Those two words probably make people who hate the film “The Phantom Menace” wince each and every time they hear them now. After all, that was the phrase that would come out of the most ineffectual weapons ever utilized by the bad guys in a “Star Wars” film… the Battle Droid.
It's funny that I'd be thinking of Battle Droids this weekend, after completely sitting out what was referred to as “Force Friday.” I remember the equivalent day in '99 when all of the “Phantom Menace” merchandise went on sale. I was working at the time as a closed-captioner, and one of the many thing I bought for myself at that midnight sale was a Battle Droid onboard his little flying scooter thingy. It sat on my desk for months, and I would look at it and imagine what we might get from the actual film.
As with many things in the prequels, there are some very strange choices that were made about the Battle Droids, and they deserve to be thought of as ineffectual jokes. It is precisely because they are such jokes that Chuck Wendig's decision to take an old battle droid and turn it into a lethally re-programmed bodyguard named Mr. Bones is intriguing in his new book, “Star Wars: Aftermath,” published last Friday.
This is a pretty big piece of this year's “Star Wars” puzzle. After all, Disney and Lucasfilm wiped the entire slate clean so that the only stories that truly matter to the larger continuity are the six feature films and the shows “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars: Rebels.” There are new comics that take place in the official revised canon, and now Chuck Wendig's book, which is subtitled, “Journey To 'The Force Awakens',” is giving us maybe our best look yet at what sorts of choices we can expect from the new films as they build off of the various story threads that were left to be explored at the end of “Return Of The Jedi.”
Our own Donna Dickens is likely to be very disappointed when she reads that Tatooine and Jakku are indeed two completely different planets. One of the ambitions of Wendig's book is showing us how various cultures around the galaxy respond to the news that the Emperor and Vader have died and the second Death Star was destroyed. The story takes place only a few months after the end of “Jedi,” and while there were broadcasts from the newly-organized New Republic that carried the message of freedom and peace, that doesn't mean that everything immediately snapped into a different shape. The remnants of the Empire may have been scattered, but there has been no formal declaration of surrender, and many people aren't even entirely sure the reports the Emperor's death were true.
Here are some of the things I learned from reading the book and the ways those things might help lay groundwork for the story that JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have in store for us in November.
1. “Star Wars” is kinda gay now. Which is kinda cool.
A small unexpected touch is the way Wendig peppers in examples of gay relationships in the story. In the midst of a scene where a young man comes to see relatives for help, Wendig writes, “Esmelle's wife, Shirene, steps in. She secures Esmelle's elbow with her own, giving the woman a kiss on the cheek.” Later, another character shrugs off a pass made by a women who he's got some sparring chemistry with, explaining that he's just not into women. Two passing references may not seem like a lot, but knowing this is official canon, it's nice to see Lucasfilm okay these choices. The safest thing for Disney and Lucasfilm to do would be to make “Star Wars” conform to a very bland, very traditional view of gender and sexuality and human relationships. Instead, these small mentions hint at a much larger sense of inclusion, and it feels like progress has been made.
2. Han Solo and Chewbacca still don't take orders well
We only see everyone's favorite rogue and his best Wookiee buddy in one chapter, but it certainly suggests some big things to come for the duo. They're supposed to visit Dasoor, a planet that is infamous for its welcoming attitude to all types of criminal behavior. Instead, they get a heads-up from an old friend named Imra. She tells them that Kashyyyk is about to become vulnerable for the first time since the Empire took it over and enslaved all the Wookiees. It's a very small window of opportunity, so they're faced with the choice of doing the work of the New Republic or abandoning that to go rescue Kashyyyk. It's no choice at all, really, and while we don't get to see that other shoe drop in this book, it's coming, and it should be great.
3. The soldiers of “Star Wars” can get PTSD, too
After all, they don't call it “Star Peace.” Norra Wexley is one of the book's main characters, and she is haunted by thoughts of the assault on the second Death Star. Her Y-wing was right there when Lando delivered the death blow, and she was right there with him trying to outrace the shock wave from the destroyed reactor. She knows how close death was, and it leaves her shaken, determined to try to repair her relationship with her son, Temmin, who she left behind when her husband was arrested as a rebel spy. She joined the rebels ostensibly to find her husband, but she was such a good pilot that the Rebellion found new jobs for her, over and over. There are several points in the book where the thought of how close she came in the Death Star obviously still holds power over her, making every choice she makes in battle even more high stakes, emotionally speaking.
4. The Empire was rotting from the inside out
The Rebels might have forced things to work on a different timetable with their efforts at disruption, but chances are the Empire would have burned itself down given enough time. One of the book's main characters is Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial Loyalty Officer who abandoned his post after witnessing the defeat of the Empire on Endor's moon. It takes him a while to understand himself, but eventually he comes to the conclusion that the reason he was so good at his job is because he hated the weakness and corruption and cruelty of the Empire, and he knew it was rotten. It's hard to inspire joy loyalty when there's at least a 50/50 chance that your boss is going to Force choke you to death because you scratched the Star Destroyer.
