For a long time, Chuck Wendig couldn’t tell a soul what he was writing.
His Star Wars novel about what happens in the galaxy immediately after the death of Darth Vader and destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi…?
Top secret. Classified. If-you-knew-about-it-he’d-have-to-kill-you kind of thing.
But the author of the supernatural thriller Blackbirds and the fantasy adventure Under the Empyrean Sky was bursting to tell the world about Star Wars: Aftermath, the book that finally hits stores today. So for months on Twitter he joked about penning the sequel to a beloved pop culture series.
“I kept lying about how I was writing this Perfect Stranger official, canonized novel that was coming out. People were like, what are you talking about?” Wendig says with a laugh.
That would be the 1986-93 ABC sitcom about uptight Cousin Larry and his naïve foreign sheepherder relative Balki Bartokomous. Not exactly the kind of series that has fans clamoring to explore its aftermath.
Wendig made sure to slip in an homage to his cover story anyway. “Balki’s in there,” he says. “There’s a Viper droid named BALK1.”
Among the actual Star Wars characters who turn up in Aftermath: Han Solo (looking like we haven’t seen him before) and Chewbacca break with the Rebellion and pilot the Millennium Falcon on a rogue mission; the bounty hunter Dengar (known for attire you could only call massive head-wound chic) engages in some high-stakes fisticuffs; and a new character examines some familiar Mandalorian armor found in the desert of Tatooine, among other vignettes.
But those exist as short stories interspersed throughout a longer main narrative set on the planet Akiva, where Imperial remnants are regrouping and trying to decide whether to keep running in their weakened state or lash back against the victorious Rebels with whatever strength they can muster. A few rebellion-friendly stragglers join forces to make either choice difficult for them.
Now that he no longer has to hide his Aftermath story, here’s the first of a multi-part series on Wendig’s Star Wars tale, focusing first on the new characters he’s introducing and where we find the Empire after its fall.
Entertainment Weekly: Is your heart beating fast for a look at The Force Awakens this December, or do you know everything there is to know about what’s coming?
Chuck Wendig: I do not know everything that’s coming, so my excitement and all the spoilers and all that good stuff are largely preserved. So, man, I am geeking out.
Aftermath takes place just a few months after the events of Return of the Jedi. Tell me about where we find things at the beginning of your story?
At the end of Return of the Jedi, it’s a bunch of Ewok dancing and we’re having a good time and then it’s over. Everything is happy. My brain was always like, “Well, where does it go next?” [Admiral] Ackbar gives this speech about how the rebellion is over. That’s done. But now the war begins.
Wasn’t the war already going?
Now it’s not just this little tiny insurgent fighting force that’s like a grit of sand in the Empire’s eye. Now they’re a New Republic going toe-to-toe with the Empire in a somewhat more proper war. That’s where we begin, that hot conflict between these two massive galactic forces.
In the Return of the Jedi special editions, George Lucas added scenes of other planets celebrating the Empire’s apparent demise, including the statue of Palpatine falling on the capital planet Coruscant. You give us a scene there of the celebrations, but it takes a dark turn.
You’ve got this moment where the people feel like they’ve regained some power. They’ve probably seen holovids or at least heard the rumors that the Death Star has exploded and these tyrants who have been lording over the galaxy are now gone, but this is the Empire’s throne world, man. This is where Palpatine nests, this is where the heart of the Empire is. So you can be sure it’s not just like you flip a switch and everybody’s happy.
And the Imperials on Coruscant are definitely not celebrating.
This place is still occupied by the Empire. So you have these people, essentially a resistance or rebellious force, tearing that statue down, and suddenly Imperial forces sweep down upon them. It becomes a brutal struggle between oppression and the freedom fighters.
Then you get into the real heart of the story, and a character we’re familiar with from the original trilogy, Wedge Antilles. He’s one of the more famous X-Wing pilots and a leader in the Rebellion. He’s now scouting remote worlds, trying to identify little hotspots where the Empire may be hiding.
He’s looking for supply lines. Like, how is the Empire staying alive with the Death Star and all of their forces gone? You don’t want to find what you’re looking for in that case. He finds something much bigger than he’s looking for.
NEXT PAGE: Wendig introduces us to Aftermath’s villains …
I thought Wedge might become the hero of this story, but he turns into the one who needs rescuing.
I wanted to do an inversion there. While I love Wedge, and certainly part of me was like, well let’s just put him at the front and the center of this book and make him the unequivocal hero of the piece, I wanted to change the narrative a little bit. In Star Wars, you have the scrappy heroes saving the princess from danger, and here I wanted our scrappy heroes led by a woman to rescue Wedge when he gets into danger.
We’ll get to that hero in a moment, but the main villain is also a woman: Admiral Rae Sloane, who first appeared in a much lower Imperial rank in John Jackson Miller’s 2014 novel A New Dawn. What’s her status is after the fall of the Emperor and Darth Vader?
