Ruminations On The Release Of Empire’s End

Empire’s End is now out in paperback.

(Indiebound | Amazon | B&N)

I don’t expect this to be the end of my Star Wars journey — at least, I certainly hope it isn’t. With a story in the upcoming From A Certain Point Of View charity anthology landing, I’ve got at least one more trip to a Galaxy Far, Far Away that I can talk about.

But I have some thoughts.

Uncomfortable thoughts.

I started writing the Aftermath trilogy in March 2015, and finished writing the first draft of the third book in July of 2016 — months before the election, but also in the midst of the very contentious campaigning. I had no idea what was coming, but in a way, I probably should have.

The Aftermath trilogy serves as a pivot point between the two cinematic trilogies — the so-called Original Trilogy and the newest one that began with The Force Awakens, and that fulcrum point is really the fall of the Empire and the rise of the First Order. The Empire has long served as a galactic sci-fi stand-in for the Nazis, and I think it’s safe to say that the First Order is a neo-fascist resurrection of that, just in better haircuts and nicer outfits, much like we see now the surge in white supremacy. Our current crop of nationalists and neo-Nazis wink and shrug and pretend they’re not the incarnation of the Third Reich, but then they get the same Nazi prick haircut and they stomp around with military rifles and they shout Nazi slogans and pretend they’re hipsters doing it for irony’s sake when really, they’re earnest as anything.

And some of them make me think a little of Kylo Ren: a stung, weak, radicalized man with Daddy Issues, who idolizes the glory of an Empire past, who has tantrums and is a bully and yet knows in his heart of hearts that he can (and will) be beaten by a woman. He pretends to be more powerful than he is. He has a lightsaber that fizzles and spits — a weaponized mirror of his own emotional state. He is angry. He is petulant. You could half imagine him thinking of the rest of the world as full of snowflakes and cucks, even as he melts down at the slightest insult, even as he falls to Rey’s saber — into, you guessed it, a pile of snowflakes.

But in the Aftermath trilogy, he’s just a baby — first in Leia’s womb, then born in the world at the end of Empire’s End. All his potential is there, both the potential to be a force for good, and the potential to be a force for darkness. Both equating to the potential for change, good and bad.

And I think too to Mon Mothma in that serious, a beleaguered politician, a woman who has had to make difficult decisions and who has been punished for them in the media — you cannot rule a galaxy, or even a small part of it, without accumulating some baggage. It means she cannot simply spout platitudes and slogans and win an election: she’s stained by the realities of the office, marred by the imperfections of the role, nearly doomed by hard choices.

And then I think about the reaction to the books — yes, yes, I know, some people didn’t like Aftermath because of the writing, or the present tense, or the fact it was not immediately and directly about the principle three characters, and I get that, and I hear you and I’m sorry the book did not satisfy you on those fronts. But I also think about the tweets and emails I still to this day get about how people are mad about Sinjir and Conder, or mad about Eleodie Maracavanya, or mad about Rae Sloane — and these emails are 99.9% of the time from people who appear to be… well, stung, weak, radicalized men. Maybe they don’t know who they are or where they’re headed, but they’re the types to call you a snowclake and a cuck, even as they melt down from safely within the confines of their mother’s basement, even as they yell at you online near a pull-out couch-bed full of rifles and pistols. They want me to know that their complaints about my novel aren’t about the LGBT stuff or the Grand Admiral who is a woman of color, but rather, about ethics in HoloNet Star Wars journalism, dontchaknow. About how well actually, zhe and zher are not words, dontchaknow, no no, we’re not Nazis, just grammar Nazis, but also, didn’t Hitler have some cool ideas, hey, come check out my Twitch stream, my podcast, no, no, that Swastika and pepe frog are just ironic, I’m just a funny ol’ silly ol’ troll?

Then I think about the prequels, and how — no matter what you felt about their storytelling — they predicted some of our political realities, too. Sinister forces lining up, spinning crises not to bring us together but rather as an excuse for greater war, to stir up fear, to seize power. To destroy our safeguards — and our guardians. Guardians who were themselves wildly imperfect and eager to lend a hand in their self-destruction. In the prequels, those manipulations and falls-from-grace were more overt (and arguably, appropriately more cartoonish), but easy enough to find some parallels in the last two decades.

I think about how Rogue One landed right after the election — here came a movie about the peak of the Empire’s power, and how a small but focused resistance found a crack in the mantle to exploit. And how those character sacrificed to free a galaxy from authoritarian rule.

I think about Rey and Finn and Cassian and Jyn and Poe, I think about Sinjir and Conder and Rae and Eleodie, and I think about how white guys (like, well, me) are no longer finding pop culture to be as perfect a mirror for them as it used to be. How they are not reflected as constantly — their narcissism, long fed so achingly on the food of that reflection. But that reflection is now complicated, it’s changed, and to them feels like a damaging, howling void even as it seems to uplift others at their expense. And these men feel lost and alone, even though pop culture still shows them Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Superman, Batman, Greens Lantern and Arrow, Flash, John McClane, John Wick, Star Lord, Iron Man, Captain America in or out of his Hydra guise, Thor, Spider-Man, Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter, and *unfurls list that’s a hundred years long* on and on. After so long of having not to share, we’re being made to share. That excites some people. And it enrages others. Because children don’t always like to share. We no longer have the mirror to ourselves. We no longer have toys that are ours and ours alone. We’ve been told for so long that we’re special, and here comes Star Wars to say, maybe not just you, maybe we’re all special, maybe we can have toys for a lot of people and stories for a lot of people, and wouldn’t that be grand? To some, that’s amazing. The chance to widen the doorway, to see more than just yourself in the glass. Others hear that and they just want to break the mirror.

If they can’t have it all to themselves, then nobody can have it.

That’s the Empire.

That’s the First Order.

Maybe we’re living just a little bit of Aftermath right here, right now.

And maybe we need Star Wars more than ever.

I don’t necessarily mean as an instruction manual, but I do think there are lessons in there that go deeper than just some GOOD VERSUS EVIL battle — even when those lessons actually are, hey, sometimes it really is good versus evil. Sometimes oppression is oppression, and evil is evil. Sometimes resistance and rebellion are necessary. Sometimes governing is hard but that doesn’t mean government is bad. Sometimes government is taken over by sinister forces, and other times we fear sinister forces so much, we end up inviting them inside, like vampires we ask to come inside because we are afraid of werewolves. (I know, I’m mixing my storyworlds here; apologies.)

I don’t mean to suggest Star Wars does not yet have work to do on itself. I think it’s time to see some LGBT representation on-screen, not just in books or in comics. I think we need it confirmed, up there, in bold colors and with love on display — a refutation of the hate that goes on off-screen. But I think too that the great people behind Star Wars are there for that, they’re here to do the work, and they’ve shown that they’re willing to listen and show a galaxy that includes, not excludes. And that’s another reason we need it.

What I hope is, this tumultuous (and if I may, particularly stupid) era of politics ends up being a footnote — we see that rocky, broken speedbump fast receding in our rear-view even as Star Wars sticks around, through 40 years and onward another 40, showing us not a utopia, but instead revealing t0 us a world that can break and be broken, but also one that can be mended by friendship and resistance and by striving to do good in the face of the worst evil.

Thanks to those who have read the trilogy.

Thanks to Star Wars for having me. Thanks to Del Rey for taking a chance with me. Thanks to the fans for sticking with me.

I hope my journey isn’t done there, but even if it is, it meant everything.