– Spoiler Review –
Battlefront: Twilight Company is a novel inspired from the video game series, Battlefront, and is written by Alexander Freed. Whatever you do, don’t write off this novel due to it being video game tie-in media, because Freed not only makes Twilight Company work, but also manages to craft a well-written, entertaining novel providing a gritty, unabashed look at the life of a grunt solider fighting in a galaxy far, far away. And until Rogue One releases, for now I’d call Battlefront: Twilight Company the Saving Private Ryan of Star Wars. Yeah, I’m just as surprised to write that sentence as I’m sure you are to read it.
Battlefront: Twilight Company (TC herein) is primarily set after A New Hope, following a specific squad amongst the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry of the Rebel Alliance, i.e. Twilight Company, as they find themselves in possession of a valuable Imperial who is willing to defect and share her secrets. Despite being ordered by Alliance Command to retreat, their new asset has a plan to strike at the heart of the Empire’s military machine and Twilight takes on the challenge. But with an operation of that magnitude, nothing ever goes as expected, and soon the grunts of Twilight find themselves struggling against forces from within their own group and with one’s without, in the form of an Empire on the verge to strike back harder than anyone anticipated.
The military films and shows I enjoy the most usually maintain an almost unrelenting focus on the individuals stuck fighting in a such hauntingly epic world wars, even at the expense of the bigger picture i.e. Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, The Pacific, and Full Metal Jacket, to name a few. Freed was wise to emulate their success by following one company and a handful of its individuals throughout a portion of the Galactic Civil War, providing a new perspective on events from the films and a look at the war like never before: from the ground up/the front lines. It’s from said perspective which TC certainly proves war, even in a galaxy far, far away, isn’t all cities in the clouds and Naboo beach resorts.
TC achieves the above through the eyes of Namir, the novel’s main protagonist. While we break off from his POV to follow other Twilight members and some Imperials, the book is largely told from his POV. His past is a checkered one, wrought with never-ending war on some backwater planet (Crucival) so remote they had little to no advanced technology like blasters, ships, or even bacta, but instead had warlords aplenty eager to rule. So by the time he finally joins Twilight, in one of their unorthodox open recruitments, war is just as normal to him as going to work is for us: we might hate it, but it’s an unavoidable part of life. It’s his naivety about the galaxy at large—how blasters or ships work, the identity of certain species—and his cynicism regarding the Rebellion’s mission—doesn’t try to remember names, doesn’t consider himself a Rebel—which starts to help set up the novel’s most seemingly important point: War doesn’t care what you know or who you are, it’ll take you regardless. The only thing one can do while fighting is find a purpose for what actions one takes or orders one must give to those under their command.
Because Namir has been fighting for so long, he cares little about ideological reasons for fighting a war, instead just focusing on surviving until the next one. I can’t recall having a character fighting for the Rebellion not for an ideological hate of the Empire—because they commit slavery, blew up a planet, oppress everything, etc.—but rather because they feel the Rebellion is made up of good people. It’s actually pretty refreshing and in a way reminds me of how soldiers were drafted into war, who, as I can imagine, might not have been particularly interested in fighting or felt they had any particular reason to. As Namir’s role in the company only gets higher and higher, until he’s basically their leader, and the deaths begin to pile up around them all, he struggles with finding Twilight’s purpose in the war post-loss at Hoth. The line from Twilight’s leader, Captain Howl, “If you can’t get behind what they believe in, maybe it’s time to walk away,” haunts Namir in the latter half of the book, and how he goes about getting behind what they believe in was what kept me turning the pages. Ultimately the bonds that form in war and the people war effects on the planets it goes to are what push Namir towards making the right choice for the group, as he slowly starts to change his mind about actually taking an ideological side in the war. But even after he makes his course altering choice for Twilight in the Sullust-set finale, the story behind how and why Namir joins Twilight throws readers for quite the loop and was a pleasant little surprise.
The supporting cast, i.e. the people who start to alter Namir’s cynicism, can be somewhat daunting considering there are so many people Namir fights or chats alongside (though many die along the way), but there’s a core group easily distinguishable from the pack: Brand, an elite sniper/ex-bounty hunter (who’s story for joining Twilight is the only one to trump Namir’s); Gadren, a philosophical but deadly Besalisk; Everi Chalis, a defecting Imperial governor and former predecessor to Count Vidian (from A New Dawn); Captain Howl, the commanding officer of Twilight who’s idealistic and fervent about the Rebellion’s cause; Roach, a free spirit who is recovering from various, terrible things. Out of all of them, Brand was my favorite of the bunch, as she continues a fantastic tradition of the new canon: adding female and POC characters into Star Wars (and hopefully soon it won’t be so magical every time it happens because it’ll just be the norm, as Saf at Tosche Station put it). She’s a mostly silent member of Namir’s squad, but when she speaks it’s because she has something worth saying, speaking harsh truths while still sounding like a believer in the Rebellion at the same time. Because of that, her words (and actions) weigh heavily on Namir as struggles to find Twilight a purpose for fighting. There are also several switches to Brand’s POV throughout and they are easily some of the stand-out moments from TC because they showcase her superior intellect, renegade skills…basically why she should be feared on the
battlefield battlefront. As I mentioned earlier, her story about joining Twilight was a highlight of the novel (hint: it deals with her bounty hunting and someone in Twilight) and I can’t wait to learn more about her past and of her future.