I like to think of her as a pragmatist. I think she is a true believer in the government of the Empire, perhaps not the more zealous, dark, religious, oppressive component. I think she believes the Empire is a stabilizing, peaceful force. So her goal is to mend it, to fix it, and she will do anything, whatever the cost, to have that done.
She’s also trying to make sure the surviving Imperial elite don’t turn on each other, too. People like Arsin Crassus, who is a slaver. What kind of guy would this be if he were on our world?
Throughout history, you’ve had bankers bankrolling conflicts, even bankrolling the Nazi war machine, and he’s one of those guys. And if you tie it back to the Star Wars history, you have had, back in Mustafar in the prequels and Clone Wars and everything, a banking clan. You get a sense of how the money is flowing into the preliminary Imperial coffers, and he’s kind of part of that old machine.
He struck me as very Halliburton.
He’s a little bit more dithering, but he’s Dick Cheney-like. The belligerent old white guy who has his way. He’s that kind of character.
The planet that they’re meeting on, we haven’t seen that before. Akiva — tell me about this place.
It’s something I kind of came up with. We’ve seen jungle-type locations before, but I wanted to do something that had a little history to it. Something that was both damp and tangled. A labyrinth, old and strange. I was creating all these newer characters, and I wanted to create a new world, too. A new playground, so to speak.
The planet Akiva where our quartet of new characters comes in. Norra Wexley, the female hero you mentioned. But there are two really strong female heroes in this group, the other being Jas Emari, who’s not a human, she’s a Zabrak. Which is basically human, but with some devil horns, I guess? Like Darth Maul.
Some spiky bits on her head, yeah.
Norra Wexley is a veteran of the Galactic Civil War, she’s been fighting for a long time. But she’s also a mom, and she has a little boy who’s not so little anymore, Temmin. Tell me about their situation.
The great thing about the Rebellion is it’s not your standard soldiers. You get the young, strapping men and women fighting for the Empire. But with the Rebellion, it’s kind of like, whoever wants to fight. That’s how you get farm boys and plumbers, and I wanted a Rosie the Riveter type.
We haven’t seen many Star Wars heroes who are moms either.
With a lot of heroes, you don’t see women who are a little older. It’s usually they’re young and vital, and whatever. I wanted to create someone who had a little history to her, who had a family to care about. Now she’s got this rift: Does she continue supporting the Rebellion, or does she just help get her son off this planet? Or can she do both at the same time?
Let’s talk about Jas Emari, the Zabrak. She is a bounty hunter. She’s there to take out some Imperial big shots.
She’s there for Crassus, and then she sees all these other Imperials start to come into the area, and she’s like, oh, it’s suddenly a honey pot. It’s a major score for her.
Another part of this new team of heroes is an Imperial defector, Sinjir Rath Vellus. I want to talk with you later about some of his background that is revealed later in the book, because that’s really groundbreaking for Star Wars, too. But he is an Imperial loyalty officer. What does that mean?
He would test them. He would look for defectors and traitors, or people who were simply not loyal to either the Empire or to their immediate superiors. Secret police, really. He’s there to spy on you and report on you, and determine if you are truly faithful to the cause.
He’s internal affairs, in other words.
He’s internal affairs. He’s I.A. inside the Empire.
You write that it was an easy leap for him, because he’s used to prosecuting and persecuting people in the Empire.
One of the joys of this book is getting to rewind occasionally and do some flashbacks to the Battle of Endor and show what happened from some new perspectives. His is one of those new perspectives, both his and Jas’. You get this sense of how they turn and how they change who they are and how they do business or how they live in this galaxy.
You also give us a compelling new droid. Mr. Bones is … I’ll let you describe him.
Well, Mr. Bones is a B-1 battle droid — so of course, B-dash-O-N-E, looks like Bone or Bones. And of course they look almost skeletal. They’re an inept fighting force in the prequels. They’re worse than Stormtroopers, making all their little funny, chirpy “Roger! Roger!” talk to each other as they get lightsabered into various bits.
There’s a lot of shade thrown at the prequels by some of the fans, but there are some staunch defenders as well. But this is one instance where the prequels make an appearance in your book.
Between the prequels and the new films and the original trilogy, sometimes you get a sense of lost continuity. You don’t necessarily see the remnants, especially because of the order they were told. But that gives me an opportunity now to do a little archaeology and draw some things back from the prequels and drag them forward. Some of those droids are probably still around.
This battle droid has been retrofitted as something a little more fearsome.
So Temmin, Norra’s son, he’s mechanically capable, maybe on this side of a genius, and he builds his own bodyguard droid, because he runs a black market shop on Akiva. He builds this lunatic battle droid bodyguard who is incredibly capable and incredibly deranged, and busted up in his brain circuits. So he’s a lot of fun to write.
He’s terrifying but also goofy.
Yeah, goofy — he’s kind of sweet, in a demented sort of way.
Check back later for the continuation of the this interview, with Chuck Wendig discussing his take on Han Solo, the boundaries and restrictions he faced when penning the story, and introducing a new gay character to the Star Wars universe.
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