Warning: SPOILERS for Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End ahead
The Aftermath trilogy of novels has easily been the centerpiece of Lucasfilm’s “Journey to The Force Awakens” publishing program, an initiative to fill in the three decades that transpire in between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although set in an extremely narrow period of time – starting just six months after the Battle of Endor and ending a year afterwards – its purview is quite large, revealing many secrets that were initially posited by Episode VII, setting up a number of clues for this year’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and, finally, instituting a number of callbacks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the upcoming Thrawn book.
That’s a lot of information to take in, and to help you sort through the biggest and most tantalizing tidbits, we have boiled everything down into the seven most interesting revelations. (No, the ending of the Galactic Civil War and the formation of the New Republic don’t count – we already knew those were coming thanks to all the other Expanded Universe materials that had arrived previously.)
1. The First Order’s origins
The revelation of where, why, and how Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) Imperial off-shoot, the First Order, originated is so massive, we’ve actually devoted an entire feature to it.
Here’s the shortened recap, however: Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), being the ego-driven chap that he is, came up with a doomsday contingency scenario which was to be enacted in case he ever were to be killed. It called for a hand-picked successor, Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, to destroy the remaining Imperial and Rebellion fleets – since if Lord Sidious can’t have the galaxy, then no one can – and then to take flight beyond the galactic rim, seeking out a new domain for a new Empire. Being able to enter the infinite void is a big deal, given all the spatial anomalies that make leaving known space nearly impossible, and is a development that literally took decades for the Sith to make possible.
Along the way, however, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane decides that Rax’s narcissistic ways are just as poisonous to true Imperial rule as were Palpatine’s, so she executes him and takes his place as the founder of a new Empire (as well as stopping the wholescale destruction of the galaxy). The name First Order originates from her first order to her new subjects: to start anew, without the fatal flaws that her predecessors brought to bear.
Eventually, of course, the neo-Imperials return to the galaxy that we all know and love so well, as is evidenced by their presence in The Force Awakens.
2. The Knights of Ren’s (possible) origins
Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax’s partner-in-crime for the systematic eradication of the Imperial remnants is Yupe Tashu, a former adviser to Emperor Palpatine and something of a Sith historian and cultist. Although not Force-sensitive himself, he fundamentally believes that the Dark Lords held the secrets to life itself and makes it his personal crusade to spread their influence and legacy before he helps Rax to permanently leave the galaxy to chaos.
He singlehandedly creates the Acolytes of the Beyond, a group of individuals devoted to the dark side who fashion for themselves crude, homemade Sith gear (including red lightsaber imitations) and scour the galaxy for every last relic that the original Sith Empire, which reigned before the creation of the Old Republic a millennium ago, left behind.
Eventually, right before the Battle of Jakku, the Acolytes are ready enough to mobilize militarily, striking against the New Republic in several key locations. Although Tashu ends up dying on Jakku, it is presumed that the order he left behind continues, eventually interfacing with Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and being reconstituted as the Knights of Ren, who will eventually be helmed by none other than Ben Solo (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s grandson, himself.
(You can read our complete rundown of the Acolytes of the Beyond here.)
3. Palpatine possibly went insane right before his death
Having devoted most of his life to finding a way to escape the bonds of the galaxy and gaining access to the infinite possibilities of Unknown Space, Emperor Palpatine eventually came to believe that such an endeavor had a greater, far more important meaning than just providing the basis for his Contingency plan.
Lord Sidious was steadfast – “singularly obsessed,” we are told – in his belief that the Force emanated from within the blackness of intergalactic space. There was, he thought, a “dark presence formed of malevolent substance,” the living embodiment of the dark side that would not only allow him to become the ultimate wielder of the Force, but that was also beckoning to him, calling the Sith Lord to join it beyond the rim.
Whether this is true or not is left a mystery, one that just might be addressed in future novels (possibly starting with April’s Thrawn), animated projects, or, even, films – but Aftermath clearly establishes that Vader wasn’t picking up on any such extragalactic signals and, furthermore, that Admiral Gallius Rax thinks the Emperor had gone mad.
(For more on the possibility of the Star Wars franchise leaving known space behind entirely, see our in-depth feature.)
4. Introducing many sequel-trilogy elements
Winding down the Galactic Civil War – which comes to a dramatic close at the Battle of Jakku, one year after Return of the Jedi – takes up the bulk of the Aftermath books’ time. This doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t start looking forward to 30 years in the future, when the sequel movies enter the picture.
