If you're reading this review, chances are you're patiently counting down the days until you can pop Star Wars Battlefront into your console or PC and unleash intergalactic mayhem on players all over the globe. You're also probably fully aware that while Battlefront looks to be an online multiplayer dream come true, the game itself won't have much of a narrative.
Instead of weaving a classic Star Wars story into those impressive gameplay mechanics and visuals, Battlefront is happy enough in its multiplayer nook, with no original plot or characters (outside of the "heroes") to speak of. Well that might not be entirely true, because Battlefront does have a story—it's just not playable.
In the new book, Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company, author Alexander Freed (Star Wars: The Old Republic – The Lost Suns) gives life to the war between the Empire and the Rebellion by focusing on the 61st Mobile Infantry unity—the titular Twilight Company—as it battles for freedom against stormtroopers, Star Destroyers and even Darth Vader himself.
The Cost Of War
There has been a flood of Star Wars books on the market as we march toward The Force Awakens, but Twilight Company separates itself from the pack by showing off one of the more ignored sides of the franchise: the military.
In the original trilogy, we certainly see the Rebels and the Empire in action, but rarely do we ever get a feel for their tactics or philosophies. Here, Freed portrays the 61st as a mishmash of jar heads, banded together with their own subculture, rituals and language. The Rebellion is on much more uncertain ground than we see in the movies, and Freed portrays the whole Alliance with a touch of desperation. This Rebellion isn't a well-oiled machine; instead, it's running out of resources, running out of time and running out of bodies.
The main action in the book follows Sergeant Namir, a gun for hire who slowly transforms into a full-fledged Alliance leader as his odyssey unfolds. His cynicism has a charm to it, and as the story plays out, we see a man who is much more invested in this cause than he lets on.
Balancing him out is Everi Chalis, a former Imperial and now a defector who gives the Rebels valuable information about the Empire's military strategy and resources. The uncertain relationship between Chalis and Namir keeps the energy of the story flowing in between large-scale action scenes. But while Namir, Chalis and the rest of Twilight Company get all the attention, the Empire never quite gets its due. There's no Imperial counterpoint as interesting as the 61st, and it makes scenes away from the Rebels seem to drag a bit.
One aspect of the Star Wars universe that has always been tough for novelists to nail down has been the action. With such clear images of Luke battling Vader in a reader's head, it's almost impossible to capture the swashbuckling feel of the movies with just words.
Twilight Company, however, manages to squeeze some pretty impressive actions scenes onto the page by playing it out like a military thriller set in the Star Wars universe. The descriptions of the ships and the battle maneuvers paint a clear picture of what's happening, and Freed manages to bring the lived-in, gritty feel of the original trilogy into his portrayal of the Rebel ships.
In All The Old Familiar Places
Star Wars fans will be most interested to know that Freed places Twilight Company right in the middle of the Battle of Hoth during the book's second act. Twilight is on the ground, looking to flee the rebel base, as Namir witnesses the first AT-AT walker come crashing to the ground. It's an iconic movie moment as viewed from the ground, through the eyes of the everyman.
It's an interesting twist on the battle, and it's obviously perfect synergy since Hoth is also a playable map in the game. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that the book loses a little steam after the Hoth segment, which is so well done that everything that comes after feels like a bit of a letdown.
While reading about faceless Rebels taking down stormtroopers works well enough, it's the unexpected appearance of Darth Vader that might be Freed's biggest accomplishment. Vader is mostly seen through the eyes of Namir, who only thought of Vader as a bogeyman cooked up by the Imperial propaganda machine. However, once he comes face to face with him during the Battle of Hoth, everything changes.
Vader is portrayed as something inhuman, something monstrous and something that Namir doesn't quite believe. Lightsaber in hand, he lays waste to a group of Rebels without much effort, and sometimes with a mere flick of the wrist.
This isn't the same Vader that Disney slaps on toy boxes across the globe; this is like something out of a horror movie, an invincible manifestation of the Empire's wrath. It can't be easy to take a character the status of Darth Vader and portray him in such a new, horrifying way, but Freed sure makes it seem like it is. Any cameo by Vader runs the risk of feeling like a cheap stunt, but it's completely organic here, despite maybe not lining up perfectly with the movie.
Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company is one of the better offerings from Del Rey. Freed shows us the military side of the Star Wars universe in a way that we haven't seen much before, while also giving readers new perspectives on classic characters and moments. While the book loses a bit of momentum in the second half, it gets enough right that you might find yourself wishing that the Battlefront game followed this story line. Or any story line.