Having recently finished reading Chuck Wendig’s novel Life Debt, the latest addition in his Aftermath trilogy which chronicles events taking place after the Battle of Endor, I felt compelled to write a reaction to the novel. Or rather, I felt compelled to write a reaction to a particular element in the novel, namely, the way(s) in which Wendig masterfully describes the suffering of the Wookiees and their home-world of Kashyyyk. Momentarily, I will share some of these details with you, and in doing so, I hope I am able to paint an equally worthy picture of devastation and enslavement.
But before I begin, I want to note two things. First, if you have not yet read Life Debt and do not want it to be spoiled, I would encourage you to stop reading and check it out. While I do not intend to provide a great deal of spoilers, they will never-the-less be present in the post.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, what I am presenting about the imagery in Life Debt is also going to lead to a rather embarrassing continuity issue (hence the name of the post). While I recognize it is slightly annoying for me to say this and not tell you what that issue is right here and now, I promise that the reason I am making you wait is worthwhile. Read on and you will see what I mean.
A Vibrant World, Enslaved
To begin, it’s worth noting that Wendig goes to great lengths in Life Debt to provide an image of life on Kashyyyk before the Empire, often doing so in subtle ways to help the reader recognize that the world was once a lush and thriving place. As a reminder, we see the vibrant Mid-Rim world for ourselves in Revenge of the Sith when the Separatists invade and Master Yoda leads the Republic’s 41st Elite Corps in defense of the Wookiees. Wendig wonderfully captures the same imagery we see in the film, expanding and adding new dimensions to it. When, for example, Han Solo and his allies approach Kashyyyk, it is described as “a green, verdant planet” with “snowcapped mountains and snaking rivers leading to oceans of dark water.” Most notably though, the forests of Kashyyyk particularly stand out to the characters in the book, “the clouds swirling above the atmosphere” having “to swirl around and through the [giant wroshyr] trees.”
Of course, the planet is not only described from a distance, but also when the characters arrive there and start working towards freeing prisoners and liberating the world. Added to the imagery, then, is a world that was once teeming with life, specifically Wookiee life Incredible Wookiee cities, such as the city of Awrathakka, are depicted as being built in and around the “skytower-like wroshyr trees – trees whose trunks are of an unimaginable circumference.” Further, the symbiotic relationship the Wookiees had with these trees is noted, a “sacred and biological” bond grounded in care. The trees provided nourishment and shelter, enabling the arboreal lifestyle of the Wookiees. In return, the creatures tended to the life of the trees, building their cities in a way that followed “the bends and turns of the trunk,” a clear sign of the respect the Wookiees showed the magnificent lifeforms.
Sadly, Life Debt describes in even greater detail the devastation Kashyyyk and its Wookiee inhabitants have endured under Imperial rule. Under the protection of an Imperial blockade, Kashyyyk – classified G5-623 by the Empire – is “an occupied world,” “a prison planet.” The Wookiees, we learn, were corralled into labor camps and used as slaves, their impressive size and strength a valuable resource for the Imperial war machine. In fact, in the first Aftermath novel, we learn from Han Solo that the Wookiees were utilized in the construction of both Death Stars. A sad but unsurprising discovery. While Wookiees are shipped off-planet to work on military projects around the galaxy, the vast majority were kept in the camps on planet, forced to participate in the slow destruction of their native world.
One camp in particular is depicted in Life Debt, Camp Sardo. Home to 50,000 Wookiee slaves, the camp is built at the base of the wroshyr tree to which Awrathakka clings. There, like so many other camps that litter the planet, the prisoners toil under the harsh yoke of the Empire, digging into the roots of the tree for its wood and harvesting crystals from its fungal nodes. Additionally, Wookiees in this and other camps are also forced to grow food for the Empire, to fight for entertainment, are bred to keep up the labor population, and even subjected to chemical and medical experiments.
