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Aftermath and the Political State of the Galaxy After Endor (spoilers!)

aftermathcvrThis is the first piece in a week of articles dedicated to Aftermath, the first post-Endor novel of the new EU. Because of the event nature of this flagship in the Journey to The Force Awakens series, Eleven-ThirtyEight will present multiple articles on different aspects of the novel instead of publishing our traditional analytical review of the book. As the plan stands right now, you can look forward to a piece on the writing style on Wednesday and one on continuity on Friday. We’re looking forward to reading our colleagues’ takes on these aspects of the novel!

Today, we’ll be discussing the political state of the galaxy after Endor. By necessity, it will include spoilers from Aftermath (but not from the other Journey to TFA novels, which contain critical info that we did not have when writing this piece). Stop reading now if you do not wish to be spoiled for this excellent novel – it is worth experiencing for itself. By necessity, we will not be discussing a lot of worthy topics. The novel’s incredible character diversity – which Wendig created out of a sense of realism – is not the subject of this piece. The pilot and mother Norra Wexley, probably the most interesting and welcome character to come out of this book, is not the subject of this article. The narrative structure and use of interlude chapters is not the subject of this article. These are all topics that absolutely deserve discussion, we won’t monopolize all the potential discussion items that Aftermath has to offer because our colleagues have their own takes on the book. We will, however, discuss Admiral Rae Sloane because she is magnificent and very relevant to the topic.

As everyone knows, Return of the Jedi ended with the death of the Galactic Emperor and celebrations throughout the galaxy. Less clear was the outcome of that battle – the Legends Expanded Universe had many of these celebrations (especially on Coruscant) quickly suppressed and the war with the Empire went on for years, though it was resolved far too quickly for some tastes (including our own). With the canon reset, it is unclear if the Empire would fall so quickly and previews for Shattered Empire and the Uprising game appeared to suggest the Empire would last for quite a while. Early previews for Battlefront spilled the existence of the New Republic, which was apparently adopted pretty soon. Despite all these bits of info gleaned from various previous though, it wasn’t until Aftermath that we finally got a true picture of the post-Endor state of the galaxy. Neither past EU nor previews really gave it away and it was an open question how things would turn out.

The state of the galaxy in general

The opening of the novel suggests the Empire is in pretty bad shape and the New Republic is ascendant. That said, the Imperial war machine is still running strong and the Empire is entrenched on many worlds, especially worlds where the Empire suppressed knowledge of the Emperor’s defeat. The beginning of the novel also suggests that despite the Imperial crackdown on Coruscant, the Core may well have turned to the New Republic – a media outlet on the NR capital of Chandrila is called “Queen of the Core” and Wedge describes how the Empire has been driven to the Outer Rim. Nearer to the end of the novel, it’s suggested that Akiva is the New Republic’s first foothold into the Rim.

The scale of the war is small-ish: frigates and a few Star Destroyers battle it out in an allegedly significant battle. However, it’s made clear the war has been going on for a while and it’s possible there were other titanic engagements and resources are just scarce. We do not see either the main NR or Imperial fleets, after all.

There is a curious part of the novel that suggests that the criminal world is affiliated with the Empire. The idea is that the Empire, robbed of traditional avenues of commerce by unrest and by the New Republic, uses the underworld to fund its war machine. Indeed, Imperial authorities apparently overlook criminal transgressions in exchange for their services — and this has allegedly been going on for a long time. This is a striking contrast to the EU, where the Empire cracked down on criminal activity to such an extent that the insinuation that Xizor Transport Systems was a front for Black Sun could — if true — result in the Emperor taking action against one of his pets. Indeed, in the EU the Rebel Alliance often made alliances of convenience — particularly with Black Sun — in order to fight the Empire. We mention this to illustrate that the legitimate government often does not support violators of its own laws while insurgents do what they must. We don’t know the reason for this particular element of the galactic state of play: perhaps it stems from a misunderstanding of the Empire’s association with Xizor (the Empire contracted with him as a businessman) or the Empire’s use of bounty hunters (who are lawmen rather than criminals). Perhaps the reason is to show that the Empire doesn’t live up to its ideals (but again, it seems senseless) or that the Empire has resorted to desperation. It’s tough to say, but it looks like the New Republic has taken up the law and order mantle in the new canon. We’re not a fan of this part of the setup.

Various interludes address the allegiance of different galactic worlds. Naboo apparently fell to the New Republic fairly early on. Chandrila is, of course, the New Republic capital. Coruscant is Imperial but a scene near the end of the novel suggests that some Imperial prisoners came from the last garrison on the planet. We find it hard to believe that the Imperial capital would fall off-screen, so unless it plays a role in Shattered Empire, we’re taking that observation with a grain of salt. Either way, the choice of Chandrila as the NR capital is inspired. Not only is it a bold change from the EU and canon traditions, but it deftly uses EU lore about Chandrilan democratic traditions to represent the idealistic character of the NR.

