If there’s one constant in the nearly dozen Star Wars novels released since Disney reset the canon of the expanded universe, it’s that’s the best ones have been those most connected to the movies. It’s why Claudia Gray’s original trilogy-overlapping Lost Stars and Greg Rucka’s Force Awakens prequel Star Wars Before The Awakening have been the strongest, while Chuck Wendig’s “it’s post-Return Of The Jedi but where did everybody go?” Star Wars Aftermath, though entertaining, is one of the weakest. Thankfully, for the second book in his Aftermath trilogy, Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt (hardcover, digital), Wendig is bringing back some old friends for a much more exciting and satisfying adventure.
Set after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, but long before The Force Awakens begins, Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt picks up where Aftermath left off: with Rebel pilot Norra Wexley and friends chasing after members of the Imperial leadership. But all of that gets put on hold Princess Leia tasks Wexley and her crew to rescue her hubby Han Solo and his BFF Chewbacca after the two disappear while on a mission to liberate the Wookie home world of Kashyyk.
Of course, by including Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and other familiar faces in this tale, Chuck Wendig thankfully ties Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt more closely to the movies. Which not only makes this more interesting, but also more important to the overall saga…which makes it more interesting still.
Though it’s also helpful because, in the original Aftermath, the only truly interesting characters were Norra’s resourceful son Temmin (ably played by Heroes star Greg Grumberg in The Force Awakens), and the kid’s repurposed Clone Wars-era Battle Droid Mister Bones, whose giddy, sadistic nature made him like a cross between Bender from Futurama and Claptrap from the Borderlands games. Which isn’t as much of an issue here because Wendig has thankfully fleshed out both Wexley’s cohorts — bounty hunter Jas Emari, Rebel soldier Jom Barell, and ex-Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus — as well as the bad guys Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, making them much more layered this time around.
But what really makes Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt so much better than the first Aftermath is what happens in the last third of the novel (none of which I’ll spoil). Suffice it to say, it’s not only when this book truly feels like an epic Star Wars tale, complete with all the action and excitement that implies, but it’s also where this novel gets really creative, plot-wise. It’s very much like Claudia Gray’s Bloodline in that regard.
As for the writing of Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt, Chuck Wendig is no Dostoyevsky. Or even Bukowski. But he does have a light breezy style that perfect fits this kind of cinematic sci-fi. The books mostly moves at a good clip, save for the occasional dull “Interlude” chapter, and overall has the same feel as both the films and the other recent Star Wars books, especially, as I mentioned, Bloodline. Which is a much better approach for a Star Wars novel than would’ve been taken by Dostoyevsky. Or Bukowski. Well, unless Buk decided to write a story about Han and Chewie getting drunk at The Chalmun’s Cantina on Mos Eisley with their old pal Hank Chinaski.
That said, there are times in Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt, when Chuck Wendig gets a little too wordy. He doesn’t have the economy of language that Gray and Rucka have displayed in their Star Wars novels. But this really only happens sporadically, and decidedly more so at the beginning, when Wendig is setting everything up, than after the novel really gets going.
Also, Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt, like the original Aftermath, is not the “aftermath” that Star Wars fans might want. It’s not as much of a big picture, “this is how the whole galaxy changed” kind of tale. It’s not broad and political, like a history of the galaxy from the end of Jedi to the beginning of Force Awakens. Though there is some perspective, mostly from the the better “Interlude” chapters, such as the ones about Alderaan’s remnants and Jabba’s rancor wrangler. Besides which, there are other books that cover this time period as well — including the aforementioned Bloodline and Greg Rucka’s Shattered Empire comics — with undoubtedly more to come.
In the end, Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath Life Debt is still not as good a Star Wars novel as Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars or Greg Rucka’s Star Wars Before The Awakening. Or Rucka’s Smuggler’s Run. Or the comics by Jason Aaron (Star Wars: Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes, Star Wars: Volume 2: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon), Kieron Gillen (Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 1: Vader, Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 2: Shadows And Secrets), or Aaron and Gillen (Vader Down). But it is a noticeable improvement over the original Aftermath, as solid as Bloodline, and a fun read that, most importantly, most importantly, both connects and adds to Star Wars saga in some interesting ways.