There are many faces, locations, or concepts that get some “screentime” in the novels, whether as a fleeting cameo or as a more substantive exploration. Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) and her ancient castle on Takodana, for instance, are the star of their own chapter, providing an up-close examination of what life in her compound is like – along with the intriguing tease of her deciding to leave her planet behind for a bit as she takes a tour of the galaxy, to see just how intense the current fluctuations of the Force may end up being.
There’s also some insight into why the next-generation astromech droids that BB-8 is a member of are created (to be more intuitive than most droids in order to help wounded veterans to heal, just like pets in real-world medical studies) and, of course, the planet of Jakku itself, which is the secret location of one of the Emperor’s Sith installations and the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax.
5. Catching up with the main players
Although the main bulk of Aftermath deals with brand-new characters – and Temmin “Snap” Wexley (Greg Grunberg), who would go on to become a minor character as Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) wingman in Episode VII – there is still time enough to catch up with the main players of the saga as they start to transition from their original-trilogy identities to their sequel-trilogy statuses.
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), we learn, got quietly married on Endor immediately following Return of the Jedi; though it isn’t a secret, they don’t go around broadcasting it, either. Leia gets pregnant a few months later, and at the very end of the last book, baby Ben is born.
Han revokes his military commission in order to go off on his own to try and liberate the Wookiees’ homeworld of Kashyyyk (something which the Republic won’t commit any resources to, unfortunately, given its low strategic importance), meaning he faces an uncertain future once the deed is done. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) leaves the smuggler’s side in order to track down his long-lost and -imprisoned family – which he does, starting with his son, Lumpawaroo.
Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) returns home to Cloud City, only to find it in the throes of a civil war, as citizens start to take up arms to overturn Imperial Governor Adelhard’s new lockdown (yes, he helps them prevail). And Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has already disappeared from the face of the galaxy, going off on secret missions in order to prepare for the eventual reinstitution of the Jedi Order, making him something of a mythological figure well before the events of The Force Awakens.
6. Setting the stage for Ben’s downfall
Perhaps the most important bit of foreshadowing work done with the original cast of characters has to do with the birth of Ben Solo and the creation of the circumstances that would eventually allow him to be seduced to the dark side of the Force and become Kylo Ren.
Leia has her very first (conscious and deliberate) Force experience when she’s able to make a telepathic connection with her baby while he’s still in her womb. This is how they all find out he’s a boy, and the princess also gets a fair bit of basic information on his personality: he’s a tough fighter, one who will be relentless and passionate about whatever path he chooses in life. This sheer intensity manifests itself in Leia’s mind as a bright light that has a strong vein of darkness running through it, representing Ben’s potential to turn to the dark side – although she doesn’t much dwell on it, given that Luke had once told her that everyone harbors such pools of darkness within them.
Even beyond such personality quirks, there are the circumstances of the child’s family. His uncle is long gone and, presumably, will never provide guidance until his formal Jedi training begins; his father is facing something of an existential crisis about having to suddenly give up his adventuring ways and being forced to settle down as both a husband and father (a clueless one, at that, if still a loving and tender one); and his mother is willing to irreparably damage the functioning of the Galactic Senate if it means helping to, say, liberate the Wookiee homeworld. Oh, yeah – and his “Uncle” Lando even bequeaths him a fancy slugthrower pistol for when he gets older.
When viewed this way, it almost seems inevitable that the lad ends up embracing the Knights of Ren, doesn’t it?
Just in case you thought that the desert planet of Tatooine hadn’t received enough attention in the first two Star Wars trilogies, Aftermath is here to throw even more energy its way.
The novels’ main preoccupation here is with a Clint Eastwood-esque figure by the name of Cobb Vanth, a former slave who has decided to bring order to a lawless world now that Jabba the Hutt is vanquished and the New Republic is slowly extending its reach across the galaxy. He acquires Boba Fett’s (Jeremy Bulloch) suit of Mandalorian armor (whether the bounty hunter is alive or his corpse was just picked over is never addressed), gets a partner in the form of the Twi’lek Issa-Or, and decides to establish Freetown (formerly Mos Pelgo) as a shining beacon of hope for the entire planet. Joining them are Malakili, the Rancor’s beastmaster from Jabba’s palace, and a Huttling, who is being trained to be a leader and, therefore, lend some credibility to the whole democratic endeavor.
Beyond Vanth’s efforts to swim against the Tatooine tide and the tantalizing possibility that Fett is still alive out there somewhere, there’s one last tidbit that Aftermath has to offer us: the little factoid that the desert world is considered by the Hutts to be vital for some strange, unknown reason (might this ultimately have something to do with it being Anakin Skywalker’s birthplace?).
Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End is currently on bookshelves. Star Wars: Thrawn releases on April 11, 2017.