I have vivd childhood memories of always traveling with my Star Wars figures, always being eager to get on the floor and start playing pretend with them. I can still close my eyes and smell what the plastic smelled like when the figures were brand new. I’d tell my parents over dinner what stories I’d created while we all ate dinner.
Chuck Wendig’s book evokes that for me. I don’t mean that in a condescending way. Writing books set in established intellectual properties, especially one as vivid and important to my generation as Star Wars will always be playing with toys to some degree or another.
The author pours some toys onto the floor: a bounty hunter on the job, a crackerjack pilot recovering from the battle over Endor, a rebel soldier caught behind enemy lines, an admiral of the Imperial Navy desperate to put the pieces of the Empire back together, a desperate Grand Moff, a kid with a protective, violent droid and gangsters, lots of space gangsters. He stirs them in a pot and pours it all out into a story that takes place in the months after Return of the Jedi. For those who want Timothy Zhan’s books to be what you remember from that period, I don’t think this book will over-write that. If anything, they compliment each other and if my hunch is right, there’s a big easter-egg in there for you Zhan-novel fans.
He does it all without any Jedi, which might be my only criticism of the book and it isn’t much of one. Luke is a mythical figure mentioned by characters throughout the book in awed tones and he lets the Force be something mysterious. I can’t fault him for not playing with the prettiest toy in the Star Wars set for the sake of continuity.
The interludes are where Wendig shines. We see Han and Chewie setting a course for Kashyyyk and we hear about the criminal underworld of Cloud City. Sith cultists are paying any price to recover Vader’s lightsaber (or was it?). But we see things more important than that. We see people recovering from war. There are plenty of blasters, bounty hunters, gangsters and a truly bad-ass sheriff on Tattooine deserving of his own book. Wendig invokes westerns, Grosse Point Blank and of course, lots of Star Wars. He puts the Wars in Star Wars. We see Wookie slaves set free from the Empire’s shackles by the New Republic’s soldiers but not given anywhere to go. Kids on their way to become Stormtroopers right as the rebels destroy the training center are given a new path.
He puts a very human face (even when the face isn’t human but you get the idea) on the Fall of the Empire and makes it feel more substantial without sacrificing an ounce of fun. He makes war something worth hating but lets us still love space opera without any reservations. Wendig picks the plastic action figures up off of the floor where the 8 year old left them when the battles were over and he wonders what became of them. We wonder with him.
I’ve heard that there was some kind of kerfluffle about his inclusion of gay characters. There are in fact three gay characters – one main character and two minor characters who only spoke in one chapter. If this bothers you, if you think the little gay kids playing with their Star Wars figures shouldn’t see themselves represented when the toys are poured out onto the floor – I only hope that your fear doesn’t become anger and your anger doesn’t lead to anything that might dominate your destiny.
May the Force be with you.