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!