Worlds have apparently been flocking to the New Republic, while various governors throw off Imperial rule and/or declare independence. The galaxy is in a tremendous state of flux. The Empire could retake the galaxy – if it got its act together, and that is Admiral Rae Sloane’s mission.

The Galactic Empire

In the EU, the Galactic Empire held on to the Core Worlds with tenacity, going through a series of regents and rulers: Sate Pestage, Ysanne Isard, and Ars Dangor. The Empire was driven from the Core after Ysanne Isard let Coruscant fall, and by the time of Thrawn’s return the Empire ruled a quarter of the galaxy in backwater space. This happened within the span of five years after Endor.

Aftermath reveals that things have moved pretty quickly since Endor. Coruscant may or may not have fallen, but much of the galaxy has pushed off the Imperial yoke and there is a sense of desperation even among top Imperials. The war is being lost, and though it is far from over, the end may well be in sight. It has been a pretty rapid change of affairs.

How did this come about? The book presents some clues that show the rapid fall is by design. At least, that’s our theory. We see uprisings on multiple worlds — and this is key. The Empire doesn’t have the power to hold down every world by force: that’s why the Tarkin Doctrine operates on fear. Endor broke that spell and the Empire can’t stop these reverses. More than that, there’s now a New Republic to support these uprisings that there wasn’t before. Various characters, particularly Sloane, note that this is the result of Imperial brutality — a breakdown that the Empire just cannot stop, without slagging the very worlds the Empire hopes to hold. Additionally, power plays and factionalism have robbed the Empire of unity. So the fall is rapid, but it is not without sense. This is why the summit on Akiva is important: preserving the Empire requires a change in outlook to stem the bleeding.

The Imperial dignitaries present on Akiva are varied and disparate. Chief among them is Admiral Rae Sloane, our favorite character of the new canon and a common sight in books these days. Sloane has received a promotion since her last (chronological) appearance in A New Dawn, and she’s adopted lessons from her days in the Baylo school (“Orientation”, a Star Wars Insider short story) and with her adversary-mentor Count Vidian (A New Dawn). She apparently made enemies during her rise to power in the Imperial Navy, and was marginalized as a result. Nevertheless, she is acting fleet admiral (instead of a naval rank, as in the EU, this title appears to be equivalent to Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces – or at least of the Navy) and has organized the meeting in hopes of saving the Empire from splintering or from wasting its efforts on needless aggression. Sloane realizes the Empire has to change to survive, and tries to restrain some of its worse aspects to preserve the values of Imperial Order. She is a “good Imperial” in the sense that she believes in law and order above all, but she is not whitewashed and can be utterly ruthless. The thing is: Rae Sloane is talented and pragmatic, and will utilized aggression when it fits.

Moff Valco Pandion is a soi-disant Grand Moff. He reminds us of the warlords from the Legends EU (the Empire has yet, to our knowledge, to splinter into warlordism). He is vain, inept, and aggressive. The audacity of his pompous self-appointment is outdone only by his personal audacity. He is Rae Sloane’s chief rival to achieving his objective, and we learn that he is terribly inept and insure in his own power.

General Jylia Shale is an old woman, who values caution above all. She seeks to preserve the Empire’s strengths for another day, even to come to an arrangement with the New Republic and to turn the hot war into a cold war. Interestingly, she acknowledges where the Empire went wrong and points out that the New Republic are the inspirational heroic figures and the Empire is the villain. She repeats a rumor that the Emperor was a Sith Lord as if it were truth, something that is not entirely common among Imperials in this group. She seems far more competent than Pandion, if his exact opposite – a little too defeatist, a little too meek.

Imperial Advisor Yupe Tashu (styled “Adviser” in the text) is one of the Emperor’s funny-hatted privy councilors. Anyone who knows our views on Imperial constitutional theory know that we regard the advisors as the Emperor’s proper successors and the true rulers of the galaxy after Endor, at least in the EU. Tashu is no Ars Dangor or even a Sate Pestage – he does not have the skill to rule or govern, nor can he make a claim that he actually ran the Empire in truth before Endor. Tashu is what one might expect an Imperial advisor to be while watching Return of the Jedi – instead of the refined courtly manners and the political nous of a Dangor, he is simply a dark side acolyte. He is a cultist who enjoys cruelty and torture, and enjoys making grandiose proclamations about the power of the dark side. He is a bit of an historian, but a delusional one at that. So much for the Imperial advisors in the post-Endor world – they have nothing on those seen in Tarkin.

Arsin Crassus is a plutocrat. Nothing else to say. His name is a little on the nose (see: M. Licinius Crassus, famously known as the richest man in Rome in the late Republic (actually likelier to be Cn. Pompeius Magnus)), but whatever. Straight up use of Roman names is common in sci-fi and fantasy and we just don’t care either way.

Finally, there’s a mysterious fleet commander. We know little about him, other than that he’s been manipulating events so as to potentially eliminate Imperial rivals and to test Rae Sloane. We are glad she passed, but do not like his methods. He may or may not be Thrawn (he is probably not Thrawn). Ironically, people on the TFN Lit forums joked that he’s us (me) because of his introduction where he hums a classic Sestina from the Old Republic. We are certainly hoping this alleged leader of the Empire is a cultured Core Worlder, at least. Can he restore the Empire? We’re doubtful, if his strategy is to win by abandoning it. That is not the strategy of a government but an insurgency, and at least Rae Sloane knows that. Legitimacy is essential to ensure rule.

With the exception of Sloane and possibly this fleet commander, this is a paltry group. Are these all that are left? Information about the central Imperial apparatus is scarce in this novel. But it must be in sad shape for Sloane to believe in a conference with the likes of these people.

The Empire is slipping, losing control of the galaxy. It is in threat of fragmenting entirely under the hammer blows of the New Republic ascendant.

aftermath-nrlogoThe return of the New Republic

Nothing says “post-ROTJ EU” like the New Republic. It’s a term many old school EU fans are fond of. It’s back now, but in a different form with a different logo – the Alliance Starbird with a starburst, but if the chapter headings are any indication, stylized just a bit differently than the EU’s NR starbird. We like it — it fits the new era feel.

In the EU, the NR formed some months after Endor and was largely styled on the Rebel Alliance. Mon Mothma continued to hold dictatorial authority as Chief of State, and the Provisional Council ran matters until the NR Senate was formed.

Times are changing. In Aftermath, Mothma eschews her formerly dictatorial powers (interestingly sourced in Palpatine’s emergency powers this time around). She is reconfirmed as Chancellor of the NR, but a democratic and balanced sort. The Galactic Senate has been instituted on Chandrila on a more democratic footing, and the New Republic seeks reconciliation and communication: it wishes to give voices to even those it wronged. Many in the New Republic seek vengeance on Imperials, but Mon Mothma does not and wishes that the war can end soon so lives no longer need to be ruined. She also idealistically wishes for the NR military to be downsized and replaced by local defenses. Some of the best scenes in the book are interludes on Chandrila with Mon Mothma’s Pantoran PR person, who embodies the idealism of the NR as it shifts from insurgency to government.

After an EU which showed the corruption and incompetence of democracy, and had the heroes rig elections, this sort of thing is very welcome to see. The New Republic is supposed to be good. As a recreational Imperial propagandist, we feel that it’s fun and all when the heroes look bad: except when they are so awful that it looks like the narrative is actually saying that military dictatorship is preferred. After years of books showing all governments as equally corrupt, it’s refreshing to read a book that shows a New Republic with values worth fighting for. That doesn’t mean that people are perfect — some do want revenge and take the low road. That’s nuance: in fact Wedge and Norra both take the low road at times so not even the heroes are immune to the darker side of revolution. But Mothma and Organa are trying to build something better, and it’s nice to see the New Republic stand for hope again.

Many planets have joined the New Republic, whether officially or through ragtag movements. It still has the character of the Rebel Alliance, but with more hope and with more emphasis on the light. The New Republic has to govern now, after all – settling scores with Imperials will only go so far.

Ackbar was referred to at least once as grand admiral (by Imperial speakers), and is clearly still in charge of the NR military. Captain Wedge Antilles is the Wedge we remember and love, though his scenes are comparatively few. The various agents and warriors of the NR from Norra Wexley on down are imperfect and human, but do strive for the right thing.

At some point we might want to write some propaganda about how Mothma has created a sleight of hand and is actually seeking more power, how the move to Chandrila is a power play, how the noble Empire is being undermined etc. But for now, we’re so pleased to see a proper, heroic New Republic implementing reforms and trying to do better that we’ll save the propaganda for later.

In the End

One of the best scenes in the novel is a conversation between Wedge Antilles and Rae Sloane, two of the most beloved book characters (yes, Wedge was in the films but his fandom comes from the EU). Sloane asks why the NR fights, and Wedge gives his story and tells her how the NR exists to stop Imperials from hurting others. Sloane rejoinders about the Empire preventing violence and disorder.

The readers may draw their own conclusion. Rae Sloane is commendable – in fact, she is our admiral, our queen, our empress – but the Imperials that are not named Rae Sloane are variously vicious and cruel. The Imperial edifice is collapsing, and it is doing so on the back of its own sins.

Through its various interludes and scenes, Aftermath is ultimately a tale of good and evil. Its more complicated elements of galactic politics and character growth tie back into that, which make it a true Star Wars novel. We’re not reviewing it per se, but it’s a great book that’s well-written, as diverse as a book could and should be, and that answers a lot of questions while posing many more.