Chalis’ role, seen by Twilight company as a curse early on and later the herald of their perfect revenge for the destruction wrought at Hoth, functions in a way as the ying to Brand’s yang around Namir. Chalis and Namir share a similar history of being from a backwater planet no one’s really heard of and a blatant disregard for caring about either the Imperial’s or Rebel’s goals in the war. Her past as an aide and then predecessor to Vidian, an efficiency expert, gives her intel the Rebellion needs about the Empire’s distribution channels, gaining her a meeting with Alliance High Command on Hoth. But once everything goes to hell, her knowledge supplies Twilight with a target they can visualize, and her assurance about how important taking out Kaut Drive Yards leads Namir astray from what really keeps a unit on the edge of destruction truly together. Her ultimate path through the novel, as well as her next steps after its end, are unpredictable and the fact I got pulled along by believing in her goals for Twilight like Namir did, made her a compelling character indeed.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the book breaks from Twilight to follow the tales of Captain Tabor Seitaron’s recruitment to help the young, deadly, and Palpatine worshiper Prelate Verge and Thara Nyende’s ordeals as stormtrooper SP-475 on Sullust. Tabor and Verge, who’s name is a not so clever signifier of how he’s always on the verge of possibly doing something rash or stupid, are tasked with tracking down Chalis after she defects, while Thara’s tale is reminiscent of Ciena’s in Lost Stars as we see the Empire’s training tactics whittle down the individual inside the helmet and leave them rather bare. Combined with Twilight’s path of destruction, all three stories intertwine and affect one another in fun ways. That all being said, these breaks from Twilight never feel much more than distractions, but they are enjoyable ones at that.
Freed does an excellent job writing action sequences, keeping the action clear and readable, while constantly keeping tension not because he’s likely to kill off characters (of which many do perish) but because the battles are easy to imagine from his descriptions. Also, his presentation of the campaigns Twilight goes on throughout the book never drag on (by accident, at least), even with the longer chapter lengths. He also writes some great officially grey characters, who widen up the galaxy by showing not everyone in the Rebellion might care to overthrown the Empire and vice versa, making for refreshing reading over the usual fanatics or believers. Needless to say, I hope to see more Star Wars work from him in the future.
Here are a few other things:
- Above is Twilight’s official patch (via StarWars.com)
- For all those who say Star Wars is usually dark and grown up, reading Twilight Company will prove that assumption is false, as most of the adventurism and fun in other Star Wars media is clearly missing here (though that’s not a bad thing).
- There’s a offhanded mention of Tseebo, the Rodian with Imperial secrets rescued in Star Wars Rebels, by Chalis in Chapter 4. It seems whatever information he had, it was enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Death Star plans being stolen. Could we find out more of what he told the proto-rebellion in the currently airing second season?
- Also in Chapter 4, Chalis tries to inform Namir of why people might fear Vader, mentioning the Dhen-Moh genocides. Wonder if we’ll ever learn just what the heck that’s all about…or maybe we won’t want to learn about them.
- Namir, Chalis, and other members of Twilight have a run-in with Darth Vader in Echo Base. I really liked how the whole encounter was handled, especially as it was from Namir’s POV who had almost literally no way to comprehend what he was seeing. Interestingly enough, their short battle with him happens between Vader’s entrance to the base and when he arrives at the Falcon just as it finally takes off. It’s a little surprising their encounter fits in that small window of time.
- The Operation names at the start of each chapter, and how many days before/after/during it took place, was a nice touch.
- As much as I really liked Brand, sometimes she reminded me a little too much of Jas from Aftermath, what with the bounty hunting, badassery, and eventually taking sides. I like them both, either way, but I enjoy Jas more than Brand.
- If you ever wondered why Sullust was friendly enough to hide the Rebel fleet amassing for the attack on the Death Star II, you’ll know once you’ve read TC. It just happens in a more surprising and interesting way than I expected.
- Speaking of Sullust, Nien Nunb is extremely popular all of a sudden! He factors into the Princess Leia comic and Moving Target, while he has a brief appearance in Shattered Empire (#3).
- The Crymorah syndicate, newly introduced to canon in Tarkin, then mentioned in the Darth Vader comic, gains another mention here. Wonder where else we’ll see them, and just how important they’ll get.
- As of this article being published, the Battlefront game has yet to be released. However, there was an open beta late mid-October and I have video and written impressions.
- The Daily Dot has an interview with Freed, talking about how he got to set the novel’s finale on Sullust and a little BTS info on Howl, Chalis, Roach, and of course Namir.
- UPDATE: My review for Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) is finally out and if you’ve been playing it since release, you probably already know what my review will say.
Battlefront: Twilight Company is a solidly written novel, giving the foot soldiers in the Galactic Civil War their due and making non-Star Wars military fiction/non-fiction proud. It’s not a run-out-into-enemy-fire-to-get-it novel, but if gritty military fiction, deep questions about war, and a desire to see the in-betweens of the original trilogy fleshed out more are your thing, Twilight Company is a sure bet. And even if those things aren’t you normal cup of caf, it’ll still be a pleasant surprise of a novel and you won’t regret reading it.
+ Galactic Civil War from new and gritty perspective
+ Several shades of grey
– Non-Twilight soldier POVs didn’t feel fully-fleshed out
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book, through NetGalley, from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening