Better Read Than Never: Wendig’s STAR WARS: AFTERMATH

[7-minute read]
“BRTN” is a periodic feature on, in which I write reviews/appreciations of books that are not exactly current. Today’s entry is, for me, rather timely; my last was on a John Updike memoir from 1989. The trouble is, time waits for no man — and neither does Chuck Wendig.

The second Death Star is destroyed. The Emperor and his powerful enforcer, Darth Vader, are rumoured to be dead. The Galactic Empire is in chaos….Optimism and fear reign side by side.

And while the Rebel Alliance engages the fractured forces of the Empire, a lone rebel scout uncovers a secret imperial meeting…


This is how Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig begins. If you need more background information than that, then you may not have been living in this hemisphere during the last number of decades, and maybe this 2015 novel isn’t for you. Wendig – about whom more later, but let’s just say now that he is phenomenally productive, and a review like this is at least three novels behind  – adds full-length sequels in each of the next two years. The seemingly unbreakable Star Wars Rule of Threes continues its reign. Together, the trilogy forms part of a “new canon” of official SW material beyond the films themselves. Aftermath and its children form a bridge between the events of films over 30 years apart: 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and the grizzled-Han and dowager-Leia reunion in The Force Awakens (2015). (Yes, I know, other things happened, too. Luke, for example. And ‘droids. And light-saber battles.) I’m not an SW junkie, and don’t go near fan-sites or extended universes or fundamentalist skirmishes over what is and should be in the Star Wars canon. But like this novel, I do.

It is fast, inventive, breathless and constantly in the present tense, a Wendig trademark. Unknown characters appear in rapid succession, but with references to more or less familiar faces and names from the movies (Admiral Akbar, who does not age at all; C3P0, with upgrades). We know where we are, even when jetting into new worlds. On Coruscant, in one of Wendig’s several “Interludes” — short set-pieces that add context and flavour, and offer a place for him to stow away extra ideas — emboldened former Imperial citizens pull down a statue of Palpatine; see Hussein, Saddam, formerly of Iraq. Imperial Admiral Rae (she’s a woman!) Sloane has a toady and untrustworthy adjutant typecast to remind us of the unfortunate official Force-choked by Vader in the original Star Wars film. Although Wendig takes bitter criticism (surprise!) from many of the Star Wars faithful, Aftermath is an agreeable confection that blends the familiar with the rather wonderfully invented bridgework, with only the occasional bump.

The Empire is going, not gone. Akiva, as tropical a planet as Luke Skywalker’s Tattooine was dry, is now again crime-ridden, with ex-Imperials and ganglords competing for the spoils.

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2015: Paris et Charlie, Chuck and Li’l Ol’ Me

I’m still writing like it’s 2015. I don’t mean brainless mis-dating in my chequebook (for those who remember writing cheques), just that my writing nook is a jumble, my mind is a mess and my habits are blowin’ in the wind. 2015 wasn’t any annus horribilis for me, and I’m far too privileged to complain about my lot in life. But although I wrote some things I’ve liked in this space, I wasn’t even a moderately productive pen-monkey¹ this year. I won’t annoy you (or me) with the details. However, I do believe in fresh starts, and before January gets any older, here’s a small bloggish step in any given direction.

¹ Writer Chuck Wendig’s self-description.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I wrote about it, though briefly, as part of my January 2015 lookback at a better year of bloggishness. For the second time in two months, Adam Gopnik was in my radio Thursday commenting on a freedom-of-speech manifesto written by the Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier, not long before he and 10 others were murdered. Another misguided wretch, butcher knife in one hand and a box of toxic notions in the other (and a fake suicide vest – what in hell was he thinking?), tried to darken Paris, too, with his own in memoriam.

In November, Gopnik, Canadian-born and U.S.-based but with a longtime attachment to the City of Light and Love, had spoken movingly of how the second Paris attacks, that thuggery-in-spiritual-clothing, felt to a lover of the place. (Writer Nancy Huston was on the same CBC Sunday Edition program, and I still think of what she said. I’ll be quoting her in “He Said/She Said” soon; I’ve meant to for a month.) The dark side of the human spirit grossly forced itself upon Paris twice this year, but it was also the site of the United Nations’ COP21 environmental conference, the gathering that spotlighted an awakening world’s mounting concern over, and stumbling commitment to act on, climate change – and all the self-destructive habits and attitudes that are producing it. A long, often painful global roadshow – the one that portrays the dawning consciousness of the oneness of humanity – made three fateful stops in Paris in 2015.

I barely wrote about any of it. A snippet here, an oblique reference there. Bad pen-monkey.

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Where No One Has Gone Before?

Every time I do it, I swear it’s the last time. But it only happens every year or two, and I forget. And when, by whim or happenstance, I’m interested in a mass-market film, ain’t no place to go but the Megatastic Carnival of Audiovisual and Commercial Excess. In my town, it’s called Silver City.

Sensory overload. Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Zeal of the misled martyr. Eagerness of lemmings.

Haven from contentment.

Supersaturated solutions to the hungers of mouth and eye.

And loneliness.


Few things have me muttering as angrily (how soon I forget, how furiously I regret  not showing up late) as my voluntary submission to big-screen huckstering, first for ads exclusive to Cineplex Odeon! (oh, we, the favoured ones, the self-selected targets) and then, just when I thought it was safe to watch laugh-out-loud trailers for Michael Bay-ish movies I’ll never have to see – Transformers, my Lord in heaven, what sort of overgrown boyos will watch that while sober! – along came MORE ads that I can at least walk away from when they interrupt the hockey game. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to go all Howard Beale on my new best friends in the theatre. (Wondering: It’s over 30 years since NetworkWould it seem quaint, rather so what’s the point to kiddies raised on televisual brain candy of the 21st century kind?) My bride thoughtfully slapped my thigh and shushed me. I restrained myself.

Finally, when Star Trek came on (Really? We get to watch a MOVIE, too? Oh, boy!), there were improbable Romulan mega-ships and inexplicable time warps and decades-old dialogue (wait for ‘em, Treksters!) and up-to-the-nanosecond CGI spectacle and passable acting (I quite liked Bruce Greenwood and Eric Bana as Secondary Good Guy and Primo Baddie, respectively) and backstories to Kirk and Spok as kiddies and in-joke introductions to the rest of the crew: Scott, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Uhuru. The gang’s all here.

And I had a good time, ultimately. It’s a silly thing, and you surely don’t want to think too hard about the space-time scientifishy elements. But There Will Be Sequels. This baby is preset to run for as long as humanity can stand it, and it’s engineered to not only grab the young male crowd but late-Boomers like me who remember Shatner and Nimoy and the first interracial kiss on television. And in between, it also puts a major hustle on the in-between generations, those who, like my sons, grew up on Star Wars; there are numerous fairly obvious reaches for the mysticism of the Jedi. I shouldn’t have liked it so well, but nostalgia is a strong brew and I took a good long gulp. The young feller doing Bones was superb. Uhura was, again, mainly a waste in a great legs! sort of way. Scottie was, as always, a caricature (but I still missed James Doohan). Sulu was, too, but a subtly enjoyable one.

It all comes down to Spok and Kirk, of course. And I haven’t made up my mind on them. By Sequel Three they’ll have grown into their characters more, and then we can begin to judge. Even without the popcorn, though, I have to admit it: I’m a sucker for space opera and the victory of even the most unlikely (and often fairly comical) forms of extraterrestrial nobility.