Century, out now (US), September 10 (UK)
The Death Star may have been defeated and Palpatine killed – but wars don’t end that simply…
And so the new history begins. Gone are courtships of Princess Leia and Heirs to the Empire; in its place is a much more realistic account of what happens when you topple an evil ruler… particularly when it’s one who has reigned through the use of fear and mistrust. When Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, we didn’t have the experience of the end of what Reagan described as an Evil Empire; we hadn’t lived through the aftermath of regime change affecting the whole world. Many people cheered when the statue of Saddam was toppled; would they have done so if they’d known what was going to plague that part of the world in the years to come?
That’s the real world geopolitical backdrop that Chuck Wendig – and one has to assume, JJ Abrams and all those involved with charting the new Star Wars universe – has used for this first novel in a trilogy of adventures set in the months following Return of the Jedi. Although the main focus of the book is on events on the planet Akiva, we get plenty of small interludes which show what’s happening on the worlds that we’ve come to know in the saga – and they’re not all sending fireworks up in the air rejoicing by any means. The New Republic fills some of the vacuum left by the Empire, but there are parts of that that are unwilling to accept a new reality; and there are those who see the end of the Death Star as simply a step forward in hostilities… And of course there are those millions who were simply caught in the middle, either as soldiers suffering PTSD and flashbacks, or as civilians whose worlds were ravaged, or who worked for an Empire (voluntarily or otherwise) and now have no employer.
If you’ve not read a Chuck Wendig book before, the present tense third person POV style may come as a bit of a shock, but it’s absolutely right for the story that’s being told. As I’ve said elsewhere about his original fiction, Wendig’s writing is visceral, drawing you into the characters he creates, appealing to all your senses, the pacing matching the emotional temperature of the scene he’s presenting (and presenting is the right word). The original Star Wars movie used fairy tale tropes – farm boy, princess, wise old man etc. – but this story is more about what happens after the ‘happy ever after’, and it needs that realistic edge, so that you feel you know the people – bounty hunter, Rebel mother and rebel teenager, Imperial loyalty officer – and inhabit their feelings.
We get brief glimpses of those archetypal heroes, and those at the top of the Rebel Alliance have become leaders of the New Republic, so are caught up in the tale. Wendig gives us these characters mostly seen through their own eyes (the scene with Han and Chewie epitomises the differences in Wendig’s style), and has some fun with expectations.
I don’t want to go into detail about the plot, but suffice it to say that it’s suitably action-packed, with both planetside and space action sequences. If you’ve kept clear of spoilers for The Force Awakens, this isn’t going to ruin the experience for you – but I suspect it gives some clear indications on the shades of grey that will inform the film.
Verdict: A highly readable, sharp continuation of the saga. 9/10