Non-Spoiler Review: Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
In the fallout of the Battle of Endor, the Empire is in utter disarray. The Emperor has been assassinated by rebel terrorists, and the sun has begun to set on the Galactic Empire. Meanwhile, a recently defected TIE pilot named Yrica Quell leads the investigation for New Republic Intelligence into the whereabouts of the 204th TIE Fighter Squadron, better known as “Shadow Wing”. With Quell having formerly been a member of Shadow Wing, the New Republic relies on her experience to bring the Imperial squadron to its knees. But can they trust the ex-Imperial?
Yrica also wonders if she made the right decision when she witnesses firsthand how ex-Imperials are treated under the new government. Can she bring her ragtag group of five rebel pilots together to bring down Shadow Wing and prove her worth to the New Republic? Find out in Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by New York Times bestselling author Alexander Freed. Read on for the full Non-Spoiler review.
Alexander Freed surprised me in November 2015 with his Star Wars novel Battlefront: Twilight Company, a tie-in story to the video game Star Wars: Battlefront. With the first Battlefront game by EA Dice not having a story mode, Twilight Company was its story mode. The book didn’t really have much to do with the game’s content other than the fact that it shared some of the same battlegrounds as the ones seen in the game, but Freed delivered much more than I expected for a video game tie-in book.
He actually managed to write one of the better Star Wars books to date in my opinion, and he continued to show his skill with his novelization of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which happens to be my favorite novelization of any Star Wars film.
In Twilight Company, Freed succeeded on one very important level that few other Star Wars authors have been able to do quite so well. He put readers on the front line of battle, not just by surrounding their imaginations with massive explosions or barraging them with blaster fire, but by making them feel like they were one of the soldiers.
The interpersonal relationships and camaraderie that the company developed throughout the book made you truly care about them and whether they lived or died. War wasn’t a glorious spectacle to behold; it was tragic and fueled by meaningful sacrifice on both sides. Why am I talking about Twilight Company? Well, what Freed did with the ground pounders in Twilight Company, he does equally well with the high-flying pilots of Alphabet Squadron.
By the end of Alphabet Squadron, I was fully invested in the characters, especially the five pilots of the squadron. Oddly enough, my least favorite character of the five is actually the one I guess you could consider the main character of the book, Yrica Quell (the one on the cover). Quell is Imperial to the core, and she really struggles to fit in with her new role in the New Republic.
I know this is all part of her character arc, but I eventually grew a little weary of her perpetual failures in basic social interaction with her other teammates. She has her own ways of trying to connect, but she comes across as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud most of the time. This is not a bad thing, however, as it totally makes sense with her background. But I much preferred reading about the other characters on the squadron personally.
To say that the five pilots of Alphabet Squadron are worlds apart would be a pretty accurate way to describe them. The former TIE pilot Yrica Quell leads the squadron from her newly acquired X-wing. Wyl is a young, clean-cut and highly-skilled A-wing pilot who wants nothing more but to retire from military service and go home, but his undying loyalty won’t allow him to abandon his squadron while there’s still work to be done.
Chass is a Theelin B-wing pilot with a death wish and a love for loud music who idolizes the rebel martyr, Jyn Erso.
Nath is also an ex-Imperial, but he served the Rebellion as a Y-wing pilot throughout the majority of the Galactic Civil War, unlike Quell, who defected after the Empire had already lost. His defection was more a matter of self-preservation, however. Forced to flee his post, his only option was joining up with the rebellion or resorting to a more seedy lifestyle, which he was no stranger to either.
Kairos is the enigma. No one really knows who or what she is. She doesn’t really speak, but she proves her loyalty time and time again through her actions. The rest of the squadron respects the fierce U-wing pilot, but they fear her just as much.
Freed does a fantastic job developing the main characters by revealing their motivations along the way and allowing them to interact with one another in ways that build strong bonds and flesh out interesting aspects about their backstories. This is really where the strength of this book lies. Sure, there’s plenty of cockpit action throughout the various space battles in the book – but the best moments are seeing how the characters respond with and without each other in various situations – how they grow throughout the story.
I have to say that I am totally on board with these characters, which is a good thing considering that this novel is only the first of a planned trilogy surrounding the pilots of Alphabet Squadron. It takes about a third of the book to really get to know the characters, but once it hits its stride in the second act, it’s a pretty quick and entertaining read that left me wanting to see what happen’s next.
I should note that there’s minimal “fan-service” in this one, with only minor mentions of characters like General Skywalker, Mon Mothma, and Admiral Ackbar. However, fans of Rebels will be pleased to see Twi’lek General Hera Syndulla in this story, working her maternal magic on a new bunch of misfits. Hera is a no-nonsense leader in the book who is serious about her job and responsibilities, but she still finds time to show the softer side that fans of the character have grown to love. She’s not a main character in the story, but her interactions with the squadron is vital to their success.
I admit that when I first heard the title Alphabet Squadron, I honestly hated it and thought it sounded a bit out of place. I mean, the Empire is working with “Shadow Wing”, and the New Republic is over here trying to make “Alphabet” sound tough. All I could picture was a little kid sitting down to a hot bowl of alphabet soup with his feet dangling a foot off the floor.
After reading the book, though, I see that I judged too harshly. When Quell first puts the squadron together, they don’t have a name yet. However, after seeing that the small squadron is made up of five different types of fighters that basically represent all the different buttons on an Xbox controller, the other pilots jokingly refer to them as “Alphabet Squadron” which eventually sticks. So, basically it’s a name that starts out as a derogatory nickname that later becomes a term of endearment when it is embraced by the squadron.
As you may know, Alphabet Squadron is part of a crossover event between Del Rey and Marvel Comics. Fans of the current TIE-Fighter mini-series from Marvel may be wondering how the two go together, and so without giving away any plot details, I will just say that as of right now, the comic serves as a prequel to the novel, focusing on the Shadow Wing squadron. The comic has three issues left so later issues may actually cross over into events of the novel, but up to this point, everything taking place in the novel comes after the two issues of TIE Fighter that have been released.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I am looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here. The biggest problem with this one is that it takes about a third of the book to sprout its legs. The race to the end is worthwhile, but it did take a little while to get going. Once it did though, I was on board with it until I crossed the finish line. I would definitely recommend Star Wars fans giving it a read, especially for those who enjoyed Twilight Company. It may be a slow burn, but it does smell pretty sweet once it catches fire.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron is available tomorrow, June 11th. Until next time, happy reading Star Wars fans!
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.