Chuck Wendig on the Battle of Jakku, Han and Leia’s Complex Relationship, and More from Aftermath: Empire’s End

The author of the Aftermath trilogy talks to about his epic story's final installment.

When it comes to storytelling, whether in film or in literature, a trilogy is hard to beat. The first installment introduces the characters and the rules, and usually ends up with a win for the heroes. The second part increases the stakes and changes the rules, and by the final installment, the audience is left wondering who will be left standing when the rules are completely thrown away. In the Aftermath trilogy, author Chuck Wendig has told the story of what has happened after Return of the Jedi, with new and returning heroes and villains facing off, as the Empire struggles to survive while the Rebellion transitions to be the New Republic. And in the final novel of the New York Times bestselling trilogy, Empire’s End, out today, everything points toward a showdown at a remote and desolate planet far from the bright center of the galaxy. Chuck Wendig conversed with via e-mail to give us an intel report on Aftermath: Empire’s End. Empire’s End wraps up the Aftermath trilogy with a pivotal event in the galaxy far, far away: the showdown between the Empire and the young New Republic at Jakku. What was it like fleshing out this key chapter of the Star Wars saga?

Chuck Wendig: It’s both exhilarating and heartbreaking in equal measure — on the one hand, I’m geeked to be able to bring this epic high-stakes story to a conclusion, but it’s also heartbreaking in a way that the journey is over. At least, for now. Certainly in the Star Wars universe, one of the great things is how beloved characters show up in new places throughout the continuity.

jakku-star-destroyer Many of the main characters in this novel want to go to or return to Jakku, but for many different reasons. Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?

Chuck Wendig: (“That junkyard?!”)

Jakku is a point of convergence in the story, and one that in destruction and defeat helps to build the bridge toward The Force Awakens. Many threads tie to this single point — Palpatine was clearly doing something there, and Gallius Rax is the mechanism of that. Sloane is chasing Rax there, and Norra is chasing Sloane. Plus, we get hints that Jakku was important a long time ago, and in the context of that planet in The Force Awakens, will be important again when we finally get to meet Rey. Princess Leia and Han Solo return to play key roles in his novel — what is it like getting into their heads and into their relationship?

Chuck Wendig: It’s sweet and sad. They’re good together, except when they’re not. The galaxy is a complicated place and these are two complicated people — both are loving, empathetic characters who also have their own complex, dangerous lives that they aren’t quite ready to leave behind. We’re at a point in this story where they’re just starting their family, and…nnnyeah, we know where that goes, how that ends up, don’t we? After Norra Wexley’s crew has finally become a well-oiled Imperial-hunting machine, and even become like a family, you start off the story by splitting them up. How does this drive the growth of these characters?

Chuck Wendig: Splitting up characters gives each of them a chance to shine, and it lets us move their arcs forward. Norra wrestles with issues of justice versus revenge. Sinjir struggles to find “his star,” in terms of purpose. Jas wrestles with unpaid debts and still struggles to see if she is a team player or a lone wolf. And of course, the boy named Temmin is learning to become the young man who they’ll call “Snap.” Even ol’ Mister Bones gets an arc.

When we pull them apart, we create tension and wonder whether they’ll ever see each other again. Each ends up unmoored, without an anchor, and it’s fun to see where that takes them. Grand Admiral Rae Sloane has suffered a turn of misfortune, but she’s determined to climb back to power. What drives her at this point? How has her character transformed throughout her life?

Chuck Wendig: Like with Norra, she struggles too with questions of who she is and what she wants. Prior to now, she wanted to be at the head of this Empire, but suddenly she sees that it’s an Empire in disarray, maybe headed toward ruin. It has been taken control by someone she considers compromised, a political heretic and a potential traitor, and yet the Empire has fallen in line behind Rax anyway. And it makes her question, is this even her Empire? Could she lead it back to victory? Is it a lost cause, and if so, is her cause one purely of revenge?

