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Star Wars: Aftermath Empire's End - Review
The first literature trilogy of Star Wars canon has finally closed its curtain with the arrival and conclusion of Star Wars Aftermath: Empire's End. With the final chapter of the trilogy, a grand revelation that has been hiding in our plain sight all this while shows itself; that we have been the audiences to a chess game of galactic proportions.
Politics + War = Entropy of Palpatine's Chess Game
Even though the chapters and interludes in Empire's End are divided into five parts, the novel can generally be divided into two greater parts, which are the chain of events that lead to the Battle of Jakku followed by the here and now of the battle itself. The political machinations of the New Republic that was introduced in the previous installment continue its momentum in Empire's End with improved intensity and traction. Nothing rattles the cage of a political institution more than the threat of war, and Empire's End demonstrates this theory to a great length. A sizeable portion of the New Republic's plot in Empire's End is dedicated to its internal conflict even when faced with imminent threat of oblivion. This plot is something that I can totally get behind because that's the whole point of Empire's End; untangling the events that pave the way to the Battle of Jakku instead of scrutinizing the pivotal battle. It makes much more sense when you realized that the New Republic came out as the victor in the Battle of Jakku even before Empire's End came by, thanks to previous canonical materials such as Star Wars: Lost Stars and Star Wars: Battlefront.
It feels like we've always been at war. I aim to stop that, but to do so...well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that means the only way out is through. We must end the Empire to bring peace. And to end the Empire, first we must endure politics. Be cautious, Miss Kane: War may seem like a pleasant dream when you look too long into the abyssal eye of the political machine.— Chancellor of the New Republic, Mon Mothma
While the intensity of the New Republic's political drama shot through the roof, the same cannot be said about the circumstances surrounding the Galactic Empire. Life Debt has already covered all the bases regarding Gallius Rax's plan to revive the dying Empire. However, this doesn't slow down the tempo of the novel whenever passages of Rax and his Empire's schemings show up. Still reeling from the success of Liberation Day massacre, Rax moves closer to reap the fruits that he sowed since the fall of Palpatine's Galactic Empire on Endor. The final touch of Rax's devious schemes which takes place on Jakku is nothing short of a grand parade of death, and yet it all seems logical when the final theater of the Galactic Civil War is seen through the lens of Palpatine's analogy to a chess game.
The Clash of Aftermath's Titans, Norra and Sloane
A big chunk of character development in Empire's End is focused on Norra Wexley and ex-Grand Admiral Rae Sloane. An interesting aspect about Empire's End is the efficiency to which Wendig displayed the parallels in Norra's and Sloane's motivations in the chase of their respective quarry. The parallels are unexpected but yet enjoyable to be scrutinized since I believe no one sees it coming. The polarities between these two remarkable women in the previous Aftermath installments are akin to two roads that crossed each other at one point and branched out perpendicularly. Somehow, the events that transpired after Liberation Day massacre magnetize these two roads towards each other, effectively rendering them running parallel to each other. While these two headstrong women are willing to run headfirst into any obstacle, there is still a clear cut difference in their base instinct. For Norra, her consciousness is a tug-of-war between seeking revenge or justice in her quest to capture Sloane. Groomed exceptionally among the Imperial military hierarchy, there is no question about Sloane's burning revenge to slit Rax's throat after the latter's orchestrated stunt on Liberation Day and subsequently hijacking the Empire and its ideals from Sloane's grip.
Guardians (and Destroyer) of the Galaxy
Strangely enough, Empire's End doesn't train its spotlight on Gallius Rax as much as it did in the previous Life Debt. I also noticed a huge difference in how Wendig portrayed Rax this time around. Rax is somehow more vulnerable and, should I add, more 'human' compared to how he was presented previously. Even with a scaled-down narrative on Rax, there is never a dull moment whenever he graces the pages in Empire's End. His unwavering loyalty to the now-deceased Emperor Palpatine triumphs above that to the Empire that Palpatine himself has worked so hard to build since the Clone Wars. One of the chief reason I was so eager to pick up Empire's End is to find a closure on the rumors of Rax and Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order. There is no better way than to present a black and white respond to these rumors, and Empire's End delivers exactly just that. I tip my hat to you, Chuck Wendig, for making Snoke-conspiracy theorist everywhere to ease down on the gossip throttle from now on.
