I should probably just start with a confession. I try to go into Star Wars books with no expectations, but that was not the case here.

I didn’t take to the internet to complain about it, but yeah, when I first heard the title of Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron, the upcoming first novel in a trilogy by Alexander Freed, I rolled my eyes pretty hard. I love when Star Wars gets silly. Jar Jar Binks is unironically one of my top five favorite characters. But this seemed to be where I drew the line.

Why wasn’t it “Aurebesh Squadron”?

Why would the New Republic allow such a tactically inferior unit makeup?

Who would fly a U-wing into combat? It’s a transport!

There are no Jedi in this story, so I don’t know who was reading my mind, but man, the book addressed all this and more in a rollicking adventure through the untamed expanses of the galaxy. I was wrong. Alphabet Squadron is a brilliant title for a brilliant addition to the Star Wars universe.

From the opening pages, where we meet Imperial defector Yrica Quell in the dismal holding camp for ex-Imperial defectors and captives known as Traitor’s Remorse, it’s clear that this is a different kind of Star Wars story, with the in-the-trenches focus of Rogue One mixing with the hopeful but desperate mood of Return of the Jedi. The story primarily focuses on the squadron coming together, but this creates brilliant parallels with the coalescing of the New Republic, with people in a fight for different reasons from different places suddenly needing to work to build a stable foundation for the future.

From left: Yrica Quell, Kairos, Wyl Lark, Nath Tensent, and Chass na Chadic, the pilots of the titular Alphabet Squadron.

The protagonist, Yrica Quell, has already appeared as a supporting character in Marvel’s crossover/tie-in series Star Wars: TIE Fighter. It sounds cliche, but she’s a new kind of Star Wars hero, more in the vein of Han Solo before his moral turnaround at the end of the original film, but never really getting that moment of absolution (yet, at least). She’s a complex and broken person trying to start a new life but not yet ready to let go of the old. Like all of the squadron, we get acquainted with her just enough in this book, leaving us with some questions remaining and some all-new for the sequel.

The rest of the squadron, comprised of young, idealistic Wyl Lark; troubled, punk-rock-energy-laden Chass na Chadic; gruff, jaded Nath Tensent; and the ever-mysterious Kairos (about whom the book left me with the most questions), is equally complex. The book is as much about their interpersonal dynamic establishing itself as they learn to work together as it is about space battles (and believe me, there are a lot of cool space battles). Discovering each character’s personality is so central to the experience of the book that it’s impossible to describe them more without completely spoiling it, so suffice it to say that Chass rocks (literally…she can’t fly without her B-wing’s sound system blaring a carefully-curated playlist) and I channel her attitude probably more than the people around me would like. You too will come away from this book with a favorite, as the core five characters are too well-developed for the reader not to do so.

While the entire main cast is comprised of new characters, Star Wars fans will likely have heard that this book features the return of Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels animated series fame, now a general in the New Republic overseeing a military stretched thin and pushed to its limits early in the year of uncertainty between the decisive victory at Endor and the final blow at Jakku. The most interesting aspect of how Freed handled Hera is how, although she will obviously reminisce about her times with the crew of the Ghost as she oversees the assembly of a team of misfits working for a common goal, the book manages to not spoil Rebels at any point. A person who has never watched the show could easily read this book, fall in love with Hera, watch Rebels to learn more, and have the same experience someone going in blind would have. As much as I’d like to know more about the fallout from that ending and how it affects Hera several years later, I really respect the way Alphabet Squadron preserves the surprises of the later seasons.

Much like certain folks within the New Republic, I had little faith in Alphabet Squadron at the start. The whole thing seemed to be just a bit too ridiculous. But as Quell got her team together, I realized that I was wrong all along. Alphabet Squadron is a fun, classic Star Wars read. Hop in your cockpit, buckle your ejection harness, find a good Star Wars playlist (make Chass proud), and immerse yourself in their adventures when the book releases today, June 11.

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