Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron sequel is everything the second book in a trilogy should be — fast-paced and deep with an ending that asks more questions than it answers.
Thus far, we’re severely lacking in canon Star Wars content that takes place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens — at least compared to everything in other trilogy areas.
There are the Aftermath books, plus some comics and Battlefront II. We now also have The Mandalorian, which showcases the galactic chaos of the pre-First Order era.
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What many fans still don’t know is that the Empire didn’t disappear into the Unknown Regions immediately after Palpatine’s demise — not all of it, anyway. The New Republic and the Empire still fought for years to gain full control of the galaxy. Which is where Alphabet Squadron comes in.
These pilots have an important mission to complete — one that could cause a chain reaction that breaks down what remains of the Empire for good.
We spent the entirety of the last book in the trilogy getting to know the mismatched members of what would come to be known as Alphabet Squadron. We watched them struggle to work together and get along, their clashing personalities and haunting pasts preventing them from working together as a team.
Now Alphabet Squadron is going after Shadow Wing again. But this time, the stakes are higher, and staying together might not be the strength they’ll be able to rely on for survival.
Shadow Fall takes Star Wars battles to the next level
When I first read Twilight Company — the book based on the newest Battlefront game and another of Alexander Freed‘s Star Wars titles — I had a hard time getting into it.
It wasn’t like anything else we’d gotten in canon books at that point. It was military-heavy and technical — in a good way, looking back on it. Now that I’ve come to know his writing style, it’s much easier to appreciate how fast-paced action contributes to a good Star Wars book.
Here, Freed proves yet again that what makes the best Star Wars stories great is a healthy and logical balance between character development and action. Stories that rely too heavily on action often suffer from flat, seemingly unrelatable characters, and those that lean too far in the other direction are sometimes hard for those not as interested in character-driven books to follow.
Because it’s building on the characters we’ve already gotten to know in Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall has the luxury of being able to go full-force into battle mode without sacrificing a rightful focus on the emotional side of war — something the first book did exceptionally well.
Its equal attention to the characters inside those starfighter cockpits is what truly makes the story stand out.
Shadow Fall is not one continuous action sequence
You can’t have Star Wars without combat. It drives the story forward, leads to consequences characters must learn to overcome, and let’s be honest: It makes it more entertaining for audiences of all ages.
But stories run deeper than blasters and explosions. That’s what gives them weight.
Something that truly makes this book special is Freed’s mastery of the “quiet moment.” He seems to know exactly when both the reader and the character need a moment to breathe. Just when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with the action, he takes you out of it, transitioning to a different character’s point-of-view in a different location or getting inside a character’s head for a moment.
It’s these moments that allow the reader to connect with the characters on a deeper level — which enhances the impact of the choices they make as the story intensifies.
Star Wars still nails the art of the plot twist — even in books
This is a spoiler-free review, so I’ll refrain from telling you how Shadow Fall ends (no matter how much I’m itching to yell about it!). But one thing’s for sure: It’s the most surprising and infuriating (in a good way) ending we’ve gotten in a Star Wars book so far this year. Maybe the best in quite a long time.
Freed’s original story and characters are really proving themselves now, and could very well be paving the way for what the future of Star Wars books will look like.
As much as we all want standalone books about our favorite familiar characters, the reason plot twists like this one work so well is because you don’t know where these characters will eventually end up. You don’t know that Leia eventually ends up with Han or that Qui-Gon Jinn doesn’t survive The Phantom Menace.
Original characters give Star Wars authors the freedom and opportunity to truly surprise their readers. And just because you have a main cast of new faces doesn’t mean you can’t also bring beloved characters like Hera Syndulla along for the ride as this trilogy does.
The twist has nothing to do with Hera, calm down. It’s still a great surprise, though.
Should you read Alphabet Squadron before Shadow Fall?
There are a lot of Star Wars books … a lot of books to read in general, really. Because most Star Wars books don’t have to be read in a specific order, you might be tempted to skip Alphabet Squadron so you can read Shadow Fall while everyone’s talking about it.
If that’s your plan, you might want to reconsider.
Because Shadow Fall is the direct sequel to Alphabet Squadron and the second book of the trilogy, you might want to read the first book so you have enough background on the characters and events before jumping into the second one. It is an action-heavy book even with necessary lulls, so it’s easy enough to get lost even if you’ve read the first book. Don’t confuse yourself further by skipping a book!
Both of these books, however, are perfect for any Star Wars fan who wants more post-ROTJ content, and anyone who loves space battles, ships, reprogrammed interrogation droids, and Hera Syndulla popping in at just the right moments.
Plus, there’s at least one major tie-in to Star Wars: Squadrons. If you plan on playing that, you might want some context.
This trilogy is just the beginning. More brand-new characters are headed our way next year when The High Republic officially launches in January.
Until then, there are a few more Star Wars books coming out this year featuring familiar characters you already know and love. Don’t miss them!
Shadow Fall is available today wherever Star Wars books are sold.