttle doesn’t really have ‘wings’ as lifting devices. So it would just crash…. But whatever. I’m a science guy. I think I like picking these kinds of nits.