Moreover, we also discover that the Wookiees are kept in check with the use of inhibitor chips placed on the back of their necks, devices which keep them docile. These chips give a powerful shock to any Wookiee attempting to escape a camp, a shock that could prove to be fatal. Plus, since the Wookiees are family-oriented, any disobedience may harm not just the individual, but members of their family as well. In these ways, the Empire keeps their slaves from revolting.
Still, we know that at least one Wookiee revolt took place about four years prior to events in A New Hope. This is not mentioned in the novel, but rather is an incident detailed in a short HoloNet News report. In it, the reporter explains that a Wookiee revolt was quelled by the 212th Attack Battalion, with tighter restrictions on travel to the planet being put into place by the Imperial overlords. Of course, the report is an obvious form of propaganda, making it difficult to say if the newscaster is telling the entire truth. Still, we can presume that whatever happened would have forced the Empire to use even harsher measures against their slaves (perhaps this is when the use of inhibitor chips began) and Life Debt makes it clear that eight years later, any chance of another Wookiee revolt has been ended.
A Crisis of Continuity
As I said at the outset, Wendig paints a fantastic, albeit incredibly bleak picture of the Wookiees and their beloved Kashyyyk. A world that was once vibrant – vibrancy we can actually see in Revenge of the Sith – is all but devastated. The barest glimmer of life still clinging to the branches of the splintering wroshyr trees; the native Wookies, “slowly being ground to dust” as Princess Leia declares in the novel. As I read Life Debt, I was profoundly moved by this imagery, saddened by the Empire’s flagrant destruction of Kashyyyk, disturbed by the harsh and murderous treatment the Wookiees must endure. In this way, Life Debt did what good storytelling should do, forcing one to dig deeper and mine the depths of their own being, thinking about ways that in our own world we might alleviate the suffering of others. The Wookiees and their world might be fictitious, but their plight should motivate us to want to help those who are also in need.
And yet, all of the devastation and plight in Life Debt, the detailed imagery of destruction and enslavement, doesn’t line up with what is depicted in Issue #005 of Marvel Comics Chewbacca series. In fact, to be entirely blunt, not only does the description of Kashyyyk and the Wookiees in Life Debt not line up with what we see in Chewbacca #005, the two canonical sources are just flat-out contradictory.
I won’t provide an overview of the entire plot of the Five-Part Chewbacca series, but I will note that the premise revolves around a personal mission Chewbacca undertakes sometime after the destruction of the First Death Star. In short, Chewie is heading to Kashyyyk so he can deliver an item to a young Wookiee. And, after an adventure on another world, Chewbacca does just that, flying an A-Wing Starfighter right up to his home-world, a world that is clearly NOT under Imperial blockade. Landing safely in a thriving city among healthy looking wroshyr trees, Chewbacca interacts with many Wookiees, all of whom are quite obvious NOT enslaved, no inhibitor chips stuck to their heads. Plus, to top it off, in the very final panel of Chewbacca #005, the Millennium Falcon descends to the planet with quite ease, no Imperial ships in pursuit.
Since finishing Life Debt, I have struggled to reconcile these two disparate versions of Kashyyyk/the Wookiees which have crept into the Star Wars canon. When I have wrestled with continuity issues in the past, I’ve attempted to smooth over the differences in some logical way while staying true to the source material. However, in this case, the powerful depictions of suffering in Life Debt differ so starkly from the warm and colorful panels in Chewbacca #005 that I am at a complete loss. I honestly cannot figure how to make the two versions work together. Then again, coming up with a fix is purely a thought experiment on my part, one that would not carry any weight unless the Lucasfilm Story Group were to adopt my idea(s). And speaking of the Story Group, the body tasked overseeing the content of the Star Wars canon, I have to ask:
How did they miss this continuity issue?
