There are three decades between the events of “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With a gap that wide, it makes sense Disney and Lucasfilm are filling it in with brand-new lore. All of it within the same continuity, all of it sanctioned, and all of it interconnecting seamlessly.
One of those new pieces of the puzzle is “Aftermath” by Chuck Wendig. The novel is set immediately after the second Death Star explodes like a deadly piñata. Taking out the head of a hydra like the Empire doesn”t kill the beast, but merely drives it underground.
Recently I sat down with Wendig to discuss what it”s like to be part of this brave new world of “Star Wars” and how his novel fits into the greater narrative.
HITFIX HARPY: At what point did LucasBooks approach you to write for them?
CHUCK WENDIG: Well I asked about writing on it on Twitter about a year ago. They approached me at NYCC last year after seeing my tweet and reading one of my books,”Under the Empyrean Sky” which is very Star Wars-y. I'm glad they read that one and not say, “Blackbirds.”
CHUCK: They'd have been like, ‘We're good. We don't really required your voice in the Star Wars fandom right now.”
So what you're saying is that if you really want a job, you should just tweet about it?
CHUCK: You should just tweet about it. One magical tweet with the Force behind you. I had the Force for like, one minute, and it worked.
That's a really fast turn around time!
CHUCK: The actual book itself I wrote in December or January. Publishing is tight these days.
I know they have the Holocron Keeper Leland Chee, and there's a whole story group to keep the lore from spiraling out of control. Did they come to you with certain ideas or characters they wanted you to tackle?
CHUCK: The mandate was less ‘Here's what we want you to do” and more like ‘Here's what you can't do.” It was kind of a list of prohibitions on characters I couldn't use or situations I couldn't do because there were being dealt with across other properties or obviously in the big mamba-jamba: “The Force Awakens.”
Some people are maybe a little disappointed the book doesn't give more away. They wanted a list of details, just a timeline, a menu of items that occur.
[monotone inflection] In the then the year of our Force, A.D. 23, this happens.
CHUCK: Exactly! A Silmarillion-type timeline of the 30 year gap. I want people to understand that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the garden and I am planting the seeds.
Can you give an example of a character they forbid?
CHUCK: Some of it was just prohibitions with the Big Three or how I could use them.
But obviously you were allowed to kill Luke on page..
CHUCK: 84…with Wedge. Wedge murdered him. But he'll be back in book two!
[Editor”s Note: That was a joke. Luke is fine…probably.]
I see Sloane from a “Star Wars: A New Dawn” shows up again in your book, and with a promotion! Between the books and the comics, did you know upcoming plots when you were writing “Aftermath” or is the story group just that good at keeping all the plates spinning?
CHUCK: It's a little of both. I didn't know what was happening necessarily in the comics but I do know certain other things from certain other properties. Like Star Wars Uprising. There are connections to that game in this book. I know ‘things” that tie together but we're all kind of working in the dark. No one gets the whole picture. Understandably so. But it's very cool. They have this great sense of building this organic narrative.
The fans have been a little…adamant…would be the nicest word about their reactions to you personally coming into homes and burning their copies of the EU.
CHUCK: I have. Have you looked at Amazon?
No. Should I not?
CHUCK: It'll soon have a one-star review on Amazon. There's 50+ reviews and well over half of them are one-star. The reviews are all very similar. Half these people I'm not even sure they bought the book. But their complaints boil down to these. Number One: It's not the EU. Number Two: It's now Disney canon. Number Three: They hate my writing style. Number Four: I don't tell them enough details. Which to me is an interesting complaint because I'm not an information delivery system. I'm trying to tell you a story, not spin facts.
Well, it's not a history book.
CHUCK: Right, it's not just a rote sense of detail. I want cool characters. Some people are upset because it's new characters. And I'm like ‘You may not like the new movie. I don't know if you noticed, a lot of new characters in that movie and they seem to be front and center in the storytelling.”
What's fascinating to me about this pushback is I've read a lot of the EU. “The Courtship of Princess Leia” was very important to my formative years. But “The Truce of Bakura” – the book that happens immediately after “Return of the Jedi” – is not that good. Have other fans read that book recently? Or is it just a haze of nostalgia? Because the premise is kind of ridiculous. We immediately go from 'The Empire is dead! Huzzah!' to 'Here's a brand-new threat. No need to delve into the realities of an intergalactic war or mop up after the Imperials!”
CHUCK: There's a hashtag! #ZahnPlotFirst and people are tweeting it at me with images of EU book covers with fake tape over the mouths of the characters with ‘This is the true aftermath.”
You should've just put the bracelet from the cover of “The Truce at Bakura” in your book and had Leia just throw it in the trash at some point.
CHUCK: [laughs] Just a long, slow pan. But seriously, I'm not sure what those fans were hoping for. The reality is with the new film colonizing literally new territory, and territory that had already been taken over by that span of books, there was really no way to keep those things together and make a singular canon work. But those books are still great and they still live on people's shelves and they can still love them.
Do you think it's more difficult for Star Wars fans who are not also comics fans? Because we're used to this.
CHUCK: Yeah. Comic fans used to it Rebooting again! It's been 5 years. Oh and here's the films and they're a little different, and the books are a little different, and the video games are a little different. It's just how we roll.
ENTERING THE SPOILER PORTION OF THIS INTERVIEW
SERIOUSLY: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. ABANDON SHIP IF YOU SO CHOOSE!
You've said LucasBooks approached you to perhaps write this in the style of “World War Z” – the novel, not the movie. For those who don't know the book is a series of short stories from survivors collected for posterity after the zombie outbreak has been contained.
CHUCK: LucasBooks wanted to capture that feeling and look at places in the galaxy to see how things were changing so soon after the second death star. But at the same time I wanted to tell a story too. A singular story about a different group of people. Star Wars to me often about a small group of people changing the galaxy, essentially for the better but sometimes for the worse. Depending on who they are. I wanted to embrace that core idea of here's a group of characters at a specific situation in time, vital moment in galactic history and how do they change. But then also branching out. So there are interludes, which will also give us a chance to revisit some of characters and situations in the following two books.
Your book takes place after “Star Wars: Rogue One” and you're friends with Gary Whitta (who wrote the first draft of the script) do you know anything about those characters? Do they show up in “Aftermath”?
CHUCK: I actually don't know anything about “Rogue One.” It's more closed off to me than “The Force Awakens” but I hope Mads Mikkelsen eats someone . Just for old times sake.
Can we talk a little about Sinjir, the LGBT character you created for “Aftermath”?
CHUCK: Sure! He's an Imperial defector. I left enough context to ideally to talk about his experiences as a gay man inside the Empire in the next book because his job in the Empire was a loyalty officer – effectively secret police. In a sense the Empire has always been Sinjir”s enemy and that's sort of a point he makes in the book: “It”s not that I'm Imperial because I love the Empire. I sort of hate the Empire and it was my JOB to hate the other Imperials and spy on them and search out their secrets and torture them and discover who will betray us.” But meanwhile he”s this guy who has a secret of his own.
Does the Empire care about sexuality?
CHUCK: That'll be an interesting question. I'm going to explore that in the next book.
With the books adding in more human diversity to the Imperial ranks while remaining xenophobic, it seems they'd care more if Sinjir wanted to marry a Twi'lek than another dude.
CHUCK: They might. And the question is the Empire seems almost sexless in general. So I wonder if it's less about the orientation and more about the act of it.
CHUCK: Seriously. Keep it very closeted and closed across the spectrum. Here's your breeding closet, hidden on the Death Star.
Sinjir isn't the only new character we get in “Aftermath.” Norra is a Rebel pilot who is also a mother. Weird question: how old is she?
CHUCK: I don't know that we ever name her age but she's in her forties.
Did you base her at all on the women pilots that were cut from the “Return of the Jedi” back in 1983?
CHUCK: No! What is this?
So there were three female pilots cut from “Return of the Jedi” because at the time it was considered 'too violent' to show a woman dying in battle. But one of them was a very elderly lady, which has led fans to wonder what could've happened in her life to lead to joining the cause.
CHUCK: That's why I wanted Norra in there! She's this woman who lost her husband and she joins the Rebel Alliance to find him or get revenge. It's something we explore in the book in general. What makes you be a part of the Empire? What makes you rebel against the Empire? It's always something personal. It's not a some philosophical difference 'Oh I'm so personally attracted to the Empire's ethos.' It's something in you that calls to that or you were forced into it. The Rebel Alliance is the same way: these people were effected by the Empire in some way that they're willing to step over that line and say 'I'm going to fight this. And probably die.' The Empire obviously has all the young soldiers. The Rebels are this ragtag group of scoundrels and miscreants.
Speaking of the Empire having all the young soldiers, it seems the Empire just does not care about the Stormtroopers. They just stick them in armor, give them no training, and send them out to soak blaster fire.
CHUCK: They're the battle droids of this time period. Like ‘Be well fodder!” ‘Did you just say fodder?” ‘Noooo?”
If we're going to do spoilers, let's go all in. Let's talk about Fulcrum. How did Wedge meet her?
CHUCK: We don't know yet. She definitely was the one who brought him into the Rebel Alliance though. Maybe it would be awesome – and I don't know ANYTHING, to be clear. This is not me giving you information, it's me giving you a wish of mine.
Well it worked last time!
CHUCK: Right? Can I wish on the Internet again? I will! I wish that Wedge shows up in “Star Wars Rebels.”
So you've been watching “Rebels”?
CHUCK: I love “Rebels.” It's one of the most Star Wars-y feeling things. That's what I wanted to capture as well. Obviously “Aftermath” has a more mature angle but at the same time I wanted it to be a fun adventure. A Star Wars adventure.
Do you think we'll ever see your HK-47 interlude that you wrote and they told you no about?
CHUCK: I don't think so. Maybe. It would work in the second book…
Just change the name of the droid to Triple Zero. You know, the evil protocol droid from the DARTH VADER comic? I love his demonic nonchalance.
CHUCK: I love a murderous droid! I have Mr. Bones in “Aftermath.”
Oh he's so creepy!
CHUCK: But it's a sweet creepy! He's a sweet little murderous battle droid. Temmin modifies him to be scary, because he's a body guard. The battle droids are kind of an inept fighting force of skeletal idiots. But I like their look; they have this almost bird-like skeleton. Someone just stuck a vulture skull on top of a human skeleton. You can dial that up a little bit, so the boy does that. He covers Mr. Bones in actual bones, so he rattles when he comes at you and sharpens the droid”s muzzle to a point and paints him.
Um, where did those bones come from?
CHUCK: That's a good question.
So basically we need Mr. Bones and HK-47 and Triple Zero and IG-88 to get together and they can form the droid uprising.
CHUCK: That'd be awesome. What a cool western, they just march into town and somehow they're the heroes. Liberating the droids from oppression!
You mentioned this is the first book of a trilogy. One a year?
CHUCK: I think, but I'm not for sure. But looking at my schedule that looks like the timing.
Do you have those outlined?
CHUCK: The second book is very robustly outlined. The third book has the general beats hit but that's as far it has gotten.
Can you give us any hints about the second book?
CHUCK: Han has a chapter with Chewbacca in “Aftermath” where he's on a mission and gets intel that says now could be the time to liberate Kashyyyk. But it goes against his Rebel Alliance mission. Han makes his choice and there are big ramifications in book two.
“Star Wars Aftermath” is available now wherever books are sold!