Disney’s Star Wars canon is jam-packed with stories existing outside the main trilogies. After purchasing Lucasfilm back in 2012, they’ve launched a new animated TV series, a collection of standalone Marvel comics, and a series of novels. It’s those books that have really acted as the ideal complement to the new trilogy, especially the latest releases. We first got Aftermath: Journey to The Force Awakens leading into the release of Episode VII. Then Bloodlines dove into the politics of the New Republic set six years before TFA. Now, we have a second Aftermath novel, entitled Life Debt.
The newest novel continues to dig into what remains of the Empire following the Battle of Endor, the state of the fledgling New Republic, and the lives of key characters in the Star Wars universe. More than that, it lends some much-needed background to a whole host of mysteries in The Force Awakens, while teasing at what’s to come in Episode VIII. So what exactly did Life Debt teach us? Here’s what we were able to find.
1. The liberation of the Wookiee homeworld
There’s no planet that got a worse deal under the rule of the Empire than the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. During the height of Imperial oppression, the Wookies were implanted with behavioral chips that made them docile, and were then forced to work as slaves. In fact, most of both Death Stars were built on the backs of Wookiee labor. Back on their home planet, they were imprisoned in camps while the Empire strip-mined their lush forests for resources.
By the time Life Debt picks up, the Empire has been shattered by their defeat on Endor. Even so though, there are still pockets of Imperial power still fighting off a New Republic that’s spread all too thin. That left Kashyyyk under the yoke of one of those factions. It’s not long before Han and Chewie catch wind of an opening, and make for the planet’s surface to liberate the Wookies once and for all.
2. A convincing argument for the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke
We’re beginning to get a pretty solid timeline for many of our characters leading into The Force Awakens. Most importantly, we see the rise of an enigmatic and mysterious fleet admiral, Gallius Rax (better known as The Operator in the first Aftermath novel). As a child, Rax was taken under the wing of Emperor Palpatine himself. He now works behind the scenes to build a stronger, less bloated Empire in his own image.
The clues all seem to point toward Rax as Snoke: He spends considerable effort rescuing Brendol Hux from the clutches of the New Republic, setting the table for Hux’s son to rise through the ranks by the time TFA picks up. After discovering a young Rax stowed away on his shuttle, Palpatine notes that he senses a purpose and destiny in him. The vision of the Empire that Rax holds is all too similar to the one Snoke seems to have for the First Order. We also know that Rax was the one who eventually leads the Empire’s final stand in their defeat on Jakku, which could explain Snoke’s horrible scars. It’s all pretty convincing, especially for lack of a better theory out there right now.
3. Leia is very much attuned to the Force
We know that Leia never did formally train to become a Jedi with Luke in The Force Awakens, and in the Bloodlines novel, we learn why. But that doesn’t mean that she lacks the ability. In Life Debt, we see her meditating while pregnant, trying to stretch out and feel the Force. During this meditation, she connects with her child, knowing immediately that she’s going to have a son. She becomes filled with joy and hope at the prospect of this, making our knowledge of Ben Solo’s eventual fall into darkness that much more tragic. That aside, there’s little denying that even without training, Leia’s Skywalker lineage makes her strong with the Force.
4. Jakku may be more important than we originally thought
Jakku was introduced in The Force Awakens as a junkyard planet, having played host to a vicious battle between the New Republic and the Empire decades ago. It’s also where Rey was dumped off by her family as a child, although up until now, the perceived reason seemed tied into the planet’s remote location. Thanks to Life Debt, we now know that Jakku might actually be far more important than that.
The final chapter of Life Debt takes us through the story of a young Gallius Rax first meeting Emperor Palpatine. Rax, who remember, could be Snoke, actually grew up on Jakku as an orphan (sound familiar?). Upon their meeting, Palpatine tasks Rax with staying on the planet to stand guard over something “precious.” He goes on to describe an excavation to track down this item. “It was significant a thousand years ago, and it will be significant again,” the Emperor cryptically tells him, instructing him to kill anyone who gets too close. Whatever it is Palpatine was looking for on Jakku, it seems likely that it’ll come up again sometime down the line, and that it somehow relates back to Rey’s own time on the planet.
5. The early stages of the Knights of Ren
There’s not a whole lot we know about the Knights of Ren, past the fact that Kylo/Ben Solo is their leader. In Rey’s Force vision in The Force Awakens, we see what appears to be the mysterious group slaughtering Luke’s Jedi trainees, while wearing distinctly Vader-esque masks. But where did the Knights come from? Life Debt might just answer that question, thanks to a vignette chapter in the early pages of the novel. In it, we see a group of “acolytes” wearing, you guessed it, Vader-like masks, promising the rise of “something greater than the Empire.” After shooting up a police station, the acolytes raid an evidence locker, and come out wielding a familiar red-bladed lightsaber. Upon their exit, they ominously describe their movement as “the revenge of the darkness,” laying the groundwork for what sounds an awful lot like the Knights of Ren.
6. General Hux in his younger years
As we discussed earlier, Gallius Rax expended considerable resources rescuing Brendol Hux, a man known for his talent in training Imperial soldiers. It was a move that seemed like a precursor to the First Order’s legions of brainwashed Stormtroopers, taken at birth, given a number designation, and trained as weapons. In order for that timeline to logically shake out, that means the First Order would have had to begin this program right around the time Life Debt takes place, and offering even more evidence in support of the “Rax = Snoke” theory.
If the Hux name sounds familiar, well, that’s because it is. Brendol’s son, Armitage, eventually grows up to be General Hux, the de facto military leader of the First Order in The Force Awakens. He wasn’t always the intimidating, albeit inexperienced, force we saw in TFA though. At a dinner with the rest of Rax’s Shadow Council, Brendol describes his son as “a weak-willed boy, thin as a slice of paper and just as useless.” Clearly young Armitage exceeds his father’s low expectations, eventually rising to heights that no one could have predicted.
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