Frankly, I think Star Wars fans deserve an explanation about why two contradictory versions of Kashyyyk and the Wookiees were allowed to enter the Star Wars canon. While I understand that small errors can and will be show up, an inevitable side-effect of having numerous story-tellers adding to a fictional universe, when far more obvious errors like this one appear, then someone on the Story Group (or at Lucasfilm in general) needs to come forward and at least acknowledge the mistake. Plus, as a fan, I want reassurance that the cohesive and unified story being told will not have these problems in the future, particularly since I spend a lot of money on books, novels, games, movie tickets, etc. Otherwise, I have to be honest: if more and more major continuity issues start showing up, my enjoyment of the canon won’t just diminish, but I will seriously consider closing the door on my Star Wars fandom.
Addition: Having conversed with a number of people about this piece, including a member of the Story Group, I am working on a follow-up which will be posted here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
does the timeline not work at all? I’ve not finished Life Debt, but the comic is set after A New Hope, and the book after RotJ, so maybe the enslavement kicked off in the years between?
LikeLiked by 1 person
It is pretty clear that the enslavement started long before A New Hope. In fact, in the first Aftermath (and leading into the second), it is noted that Chewbacca was enslaved for years until Solo freed him from the clutch of the Empire.
Urgh. I really think Aftermath is the weak link in the new canon
Honestly, I was profoundly moved (as I say in the piece) by the way Wendig creates the imagery of devastation and destruction. I think that is really where he shines as an author. And, as I also said, good storytelling should move us internally, and while the plot of the story doesn’t do that for me, the imagery and what is detailed about the suffering on Kashyyyk definitely did.
Still, I think you are correct that Aftermath leaves something to be desired as a whole. I would say that Life Debt is far better than the first book, in part because I think Wendig toned down his writing style a bit. But there are still moments that left me wanting more from the overall story, and while I will certainly read Empire’s End when it comes out, I am somewhat skeptical about the way the series will end. Suppose all I can do is wait and see what happens.
I agree its way better than the first. I’m listening to the audio-book as loads of people recommended the audio version.
My main issue with the Atermath series is Wendig seems to use really sneeky tricks to make the book seem more Star Wars-y.
In ANH, Obi-Wan says something about ‘No Imperial entanglements’. Then in Life Debt, Wendig says that some group don’t want any ‘Material entanglements’ as if ‘no —– entanglements’ is a really common phrase.
its like in the first Aftermath and Hans ‘famous’ saying ‘Fly casual’ is mentioned.
Its like a cheat to get us to relate the books with the Star Wars saga, and for some reason it really winds me up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yeah, that stuff does get old after a while. I don’t mind certain little phrases here and there, things that are distinct phrases that characters might say over and over. Hell, I know I use the same phrases at times, or repeat what someone else says. But after a while, it gets repetitive and feels contrived. To be fair to Wendig, though, this is something many authors have done in the past with Star Wars novels. He isn’t the only one to use the phraseology to create bridges.
I LOVE this post. This Kashyyyk issue really bothers me too and I think you addressed it perfectly. Your intricate detail shows both a) the scope of the problem and b) why we need a very real answer…which, if we’re honest, should probably be “It was a mistake. Sorry!”
I tweeted the article at Pablo Hidalgo and his response was “Four years separate two stories depicted across a very big planet. That’s pretty much it.” Personally, I don’t think that works…at all. It doesn’t logically explain any of the issues this post raises. I asked if the tweets were canon and he said, “Oh, of course not. Wait for a story to define things.” I’ll be intrigued to see how this all plays out.
Thanks for igniting this discussion! I live for serious discussions of all things Star Wars!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Fascinating, I had not come across that response until you mentioned it. Naturally, I checked Twitter and read it and some other comments for myself. While I agree that a story could be written that shores things up – a perfectly reasonable approach since Twitter responses are not canon – I find the notion of “four years separating two stories across a very big planet” to be a bit of an implausible answer. Why? Well, I feel that if Kashyyyk is not under a full-Imperial occupation 4 years prior to Life Debt, then the Empire looks weak, especially after a revolt had to be quelled on the planet. However, we know the Empire is not weak, nor would they leave resources on the table. One of the distinguishing marks about the Empire, one of the reasons I have always found them fascinating, is how it knows precisely HOW to dominate a population, squeezing every last resource out of a planet and its inhabitants. We know from A New Dawn that Count Vidian has stream-lined the military-industrial complex for the Empire, has made it into a well-oiled and efficient machine. We also know that the Empire, again thanks to A New Dawn, is willing to put an entire system into a grinder in order to pump out a resource used to soften the recoil of turbolasers. That, to me, is a clear indication of an Empire willing to go to great lengths for productivity and military might. In short, it is an Empire that leaves nothing on the table.
Furthermore, we also know that the Empire is violently harsh with slave populations. The Geonosians are not only set to work constructing the Death Star, but in the end the entire planet is liquidated. LIQUIDATED! Billions of Geonosians dead. Talk about efficiency!!! Are we to really believe that the Empire occupied Kashyyyk with the intention of NOT utilizing every Wookiee available on the world? That they would simply allow some to thrive while others were enslaved? No, I do not think so, I do not buy that the Empire would have decided only AFTER the destruction of Death Star #1 to FULLY lock down Kashyyyk. That is not how the Empire does things, that is not the Empire we have grown to know. And this is really the crux of the issue for me, the reason I dislike these two versions of Kashyyyk and the Wookiees:
It diminishes the most important aspect of the Empire’s brutal reign. Namely, that they view EVERYTHING as a resource, especially alien populations. In turn, I also find it highly unlikely that the Empire allowed any amount of self-determination on Kashyyyk. This singlehandedly undermines an Imperial mindset that has no interest in allowing self-governance, particularly the self-governance of a species that has 1) the brute strength needed to build weapons of war and 2) already revolted against Imperial rule.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You’re absolutely right. I think, if we allow the understanding/vision of the Empire we have to be watered down (as this solution would suggest) then we have lost something ESSENTIAL to both Star Wars and the message it is trying to teach. If we start changing the basic tenants of the films (both plot but, more importantly, in symbolism/metaphor/meaning) then really what’s the point?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Good point. I would choose to just ignore the Chewbacca comic, because I didn’t really enjoy it. And Kashyyyk was such a small part of the plot, it’s easy to just write off or say it was an error in art. The planet should be under blockade, and Chewie would have had to sneak onto the planet or something. Of course it’s then kind of crappy to just dump the “item” and peace out haha. BUT as far as saying what’s canon and what isn’t, I think the slavery of Kashyyyk and the devastation and the timeline set forth in Life Debt is more authoritative than a couple frames from a five issue comic.
All that said, you are correct. This should have been caught. Or someone from the Story Group just needs to clarify it, even if the answer is “We messed up, the comic is incorrect.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the comment! I agree, if something needs to be jettisoned, it would have to be those final panels in Chewbacca #005. While I am certainly open to a fix that validates both canonical storylines, I just have a very hard time believing the Empire left (at the very least) one city unoccupied and accessible on Kashyyyk, particularly following a revolt only a few years before. If, as the HoloNet reporter says, the 212th had to be called in, the revolt must have been incredibly serious. To think that the Empire – brutal in its tactics across the board – would be lenient after such an event is absurd.
That being said, a member of the Story Group responded on Twitter and said the planet is big and that a lot could happen over four years (between the Chewie comic and Life Debt). However, I have a hard time believing that is an adequate form of reconciliation. Wendig does not paint an image of a world suffering only in the past four years. Rather, the image I experienced is one that has been going on for a very long time, a world in peril and a species being ground into oblivion. Besides, this is an Empire we know was willing to liquidate the Geonosians. If they could do that, they could certainly bring Kashyyyk and ALL of its inhabitants to its knees long before A New Hope.
Thanks again for commenting (hope everything I said makes sense)!!!