5. People aren't sure what to believe about the Sith and the Jedi
We're so used to watching “Star Wars” films that revolve around the story of the Skywalker family that it's easy to forget that for most people living and working in the galaxy, the Jedi and the Sith are mere rumors, if that. By the time of “Jedi,” Yoda is the last living Jedi, and he'd been in hiding for decades. Yes, the Emperor and Darth Vader were walking around, living proof of the effects of the Dark Side of the Force as well as the powers of it, but not many people ever actually laid eyes on them. There's one particular guy who is part of the Imperial secret meeting on Akiva named Tashu who is said to be a follower of Palpatine's, in touch with many of the secrets of the Dark Side, and he's certainly not the only believer still out there.
6. Darth Vader merchandise remains in high demand
The people who do believe seem to be reeeeeeeeally invested, leading to one scene where we see a group of people who have made a deal with a scavenger who claims to have Darth Vader's actual lightsaber. It's clear that there is a growing cult that is focused on carrying on the work of Palpatine and his apprentice, and at one point, a character finds themselves in an alley where there is “Vader Lives!” graffiti on the wall. By the time Kylo Ren goes on his quest to find Vader relics in “The Force Awakens,” he may find slim pickings left for him.
7. “1313” may have been cancelled, but it is brought to life in this book.
There was a LucasArts game that was cancelled when Disney took over, and it upset a lot of fans who liked the artwork they'd seen. It was supposed to allow the player to steer a young adult version of Boba Fett around the lowest levels of Coruscant. It was supposed to show us a close-up of the seamiest underworld of the “Star Wars” galaxy, and sure enough, when it shows up in this book, there's a young man looking for some illegal machinery he can use to send a message to the still-occupying forces of the Empire. It's described as “Coruscant's most infamous underworld level, a dungeon so deep that the world above has forgotten about it.”
8. Boba Fett died, okay? Seriously.
Another shopping trip takes a character to Tatooine, where he tries to negotiate the purchase of some weaponry from some Jawas. When he manages to talk his way into a back room of their sandcrawler to see the “good stuff,” he finds some Mandalorian battle armor that was recently collected, along with some pieces from a blown up palace barge. So there we go. He's Sarlaac poop. Let's all just move along now.
9. Jakku is the ass end of nowhere and horrible all over
From the one sequence in the book that takes place in Jakku, the desert planet we've been seeing in the trailers for “The Force Awakens,” it's apparent that this place makes Tatooine seems to be as crawling with activity as Coruscant by comparison. If you're stuck on Jakku, you really are as far from the center of things as you can possibly be, which is going to make it even stranger when a tiny droid named BB-8 comes rolling out of the wastelands with a familiar lightsaber that sets him and a whole new group of characters on a big adventure…
10. The New Republic may not stand a chance
Maybe the best thing about the book is how clearly it shows the way this new regime could end up just like the old one, and the way war creates enemies that do not simply heal at the end of the declared conflict. There are a dozen small ways Wendig illustrates the New Republic behaving exactly like the Empire used to, and these are still the early days. There are characters who are aware of these possible problems, but it doesn't look like this is going to be a painless transition. I like that. I think we're living in the dawn of an age of perpetual war. Both of my children have only ever known a world in which we've been engaged in overseas conflicts, and there's no real end to it in sight. So if we tell stories about the endless way war can twist and turn and stay alive, it's important that the stories offer up some perspective, some sort of comment on how it feels to live in a world where there is always some fresh enemy, some new fight.
11. Supreme Leader Snoke has a plan already
Sure, they don't come right and use his name, but when the faceless puppet master who has been pulling the strings for the entire book finally makes a partial appearance at the end of the story, I'm pretty sure it's the guy who will be in charge when “The Force Awakens” begins, the one that Andy Serkis is playing. There is a meeting between a number of high-ranking Imperials that turns into a sudden and surprisingly ferocious struggle, both inside the palace on Akiva and in the space around the planet. Whoever the big bad is who stays in the shadows at the end of the book, he has a big picture of the way the future could look, and the moment he realizes there is a power void, he's ready to start consolidating power for himself. Based on the way things work out here, he's very good at playing chess with the people around him, like an intergalactic Frank Underwood, and chances are whoever gets in first and makes the right moves has a good chance of being the one who decides what the entire galaxy is going to look like. Did we just meet the founder of the First Order?
We'll all know when “The Force Awakens” in theaters on December 18th.
And in case you're revving up to yell at me because I supposedly said I wouldn't write about “Star Wars” or that I don't like it now, I think you missed the point of my recent article. I was exploring my own personal realization that I wasn't particularly worked up. That didn't mean I was avoiding anything in particular, or that I wasn't going to enjoy the film. It just meant I was feeling a fatigue this year I hadn't ever felt about this franchise. I'd actually pre-ordered this in April, and I forgot I pre-ordered it until it showed up on my Kindle. Man, I love the future.
Want to read the book? Pick it up at the link below!