[Review] Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt

Life Debt is the second book in the Aftermath trilogy written by Chuck Wendig. It takes place after Return of the Jedi. The first Aftermath book was such a disappointment in terms of content, I thought it was boring, it felt like we didn’t learn much, there were bits of details here and there and a few interesting interludes but it didn’t go further than that, maybe it was because the book was released before The Force Awakens and they were trying not to reveal too much of that era before. The best part of the first book was that one of its main characters Sinjir Rath Velus was the first major gay character in the Star Wars canon, it was great to have LGBT representation in this universe and hopefully this will lead to have LGBT characters in the movies as well because that’s also an essential part of having diversity. Sinjir is an amazing character and he has an interesting story as he used to be an Imperial so I think it would be great to have him beyond the Aftermath books. The worst thing about the book was the writing style, it was bad literally, a childish writing style (it’s even more felt in The Force Awakens comics adaptation, just take a look at the first issue that was released in June), it felt like it was a 9-year-old kid writing, also the author is a Prequel hater (he posts tweets hating on the Prequels but pretends he’s not a hater = hypocrisy) and Lucasfilm shouldn’t hire people who hate on materials they produced all the more when it’s immovable objects of the canon, he works for them, he doesn’t have to like them but he should at least respect what they do. That’s exactly the reason I didn’t want to read Life Debt because of the writing style that totally made it hard to enjoy the book and knowing that the author hates on the Prequels, eventually I did read Life Debt because of spoilers I heard about on the internet. This second book still have this annoying writing style but at least the content of the book makes you forget the way it’s written, the content is really great. It has an intriguing story and interesting reveals.

The plot deals with Norra’s crew trying to find Han Solo and then it turns into helping Han to save Chewbacca and eventually saving Kashyyyk with at the same time the storyline of Gax’s plot, Sloane’s story and the New Republic trying to hold the galaxy together. Chancellor Mon Mothma has a significant role in this book which is great to have a look at her character during this time and how she tries to bring peace in the galaxy with the Republic. Seeing Kashyyyk is also amazing, the last time we saw the planet was during Revenge of the Sith, so seeing it during the Empire’s reign (or more like the end of the Empire’s reign) is an interesting contrast as it’s not the same planet anymore, it has been deeply damaged and the wookiees have been turned to slaves. Having a lot more of Han Solo and Leia in Life Debt was a much better improvement from Aftermath 1, they still are core characters at this crucial moment of the galaxy.

The biggest reveal was about Fleet Admiral Rax Gallius, the book never clearly states Gax = Snoke but we, the reader, really understand it is. He shares the same ideas as Snoke (he wants to use the children, training them from a young age to serve their army, the same way as General Hux’s program in TFA and speaking of Hux, his father and him are in the book and what a surprise, his father is working with Gax), when he’s around, everything feels dark and cold, something in the description is reminiscent of the dark presence of Snoke, you can see Rax really holds the cards in his hands, he controls the situation, he is the mastermind, very much like Snoke and it’s unlikely that the two aren’t the same person, they’re exactly the same an it wouldn’t surprise me if in Empire’s End (the last book of the Aftermath trilogy) we see that Rax is left for dead in the crash of his cruiser during the battle of Jakku … because when we see Snoke in TFA he is mutilated, he has been wounded and this would explain it. Speaking of Jakku, the very interesting thing is Rax is from there … a fan theory on the internet says that Snoke is Rey’s father. Why not, I mean it’s not a bad theory, it’s intriguing and could lead to some great storylines in Episode 8 or 9 but I’m not so confident he is the father, however Jakku is important for some reasons. The plot Rax unleashes is of Palpatine’s level of plots, he plays the long game, he knows it will take time and it’s a very complicated plot – letting the Republic take control of Kashyyyk, freeing the prisoners from the strange prison on that planet while these prisoners are in fact controlled by a chip, letting a celebration happen and use these former prisoners to unleash a terrorist attack on Chandrila, capital of the Republic killing important figures like General Madine, trying to kill the Chancellor Mon Mothma (though failing at that) but mostly it brought chaos to Hanna City and also putting out Sloane out of the game while bringing the remaining of the Empire’s fleet on Jakku to give them time to rebuild and prepare for war, on the top of it he also becomes Emperor.

