Don’t judge Alphabet Squadron by its name (Review)


The first installment in Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron trilogy is a familiar Star Wars story that leaves its readers eager for more.

Emperor Palpatine is dead. The Second Death Star is in pieces. The Empire is crumbling. And the New Republic isn’t faring much better.

While it’s easy to take the ending of Return of the Jedi as a sign that the dark times have ended, it turns out they’re far from over. Even with its overlord overthrown, the Empire and its forces don’t just disappear. They’re either going to join the winning side or continue fighting to defeat it.

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This is a familiar setup to fans of Chuck Wending’s Aftermath trilogy, which details the New Republic’s final battles against Imperial forces. Except this time, we’re met with a cast of characters destined to fail before they even have the chance to succeed.

Alphabet Squadron is a newly formed group of pilots and their mismatched fighters. They don’t know each other. They don’t trust each other. But they’re going to have to start, because their only hope of survival in this galaxy is to work as a team to keep a scrambling army at bay.

Many Star Wars fans — myself included — rolled their eyes when Del Rey revealed the title of Freed’s 2019 book. Perhaps we were all premature in our judgments of the story based on only two words and very bright cover art.

On the surface, of course the name Alphabet Squadron seems ridiculous. But that’s actually the point. Throughout the book, these pilots are constantly underestimated and snickered at. They’re misfits, the leftover fragments of their former squadrons and lives. No one takes them seriously. But they’re given a chance to succeed anyway.

That seems to be the whole point of the book (though it takes a while to figure that out) — it’s always the ones you don’t think will defy the odds that end up doing so in the end.

Of all things, don’t shake your head at the story because of the book’s title. I’ll willingly give anything Star Wars a try, and overall, I found the story worth reading even if there were things about it I didn’t love.

Was Alphabet Squadron a fantastic book? I’m going to say it was good but not really good. So far nothing has managed to top Claudia Gray’s canon novels and I’m doubtful anything will anytime soon.

The book does a great job of telling a story about a group of people who wouldn’t normally subject themselves to each others’ company joining forces for the sake of defeating pure evil.

But here’s the thing … we’ve already seen this. And the only place we’ve seen it is also in a book set in the exact same era in the Star Wars universe — another trilogy, actually. Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath books literally covers the aftermath of the Battle of Endor, the fall of the Empire, and the rise of the New Republic.

It’s different enough — mainstream characters (such as Leia and Han) make appearances in Wendig’s books, for example, and the pace is much quicker. But both stories dwell on very similar themes and objectives, and I can’t decide if they’re just playing it safe until the end of the Skywalker saga or they’re trying to give a different perspective on things and not doing a great job (yet).

I think Hera Syndulla largely salvaged this story for me. Her presence won’t mean much to a reader who hasn’t watched Rebels, but for someone who has, it’s a little bit like coming home after a long journey and reconnecting with a friend.

And she wasn’t just a cameo appearance added purely for fan service, either. She played an actual role in the story, despite acting as a minor character, and it felt right. It gave me something familiar to focus in on as I was being introduced to possibly way too many new characters left and right. In Hera we trust!

If this book weren’t part of a trilogy, I’d be a lot more disappointed. But the same way you can’t always judge the quality of a TV show by its pilot episode, I don’t think it’s fair to say this trilogy won’t improve significantly without giving the rest a try.

It could have had a stronger start. It could have spent far less time developing its characters and establishing the goings-on of the galaxy. But it did have its moments, it did create strong characters, and I do look forward to seeing where the rest of the series takes them.

As always, though, it’s best to fully judge a book only after you’ve read it for yourself. Once you do, leave your own thoughts in the comments.

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Alphabet Squadron is out now! You can get your print, digital, and/or audio copy wherever you normally buy your books.