Set in the weeks and months following the Battle of Endor (as seen in Return of the Jedi), the new current-canon novel Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron is the story of a ragtag group of Rebel Alliance– or are they now part of the New Republic?– pilots tasked with a seemingly impossible mission against the (now-faltering) Galactic Empire.
For that reason, Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron reads an awful lot like a companion piece to the stand-alone feature film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which told a similar tale set immediately prior to the events of the Original Trilogy rather than immediately after them. Which is appropriate seeing as how talented author Alexander Freed also wrote the novelization of Rogue One, along with several comics and novels based on Star Wars video games like Battlefront and The Old Republic.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron follows recent Imperial defector Yrica Quell, previously a member of the elite TIE Fighter group Shadow Wing, as she is enlisted by the fledgling New Republic government’s intelligence department to help track down and eliminate her former wingmates. Quell is joined in this task by a booksmart but combat-averse commander, his reprogrammed torture droid, and four additional pilots from various corners of the galaxy.
The moniker Alphabet Squadron is assigned, first as a mocking nickname, by other members of the New Republic military, as a reference to the group’s makeup of a stolen X-Wing starfighter (flown by Yrica), a beat-up Y-Wing (piloted by another, more self-interested defector named Nath Tensent) an A-Wing (manned by young ace Wyl Lark) a B-Wing (flown by hotshot hothead Chass na Chadic), and a U-Wing (helmed by mysterious and mostly silent brute Kairos).
At over four hundred pages, the novel is a hefty read, but it’s more than a little refreshing to have a slow burn in the Star Wars catalog. Alphabet Squadron takes its time getting where it’s going, and lets the reader gradually get to know the individual characters as they come to learn more about each other. Heck, the titular squadron isn’t even fully assembled until a hundred and fifty pages in, and after that they spend another big chunk of the book practicing training exercises and proving themselves by executing reconnaissance missions.
This is Star Wars for those who want to immerse themselves for long periods of time in A Galaxy Far, Far Away, and nowhere is that more apparent than when one of the group’s members dives into his or her own backstory. It can be frustrating at times to have to wade through so much world-and-relationship-building before getting to the long-gestating final conflict, but the emotional payoffs are much more worth it in the end after we find out who these people are.
Speaking of which, I was hesitant to embrace another Star Wars book featuring an all-new cast of characters (especially after the uneven Aftermath trilogy of a few years back), but Alexander Freed mostly does a good job of making us care about each pilot’s wants and fears, while at the same time peppering in a familiar face or two, like General Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels fame.
We even get a peek into the Imperial side of things, and the novel brings up some good points about the similarities and differences between the two sides. This is a very well-written book about the murkiness and unforgiving nature of war, and about how people are always in search of their own identities, and I admire it for not having a cookie-cutter, overly simplistic view of either issue. I will say that I don’t always find the prose’s conveyance of high-flying dogfight action scenes as compelling or exciting as they’ve always been in the Star Wars movies, but Freed succeeds well enough with everything surrounding them that I am more than willing to excuse that weakness as a minor defect.
This is a book about characters first and space battles second, and though its subject matter may seem to appeal only to those interested in the military side of grand epic modern mythology created by George Lucas more than forty years ago, it also touches here and there on both the mystical and murky underworld elements that I personally always find more interesting within the ever-growing franchise.
As a whole, Alphabet Squadron is a satisfying mix of the many aspects of what makes Star Wars so appealing, but with an engaging emphasis on the fog of war.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron is available now from Del Rey and Lucasfilm Publishing.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.