The state of the galaxy is still unclear. Is the Empire driven back completely, or is the NR making partial inroads? But what is clear is that a new age is coming: the New Republic Senate is launching, and Mon Mothma seeks to change the character of her government. It sickens us to say anything complimentary of Mon Mothma, but between her new plans, Wedge’s story, and Princess Leia’s excellent speech about what the New Republic stands for it’s clear that the political state of the galaxy is turning away from tyranny and desperation and towards democracy and hope. That is, unless the mysterious fleet admiral’s new ideas on how to rule the galaxy without alienating it bear fruit…

Once we’re all finished reading Journey to The Force Awakens, look forward to more extensive discussion on the implications for TFA. Politically speaking, Aftermath‘s introduction of a potentially demilitarized NR and a resurgent Imperial force in the outskirts of the galaxy is certainly tantalizing. But that’s still to come. For now, stayed tuned for the rest of ETE’s week of Aftermath coverage!

8 thoughts to “Aftermath and the Political State of the Galaxy After Endor (spoilers!)”

  1. I also found it interesting that the Empire would turn so quickly to criminal organizations for funding (or that it has regularly done so), and we saw this same course of action after Yavin in the Star Wars comics. We’ll see how that goes…

    In the Servants of the Empire novels we see the Empire cracking down on mostly any illegal activities, but we do see them using criminals to do things the Senate (or a society of law-abiding citizens) wouldn’t approve of, like procuring disruptor rifles.

    Maybe it’s something that happens more often in backwater and less “civilized” worlds, like Akiva, but who knows.

    1. You make a good point — we have seen the Empire purchasing illegal goods from the black market. However, I note this was largely to avoid senatorial oversight as opposed to just working with them directly.

      1. Not just illegal goods, but also “making deals with Outer Rim gangsters to maintain their supply lines” after the Rebellion tries to press the advantage after Yavin. In the Star Wars storyline of comics they say they’re getting raw materials and supplies from Jabba’s organization…

      2. Vader’s black-market shenanigans in his eponymous comic are also relevant here—he certainly has no problem meeting (openly?) with someone as notorious as Jabba.

  2. The Imperial-criminal connection was not so surprising to me. The Empire claimed to be about “law and order,” but any system of government without effective oversight and transparency will tend towards large-scale corruption. The two are not incompatible; in fact, “law and order” and official corruption are oftentimes two sides of the same coin. All that wealth siphoned off of imperial revenues has to be laundered somewhere; where better than through large criminal organizations?

    1. You’re not wrong about corruption and money laundering. That’s probably a reasonable supposition. But corruption of that sort (perhaps even the sort seen on Akiva) is different from, say, funneling cash through them. But I can see how in a time of factionalism, individual Imps use their contacts to get funding. So not state policy per se, but there isn’t a state at this point anyhow.

      Hm. Ok, that’s convincing enough for me I guess.

      1. There’s also the gray area of what constitutes crime in a region of the galaxy where there is little evidence of what we would identify as a modern state.

        For example, Jabba the Hutt is described as a gangster, but absent a modern state to criminalize him, he might just as easily be described as the ruler of Tatooine. Most pre-modern polities actually looked a lot like “organized crime” groups from a modern, statist perspective: they were family-based and charismatic rather than public and bureaucratic, and raised resources on an ad hoc basis more similar to protection racketeering than systematic taxation. “Tax” money was regularly employed to fund the entertainment of the ruler’s court, as well as to provide gifts and payouts to the ruler’s friends. From a modern perspective, that sort of behavior would be characterized as “corruption,” but in societies that thoroughly mix the personal with the political, that was just the way that the polity functioned. Jabba would be a crime lord in a North American 21th century society, but by the standards of most of human history he would just have been the local ruler.

        What that means for the Empire is less clear. It certainly seems like the Coreward societies tend to be much better policed, and in the Legends EU they had organized crime syndicates like the Black Sun, that existed illicitly alongside public, bureaucratic practices of governance. When it comes to the Rim, though, the question of public and private money, and what constitutes crime versus “legitimate politics,” is perhaps less clear. Perhaps the giving of gifts is a usual practice among local rulers on the Rim (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenia_%28Greek%29). Perhaps the Empire accepted payouts from local Rim bosses as a form of tax farming (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farm_%28revenue_leasing%29#Historical_use).

  3. Awesome article and I’m sorry I didn’t write about it earlier. One element that has become clear is like many authoritarian nation-states, it’s clear the Empire is much worse about cracking down on crime than the Republic (Old or New). That’s because it thrives on corruption and doesn’t care about protecting its citizens from such things–only internal dissent. I also like Rae Sloane every bit as much as you did.

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