This review endeavors to be largely spoiler free, but the definition of a spoiler is something intensely personal.
Star Wars: Aftermath - Empire's End, written by Chuck Wendig, caps off his trilogy that fills the time between the Battle of Endor and the Battle of Jakku. The first dealt largely with that immediate aftermath, the second book dealt with the liberation of the Wookiee homeworld, Kashyyyk, and this final book culminates in the Empire's last stand before leaving the galaxy to lick their wounds and become the First Order.
This isn't the first time we've been given a view of the Battle of Jakku. We've taken part in it in the context of Star Wars: Battlefront, and we've also read about it from the perspective of the two main characters in Claudia Gray's flawless Lost Stars. This, however, provides us the most context for why the Battle of Jakku happens, and who is responsible, and the book churns toward that final confrontation with aplomb.
For Star Wars fans who have been slowly piecing together the state of the galaxy between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of The Force Awakens, this book is a must read. It lays the foundation of much of the motivation and many of the players that helped establish the First Order, it shows the state of the Rebellion and the tenuous political situation in the galaxy.
For my money, this is the best of Wendig's three books. His handling of the politics has matured significantly since the previous book, his handling of Mon Mothma was great, and his action sequences are some of the best I've read in a long time. There's one maneuver that is pulled off that turns the tide of the battle that I really just want to see in a film at some point. It's that bad-ass sort of maneuver that's akin to the Hammerhead Corvette situation in Rogue One. You'll know it when you see it and your breath will be taken away.
Much to do has been made of many of the interludes in the book, one in particular. As those who have read the previous books know, Wendig inserted small chapters that were unrelated short stories to the main plot that shed light on different aspects of the galaxy in the wake of the end of the galactic civil war. That one, in particular, has been the treatment of Jar Jar Binks, which has been divisive among fans. If there's anything close to spoilers in the review, it's right here about Jar Jar, but this chapter happens so early and is so far removed from the rest of the novel, I feel fine offering my analysis here, especially since it's been reported everywhere:
As one of the foremost fans of Jar Jar Binks, I found the interlude sad and sweet and somehow fitting. It's also important to remember that the scene is written from the perspective of a refugee child who doesn't have all of the facts. There's a lot of "Certain point of view" happening there. No, I don't think Jar Jar was again banished from Otoh Gunga; after the formation of the Empire he was still an important figure and given a place of honor in Padme's funeral procession. But what we do know is that he dedicated his life to make the lives of those refugee children arriving on Naboo better. He's probably not just a clown, he's probably the benefactor behind the whole refugee operation. And he speaks the language of the outcasts, the people who aren't wanted. He spent his life being that unwanted creature, what better way to honor that than allowing him to speak to those elements and make them feel not so alone?
The chapter made me cry. As I said, it was sad and sweet, and I hope we get more stories of Jar Jar in the future.
As for the rest of the novel, I happen to like Wendig's style of writing. It really gives an immediacy to the action and allows you to breeze through the text. I was able to finish the book in a day reading pretty casually, despite the hefty page count. The choppy sentences and fragments are a style choice I can get behind, but it seems like the mileage varies on that.
Overall, I feel like this was a solid addition to the canon. A pretty good book with a lot of exciting action, a diverse set of heroes who help save the galaxy, some laughs, some tears, and a heaping dose of adventure. What more do you want from a Star Wars novel?
The only lingering question I had about the novel was the exception of Lawrence Kasdan in the acknowledgments of the storytellers who had brought Star Wars to life. I would count him second after George Lucas. It seemed a glaring omission and I wonder if it was intentional.
Regardless: Star Wars: Aftermath - Empire's End comes out today, wherever books are sold.
We will be having an in depth conversation about Empire's End and the fate of Jar Jar specifically on an upcoming episode of Full of Sith, so be sure to tune into that.