Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: 'Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company' (Spoiler Free)

By: Dominic Jones

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company is a different sort of Star Wars novel than we're used to in the new canon.  Where most of the previous novels have had an espionage vibe, Twilight Company is a war story.  The novel shares its title with the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront video game from DICE, but most of the similarities between the two end there.  Twilight Company, written by Alexander Freed (who had previously worked on The Old Republic tie-in comics for Dark Horse), places the reader on the ground with some of the least glamorous elements of the Rebel Alliance.

The novel follows the exploits of Twilight Company, a Rebel infantry unit who pick up an Imperial defector during a massive retreat by the Alliance in the weeks leading up to The Empire Strikes Back.  Twilight Company will likely be best remembered for the new insights it gives us into the war between the Empire and Rebellion following the destruction of the first Death Star.  

The scope of the war depicted in the novel was a bit of surprise to me.  From the other stories set in this era and just before it (Marvel's various comics series, the novel Heir to the Jedi, Star Wars Rebels etc.) I had gotten the impression that the Rebel Alliance was more of a guerrilla force, striking smaller targets and gathering intelligence for when they would need to make another major strike (Death Stars and what not).  Twilight Company reveals that this was not the case, and that following the destruction of the first Death Star the Rebellion used the momentum to launch a full scale push from the outer rim to the core worlds.  

Fortunately the two versions of the war are not incompatible.  The stories told prior to this novel all take place within the first year post-Yavin and tend to feature characters who are, for the most part, sidelined for this novel.  There could easily be a shift coming from intelligence and supply gathering to the all out war seen in this novel.  Also, just because we hadn't seen major battles in the other novels and comics doesn't mean they aren't going on.  The alliance probably wouldn't want to risk Luke, Han, or Leia on ground missions like those Twilight Company undertakes and would likely use them for espionage or specialist missions (like those seen in Marvel's Star Wars and Heir to the Jedi).

The tone of Twilight Company seems to be in line with what Gareth Edwards is doing with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Star Wars Anthology film, slated for a December 2016 release.  Twilight Company takes us into the trenches, so to speak, of the Rebel Alliance during the period.  The novel doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the atrocities of war, and we see the Empire using bio-weapons on more than one occasion.  Freed does an excellent job of showing the conditions the Rebellion is willing to endure to overthrow the Empire.  The novel is a bloodbath, with everything from brutal deaths witnessed by main characters, to seemingly important characters whose deaths are only mentioned in passing, making the true cost of the Rebellion clear throughout the book. 

Unfortunately for the Alliance, their post-Yavin momentum has mostly run out and they have begun a retreat, and that's where Twilight Company comes in.  The novel is told mostly from the perspective of Sergeant Hazram Namir, who is who is not the usual Rebel type we've come to know.  We find out early on that Namir doesn't believe in “the cause” and is only fighting in this war because war is all he's known.  His backstory is played out in flashbacks throughout Twilight Company, helping the reader understand how he got where he is.  Early in the novel, Namir comes across as cold and unlikable, his main (if not only) redeeming characteristic being his loyalty to his crew and devotion to getting as many of them out alive as he can.

Namir's main foil in this novel is Governor Everi Chalis, an Imperial Governor and consultant to the Emperor's ruling council, who defects from the Empire early in the novel.  Chalis is taken in by Twilight Company's captain when she offers to give the Alliance crucial information about the Empire.  Chalis' arc in this story is an interesting one.  She comes across as someone who feels her value is never truly appreciated and as a result often clashes with Namir. 

Ultimately the novel's greatest strength is also its greatest flaw.  Freed focuses the majority of the story on Namir, giving us a fascinating character study about a soldier who doesn't believe in what he's fighting for.  Unfortunately this comes at the expense of developing other characters, such as Roach and Gadren, who are never fully fleshed out and whose potential is never fully reached.  Even Imperial characters who are the focus of intriguing subplots don't really get enough of a chance to shine.

Speaking of which, I'm hoping we haven't heard the last from Thara Nyende, aka SB-475.  Although she meets him only once, Thara serves as an interesting counterpoint to Namir.  If Namir is "bad Rebel", Thara is a "good Stormtrooper".  In Thara we see someone who is truly committed to the Imperial cause, believing it to be the best thing for her people. When Thara is first  introduced early on, you'd be forgiven for thinking she was a Rebel.  Usually characters within the Empire are portrayed as simply evil (and with good reason!), so it's always interesting to see someone like Thara, or Lost Stars protagonist Ciena Ree, who is essentially a good person who just happens to be fighting for the wrong side.  Plus, it's great to have a female Stormtrooper take center stage.

The other Imperial subplot involves Captain Tabor and Prelate Verge hunting down Chalis.  Of all the subplots this was the weakest.  Tabor plays the part of an experienced, yet world-weary (or should that be galaxy-weary?) Imperial captain, while Verge is a young Imperial who not only has bought into everything the Emperor has said, but also believes he should be next in line to be a key adviser to Palpatine.  Ultimately, most of the potential for this storyline was lost, because not enough time was spent exploring their relationship.

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company starts slow but really hits its stride about half through, and is a wild ride to the finish.  The protagonist, Hazram Namir exists somewhere in the space between hero and anti-hero and gives a view of what the war between the Rebellion and the Empire was like from a foot soldier's perspective.  While the focus on Namir comes at the expense of other characters, his fresh perspective on the war makes Twilight Company a great read for Star Wars fans.

Score: 8/10

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25
Also check out my reviews of past Star Wars novels: Lords of the Sith and A New Dawn
This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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