Another major Star Wars novel is out, and that means even more revelations about the nascent Star Wars canon that Disney is building for the galaxy far, far away. We've read Life Debt, Chuck Wendig's sequel to Aftermath, and broken down what it means for the state of the Star Wars galaxy.
The Growth of the New Republic
The majority of Life Debt deals with the liberation of Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld still occupied by Imperials in the wake of the Battle of Endor. For Han, this is a personal mission — he resigns his commission and goes off with Chewbacca to liberate his partner's home. After both heroes go missing, a group of ragtag fighters that were protagonists in the original Aftermath novel, including Norra Wexley and her son Temmin (better known now as Greg Grunberg's Snap Wexley in The Force Awakens), are tasked with finding the duo and helping them in their goal.
By the end of the book, Kashyyyk is safely in New Republic hands — thanks to the help of Leia, who chases after Han in the Falcon when he goes missing — but aside from that, we get some pretty major revelations about our heroes:
Han and Leia tied the knot on Endor
While previous novels confirmed that Han and Leia were indeed married post-Return of the Jedi, we now know that they didn't hang around after the destruction of the second Death Star; they actually got married pretty much after the final scenes of Return of the Jedi. On top of that, Leia is already pregnant with the couple's first child, although many of their friends and colleagues in the New Republic are unaware of that fact yet. We all know how that one turns out, don't we?
The Force is definitely with Leia
Neither The Force Awakens or previous novels like Star Wars Bloodlines have shied away from the fact that Leia can call the Force an ally (and a powerful ally it is). She just doesn't happen to join her brother as a Jedi — Luke's presence in Life Debt comes through the meditation training he's been giving Leia to help hone her Force sensitivity.
She uses that training to guide her to Han after he goes missing, and notes how powerful that feeling is — a precursor to her feeling his loss through the Force 30 years later in The Force Awakens.
Han and Chewie go their separate ways
Yes, the dream team breaks up. With a child on the way and with Chewbacca finally free to live his life on Kashyyyk and see his family again, Han and Chewie decided to forge paths alone for the time being at the end of Life Debt. Even though we know they eventually get back to their smuggling ways ahead of The Force Awakens, and Han promises that Chewbacca will play a big role in his future son's life, it's still a little sad. They even get their own "I love you"/"I know" moment to boot:
"No. No! You have to stay here. We fought like hell for this and now. . . this is yours. OK? All yours. This is home. You got people here and I want you to find them, You hear me? That's my last demand. No arguments." Chewie rumbles but Han reiterates, more firmly this time: "I said no arguments. You be with your family. I have to go start mine"
"I'll be back. We're not done, you and I. We'll see each other again. I'm gonna be a father and no way my kid won't have you in his life."
One more bark and yip as Chewie pets his head.
"Yeah, pal. I know." He sighs. "I love you, too."
The Diminishing of the Empire
The most important things going on with the Imperial Remnant are much more behind-the-scenes. While Aftermath teased that the Empire was making plans after Endor to funnel resources and fleets into hiding on the edges of known space, providing a force for the rise of the First Order by the time The Force Awakens comes around, we finally get to see these plans begin in Life Debt.
Thanks to the novel Bloodline, we know the First Order doesn't make itself officially known to the galaxy until a group of New Republic senators secede from the Galactic Senate and unite with the hidden remnant fleets a mere six years before the events of The Force Awakens. But Life Debt gives us the real start of what would eventually become Supreme Leader Snoke's new galactic force to be reckoned with:
Rae Sloane, and Brendol Hux's son, Armitage Hux.
Meet the Shadow Council
The ruling force behind the proto-first Order is revealed as the Shadow Council — a cabal of Imperial officers who see the time of Palpatine's Empire as over, and are ready to build a new, better Empire to rule the galaxy. They are:
- Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, an Imperial Officer who has appeared as rising through the ranks throughout various Star Wars novels in the new canon, including Aftermath
- Commandant Brendol Hux, father of future General Hux in The Force Awakens and avid trainer of Stormtrooper legions through natural selection
- Grand Moff Rand, who goes on to lead the Empire at the costly Battle of Jakku
- General Hodnar Borrum, an Imperial Officer dubbed "The Old Man" having served under Palpatine in the Old Republic
- Ferric Obdur, Chief Informational Officer ("informational" meaning "propaganda")
- Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, the real driving force behind the Shadow Council
Rax is revealed to be the shadowy figure called "The Operator" in Aftermath, and is the most intriguing of them all, and there's been some wild speculation that he's actually a younger Supreme Leader Snoke. However, Life Debt keeps his race and appearance deliberately vague, and he displays no signs of Force sensitivity (although there's an argument that could be made in that regard at the very end of the book — more on that later). But he's positioned as the main face behind the new Post-Empire order.
They're really interested in kids
The Shadow Council has big plans for children — mainly through Brendol Hux, who Rax orders rescued from the beseiged Arkanis Academy, where he was in charge of training young Imperial minds. Rax also orders the safety of Brendol's illegitimate son, Armitage (yes: Domnhall Gleeson's character is called Armitage Hux, and yes, it's an amazing name) on the logic that "the Empire must be fertile and young".
This is presumably a predecessor to the younger Hux's own belief in training loyal soldiers from childhood to adulthood rather than breeding a clone army, which leads to kids like Finn being taken from their families and brainwashed into being adherents of the First Order.
The Emperor's Super Star Destroyer is missing
One of the most alarming things is that the Empire has lost control of a number of Super Star Destroyers. There were previously 13 of the massive ships in existence; Rae Sloane commands the Ravager, the only one left in the Imperial Remnant's control.
Of the remaining 12, the Executor, Vader's flagship, was destroyed at Endor. Five more were lost in battles with the New Republic, a band of pirates has taken over the Annihilator and one accidentally flew into a gravity well. Three are now in the New Republic Fleet. But Emperor's personal Super Star Destroyer, the Eclipse, is missing. It was supposedly destroyed, but Sloane found irregularities in those records.
Aftermath: Life Debt is full of "interludes" on planets that don't seem to be connected to the core plot, but certainly have implications for the universe as a whole.
Snap Wexley is taken under the wing of Wedge Antilles
Rebellion hero Wedge Antilles goes through the ringer a fair amount in Aftermath: Life Debt. But, in between all that, he takes the time to mentor Temmin "Snap" Wexley. Snap showed up in The Force Awakens as a pilot under Poe's command, and in Aftermath: Life Debt he trains in X-wings and X-wing simulators under the eye of Wedge. Wedge is even the source of the "Snap" nickname, which is a reference to how Temmin literally snaps his fingers all the time.
A Dark Side Cult is in open rebellion on Corellia
In Coronet City on Corellia, a group called the "Acolyte of the Beyond" is active, calling themselves devotees of something "greater than the Empire". One is captured by the police while (essentially) spray-painting "Vader Lives" and says that, in this group, you have to "earn your mask". In the basement of that building, the acolytes find what certainly sounds like a red lightsaber. They say that they have been looking for it, and they have it. It would make no sense for it to be Vader's, but it would parallel Maz Kanata's find nicely.
No matter what they found, the Acolytes seem to have a lot in common with the Knights of Ren from The Force Awakens.
There's a Hutt on Tatooine again
In one of the weirder interludes, we find out what happened to the devastated rancor trainer from Return of the Jedi. His name's Malakili and his poor, dead rancor was Pateesa. After the events of the movie, he hung around Jabba's palace for a long time, before seeking more animals to train. After he fails to find purpose in training the sarlacc, he ends up in Mos Pelgo (now Freetown) where a baby Hutt was taken from a criminal gang, planning to put it on Jabba's throne. Malakili is asked to teach the Hutt. If it turns out to be Stinky, that would be an amazing Easter egg.
Maz Kanata goes on a search
Maz Kanata, the CG alien character played by Lupita Nyong'o in The Force Awakens, makes an appearance in Aftermath: Life Debt. Her castle/bar allows everyone in it, so long as they don't fight. "ALL ARE WELCOME (NO FIGHTING)" is on the wall, and she even has a prison for brawlers. We also get a list of smaller, unwritten rules of Maz Kanata's:
If you get up on stage, you have to perform; don't drink what's in the brown jug; don't go downstairs; if your animal drops a pile anywhere, you're out; all deals need the approval of Maz before they're done, and if you try to go around her back she'll take what's yours and what's his and sell all of it to the highest bidder; and for the love of all that is holy don't mention Maz's eyes unless you want to get into a very long conversation.
("Don't go downstairs" is a definitely a rule Rey broke in The Force Awakens.)
In Aftermath: Life Debt, an Imperial and a Rebel get into a fight, and they end up locked up. Maz releases them, but says to a droid that predates even her, "Peace has not returned to my heart. Something is off balance. Some stirring in the Force has made the water turbid. Hard to see. But I think it best we be prepared." And Maz gets in her ship to travel around and "See just what I can see."
Timeline-wise, this could be the journey that ends with Luke and Anakin's old lightsaber moldering in her basement. It would parallel with the red one found by the Vader cult on Corellia.
Alderaan's survivors are building a new home... out of the Death Star
In one of the weirdest interludes, we see a meeting of Alderaanians who weren't on the planet when it was destroyed by the Death Star. They also take delivery of the first of many chunks of scrap of the Death Star as reparations. They want to build a space station of their own out of it.
Life Debt's final major reveal concerns the aforementioned Gallius Rax. The epilogue of the novel offers a huge hint at where Star Wars is going with its story, not just in the new canon, but in the movies as well, and it involves a familiar locale and a familiar face.
Set 30 years before the events of the novel (so roughly just after the events of The Phantom Menace) the epilogue reveals that Rax was born on Jakku. In an attempt to escape the dusty world, Rax sneaks aboard a Republic ship that lands on the planet one day... and finds himself face to face with none other than Chancellor Palpatine, who's visiting the planet for undisclosed (and presumably nefarious) reasons to excavate a piece of land.
After a short chat with Rax, Palpatine offers the boy a choice: Die, or swear loyalty to him and become part of a grand plan:
I give you a new life. A better one. I give you a task that, if you manage, will lead you to greater things. Not some thing so mundane as a job, but a role. A purpose. I sense in you potential. A destiny. Most people have no destiny.
Rax agrees to join Palpatine, and then Palpatine gives the child a mission: Return to Jakku, and guard the area that Palpatine's droids were excavating with his life. Why? Palpatine espouses that the area, whatever it is, will have a major part to play in the future of the galaxy:
"You will go back to Jakku. The spot there in the dirt where my droids were operating is precious. Not just to me, but to the galaxy at large." He sweeps his decrepit hand as if to the greater universe. "It is significant. It was significant a thousand years ago and it will be significant again. You will go back there and you will monitor my droids excavating the ground. Then I will send more droids and they will build something there below the ground. I want you to guard this space."
Whatever it turns out to be, it appears to be a major hint for what's to come. And it suddenly seems that both Rey and an explorer with ties to Force-based religion like Lor San Tekka finding a home on Jakku just became a lot less coincidental...