This is a spoiler free review.
Aftermath: Lifedebt is an enigma for a multitude of reasons. First, I was very excited for the first Aftermath story and had a lot of high hopes just to hear about what happened right after Return of The Jedi. When that book was released, I heard a lot of mixed reviews for it, specifically from Kristian Harloff of Collider and Schmoes Know. I thought “to hell with Harloff” and picked it up anyway. And well, Darth Harloff was right. I read the first 100 pages of the book and just could not get into it, and went to other books like Lost Stars and Lords of the Sith (which you should totally pick up if you haven’t).
When I saw that a second Aftermath was coming I thought, “here we go again.” However, the subtitle intrigued me. Lifedebt automatically evokes Han and Chewy and the bond the two share, and that brings up a lot of possibilities from a story perspective. So, once again I was excited and like a dedicated fan of the DCEU, I thought “Ok this last one may have stunk, but this one will be great!” Warner Bros. should probably hire Chuck Wendig, because he got it right the second time.
Lifedebt is far from perfect, but it was a very enjoyable trip into a post-Jedi galaxy. The main story revolves around a rag-tag team, funded by the New Republic, who have been tasked to catch former Imperials and bring them to justice for their war crimes against the galaxy. The team is led by Norra Wexley, a veteran of the Rebel Alliance and is joined by her son “Snaps” (Greg Grunburg from The Force Awakens) and his personal droid Mr. Bones (think HK-47 from KOTOR mixed with a battle droid from the prequels). Rounding out the group is Jas Emari, a Zabrak bounty hunter, agent for New Republic SpecForces Jom Barrell, and Imperial turncoat Sinjir Rath Velus, the first openly gay character in the Star Wars universe. After another successful mission, Norra is tasked by Princess Leia to find her husband Han Solo. Both Han and Chewy have gone missing after attempting to liberate Chewy’s home planet of Kashyyyk. That story is interwoven with that of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, the acting head of what remains of the Empire.
The story is all over the place and that’s not really a bad thing. It ducks and weaves throughout the galaxy and shows both sides of the war between the New Republic and whatever remains of the old Empire. Using small “interludes” to show the effects of the war on different places across the galaxy including Tatooine and the castle of a certain tiny alien from The Force Awakens.
What the second book has over the first is that it’s a much more interesting tale. From the opening mission, to the interludes, to the end I was thoroughly intrigued and entertained by the story. One of my biggest complaints with The Force Awakens was that we really didn’t know anything about the political situation going on at all, and this gives you a good idea of the state of the galaxy. Lifedebt includes characters like Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, and obviously Princess Leia and everyone doesn’t necessarily get a long, specifically Mothma and Leia. It’s such a refreshing new aspect and demonstrates yes they’re on the same side, but they have different ideas with what to do with this New Republic now that they’ve come to power.
On the other side, Rae Sloane is a very compelling character in her own right. Seeing Sloane’s motivations and exploring what it’s like to be a leader of a dying Empire is great storytelling and I would love to see more of her outside of the Aftermath trilogy. Sloane’s arc adds a new dimension of depth to the Empire and shows that while the organization as a whole may be evil, the story isn’t as good vs evil as we thought. Rae is very much a pawn in someone else’s game and there’s some definite sympathy for her as she comes to that realization. In short, Rae Sloane is a total badass.
The dynamic between the New Republic team felt very “Star Warsy” and made me literally laugh out loud at some parts. It’s such a varied group of people where it just shouldn’t work, but they somehow make a great team through it all. Mr. Bones(pictured below) in particular really left me with a strong impression, and his short little bursts of comical aggression add a lot of character to the crew.
By far the best part of the story is when Han finally arrives. When Han is on the page, I couldn’t put it down. Wendig truly understands the brotherly relationship between Han and Chewy. There’s a scene near the end which made this scruffy looking nerf herder tear up a little bit. It’s just so sweet and so Han and Chewy, it’ll give you all of the feels. The final act in particular is action packed and suspenseful, as it interlinks the arcs the book has set up into a great and satisfying conclusion. The last page in particular reveals something huge, so stick with it until the end.
Final thing — if you’re worried that missing the first Aftermath will leave you lost and confused, don’t be. While at first it can be a bit confusing, once the story picks up it’s very easy to understand and get into. Lifedebt genuinely is a very good book and one that took me by surprise. It’s not for everyone, but if you’ve been paying attention to the new canon and enjoy it, you’ll have a great time with this.