Battlefront: Twilight Company
Over the years, we’ve gotten a lot of different types of Star Wars books. From Goosebumps to straight up horror novels, to romance and mystery to prison and time travel. Amid all those books, warfare has been a common theme, after all it’s in the title of the movies. But very few have presented themselves as war stories. The Medstar duology dabbled in the genre by taking a stab at M.A.S.H. The New Jedi Order books delved into warfare, but it was a matter of space battles and lightsaber fights. Yet Battlefront: Twilight Company doesn’t side step the war by focusing on a hospital unit. Nor does it Star Wars it up with lightsabers and dogfights with starfighters. Instead, this book feels like an account of a real war. These are ground troops slugging it out on unremarkable alien worlds, watching their comrades die, and not seeing an end in sight for the war. The heroes of the rebellion are legends that are talked about but rarely glimpsed. It’s grim, it’s tense, it’s realistic, and through the battles and conflicts, the characters become real people with real stakes. This is Star Wars drama at it’s best. It shows the grim faces of the war that populates the films we love so much. It raises questions about all sides of the battle through varying perspectives, thus giving light to angles we don’t often see. In short, this is a book you need to read. It’s not often that a Star Wars story expands our view of the Star Wars universe.
“Ships, like men, must be used until they break.” -Everi Chalis
Battlefront: Twilight Company explores several different viewpoint characters, but the focal point is Sergeant Namir. Namir is a squad leader in the Rebel Alliance’s 61st Mobile Infantry, also known as Twilight Company. As a grizzled veteran, he knows how to fight and strives to keep his people alive. Yet everything changes as they capture a high value Imperial target. With the Rebels retreating from the Mid Rim prior to the Battle of Hoth, this Imperial asset gives them a chance to strike back at the Empire and turn the tables. It leads to battles on far flung words and grueling campaigns in alien environments. The book puts the readers in the trenches with the soldiers as they sweat and bleed to stay alive. With Namir at its center, though, it’s not a rosy look at a band of freedom fighters striving to topple an evil empire. For Namir, fighting for the Rebel Alliance is just another war. He doesn’t have any stakes in the fight except to protect his people. He’s a soldier, it’s all he knows, and he’s good at it. Through the story, readers will get to learn more about him, his backstory, and what it is that makes him tick. The vast difference between him and the big three—Luke, Han and Leia—makes his story rather refreshing. He’s not a wide eyed farm boy with Force skills, a scoundrel with a heart of gold, or a true believer of the Rebel cause. Instead, he’s something quite different.
The Redhurne system was a charnel house adrift with the corpses of planets. Its sun had gone supernova centuries earlier, burning worlds to cinders; now no sign remained on those planets’ ravaged surfaces of life or civilization. The remnant of the Redhurne star, a collapsed post-nova fragment that glowed white with seething intensity, exuded radiation deadly to any unshielded creature.
But Redhurne was not empty.
Aside from Namir and several of the members of Twilight Company, the book also explores the Imperial side of things. On the planet Sullust, there’s a female stormtrooper named SP-457 who is used to show what it’s like for ordinary citizens who decide to join the ranks of the stormtrooper corps. SP-457’s story is interesting because it does not glamorize the Empire. They’re as complicated as any group, and with people like her, it shows how they’re not all mindless evil doers out for selfish kicks. Then there’s Captain Tabor, an Imperial instructor brought out of retirement by one of the Emperor’s favored servants, a prelate named Verge. Together they show a different viewpoint of the Empire, one that illustrates the differences between the old ways and the new. Verge is the prime example of what the Emperor’s New Order is creating. He’s as much a creature of their excess as he is a victim. On top of all of that, there’s the Imperial asset that Twilight Company captures who adds yet another viewpoint to it all. From all of the different perspectives, the entire picture slowly comes into view. But the surprising thing isn’t that they all show one crystal clear picture, it’s that they show just how complicated and messy the whole thing is. In the war between the Empire and the Rebels, there are a lot of shades of gray, and allegiances are not set in stone.
“For so long as our loyalty and obedience are absolute, our excesses can do no harm to our master. My generation will be glorious slaves, Captain, and while Lord Vader believes himself the Emperor’s first acolyte, I believe I am the first true child of the Empire.” -Prelate Verge
It’s worth noting that the book does jump around a bit. The main storyline follows Twilight Company in their present battles, goes through the Battle of Hoth, and then shows the battles that follow leading all the way up to Sullust. Scattered throughout that are flashbacks of Namir’s past life on a backwater planet riddled by war. Those scenes help reveal clues about his character. The book also jumps around from the different viewpoint characters. So while most of the book focuses on Twilight Company, you get a handful of chapters on SP-457 and her experiences on Sullust, which ties-in later in the book. There’s also Tabor and Verge who get another handful of chapters as they hunt down Twilight Company. Everything comes together in the end and the format works well to break things up and showcase the different views of the war.
It wasn’t a long ceremony, and Twilight tradition ensured no one’s eulogy was more than a few words. It didn’t matter if you were a beloved veteran or fresh meat—you got one friend, one statement, and then the deed was done.
In death, all soldiers were equal.
The highlight of the book, however, is how well Alexander Freed nails the feel of a war story. I’ve read a lot of war biographies, and Battlefront: Twlight Company feels like a soldier’s account of his campaign in the Galactic Civil War. The little details of battle, the discussions between the soldiers in their downtime, the bond between them, and the violence of war, it’s all captured brilliantly. This feels real. There’s no better way to put it than that. Yet it’s not just they way Freed captures a soldier’s story, but how he uses it to illuminate the complexities of the conflict. Everyone in this story has a different motivation for what they do, and none of them are straightforward. They’re all products of their experiences and mysteries for the readers to explore and discover. Even by the end of the book, not all of those questions about the characters are answered, but there are a enough clues for the reader to make their own conclusions. It’s satisfyingly complex, immersive and moving. If you’ve ever wondered what it must be like for a soldier in the Rebel Alliance, this is the book you need to read.
Having read over two hundred Star Wars books, it takes a lot to stand out and make an impression. What’s really impressive is that this is Alexander Freed’s first novel. With Battlefront: Twilight Company, he tells a war story like we’ve never seen before in Star Wars. It’s gripping, stirring storytelling that throws readers straight into the trenches with the soldiers of the Rebel Alliance. Who will live? Who will die? It’s all another step forward in the war against the Empire. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis.
Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.