This is our zero hour, and I call you now to do your duty by the light of the glorious Galactic Empire. The battle to come is not a fight for Jakku or even a fight for the Empire. It is a fight for all the galaxy. If we fail here, we fail everywhere. We fail our loved ones. We fail our children. We fail all who crave constancy and light in these dark times. We pursue no other aim than freedom from oppression, liberty from lies, emancipation from depravity.— Gallius Rax, rallying the remnants of the Empire prior to Battle of Jakku
And as usual, it's impossible to talk about Empire's End without mentioning Norra's clique. Besides the usual suspects of Temmin Wexley, Jas Emari, Mister Bones, Sinjir Rath Velus and Jom Barrell, the list of Norra's trusted circle expands to include Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, Conder Kyl, Wedge Antilles and Mon Mothma. Norra's crew has matured a lot since we last saw them, with everyone being able to carry their own weight even without Norra's presence to keep everyone's ego in check. Even though Norra has an innate talent for finding herself in tough situations, it's quite impossible for Norra to be harmed when she has Temmin, Jas and Bones looking after her back. Sinjir and Conder getting back together again is a potential recipe for the most butt-kicking same-sex couple in the galaxy. Being pregnant with Ben Solo doesn't mean Leia is out of the thick of action, as she is getting the hang of political maneuvering that is necessary to unleash whatever that needs to be done for the galaxy's greater good. And apparently, the anticipation of being a father is not enough to hold Han back from staying true to his core. Han is still the same scum aka ex-Rebellion hero who's not afraid of getting his hands dirty while painting a bullseye on his head. Which is exactly why we have a soft spot for Han Solo in the first place!
Hey. It's you and me, kid. Whole damn galaxy against us but we'll make it through okay. I'm not always gonna be the best dad. C'mon, I don't know what the hell I'm doing here. I can barely take care of myself. But I'll always keep us pointed in the right direction...even if we zig and zag a little to get there. There's your first lesson: Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't mean following a straight line.— Han Solo, talking to newborn Ben Solo for the first time
Tales of Jakku
The hostile, dust-choked planet of Jakku is fleshed out in an unprecedented detail in Empire's End. One would not be misguided to say that snippets of this novel could double as the origins of Jakku that was prominently displayed in The Force Awakens. The fact that Jakku was once a living planet with lush vegetations and ocean before Palpatine leaves his mark on the planet is a measure of how resilient and far-reaching the powers of the Dark Side can be. The Niima Outpost that Rey and other scavengers go to ply their trades in The Force Awakens has its origins tied to the Battle of Jakku and a resourceful Hutt scoundrel. While the Battle of Jakku brings destructions on Jakku's planetside and orbit, it does breath new way of life for its meager inhabitants. The pre-battle Jakku, through the eyes of our stranded heroes and villains, paints a grim reality on the non-existent purpose of life for the unlucky few who call Jakku their home.
Meanwhile, in Other Parts of the Galaxy...
Wendig continued his tradition from previous Aftermath entries by including interludes between chapters. While these interludes aren't necessary to the main plot, they are the smaller pieces of the puzzle that complete the edges and corners of the dragging Galactic Civil War. Minor nods to original and prequel trilogy characters such as Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, Mas Amedda and Jar Jar Binks give big repercussions to these characters' fate in the future of the galaxy. Pockets of Jedi and Sith groupies across the galaxy crop up to continue the legacy of their Force-sensitive idols. A pirate nation is born out of war leftovers that seek to legitimize itself and unite all scoundrels under one banner. While there are a lot of fun interludes to take a break from the main plot, one stands out above the rest; an interlude of young Gallius Rax's rite of passage that sets the tone for the Aftermath trilogy. Clearly, a lot of things have been happening in every corner of the galaxy and in the past that makes up the totality of the new Star Wars canon.
Empire's End landed at the peak of a trajectory curve of drama, political intrigue, and military confrontations that have been building up exponentially since the first entry of the trilogy. This final chapter also cemented the bolts and nuts of post-Return of The Jedi timeline right until to the point of everything that has been revealed in The Force Awakens. While Empire's End doesn't answer every question that we have regarding The Force Awakens, it is a fitting buzzer beater to conclude Chuck Wendig's trilogy. Even with the arrival of full circle for Wendig's original characters, the conclusion of the trilogy opens up many opportunities for further Star Wars storytelling. Personally, I think it's still not too late for Star Wars fans to jump onto the Aftermath trilogy ship. The trilogy is more than worthy enough to keep fans occupied with the galaxy far, far away while waiting for the release of The Last Jedi and the still unnamed Episode IX.