Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company. Book Review

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
Arrow, p/b, 496pp, £9.99
Reviewed by Alasdair Stuart

Twilight Company are one of the Rebellion’s infantry units. They go in first, they leave last. They aren’t Special Forces, they aren’t heroes blessed by the Force. They’re volunteers from every planet, every race all united to defeat the Empire. But when Twilight Company stumble onto a vital piece of intelligence, their job, and their luck, changes…

Freed never got the memo about how licensed books can be soft-pedalled. Instead of the pew pew fest you’d expect, Freed delivers a novel that examines the individuals at the sharp end of the war, on both sides. The pew pew is very much there, but it’s not the only thing you get for your money.

Freed builds his narrative around two principle characters; Namir and Chalis. Namir is a Twilight Company NCO who has been with them for years and is used to the rhythm of the war. He’s also as far from a believer as possible and that brutal pragmatism is one of the reasons he’s still alive. Chalis is an Imperial defector with a brilliant idea. Neither like the other, neither can leave the other alone and as Twilight pays the price for the events of the original movie, they soon come to rely on one another.

What makes the novel work is Freed’s refusal to romanticise the war. He deliberately positions Twilight to the left of the movie’s plots, to the extent that an extended sequence on Hoth is clearly happening a few corridors over from Empire Strikes Back. Even better, he never once relies on cute, fan service cameos. There’s a conversation with someone who may well be Han but could be another freighter Captain. Vader’s cameo is rendered into abstraction; the Sith Lord represented as an implacable, casually brutal and inhuman force. The consequences of that sequence are felt throughout the rest of the novel and Freed takes great pains to show what his characters suffer. Namir’s gradual awakening to responsibility isn’t meshed with a sudden belief in the war, anymore than Chalis’ willingness to cross the aisle is meshed with a sudden moral conversion. They’re fighting for the people beside them, and the big ideas can wait until everyone is safe, fed and watered.

That measured approach pays off over and over and is helped even further by the scope of the novel. Spread across multiple worlds, it gives Freed the chance to fold in other viewpoints. Most successful by far is a stormtrooper on Sullust, where the final act takes place. Her scenes do more to make the Empire complex and nuanced, while still repulsive, than anything else in the franchise to date.

These careful, effective character dramas play out against the exact sort of big screen action you’d expect and the two continually help one another. The result is a novel that’s grim, compassionate, darkly humorous and the most realistic take on Star Wars you’ll read. Not just a great tie in novel, but a genuinely Great War story and science fiction novel.