Sloane, she is the other villain of the story. And I really love this duel of villain against villain – Sloane against Rax, there is no guns in this fight, it’s a game of mind , Gax manipulating her while she realizes he tries to control her but she thinks she can beat him while she is being beaten and destroyed. If you remember her, she was in Aftermath 1 but she was also first introduced in A New Dawn, the book about Hera and Kanan happening before Star Wars Rebels. She has a different vision of the Empire than Rax’s vision but she still believes in the Empire, she is a villain and a very bad one (of course not as bad as Gax). She’s a great female character plus a badass one! Her fight on Hanna City against Norra is epic, reminds me of Tom Cruise epic fights in Jack Reacher. I expected her to die at the end but she survives and she’s on her quest to end Gax with the unexpected help of Brentin (Norra’s husband who was a prisoner on Kashyyyk and well one of the people who had a chip to control him).

Speaking of Brentin, it comes as a surprise that he is alive. The books stated that he was dead so never I said yes he’s going to show up and he actually does but he is not the man he used to be. His return is a bit problematic in terms of story. With Aftermath, it’s quite simple, every (almost) character is in a romance and Norra is stuck – with Brentin returning, her husband and she returns to him while Wedge Antilles has feelings for her and she does too. It’s kind of a little love triangle (Did we need it? No.) It feels like she is stuck in this situation and she doesn’t even choose who she wants to be with, not really, she just goes with Brentin because he used to be her husband and she feels obliged to stay but as we can see their relationship is not the same, it’s a distant relationship, it’s broken and she’s stuck there. I think Norra should have dealt with that and decided whether she really wanted to be with Brentin (not because he used to be her husband and she felt like obliged to stay with him) or to be with Wedge because she had feelings for him. Not every character has to be stuck in a romance and not every character has to end his romance at the end of the book. Chuck Wendig does not handle this well. Love is an important part of life and it makes sense that it should be part of the characters’s lives but I don’t think like the book needs to explore all these romances, I think it would be enough just to spend a page or two about it. For example, the Jas and Jom romance is just useless, it tries to do something like Han and Leia in the Original Trilogy, this flirting banter but it just feels like it is a copy of something already existing which fails to be interesting but in the end it does thing differently as they break up and I saw it coming miles ahead. Sinjir’s romance is an important part of his character because it shows there’s someone who cares about him, and his friends also cares about him, it’s something he learns and it’s something that shapes his new world, because in his life in the Empire, he didn’t know any of it but his romance actually ends for something that feels out of character, Sinjir breaks up because he feels like he is a bad guy, he loves him but he is a bad guy so he has to leave but one page later he is on board for a final mission with the good guys – to hunt down Sloane … which doesn’t change much of killing a bad man because they know she won’t surrender and they will most likely have to kill her so that totally fits with him saying he is a bad guy, right? Just because he killed a man who hurt his friends, good and bad is not all light and dark, there’s in-between, good guys sometime have to do things that is questionable. It makes him someone who cares about his friends, they shape his new life, and it makes sense that he wants to protect them and help them, yes he killed that man who was unarmed, it was obviously a questionable action to do but that doesn’t put him on the bad guy side, that just puts him on the road that he is – a good guy who learns. He used to be an Imperial but the books showed that now he is a good guys, he is one of them, in Life Debt in no way, it feels like he is not one of them. At a moment before his break-up when he threatens the person who designed the prison, he doubts about him being a good guy but it’s not easy to believe it as you don’t really see a conflict going on inside him, it’s just happening like that, without a progression, he just stops caring about the New Republic and yet the second after he cares as he joins Norra’s team for a mission to stop Sloane. Hopefully Empire’s End will bring Sinjir and the man he loves back together, it would be a bit disappointing to bring for the first time in Star Wars, a major character who is an LGBT character just to have him break up for a reason that doesn’t really feels like a real reason. Apart from Han and Leia, all these characters being in a romance end up breaking up or being separated. Han and Leia romance was the one that was well-written but also probably because Wendig can’t make the characters end their romance because he probably would if he could.

