A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars books were good. They were riddled with great stories, new, exciting characters, and above all else, emotion. Someone reading Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” could easily pick up on the respect and careful consideration that went into crafting a story many deem worthy of being their own film series. Others could feel the blood, sweat and tears Michael A. Stackpole poured into his X-Wing tales and know he truly cared about adding his work to the expanded universe. The likes of Kevin J. Anderson, Troy Denning, and Drew Karpyshyn wrote their own pieces that not only continued to build upon the galactic sci-fi opera, but show an unrelenting appreciation for the source content and remain dedicated to it. The same cannot be said for Disney and their own newly launched canonical universe, though. Granted, it’s still in its infancy stage, but seems to lack authors that can give Star Wars fans a story written by and fueled with emotion…until now, that is.
Alexander Freed has joined the ranks of the literary grunts tasked with bringing to life aspects of the Star Wars universe you may not otherwise see, and his book Battlefront: Twilight Company does just that. Based dually on the unsung soldiers fighting through the galactic civil war and EA’s relaunch of the Battlefront game series, Twilight Company gives readers a harrowing and gritty examination of the individuals forced into a conflict they may not truly support. From grim fire fights along decimated city streets, to the explored truths about nameless bodies signing up to be fodder, Freed’s novel takes readers through the muck and grime of the frontlines to show that every battle doesn’t end with a happy Ewok parade. Instead, pieces of the characters get left behind, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. Twilight Company doesn’t pull its punches when tackling the reality of war, even if the war is set in a fictionalized sci-fi universe, and that’s something which has been missing from this entire series for a while.
Primarily focusing on the character of Sergeant Namir, a focal point to the reader, but just another piece of meat in the story, Twilight Company take its audience on a journey away from the swashbuckling nature of Star Wars and shines a light on the shades of gray this soldier in the Rebel Alliance experiences. The choices for Namir aren’t always as cut and dry as they would be for someone like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Instead, the sergeant is often tasked with figuring out what the lesser of two evils is, which again, gives a sense of reality a lot of the other Star Wars novels lack in comparison. Moreover, another true-to-life aspect of the story that offers a breadth of literary satisfaction is what drives Namir. He isn’t in this fight to seek fame or glory, or even to win, nor is his investment with the conflict a means to liberate a backwater desert planet so he can be casually cropped out of the award ceremony on Yavin 4. The only thing Namir really cares about is protecting the people around him - the soldiers and his brothers in arms in Twilight Company, and that driving force offers a compelling characteristic that genuinely crafts the tone of this novel.
While Freed does a great job of immersing the reader in a story that doesn’t forget its roots, yet succeeds in blazing its own trail, one can’t help but be reminded of the exposed thermal exhaust port of the original Death Star, meaning just like that little area in the trench on the surface of the battle station, there are some flaws. Now, as much as the gritty tone and getting dragged through the muck of the novel can be praised, there is also a negativity here, as the reader is, for lack of a better term, being dragged through actual grit and muck to get to the story underneath it all. This is evident with the first third of Twilight Company, as the author trudges through battle-tattered landscapes, carrying the reader on his shoulders like a wounded comrade, while other individuals are left behind to die. Not only does it take a while for the novel to pick up steam as its traversing these dismal places, but it also takes a while to accept the idea that this is not your usual Star Wars tale. There are no lightsabers or damsels in distress. There’s only dirt, destruction and death, which could potentially turn off some of the more diehard fans in search of daring Jedi adventures. Admittedly, the tone takes some getting used to. Twilight Company may dwell in a fantastical realm of crossbow-wielding bears, midgets with laser swords, and a slug that enslaves princesses, but it doesn’t visit any of these “norms” the Star Wars audience is familiar with. As stated previously the novel deals with a lot of reality, and although that fact hugely outweighs any cons, there’s still a feeling of dread when following Namir on his trek across war-torn planets. The lack of hope, solemn narration and gloomy backdrop succeeds largely in wanting the reader to put the book down, as each page is usually another example of how terrible it is for anyone to be fighting in this war, regardless of allegiance. The upside to this, however, is if the reader goes in fully aware of the novel’s content, the lingering ominous feeling comes to be appreciated more than ridiculed.
In short, Battlefront: Twilight Company may be a little rough around the edges and slightly dissimilar to some of the other stories readers have come to expect in the Star Wars expanded universe, but beams with a sense of emotion and dedication to the source material that hasn’t been seen in some time. From a realistic outlook on conflict, to exploring both sides of the fight, Freed’s novel of the individuals surviving on the frontlines takes its audience on a harsh, but much needed exploration of what’s happening while Luke is whining about his daddy issues and Han is spitting game inside an alien asteroid. Definitely give Twilight Company a read if you want a revitalizing, yet gritty, breath of fresh air away from the regularly expected stories of lightsaber duels, Force powers and letting the wookiee win. ~~ Michael T. Flanders
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