For decades, Star Wars fans had one big question on their mind: what happened to our favorite heroes and villains after the end of Return of the Jedi? Of course, that all changed with the announcement of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We knew we would be getting a film set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, but what about the events in between?
That’s where books and comics come in.
Last September, that journey from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens began with the release of the novel Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. The novel was set a few months after Return of the Jedi. While it had no clear links to The Force Awakens just yet, it showed what the galactic situation was after the Empire’s crushing defeat at Endor. Plus, it had enough teases to show it was weaving a larger story leading towards The Force Awakens.
Today marks the release of the sequel, Aftermath: Life Debt, the second book of Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy (the final novel, Aftermath: Empire’s End, will be released in January). The story revolves primarily around the liberation of Kashyyyk from the Empire, an event that Wendig teased in the first Aftermath. If you haven’t read Aftermath or other post-Return of the Jedi stories, like the comic Shattered Empire, you have a chance to catch up now!
Han Solo Made Chewbacca a Promise
The idea of a life debt is pretty key to the story of Han Solo and Chewbacca. In the Expanded Universe, they became best friends when Han, then an Imperial cadet, saved Chewbacca from slavery. Chewie swore his new friend a life debt, a sacred promise in Wookiee culture. The two were companions up until Chewie died in the non-canon novel Vector Prime. But don’t worry – it doesn’t impact the movie story!
In Life Debt, we’ll learn that Han also owes Chewie a debt, one that he has to settle before he can start a life with Princess Leia. Once upon a time, Han promised Chewie that he would help liberate the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk from the Empire. That debt forms the basis of the story. Even beyond their debt, though, is the larger idea of what people owe each other, and heroes like Han Solo, after the Battle of Endor. That theme carries through the entire book.
The Empire is in Chaos
The Battle of Endor was supposed to be the day that the Empire triumphed over the Rebel Alliance forever. Instead, the battle saw the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, the destruction of the second Death Star, and the shattering of the Imperial government. In the power vacuum left behind, the Rebel Alliance began the monumental task of forming the New Republic.
Put simply, the remnants of the Empire have no idea what to do about their new reality. Their best forces died at the Battle of Endor. Others surrendered. Those left behind were typically not the ideal candidates to lead the Empire. Different factions of the Empire had different agendas and goals, and none of them joined together in any meaningful way. That changed with the start of an emergency summit of fleet commanders on the planet Akiva. It was there that they hoped to rally together and plot the destruction of the New Republic. Instead, it descended into chaos and bloodshed.
Of course, that was the secret agenda of the summit the whole time. Admiral Rae Sloane, a fan-favorite character introduced in A New Dawn, was working on behalf of a mysterious fleet admiral. This mystery man wanted to further purge the Imperial ranks and rid the Empire of mediocrity. Sloane will see her story continue in Life Debt as the fleet admiral continues his brutal schemes. I wonder what his first order of business will be…
The Empire Still Has Some Bite
Of course, a broken Empire is still the Empire. They may not have any central command and control, but there are very powerful forces out there. Right after the Battle of Endor, the Empire began a series of attacks on planets across the galaxy. This was Operation: Cinder, a posthumous contingency order given by the Emperor in the event of his death. One of the first planets targeted was the Emperor’s homeworld of Naboo. The Empire unleashed satellites to disrupt Naboo’s climate and nearly rendered it inhospitable. Shara Bey, Princess Leia, and Queen Sosha Soruna foiled the Imperial plot – with some timely assistance by Lando Calrissian. The Rebels fought against Operation: Cinder for months after that, and they saved countless planets.
The New Republic is on the Rise
After the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance set out to form the New Republic. This was always their goal, and the broken Empire afforded them that opportunity. That’s why Leia was on Naboo in time for Operation: Cinder, to rally support for a new Galactic Senate. The Alliance built the New Republic on Chandrila, the homeworld of Mon Mothma. Mothma became the first chancellor of the New Republic and set out to unify the galaxy under democracy once more.
One vital plot point we learned in Aftermath was that Mothma wanted to cut the Republic’s military forces by 90% at the end of the war. We know that eventually happens, and we know its catastrophic results. How will that play out in Life Debt? The political realities of a chaotic galaxy are awfully tricky, after all.
Of course, these aren’t the only stories that take place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The novel Lost Stars gave us our first look at the Battle of Jakku, which will be fleshed out even more in Aftermath: Empire’s End. Bloodline is a Leia-centric novel set 6 years before The Force Awakens, showing the politics of the New Republic. Before the Awakening tells the stories of Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. And this is just the beginning, with even more stories on the horizon. As we continue to learn more, you can always read Wookieepedia to catch up too!