I was a fan of the Expanded Universe. Not so much because I thought those books were what Star Wars should be, but rather because, simply, I like reading Star Wars stories. So my world wasn’t shattered when the EU became legends and “cannon” started a new. I’ve listened to my audio books of the Thrawn trilogy at least once since the controversial (not really) announcement was made. It still works and I still like it. So no worries, right? But what I have been waiting for was for more of what I love (sorry Claudia Gray, this blog didn’t exist when you masterfully gave us your take). Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt has done that.
This book, the second in the Aftermath trilogy, that recounts the state of galactic affairs following The Return of the Jedi, has given us a story that brings out the magic of Star Wars. So, then, what is exactly the magic of Star Wars? That, of course, is not an easy answer, and I won’t pretend to have it. I’m sure you’ll find someone on twitter who knows exactly what it is. For me though, Star Wars comes down to choices. Specifically, the choice to do right, despite the cost of doing so, in order save or protect something: a friend, an ideal, or a galaxy. I’m no Sith, but I am a little grey. I’ve always been most intrigued by characters that do the right thing, even if it is “wrong.” Some examples:
In Empire, Luke makes a commitment to Yoda to learn the force. But after his vision of his friends in trouble, he rushes off. There is a moment there, in that scene as he is packing up the x-wing, that contains the magic of Star Wars. Obi-Wan and Yoda are urging him to stay–explaining the the dangers of rushing off, for Luke is not fully trained and does not yet have the force as his ally. And there, in the fog of Dagobah, Obi-Wan tells Luke, “If you choose to face Vader you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.” Luke turns his head away, pauses, takes a breath, and says, “I understand.” Then he is off, for better or worse. That is why I love Star Wars. Perhaps it is reckless, but it is right. There are other examples throughout the EU and the movies. Most recently in The Force Awakens when Finn overplays his hand with the resistance in order to go on the mission to rescue Ray. Also, a lot of Han. Well, I guess his whole character is based on breaking the rules to do what is right. And on and on.
For me though, Timothy Zahn captures the essence of this magic in The Last Command. Mara Jade is being held by the New Republic and she knows how to get to the Emperor’s cloning facility, and Han, Luke and Lea need to destroy it. Zahn writes:
Prison break. Mara threw a glance at Skywalker’s profile, the word suddenly putting this whole thing into a new perspective. Here he was: Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, hero of the Rebellion, pillar of law and justice… and he’d just defied the entire New Republic establishment, from Mon Mothma on down, to get her out. Mara Jade, a smuggler to whom he owed not a single thing, and who in fact had promised to kill him.
All because he saw what needed to be done. And he trusted her to help him do it.
This moment is no longer cannon, but it is still Star Wars. Chuck Wendig, however, makes it cannon again. He brings the magic back in. Life Debt is filled with these moments. Moments that make me smile and ready to embrace the new additions to the Star Wars universe. (Possible spoilers ahead.) Norra Wexley’s whole crew beautifully explore this notion of doing good–of separating duty and command from loyalty and right. It is fine line to walk, thematically. Just ask Anakan (or Jacen Solo for EU fans). But I’m a sucker for Sinjir’s transformation from lost ex-imperial who enjoys the warmth of strong alcohol to a friend that likes the warmth of doing good. There is a lot of grey there, which makes if fun. After all, Sinjir does kill a man because that man made his friend sad. Wendig skillfully guides his characters towards a moral goal with impossible odds. He balances humor, tenderness and drama in an exciting exploration of life after Jedi. Each character, new and old, face their own moment of choice. Each must decide for themselves what “right” really means, and in the process Wendig delivers and exciting read that moves us from the exposition of Aftermath to the critical climax in the upcoming Aftermath: Empire’s End. Other themes or story elements might be more your thing and be assured that Life Debt has them all. And that is why I owe Chuck Wendig a (life) dept of gratitude.