Along with a whole slate of new toys and merchandise, today (aka #ForceFriday) marks the release of Star Wars: Aftermath, by veteran sci-fi author Chuck Wendig, the first new officially licensed Star Wars novel to reveal the events following Return of the Jedi. Two more as-yet-untitled Star Wars novels by Wendig will complete the trilogy.
The post-Jedi mythology was once a massive collection of novels, comic books and video games. Last year, in advance of the newly announced film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm declared this “Expanded Universe” no longer canonical — probably a wise move so director J.J. Abrams has the freedom to imagine his own take on Star Wars. Since Aftermath is the first hint of what's to come in the highly anticipated sequel to the original trilogy, we picked apart every detail in the novel to discover what we can learn about the future of the Star Wars franchise.
MAJOR BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD
1. Wedge Antilles is still in the background
Wedge is the only supporting character from the original trilogy to appear in every movie: attacking the Death Star as an X-Wing pilot in A New Hope, toppling AT-ATs in a snowspeeder in The Empire Strikes Back and firing the shots that blow up the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi (the actor who portrayed Wedge, Denis Lawson, reportedly turned down an appearance in The Force Awakens). When a preview chapter of Aftermath was released in July it seemed to put Wedge front and center. Working as a lone scout searching for what remains of the Imperial fleet several months after the Battle of Endor, Wedge is soon captured by an Imperial Star Destroyer. But while Wedge gets a few key heroic moments in the novel, most of the story is devoted to an entirely new cast of heroes who are brought together under unlikely circumstances and wind up defeating the Empire (sound familiar?). Interestingly, Wendig keeps one key bit of Wedge’s backstory from the old Expanded Universe: Wedge says he joined the Rebellion because the Empire hurt a woman he loved.
2. Luke and Leia are ... somewhere else
If Aftermath is any indication, we won’t know much about the revised fates of the Skywalker twins until Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are on screen once more in The Force Awakens. Leia appears only via a message broadcast to the galaxy declaring that Darth Vader and the Emperor have been killed and the Death Star is destroyed. Luke Skywalker does not appear at all in Aftermath and is barely mentioned. That's not to say the events of Aftermath are inconsequential. But after years of the Expanded Universe exhaustively detailing the lives of the Skywalker children (and even their grandchildren), it's nice to see that not everything that happens in a galaxy far, far away revolves around one family.
3. Chewbacca is one of the only free Wookiees
In both the previous Expanded Universe and the new continuity, most Wookiees are slave laborers for the Empire — which helps explain why Chewbacca protests so loudly when Luke tries to put restraints on him in A New Hope. But Aftermath reveals that only “a half-dozen” other Wookiees escaped slavery. Of those, three are named, none of whom have yet appeared in any Star Wars works to date.
4. Han Solo and Chewbacca are going to free the Wookiees
In one short chapter in Aftermath, Han Solo and Chewbacca are seen performing a scouting mission similar to the one Wedge was performing when he was captured. But they’re quickly diverted when they discover that the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk is only weakly defended by the remaining Imperial garrison. They quickly decide to pilot the Millennium Falcon there with “every right thinking scamp, scoundrel, slicer, smuggler ... who owes me a favor,” says Han Solo. The plan — although Han admits he has no real plan — seems to be that they'll attempt to liberate the Wookiees without any help from the Rebel fleet. Unfortunately, that’s the extent of Han and Chewie’s appearance in Aftermath, so we'll hopefully see more of this story.
5. Boba Fett might stay dead
Everyone's favorite taciturn bounty hunter fell into the giant, tooth-filled mouth of the Sarlacc during the fight on Jabba's sail barge in Return of the Jedi. But thanks to Boba Fett’s massive popularity among fans, he didn’t stay dead long. In Dark Empire, a graphic novel series published by Dark Horse Comics in the early 1990s, it was revealed that Boba Fett actually managed to escape from the Sarlacc and continue his hunt for Han Solo (Fett eventually even fights alongside Han Solo's daughter). In Aftermath, however, we see only a brief scene on Tatooine where Jawas sell a suit of battered Mandalorian body armor — like what Fett wore — to someone calling himself “Sheriff” Cobb Vance. So either Fett also survived the Sarlacc in this new continuity and ditched his armor, or Fett is dead but someone went to the trouble of retrieving his body. It leaves open the possibility we’ll see a new character show up in The Force Awakens wearing Fett’s armor.
6. Luke is still the only Jedi in the galaxy
A big chunk of the old Expanded Universe was devoted to Luke’s founding of New Jedi Order to train new Jedi, plus the wide variety of lightsaber-wielding heroes and villains he encounters. But in Aftermath, no one uses the Force or even so much as has "a bad feeling about this." In fact, despite Darth Vader’s habit of telekinetically choking his subordinates and the Emperor shooting electricity from his hands, Aftermath notes that the presence of Sith Lords in the Empire was widely seen as “less a fact and more a myth.” One character even believes that Vader and the Emperor exaggerated their own omnipotence.
7. The New Republic is demilitarizing
One of the more contemporary ideas presented in Aftermath is new chancellor Mon Mothma's insistence on drawing down the New Republic's military by 90 percent, reflecting the United States' much more modest current plans to reduce the number of active-duty armed forces. Since we've seen TIE Fighters and a new type of Star Destroyer in the trailers for The Force Awakens, the lack of a standing military is probably going to spell trouble for the New Republic. And fans eagerly anticipating the new line of toys shouldn't expect any new mega weapons or giant space cruisers on this limited New Republic budget — or at least any owned by the good guys.
8. Battle droids can be deadly
One thing we might see in The Force Awakens: attempts to bring some frequently mocked elements the prequels back into the fold. In Aftermath, Wendig succeeds in that aim by taking a scrapped battle droid — the lanky, easily killed robots from the prequels that say "roger roger” — and transforming it into a legitimately terrifying murder machine named "Mister Bones."
9. The Dark Side might be rediscovered outside the Star Wars galaxy
A few brief lines in Aftermath hint that some kind of great power waiting outside the edge of the “known universe” might be just what the Empire needs to reclaim control. One former advisor to the Emperor states that Palpatine sent expeditions out to distant planets to discover the origins of his power. And on the planet Taris (which gamers will recognize from the beloved Knights of the Old Republic video game), two black robed figures and a pale woman calling themselves “Acolytes of the Beyond” purchase what may or may not be Darth Vader’s red lightsaber with the intent to destroy it “so that it can be returned to its master in death.” That might be significant, because we’ve seen John Boyega squaring up with what appears to be Anakin Skywalker’s blue lightsaber, which appears very similar to the blade Darth Vader carried.
10. A mysterious Imperial admiral is pulling the strings
The main antagonist of Aftermath is Rae Sloane, a female Imperial admiral who first appeared in a prequel novel to the Disney Channel series Star Wars Rebels called A New Dawn. Although she's a formidable villain throughout Aftermath, in the final few pages we meet Sloane's commanding officer, who is never physically described and referred to only as a "fleet admiral." This Admiral reveals he had been manipulating all the preceding events, and it's strongly hinted he had even fed intelligence to the Rebel commander Admiral Ackbar. In a way, this enigmatic figure strongly resembles Grand Admiral Thrawn. In the old Expanded Universe, the blue-skinned tactical genius faced off against Luke, Leia and Han in Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy, the series of novels that kicked off the post-Jedi Expanded Universe 25 years ago. Given how little from the old Expanded Universe is referenced in Aftermath and how many new characters and locations Wendig has created, it's doubtful this really is Thrawn. But whatever is coming next in Star Wars, expect this new Admiral to play a crucial role.