I’ll admit that I had no idea that Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron was a new Star Wars novel when I meandered into the local library looking for Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice. Being five months since I’ve read through anything related to Star Wars, and the fact that Master & Apprentice was on hold by multiple people, I opted to check it out.
I remember when Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath was first announced as the beginning of new book canon, I secretly vowed to myself that I would keep up on the books to know everything about the new Star Wars universe.
That lasted two books.
I’ve since read eight out of the current twenty Del Rey timeline books and a few outside of that such as Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars, but have felt mostly passive to this new Star Wars content. There’s something missing for me lately when it comes to Star Wars that I was thinking about more and more as I got through Alphabet Squadron, but first, what’s the book about?
Alphabet Squadron takes place shortly after Return of the Jedi. In the wake of the Emperor being killed and the second Death Star being destroyed, the remnants of the defeated and scattered Empire struggle to maintain control while the victors, the Rebel Alliance, take on the mantle of the New Republic and….struggle to maintain control.
The New Republic is still fresh and hasn’t been able to form a proper government. Bombs are going off every day, and assassinations are happening without repercussions. Currently, there is no real New Republic intelligence division and one is sought to be created by taking down the Empire’s Shadow Wing, a deadly group of TIE fighters running rampant around the galaxy.
Our main character, Yrica Quell, is a former TIE fighter pilot in the famed Shadow Wing, a destructive and efficient group of TIE fighter pilots who has defected to the New Republic. She is recruited by a New Republic intelligence officer to start a squadron that hunts down her former compatriots, the Shadow Wing.
I felt that Alphabet Squadron started strong. Yrica Quell was slowly becoming what I thought Finn would be in Episodes VII – IX. A defector of the Empire, struggling with atrocities she had taken part in, while at the same time not fully giving in to the image of the Emperor and the Empire that the New Republic was spewing out. There was an internal conflict with Yrica that was interesting to read as we are introduced to her.
The other characters that end up joining this Alphabet Squadron all have some connection to the demise of Shadow Wing, or benefit from it’s destruction in some way. I enjoyed this aspect of the character building as motivations for each of the squadrons actions were made fairly clear throughout the length of the novel.
As the first act shaped, the idea itself is compelling. Instead of a massive battle, or planet destroying weapons, we have one elite TIE fighter squadron pitted against a defector and a ragtag group of New Republic pilots. Unfortunately, that idea gets lost shortly after. Internal New Republic politics creep in, familiar characters and locations push their way to the forefront and jockeying for position over characters that we are asked to be invested in.
There are concepts introduced that I did enjoy hearing about and wish were talked about more. One in particular, involves how the Emperor slowly changes history of events around his ascent to power. The older generation of soldiers in the Empire were taught that Jedi tried to murder Palpatine when he was Chancellor as a coup attempt at the end of the Clone Wars. A newer generational character then says that history never made sense to her, because she was taught that at that time, the Jedi were all but relics and few in number. Palpatine’s cruelty is also touched on, as the purpose for his final orders are explored and somewhat answered by the end of the novel.
The following has some minor spoilers when it comes to characters or locations explored in Alphabet Squadron.
There’s an issue with Star Wars that many have talked about in recent years since the Disney content had started. The core of this issue states that even though the Star Wars universe is massive, with hundreds of planets and races with a history that spans thousands of years, it feels incredibly small.
Alphabet Squadron takes place a short time after The Battle of Endor. Yrica Quell ends up where she is located at the start of the novel due to what she has done carrying out the, now dead, Emperor’s last orders. This sort of referencing to events makes sense considering the timeline and I do not find fault in it.
The longer you get into the novel, the more references to past Star Wars content makes it’s way into the narrative.
Hera Syndulla, a prominent character from Star Wars: Rebels has a large role in Alphabet Squadron. Tibanna gas, the same resource that had been mined from Cloud City (and they remind you of this in the novel) is a major plot point. Before officially donning the Alphabet Squadron name, they must complete a a few missions to show their competence. One of those missions, brings them to a Jedi temple. Lastly, one of the squadrons main motivators, is recalling Jyn Erso’s speech in Rogue One right before heading off to Scarriff. We find that the speech had been recorded and was used a propaganda for the Rebel Alliance.
The thing is, new Star Wars stories shouldn’t have to be so connected to what’s been previously done. Alphabet Squadron would have been a compelling story as a squadron vs. squadron battle of wits, skill and intelligence on its own. We didn’t need Hera’s constant prescience, Jedi temple’s, Cloud City name drops or Jyn Erso to make it feel authentic or a part of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars feels boxed into it’s own mythos and history. Are authors afraid to stray too far? Is this a directive from Disney? I don’t know, but lately I’m finding that my enjoyment of Star Wars content has been feeling diminished because of the reason I listed above.
I think that a large chunk of why I’m excited for Episode IX to come and pass, is that there is a bit of hope afterward for something entirely new.
To close, Alphabet Squadron isn’t a bad novel, in fact I enjoyed most of the first and third acts. This is the second novel I’ve read by Alexander Freed and his writing style is completely fine. I like some ideas and the overall idea of what the Shadow Wing is after the war. I just feel that the heavy lean on familiar characters and locations is safe, and frankly, boring for me right now.
If you want to check out another Star Wars book review, I took on Shadows of the Empire here.