This review originally appeared on DialogTrees.wordpress.com
I carry a special place in my heart for Star Wars. The franchise has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. As a kid, the best thing my parents did for my brother and me was show us the films and buy the Kenner toys every Christmas. As an adult, I discovered the joys of disposable income and scooped up as many things I could get my hands on, from silly Darth Maul shaped shampoo bottles to the NERF-branded blaster replicas. I also got bought all the books, video games, and comics I could afford and take that deep dive into the Expanded Universe. And then Disney had to go and erase all that after acquiring the property from George Lucas in 2014. Gone were the Kiliks, Darth Bane, Exar Kun, and the Yuuzahn Vong (on the plus side, Chewie lives on!), replaced by a clean slate that from 2014 onward would be molded by the new trilogy and character specific side films. Sad as I was to see that all the fantastic stories no longer exist in the New Canon, I was going to try and keep an open mind.
Christie Golden’s novel, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad exists in the shadow of Gareth Edward’s Rogue One Golden’s own Dark Disciple. It is also a tie-in to the upcoming sequel to 2015’s Battlefront video game. To address one of the more vocal complaints of the first game, DICE added a single player campaign that will tell the story of Iden Versio, the leader of Inferno Squad (a sort of special ops, deep cover squad charged with handling sensitive missions for the Empire). Inferno Squad provides backstory for Iden and her unit, giving players some degree of context before they lead her to avenge the Empire during the aftermath of the Battle of Endor. I was eager to read the novel because of how much I enjoyed Alexander Freed’s Battlefront: Twilight Company. I also had some apprehension. I wasn’t a fan of Golden’s Dark Disciple novel because how it turned two really awesome characters into something that was contrary to their personalities. The new novel ostensibly has the same premise as Dark Disciple–one faction goes undercover to infiltrate another faction–so I was a little worried how this was going to play out.
The novel opens with the destruction of the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin, witnessing the events from Iden’s point of view (that of a fiercely loyal Imperial TIE pilot). After a brief refresher course of Rogue One‘s new Death Star canon (which, honestly, kind of ruins the mystique), Iden regroups with the Empire and is summoned by her father who is a prominent admiral in the Imperial Navy. Under his command, Iden is reassigned to a new unit called Inferno Squad and is designed to take on sensitive missions to track down Rebels and help “motivate” officers whose faith in the Empire might be shaken. Their initial missions serve as practice for the real task at hand: to infiltrate Saw Gerrera’s remaining partisan freedom fighters and discover what intel they have on Imperial targets.
Inferno Squad‘s story is, frankly, unoriginal and doesn’t quite capture the imagination. To me, the problem is that everything happens too conveniently. There have been countless stories about spies digging themselves inside militant groups and if they’ve taught me anything, trust isn’t easy to earn. By the time Golden’s story kicks into gear (which doesn’t take long considering that the book is fairly short), the Dreamers seem to have very little suspicions about their new hires until the story makes it convenient for them to feel otherwise. Furthermore, Iden’s role in the proceedings is a little off key. The motive for her assignment is the understanding that the Dreamers need a new figurehead for people to rally behind. For some reason, they believe that the disgraced “treasonous” Imperial TIE pilot is the best person for the job. Really? There was no one else, no one more charismatic or meaningful to the cause? There’s even a scene where Iden is being coached in public speaking. All this seems like a waste of time for the group. Even though they have an animosity with the Rebel Alliance, wouldn’t it be far easier to cast their lot with the group until they could strike out on their own?
Despite my negativity, there were parts of the book I enjoyed. The dynamic of Inferno Squad is pretty much the best part of the book. Though their makeup is rather boilerplate (the squad is made up with a duty bound soldier, a good humored engineer, a cocky pilot, and a hacker) it works better than expected because each character is well rounded and has personality. Iden Versio has the makings of a great character, an Imperial soldier who allows herself to have thoughts about her role as an agent of a perceived evil. These thoughts are fleeting, however, as she believes her cause to be just and her actions necessary. It’ll be really interesting to see how she presents herself in Battlefront II‘s campaign. And then there are the Dreamers. At first, I felt this was another means to shoehorn a connection to Rogue One. I grew to appreciate their presence in the story because the partisans still creates a non-binary moral quandary that Star Wars never really explored in the films until Rogue One.
I appreciate that Golden’s novel tells a story from the Empire’s point of view. The bottom line is that she doesn’t do enough with it. The first third of the book makes for good reading and I enjoyed seeing the group work together during small scale missions. Honestly, I’d be happier if the rest of the book just did that. Once Iden and her team are sent to connect with the Dreamers, the book runs out of fuel pretty quickly and gets stuck in familiar territory. Designed to reasonably hype the upcoming Battlefront II, there’s no way to tell what sort of impact this book will have on the game’s story driven campaign. My gut feeling tells me it won’t be required reading.
When not playing games, Allen is a Teen Services Librarian, which means he reads lots of books, right? Well, not as much as he would like. He is a fan of fantasy, science fiction, and graphic novels both in and out of the YA sphere of influence.