Welcome back to Go/No-Go, Tosche Station’s regular feature where we offer our spoiler-free opinion as to whether or not you should spend your hard-earned money on a book, film, or other entertainment. Today on the launch pad: Star Wars: Life Debt. The second in our first post-Return of the Jedi trilogy, it’s a book that’s certain to get a lot of chatter over the next few months. We here at Tosche Station all rather enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s first Aftermath book but how do we feel about the second? To mission control for the verdict!
Bria: I didn’t love Aftermath quiiiiiite as much as my fellow Tosche Stationers (although I did give it a positive review!) but I was definitely looking forward to reading Life Debt. Look: it’s the continuing adventures of GRAND ADMIRAL RAE SLOANE. How could I not be excited? Life Debt absolutely blew Aftermath away for me. I enjoyed every last second I spent reading the book. My reactions ranged from grinning like a lunatic to laughing so hard that I almost fell off the couch to gasping with shock to yelling “DON’T YOU F&^*ING DARE, WENDIG” when I was very concerned about the safety of a character. Everything that I really loved about the first book gets ramped up a ton in this one. You thought Mr. Bones couldn’t be any funnier and homicidal? YOU WERE SO WRONG. The Interludes make their return and feel even more connected and impactful this time around. I also look forward to reading all the yelling about how Wendig is supposedly pushing some social agenda. (You didn’t like the mention of Sinjir being gay? TOO BAD BECAUSE HE HAS A BOYFRIEND NOW.) The stakes in Life Debt are even higher for the galaxy and it’s occasionally hard not to hold your breath as the New Republic races towards the inevitable Battle of Jakku. Tension is there in spades! Bottom line is this: Life Debt is fun and entertaining and gets a very strong GO from me.
Nanci: I haven’t been this excited about a Star Wars book in a very long time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Aftermath, especially since we had so little information about The Force Awakens and the general post-RotJ landscape, but I ended up loving it. The time period immediately following Endor is definitely my wheelhouse. As such, I couldn’t wait to read Life Debt, and it did not disappoint. Wendig writes great characters, pure and simple. They all go through wonderful arcs in this book, so much that the phrase “life debt” doesn’t just apply to Han and Chewie. Oh yeah — were you upset that Aftermath didn’t feature any of the Big Three characters? Don’t worry; Life Debt features Han, Leia, Chewie, and Wedge all prominently. Other movie characters, like Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar and a certain prequel character people have been asking about, also make appearances. But the focus is still on Norra, Temmin, Jas, Sinjir, Jom, and Mr. Bones. And boy do they shine here. This is definitely the second act of a larger story, with all the characters facing dark moments, and the Battle of Jakku looming overhead. The plot has more of an effect on the overall state of the galaxy than the events on Akiva in Aftermath. And of course there are the interludes that show an even larger story.
(I haven’t mentioned GRAND ADMIRAL RAE SLOANE yet, but she also faces challenges and dark times. I waffle between hating her (because she’s an Imperial) and loving her (because she’s so badass). She’s definitely one of the best, most developed characters in the new canon.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the diversity aspects of Life Debt. Wendig doesn’t shy away from including characters of all types, if for no reason other than that they exist in the real world and should exist in Star Wars, too. If you have a problem with that, too bad. Gay Sinjir (and his boyfriend!), gender neutral characters, and black female Imperial grand admirals are here to stay. Just like in the GFFA, the times are changing and you can either rail against it or accept it.
I loved Life Debt and cannot wait to read it again. It was funny (soooooo funny – I haven’t laughed this much reading a Star Wars book since the late, great Aaron Allston), heartfelt, and page-turning. It gets a 10/10 and a huge GO from me.
Brian: I liked Aftermath a good deal simply because it pressed a bunch of my Star Wars literature buttons (non-Jedi, non-film characters as leads, badass-normal primary crew, not a Galactic Apocalypse of the Week plot). All Life Debt really had to do was press those buttons again. Well instead of that, Life Debt mashed my buttons repeatedly, ferociously, and gleefully. The stakes are definitely higher, and now that TFA has been released I got the impression that the gloves really are off. Where Aftermath had to play things a little safer and a little more restrained to avoid getting in the way of TFA. Not an issue for Life Debt, and it shows. More places are visited, the objectives are more daunting. Characters from the film, while they aren’t leads, do see more page time and play important secondary roles to Nora and company.
On the diversity and representation front, Wendig improves and builds upon what was in Aftermath. One interlude in particular contains what I believe is a first for Star Wars and what may be the first time a certain set of fans will have gotten to see themselves within this universe. Undoubtedly, this will cause consternation among the explicitly homophobic and Organic Free Range Locally Sourced Gays Only (read: The It’s Okay If They’re Gay As Long As You Don’t Say They’re Gay And I Can Pretend They’re Not) crowds. To them I say get used to it, because Life Debt is another important step in the right direction for a franchise and modern myth that speaks to fans of all walks of life.
Perhaps the biggest thing for me, though, was Wendig’s judicious and effective use of humor. I shrieked with laughter at parts (Oh Mr. Bones, you homicidal rapscallion). Life Debt contains a level of well-crafted levity that hasn’t been present in Star Wars literature since the late (great) Aaron Allston was writing for this franchise. Boil it down, though, and Life Debt is precisely the book I hoped we would get out of the new canon. It has the tone and grandeur that made parts of the old Expanded Universe so much fun. At the same it’s an accessible and modernized take on Star Wars that’s written with an eye towards representing a fanbase that is extremely diverse. Familiar yet new and bold, exactly what we should be getting from Star Wars literature.
I’m going to be gushing about this book for a long while, so don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here mashing the GO button repeatedly.
Flight Director’s Ruling: Life Debt is a GO for launch!
Stay tuned for further (spoiler-filled) discussions about Life Debt here on the blog and the Tosche Station podcast network after it hits bookshelves this Tuesday.
Note: An early review copy of this novel was provided by Del Rey