SFcrowsnest

Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed (book review).

‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ has been a phenomenally successful game for Electronic Arts in conjunction with Dice and Lucasfilm. By the end of March 2016, it is expected to have shifted some 13 million copies and has already broken the PS4’s record for the most downloaded game. Like many ‘Star Wars’ fans, I took part in the games beta, enthusiastically running into battle and dying. I died an awful lot. I’m delighted to report that in Alexander Freed’s tie-in novel ‘Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company’, he has replicated this state-of-affairs well. Lots of people are going to die.

Twilight Company are the Rebel Alliance’s roughnecks. Like Starship Troopers or Colonial Marines they dropship on to planets and start causing mayhem for the Empire. At other times, they may recruit friendly worlds to the cause of the Alliance. Namir is one of the Company’s most experienced soldiers. After a raid on an Imperial Governor’s mansion, he finds himself charged with the arrest of and later protection of a member of the Imperial Establishment Chalis. Under no illusions that the Emperor would rather she was dead, Chalis decides to cooperate with the Rebels, offering her services and intelligence. Namir accompanies Chalis to the secret Rebel base on Hoth, just as the Imperial Navy shows up…

What follows is a tense and exciting military SF tale that details the ground war of ‘Star Wars’ in gritty, believable detail. While concepts like the Jedi and the Force are sensibly pushed to the background, aside from one stand-out moment, the grimness of the on-going war with the Empire takes centre stage. The tension builds as Chalis and Twilight Company are ruthlessly hunted by the Empire until the Rebels decide to go on the offensive and focus on destroying a key Imperial asset deep in enemy territory.

The mixture of space opera and military SF works well, like EE Doc Smith meeting Robert Heinlein or even Dan Abnett. Freed weaves it into the ‘Star Wars’ universe with ease and makes it very believable for that world. The book hinges on the tense but realistic relationship between the true solder Namir and Chalis who becomes his burden, but also the closest thing he has to a friend.

Freed then also presents us with the opposition’s viewpoint. We’re shown the life of a female Stormtrooper called Varrah, who is stationed on Sullust. She cares for her family and believes that hunting down terrorists who are bombing the Empire’s mining facility is the right thing to do. It is only as she exposes more of the Empire’s operations and her encounter with Twilight Company itself that her perspective on the galaxy begins to change. Freed does this subtly and with a great degree of realism.

‘Twilight Company’ is a satisfying ‘Star Wars’ novel that balances excellent characters with pounding action in an adventure that I believed could have been happening on the fringes of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, which is when the novel is set. As a complement to the video game, the novel works well, showcasing key levels from the game like Hoth and Sullust. If ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ were to use ‘Twilight Company’ as a basis for its approach to telling the Rebel troops story of events, it would be an excellent template to consider. Alongside last year’s ‘Lords Of The Sith’, these novels show great promise at things to come in the Star Wars literary universe.

John Rivers

January 2016

(pub: Century/Random House, 2015. 397 page hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-780-89365-5)

check out websites: www.randomhouse.co.uk, www.starwars.com and www.alexanderfreed.com