WARNING: spoilers for Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End follow.
Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End hit bookshelves this week, closing out the Aftermath trilogy of novels and, also, the first year after Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in the canon timeline. But the book does more than just flesh out (at long last!) the already-famous Battle of Jakku and how the Galactic Empire is dealt its finishing blow – it also sets up a rather interesting storyline, one that may have part of its payoff in the form of The First Order but which is nonetheless wide open for future exploration.
It also has the potential to completely redefine the entirety of the Star Wars saga as we know it, providing a fresh tack for any and all films – and new animated series – to take once Episode IX releases in 2019 and potentially concludes the Skywalker family’s plot once and for all. It would be a new direction for the franchise, both figuratively and literally: leaving that galaxy far, far away for good – along with all of its history of multiple Sith Empires and Republics and the eternal struggle of the Jedi against all of its dark side-wielding antagonists – and heading off for the unexplored waters of intergalactic space.
Sound fanciful, or a page more out of the Star Trek book than Wars’? It’s actually entirely plausible. Here’s why.
Palpatine’s singular obsession
Even before he assumed the mantle of emperor and ushered in the era of the Galactic Empire, Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was busy assembling contingency plans for a whole host of possible events. The most important of these revolved around breaking through the galactic rim and emerging into the blackness of interstellar space – no easy feat, since a “labyrinth of solar storms, rogue magnetospheres, black holes, gravity wells, and things far stranger” had hitherto prevented anyone from tasting intergalactic freedom.
Being able to traverse such an impossible barrier was important to Darth Sidious for two vital reasons. First and foremost, it would allow a replacement Empire in a replacement galaxy to be furnished should the Sith Lord meet an untimely death; he even handpicked a successor, Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, to ensure that all Imperial remnants – along with the Rebel fleet – would be obliterated, forever trapping the galaxy in chaos, before the admiral moved on to start everything over from scratch. This is how the sequel trilogy’s First Order came to exist, although Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) obviously ended up defying Palpatine’s wishes to remain in another section of the universe.
Far more importantly, however, is the second reason, the one that the Emperor came to be singularly obsessed with only towards the very end of his life: out in the blackness of Unknown Space, Sidious maintains, the origin of the Force itself resides – its very source and most primordial manifestation. A “dark presence formed of malevolent substance” resides out there, just waiting to be discovered – and when Palpatine’s massive computer network finishes its decades-long calculations of finding a safe trajectory past the rim, he even comes to believe that it starts calling out to him, beckoning him.
If left to his own devices, Lord Sidious would’ve scrapped all his other machinations and preparations and traveled out into intergalactic space himself. It would’ve made him, he thought, the ultimate wielder of the Force, the ultimate master of all living – and, possibly, dead – things.
There is certainly reason to believe that the Dark Lord of the Sith ended up going mad towards the end of his tactically brilliant reign, especially considering that Darth Vader never picked up on this deep-space “signal” that supposedly starting being broadcast. But there’s also reason to believe that there just may be something to this notion that some profound, perhaps infinite, fluctuation of the Force resides just beyond reach in the black; given the way that author Chuck Wendig consistently describs the array of forces keeping the galaxy’s denizens away from interstellar space, it sounds almost as if it’s a deliberate, conscious phenomena specifically keeping all the sentient lifeforms in the cradle of their civilizations.
Those who have gone before
As it turns out, there have already been a number of individuals within the Star Wars saga who have managed to slip the embrace of their galaxy and enter the “unexplored infinity.”
The first of these intrepid explorers we come across are crews outfitted by direct order of the Emperor, traveling in vessels or attempting to establish research stations out in the great void. Most of these teams were lost; what few communiques were received back home were either garbled by static, making them incomprehensible, or were filled with such “inane babble” that the only conclusion the Imperials could make is that the pilot went mad from the isolation. Intriguingly, Aftermath: Empire’s End does mention several ships that did make their way back through the galactic rim but were suspiciously empty, their occupants missing. The only craft that can be relied upon to maintain any sort of meaningful contact were fleets of probe droids, which were all destroyed by the spatial anomalies but nonetheless sent back telemetry (allowing an escape route to eventually be formulated). These are all stories that are just dying to be told, whether on the big screen or on the page.
But the biggest development in this regard would easily have to be Grand Admiral Thrawn, the only alien to make his way up the Imperial ranks to such a prestigious title. Originating from Unknown Space, the Emperor was eager to keep Thrawn around for the express purpose of learning all he could about his home corner of the cosmos – in fact, Empire’s End suggests that it’s the only reason Palpatine allowed the alien to remain in the upper echelons of the Empire. Given this, along with the fact that Thrawn is currently sweeping across the entirety of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, from the Rebels animated series to an origins novel releasing this April, it’s safe to assume that interstellar space will only get further filled in throughout the remainder of this year.
And it might be getting even more traction in 2018 and beyond. There is some reason to believe that Snoke, the replacement Emperor of the First Order’s replacement Empire, was encountered by Palpatine’s hand-selected Imperial survivors, the ones who ventured out into the great beyond to carry on his life’s work anew. As we’ve already speculated, this could explain how the mysterious alien looks so exotic and how he’s so (apparently) powerful with the Force – if, indeed, its (meta)physical origins lie within the unexplored infinity. If so, we should expect to see a whole flood of tie-in novels and comic book prologues once Episode VIII: The Last Jedi arrives this December.
But just as the Aftermath series has shown, we don’t need to have these future deep-space adventures be necessarily tied to one pre-existent character or another. And, indeed, if the point of the “anthology” spinoff films is to cover any facet of the Star Wars mythology, then going extragalactic would fit perfectly into this purview – especially if Ben Solo (Adam Driver) and any possible siblings or cousins he may have will button up the Skywalker storyline once and for all, leaving very little left to anchor audiences into the galaxy that they’ve come to know and love so well.
Disney just may have found a way to make the Star Wars franchise infinitely expandable.
Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End is currently on bookshelves. Star Wars: Thrawn releases on April 11, 2017.