The Empire, Kashyyyk, and Mr. Bones: Chuck Wendig Talks Aftermath: Life Debt

Marking today's release of the second book in the Aftermath trilogy, checks in with author Chuck Wendig.

Last fall, Star Wars fans got their first taste of the continuity timeline starting to connect Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens with the release of the novel, Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig. Readers learned that while the Battle of Endor saw the death of the Emperor, the Empire continued to fight on, albeit in a fractured form. Now the story continues with the second book in this trilogy by Chuck Wendig, Aftermath: Life Debt, out today from Del Rey. checked in with author Chuck Wendig over e-mail to find out what’s in store for the galaxy far, far away as Han Solo’s mission to help Chewbacca liberate his home planet of Kashyyyk runs into trouble.

Star Wars: Aftermath - Life Debt While Aftermath introduced some new characters like Norra Wexley, Sinjir Rath Velus, and the Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane, Life Debt brings them into interactions with some old favorites like Princess Leia and Han Solo. What’s the focus of this new story?

Chuck Wendig: It’s maybe cheating to say that the focus is on all of them. The Aftermath crew intersects with Han and Leia and Chewie in a big way, and those stories dovetail with each other — part of the fun is braiding them together to see what happens. What’s the state of the galaxy as Life Debt begins? 

Chuck Wendig: The New Republic is ascendant. The Empire is, or appears to be, waning. But all is not so easy — the New Republic is having growing pains in its transition, and it’s not always managing them well. Meanwhile, the Empire is stronger than some think, and the future of the Empire rests in the hands of two figures: Rae Sloane and the mysterious individual she meets at the end of the first book.

Star Wars Aftermath - Bones

Mr. Bones schematics, available on a two-sided poster exclusively with the Barnes & Noble hardcover edition of Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt. One of the fan-favorite characters from Aftermath was Temmin Wexley’s creation, the modified battle droid, Mister Bones. What’s it like getting into his head and making him stand out from other characters?

Chuck Wendig: Mister Bones is murderous and loyal, and that’s a lot of fun to write. He’s sweet in his own twisted way, and naive as some droids can be — but he’s also a killing machine.

This modified B-1 battle droid is a strong spice: you don’t want to overuse him, lest you spoil the soup. But judicious, tempered use, mmm. Tasty and violent! Norra Wexley’s team was forged after coming together for a common goal in Aftermath, and in Life Debt, they are working together again on a new mission. How has their group dynamic changed as they have progressed from being relative strangers to now members of the same unit?

Chuck Wendig: You answered your own question — they’re now an actual team, now part of the same unit. Which is tricky because this is still a group of very different individuals. The fun is seeing them bounce off each other, but also how they end up fitting together in odd ways. Rae Sloane has become another fan favorite as her career has progressed in the Imperial Navy from her appearance in A New Dawn to her role in the Aftermath books. What do you think is the appeal of her character for both fans and those writing her?

Chuck Wendig: John Jackson Miller did a wonderful thing by giving us Sloane. I can’t tell you why everyone else likes her, but I can tell you why she’s a favorite of mine and why I owe JJM a debt — with the Empire, you get a variety of figures, from the inept to the truly evil. Palpatine in Return of the Jedi is a distillation of evil in a wizened, goblin form, and with him it’s easy to see how the Empire is evil by proxy. But Sloane is a different animal. She gives us a new lens into the Empire: while we can still see it as an oppressive regime, we can also see why some would’ve joined up and stayed loyal. Sloane wants order. She’s pragmatic. (In D&D terms, she’s lawfully evil, I think.) She has an ethos and, on paper, it’s ostensibly a positive one even if the Empire she serves is ultimately autocratic and malevolent. She’s cool because it’s believable. Her motivations are human and, at least to me, understandable even as they remain something to condemn.

Star Wars: Aftermath - Millennium Falcon

Millennium Falcon schematics, available on a two-sided poster exclusively with the Barnes & Noble hardcover edition of Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt. With the release of The Force Awakens, readers can start connecting the dots between characters and events seen in Aftermath to where they are seen 30 years later. How does Life Debt continue that journey?

Chuck Wendig: The Aftermath trilogy is really less about The Force Awakens and more about Return of the Jedi, in that it directly continues the latter and only hints at the former. But at the same time, we do start to see the bridge being built to Snap Wexley, and Jakku, and the Empire’s end and eventual rebirth in the form of the First Order. The seeds of Leia’s Resistance movement are planted here in Life Debt, too. One of the highlights of your books is the interludes that spotlight different aspects of life throughout the galaxy as they deal with the repercussions of the Empire losing ground to the New Republic. How do you go about developing these side stories, some of which may eventually tie into a larger plot?

Chuck Wendig: It’s a game of asking myself what’s interesting and unexplored in the galaxy. Things are changing in a big way, and so the hope is to shine a light on areas that aren’t automatically being dealt with in the main plot. What’s up with the media? With the criminal syndicates? And so forth. Then some of the interludes spool out into the larger plot. The bounty hunter Mercurial Swift in the first book is just an interlude. In Life Debt, he shows up and affects the main plot. A key concept in Life Debt is relationships changing as the larger world of the characters shifts — we have marriages under strain, parent-child relationships being reevaluated, and trust in friendships and alliances being forged and tested. How do you develop the life of these bonds as the characters live in these times of change?

Chuck Wendig: The idea is to let the characters breathe, let them talk to each other, and see how it plays out. Test them alone and together and they become fully-formed. It’s less about who they are (which is an answer I don’t think even they know) and more about who they become. What real world experiences do you draw upon when writing scenes in Star Wars?

Chuck Wendig: I once made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs, so while I’m no Han Solo, at least I grok it. Plus, I never dropped cargo at the first sign of an Imperial patrol.

Wait, that never happened, did it?

Was I ever a cuddly murder-droid?

I better check my memory banks and get back to you. Well, we’ll hope to hear back from you on that soon! Maybe at San Diego Comic-Con, but from a distance, though, just in case.

Aftermath: Life Debt comes out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook (narrated by Marc Thompson) on July 12. As an exclusive, the Barnes & Noble edition of the hardcover book will include a two-sided poster featuring the schematics of Mister Bones and the Millennium Falcon. The third book in the Aftermath trilogy, Aftermath: Empire’s End, is scheduled to be released on January 31, 2017.

James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.