A burning Star Destroyer falls from the sky, on the cover of the novel Aftermath: Empire's End, by Chuck Wendig. One of your characters, the re-conditioned battle droid Mister Bones is a fan favorite because of his penchant for destruction — what do you think the appeal is in antihero droid characters like Mister Bones and K-2SO?

Chuck Wendig: Giving droids real personality is key to making them more than, well, props. They have agency and awareness. They’re funny. I call Bones the most huggable murder-droid you ever did see — sure, he likes to pop the heads off Imperials like a cruel child beheading flowers, but he’s also loyal to Temmin and sweet (in a totally deranged way). Giving droids these human characteristics — then dialing them up in really interesting combinations — is interesting to watch and wildly fun to write. A new face in Empire’s End is a Hutt named Niima. What sets her apart from the other Hutt crimelords that we’re more accustomed to seeing in the galaxy far, far away?

Chuck Wendig: Niima doesn’t seem as connected to the rest of the Hutt Empire, and she’s kind of this Mad Max-ian Immortan Joe-esque figure. She also…has some moves. This is not some languid slug content to sit idly on a dais. Niima will come up on you fast. While there is plenty of action, you also dive more into the political works of the New Republic with a bigger role for Mon Mothma. What are the stakes for her as she steers the ship of state?

Chuck Wendig: The events of Aftermath: Life Debt made it clear that the New Republic is fragile — it’s like one of those baby turtles trying to make its way to the sea. If it can hold on long enough, remain stable and help provide stability to the galaxy, it will survive and see the Empire gone. But a lot of forces are vying for control of it, and Mon Mothma is a fairly centrist leader — as a result, it means she’s often governing from the middle, meaning the slings and arrows come from all directions. She has to navigate this treacherous terrain — worse now, given that she was injured during the events on Chandrila in the last book. Mon Mothma is one of my favorite characters because even in writing her she proves how hard it really is to govern — you will never make everyone happy, you will forever be making decisions that affect people differently, you will make mistakes under the cover of doing the right thing, and trying to govern in a good, centrist way never gets the attention that one would get by being a blustery, fringe-fed hard-liner. As with the first two books in the series, you include a variety of vignettes told in the interludes, showing how the galaxy at large is still in a period of flux after the events of Return of the Jedi. How did you approach the interlude sections in Empire’s End, whether telling new stories, or continuing the side stories introduced in the earlier books?

Chuck Wendig: The interludes have always given us a chance to poke our heads up out of the main story for a look around at the rest of the galaxy — though, as time goes on, I think it became clear that the interludes also pushed and pulled somewhat on the primary plot, and there is some intentional bleed there. For Empire’s End, we see that these interludes have really fed back into the main story, and so a lot of them are carrying forward the stories we know — the Acolytes of the Beyond, Cobb Vanth, and so forth. But some are new, too, though may feature some old favorite characters. Some unexpected characters, too. How has writing the Aftermath trilogy been as a journey for you as an author?

Chuck Wendig: Sublime. I was sanctioned to play in the greatest sandbox storyworld ever conceived! I get to own a tiny little postage stamp of a story that I literally grew up with. Nothing sweeter than that. While you were writing Empire’s End, you would occasionally tweet out entertaining, if probably false spoilers, for this novel. With the mention of therapy Ewoks in the previous book, Life Debt, were there some ideas that you wanted to include but decided were just a step too far?

Chuck Wendig: There were a few characters that were originally baked into the story that we then decided were best if they had a chance to shine elsewhere instead of giving them too short a shrift here — but otherwise, I think most of the stuff I hoped would go into the book ended up, well, in the book.

On sale on February 21, Aftermath: Empire’s End is available in ebook and hardcover novel from Del Rey. In addition to the regular hardcover, Barnes & Noble has an exclusive edition of the hardcover which includes a two-sided poster featuring propaganda style artwork of Norra Wexley and Rae Sloane, by artist Steve Thomas. The Empire’s End audiobook, narrated by Marc Thompson, is available from Random House Audio as an audio download and on CD.

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.