With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soon (such as our two-part Aftermath discussion), Star Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast.
Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed (hardback, 2015)
EA and DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront will arrive for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 later this month. Star Wars has a varied history of tie-in novels for video games. Some, like The Force Unleashed and its sequel, were direct adaptations of video game stories with added details or perspectives. Others, such as Ruins of Dantooine and the novels under the banner of The Old Republic were not so much adaptations as stories set against a backdrop shared with a video game.
Battlefront: Twilight Company is something a little bit different. Since the upcoming Battlefront game has no real story to speak of, not even in terms of creating a backdrop or context for missions in the core game, Twilight Company is less of a game tie-in than it is a novel that uses the game’s concept as a thematic jumping-off point. Battlefront is about combat in the galaxy far, far away, where huge numbers of featureless, interchangeable soldiers do battle (and die . . . a lot).
Twilight Company takes the concept of the brutal realities of war and puts a face to the “faceless” soldiers that would, in most other stories, simply be killed on the battlefield without us ever knowing their names.
Twilight Company follows its namesake, a company of Rebel Alliance soldiers with a fair level of autonomy, who engage the Empire up close and personal. They are a ragtag group of skilled killers, thieves, and subversives that have been molded into a fighting force under an eccentric leader.
The tale follows Hazram Namir, a member of Twilight Company, When the company takes custody of an Imperial defector with promises of hitting the Empire where it hurts, the journey becomes one of trust and distrust, survival and sacrifice, heroes and those who would never apply that term to themselves no matter their heroic deeds.
Chronologically, the primary story begins a litlte over a month before The Empire Strikes Back, then crosses over with that film’s Battle of Hoth before moving on into the weeks following the evacuation of Hoth. Substantial flashbacks are included as well, showing multiple points in Namir’s life that shaped him into the character we follow throughout the novel.
Star Wars novels rarely go into this dark of territory when showing warfare. Prior to 1999, darker content was kept to a bare minimum. Once 1999’s Vector Prime launched the New Jedi Order saga and 2002 kicked off the (original, pre-cartoon) Clone Wars publishing era, darker topics became more commonplace. In general, though, those darker topics tended to center around stories with Jedi or clones, which distanced the stories from being as directly reflective of real world warfare and its toll as they could have been.
That is not the case with Twilight Company. With the exception of Darth Vader’s participation in the Battle of Hoth, one could easily strip out the Star Wars elements of the novel, swap starships for ocean-going vessels, swap planets for countries, and have a novel that could be used in a modern combat setting.
That is both the novel’s strength and its weakness. It is far more gritty and true-to-life than any decpition of Star Wars frontline warfare that we have seen before. However, in that parallel to modern war fiction, we do find similar drawbacks. There are few characters that the reader will actually find themselves invested in by the tale’s end, making certain deaths less emotionally impactful when they happen in realisticly unspectacular ways (which is the point, I believe – to show that war is not always flashy, just deadly). Instead, the ongoing strugles of Twilight Compnay are less about caring for individual characters (with a couple of exceptions) than they are about the ongoing meat-grinder of war and the struggle to find the will to keep fighting when losses, both tactial and in human terms, are mounting. While this serves the theme very well in the long run, it does make the novel a bit tough to get into. (This is definitely one to hang with, though, as the overall impact starts to snowball into a mood that is rather unique in Star Wars publishing by about halfway through.)
The primary character, Hazram Namir, is the only character (outside of perhaps the defector) to get significant character development, and the reader will come to feel a certain inevitibility to his role in Twilight Company. Much like in war-torn parts of the real world, conflict often breeds men for whom war is simply a way of life, having known nothing else. It makes Namir one of the most brutally realistic characters in recent memory for Star Wars.
In the end, Twilight Company is something different for Star Wars. It is a dark, realistic take on warfare applied to the Rebel-Imperial conflict that examines the nature of war with few punches pulled. It will not be for everyone, but I would urge readers to give it a try. Its unusual concept (at least for Star Wars) makes a nice change of pace among the Story Group’s novel lineup. For his first outing in writing a full-length novel, Alexander Freed has done better than one might have expected.
One would hope that we will perhaps see some of the survivors of this meat-grinder reappear in other stories later to give Twilight Company true relevance in the Story Group’s Canon, beyond just its general look at warfare. It’s just too bad that even this solid novel does not appear capable of making us care about the faceless, nameless legions of the video game it was tied into. I would certainly have enjoyed the opportunity to fight alongside the men and women that Freed has created.
Recommended for: Those looking for a change of pace, darker Star Wars warfare, or a story that requires no background knowledge beyond the films.
Not recommended for: Those looking for a story that feels relevant in the grand scheme of canon (at least not yet), those looking for the more fantastical elements of the saga (Jedi, the Force, etc.), or those expecting a novel to give meaning to the new Battlefront video game (though that is the game’s fault, not the novel’s).
Note: For the moment, Books-a-Million is still taking orders for autographied copies of Battlefront: Twilight Compnay.
Disclaimer: Del Rey provided an uncorrected proofs copy for review, then a final copy for review. That said, I did then purchase a signed copy at full price through Books-a-Million.