War is hell… even in Star Wars
When I first became aware of the Battlefront book series, I thought it would be another case of tie-in novels without substance. Over the years, many a Star Wars novel has been churned out simply to make money. Which is understandable. There were of course many novels written that brought something new and thrilling to the party. Yet for every good or great Star Wars book released, there were at least five that were forgettable cash ins. Those were, however, the bad old days.
There have been significant improvements with the novels, starting with the run up to The Force Awakens. Noted authors like Timothy Zahn, Claudia Gray, Chuck Wendig, E.K. Johnston and James Luceno have produced some of the finest Star Wars novels ever written. I’ve enjoyed reading and re-reading the likes of Tarkin, Ahsoka, Catalyst, Thrawn, Leia: Princess of Alderaan and the Aftermath series. Even the recently released Phasma has merit, although I was slightly let down by it. Mad Max meets Star Wars is an interesting combination nonetheless.
Would Inferno Squad be among the elite or would it end up in a box destined for the attic like so many other titles I’ve hidden from view, never to be read again?
My trepidation was so unfounded it’s laughable. Christie Golden’s novel hooked me from the start. It is no meaningless tie-in, but rather a novel that stands on its own merits. Like Alexander Freed’s Twilight Company before it, Inferno Squad is a very engrossing tale indeed. Where Twilight Company took us on a ride with the Rebels, this takes us on a journey with a 4-person Imperial team tasked with missions designed to bring chaos and destruction to the Rebellion from outside and from within. I had hoped that someone would write a novel from the Imperial point of view and, boy, did this deliver.
The book opens with the main protagonist, Iden Versio, flying around in her TIE Fighter during the Battle of Yavin, shooting down Rebel ships. She is an Imperial TIE fighter pilot who, like the rest of her fellow Imperial pilots and officers on board the Death Star, is arrogant in her ways and her beliefs. These pathetic Rebels in their tiny ships trying to take down the Empire’s greatest achievement? How dare they! Their odds are so slim, they are not even worth considering! In just a few short seconds, the Empire’s weapon of doom will destroy the Rebellion once and for all and nothing can stand in our way. The galaxy will belong to the Empire without question and without anyone to stop us. And then, the unthinkable happens. Iden is left fighting to stay alive as her damaged TIE hurtles towards Yavin.
Iden survives her crash landing and after a period of recovery from her injuries sustained in the crash, she is given the chance to lead a small squad of handpicked Imperials to carry out missions on behalf of the Empire and her father, Admiral Versio. Versio loves his daughter, but doesn’t show it outwardly. Iden’s mother left when Iden was 5 years old. Since that day, Versio has drummed into his daughter that: “We are Versios and Versios don’t cry.” He has made sure his daughter shows no emotion to anyone; that would be a weakness.
Iden and her team are sent on various missions, mostly easy in and out jobs until they are presented with a mission they can all respond to. They are tasked with infiltrating The Partisans, a small group of fighters, some of whom worked alongside Saw Gererra and fought in the attack on the Death Star. This is a really nice touch, linking the events in Rogue One and the finale of A New Hope to the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star through Imperial eyes. It fits together seamlessly with what’s gone before and many times I felt myself nodding at the events as described. It is also revealed that two of the group knew Jyn Erso and the battle of Scarif. Christie Golden isn’t a novice in the Star Wars novel writing game but she outdoes herself here. She has taken the time to research and learn the EXACT story of Jyn Erso and Rogue One and puts it to great use. Events on Jedha and Scarif are presented as fully fledged facts during the course of the story and the book is so much the better for it.
The novel reminded me of books I read as a child by authors like Alistair MacLean and Nevil Schute. These were World War II stories about the Allies and the Nazi soldiers, their duties and battles. Readers of course know the squad is really an Imperial team sent in to get information through deception and to sew seeds of distrust. Part of us wants to scream at the Partisans not to trust them, even though we know that they will never hear us. (‘Don’t trust him, he’s a German spy!’ I would try to tell them as a kid; those characters didn’t listen to me either.) These emotions run through the reader and the book like rivers. We understand that no matter what happens, this won’t end well for one side or the other — or possibly for both. It’s this tension that makes the book so worthwhile. We know that there is going to be tragedy somewhere along the line and have to steel ourselves for it. We feel the characters’ emotions and I found myself hoping that one character would turn their back on the Empire and embrace the Partisans’ cause, thus surviving the mission. I’ll let you guess which one I was rooting for.
Christie Golden has crafted a novel that pays off in so many ways. I didn’t think it would be possible to make a classic war story set in the Star Wars universe, but after Rogue One achieved that on screen, it’s been pulled off to brilliant effect on the written page here. Christie Golden deserves all the plaudits that come her way with this book, even if some fans will complain of a slight lack of action. Action is not what the book is about. It’s about team work, comrades in arms and what the team believe in. The characters find out not only about their enemies, but about what lies inside themselves.
Both sides think they are right. Both sides believe the other is wrong and evil. But deep down inside us all lies a heart, an ideal and above all, compassion. Maybe we are not so different after all.
Until next time…..
May The Force Be With You
Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden is published by Century in the UK and is available now. © Lucasfilm Ltd.