Aftermath was my first Chuck Wendig book. In fact, it was my first Star Wars expanded universe book (or any EU book for that matter). And to be honest, I only read it because of the controversy over Wendig’s inclusion of gay characters. Nothing against Chuck (I’m really looking forward to reading his newest book Zeroes), I’m just not an EU kind of guy.
Let me get the actual review out of the way quickly: I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed all the little shoutouts to Star Wars characters I loved. The book was action-packed, fast-paced, and fun. I read it mostly on the plane to and from Raleigh, NC, and I never once felt bored. Chuck’s style is a little difficult to get used to at first, but I felt it definitely suited the story. It’s an aggressive, vivid style, that I liked by the end. It definitely made me excited for my next Chuck Wendig book. I’m not sure how necessary the book is to your understanding of the newest Star Wars movie, but it seems to bridge the events between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens (another shitty title).
Overall, the book was successful.
Now to the controversy.
Six movies. Hundreds of alien races. Hundreds of characters. And this is the first time we’re getting LGBT representation in the cannon Star Wars universe. Do you get how important that is? Prior to Aftermath, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, no queer folks apparently existed. Knowing Chuck had included queer characters (and not just side characters, but one of the MAIN characters) made me so incredibly happy. These were the movies of my youth. I LOVED Star Wars. Finally seeing characters like me in that universe was such a happy day.
But there are people out there who disagree. So I went into the book wondering just how much representation there was. Had Chuck just shoehorned them in there? Did their characters feel forced? Star Wars isn’t a romance. Since the usual assumed default of most characters is straight, showing queer characters would require skill.
Based on the reviews I read, I don’t think anyone could fault me for thinking Chuck had splashed the pages with rainbows and gay sex.
But he hadn’t. The first queer characters we meet are the married aunts of one of our main characters. They simply appear. No one questions their relationship. It’s not depicted in any way other than normal. Had the aunt’s wife been a man, it wouldn’t have affected the story in the slightest. Which is why it works. People want to know why he put gay characters there? What’s their purpose? And I say: Why not put them there? Their purpose is to exist. Isn’t that enough?
The second queer character is one of our heroes. We find out he’s gay during a funny scene where a female bounty hunter he’s been working with decides he’s sufficiently acceptable to copulate with, to which he replies he’s not into women. And that’s it. It never comes up again.
I expected to find whole swaths of gay cantina scenes and Imperial orgies. Instead I found what amounted to less than a page of inclusion. And it was perfect. There’s no political statement here. No forced inclusion. We simply have three characters who are gay, and we move on with the fighting and jumping and psycho robots (Mr. Bones is my hero, by the way).
What blows my mind is that people are completely willing to accept over 300 pages of various aliens, but gay people? Oh no, that’s just weird. Really? Or the people who feel like Wendig shoved those characters in their faces. Why, because out of the hundred or so named characters we meet, 3 happen to be gay? That’s actually a pretty low percentage. In fact, I’m surprised, with so many alien races, we haven’t seen more non-binary races. The strange thing about Star Wars isn’t that the universe now includes three gay characters, it’s that every other race and character has been portrayed as gender-binary and heterosexual. Even Star Trek gave us more variety than that. I mean, even if you believe humans should all conform to two-genders and heterosexuality, it’s silly to think that aliens should or would. Especially when species of animals on our own planet display gender and sexual variety beyond what humans consider “normal.”
Nothing that Chuck has put in Aftermath is revolutionary in terms of representation. But it is revolutionary in the Star Wars universe. He’s opened the door to more representation in the future, and I’m grateful to him for that.
I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but Chuck’s done a good thing here. If you love Star Wars, support this book. Tell Disney that representation is important. Don’t let the trolls be the only voice out there.
And besides, it’s a damn good book.