Unlike their romance, Wendig got Leia and Han Solo wrong as characters, he doesn’t know how to write these characters. Leia is a war hero but she is also a politician and a diplomat, Claudia Gray wrote perfectly the character in Bloodline. However, Wendig failed at that, yes Leia was worried that something bad had happened to Han but in some chapters, she behaves childishly and she’s not that at all, she’s a fighter but also a diplomat, she does both like her mother Padmé. Wendig needs to learn that. As for Han Solo, he is my favorite character from the Original Trilogy and from The Force Awakens, he is a special character to my heart, he has his way of talking and behaving, Wendig surely tried to get the feels of the character it was there in one or two dialogues but it wasn’t totally there in most of the book, something was missing, something big. And one moment was also totally out of character when at the cantina with the crew, he is ready to take his blaster and kill them all before they can do anything (here Wendig also implies the Han shot first theory, childish move from the author, like George Lucas himself explained Han is not a cold blood killer so he wouldn’t do that). It’s not easy to write these characters into books but Claudia Grey did it and she did it well so others can too.

Mas Amedda first seen in the Prequel trilogy also has a supporting role in this book which is great. When the Republic became the Empire, he became Grand Vizier. And in this book, we see another side of him, it’s after the Emperor’s death, the Empire is in chaos and he is on his own, he is just a figure, he doesn’t control anything, he is weak. He’s the shadow of himself, he’s nothing anymore. So it was nice to see him again and see a different side of him, once he’s on his own without guidance from his Emperor.

The interludes are here to give us details about the state of the galaxy sending us to Ryloth, Hosnian Prime, Corellia, Tatooine … The Corellia one is one of the most interesting one, it’s a follow up to an interlude from the first book concerning the Acolytes, some crazy Darth Vader fanboys, it’s a cult, it could mirror to the crazy fanboys part of the Star Wars fandom actually. In the first book, they were searching for a lightsaber, in the second they find one, a red one not sure if it’s Vader’s one, I doubt so though. In this interlude, they go into action but we don’t know their clear purpose. I wonder if they could be what later becomes the Knights of Ren when Kylo Ren takes their command, it could be but it would mean this group lasted 30 years, it’s not clear yet. The Tatooine one features Malakili, the rancor’s keeper and it feels like it is mostly fan service and it isn’t telling a story so yes, this one is unnecessary. The Ryloth one was rather shocking, it shows that the Twi’leks are finally free, they succeeds at freeing their planet as the Empire leaves and Cham Syndulla is mentioned but not present, it could imply that he died in their fight for freedom … we’ll see with Star Wars Rebels season 3 as he’s in there. There’s also Yendor, who we see in Bloodline as the ambassador from Ryloth. The shocking thing in this interlude is Dardama killing a wounded and unarmed stormtrooper, he wasn’t going to hurt them or try to kill them and yet she kills him, that was unexpected, he didn’t hurt them before, he is there waiting, he’s basically telling them they won. I think it shows well that it’s not just all light and dark, there’s also dark with the good guys, this interlude was able to show that, just a little.
The most important interludes are the first and the last and it concerns Gax Rallius and his origin story when he meets Sheev Palpatine, three decades before. Yes, the two characters knew each other which makes total sense as Snoke couldn’t have been just someone in the shadow coming and claiming “the throne,” he had to be someone who knew one of the bad guys. Jakku is definitely an important, Palpatine is doing something there that is linked with something that happened thousand years before him so we can assume it is about the Force. Gax is mixed in all that and Sidious uses him, I’m really looking forward to see what happens next.

7/10 Life Debt is a much better improvement from Aftermath 1, it has a great story, great elements, interesting characters – mystery, action, betrayal, plot twists … but it also has its flaws, big flaws like the writing style and some sub-plotlines and character relationships that sometime aren’t necessary or aren’t well-written. But it definitely gives a lot more details about the era and also gives hints about elements from The Force Awakens. I think that Life Debt isn’t near the best Star Wars books but it is a good one and an intriguing one that kept me on the edge of my seat despite some elements that I expected would happen.

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