Released this week is the next installment in the Star Wars: Battlefront franchise, Battlefront II (this is actually the second Battlefront II, but we won’t get in to that). Battlefront II is the second console game released since the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney and the second console game to be considered in “canon.” The first Battlefront didn’t have a story mode though, so it’s safe to assume that Battlefront II is the first console video game to introduce a story into the new Star Wars canon, and for that reason, I’m excited for it.
To tie into the new Battlefront II video game, a novel was released which serves as a prequel to the video game’s story mode, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by veteran Star Wars author Christie Golden. Inferno Squad takes place shortly following A New Hope. It was actually listed as following the events of Rogue One, however since Rogue One runs almost directly into A New Hope and the destruction of the first Death Star is one of the main driving factors of the novel, it’s safe to say it’s after A New Hope. The novel starts with the creation of this “Inferno Squad,” an elite Imperial group which is organized to help prevent what led to the loss of the Death Star plans at Scarif and the eventual destruction of the Death Star. The group is organized by Garrick Versio, and is composed of: Iden Versio, his daughter and TIE pilot who survived the explosion of the Death Star; Gideon Hask, friend of Iden’s and fellow ace pilot; Del Meeko, technology specialist; and Seyn Marana, intelligence specialist.
The story starts with the physical creation of Inferno Squad and quickly moves through a couple of missions, which are mainly meant to get the team comfortable working with each other and are over fairly quickly. The brunt of the novel, though, is one overly long mission where each member of the team goes undercover to discover a leak of information within the Empire to a group known as the Dreamers. The Dreamers are the remnants of Saw’s group after Saw was taken out at the demonstration of the Death Star on Jehda (sorry, “mining accident”). These Dreamers (i.e. keeping the dream alive), are attacking a variety of Imperial targets and it’s the job of Inferno Squad to find out the source of the information and eventually take out the Dreamers (although that last part isn’t necessarily part of their goal).
The novel itself was fantastically easy to read. I blazed right through and and generally I enjoyed it. I thought it was a bit of a simple, straightforward plot, but enjoyable nonetheless. The main characters in Inferno Squad really grew on me through time. Golden highlighted each of their traits perfectly to the point that I could see what each of them might do within any given circumstance. Personally, I understand how difficult it can be as an author in this type of novel where you have to make the quintessential “bad guys” into the “good guys.” The easiest way to do that is to put them up an even worse foe, which in this case, is the Dreamers — rebels without any remorse for the lives they take. This makes the Empire looks compassionate and gentle by comparison. Also a hard thing to do in this novel is make these characters still be Imperials at the end of the story. The easy trope of Empire vs Rebellion stories is to have the Imperials discover the dirty things the Empire does and eventually abandon them to become Rebels. But it’s a real art to have an Imperial, who honestly is not a bad person, maintain that the Empire is right and just. And that is what we have here…sort of.
My feelings though the novel was that the members of Inferno Squad were barely being constrained within their Imperial masks. I felt like they wanted to turn coat at every given instance and so the ending (which I won’t spoil here) felt completely out of place for me. They were Imperials to the end but it didn’t feel earned; like the events of the story didn’t impact them at all. The novel’s ending felt so out of character to me that I had whiplash just reading it. Like “what the hell?!?”. I had part of the end spoiled (a pivotal moment for the team) and so I was just spent a good chunk of the novel going, is this it? No… Is this it? Nope. And so on. But that moment wasn’t actually the biggest surprise for me. The biggest surprise was when one of the Dreamers revealed who he really was. They teased this throughout half of the novel. Saying this one Dreamer must be someone important and the big reveal was kind of a shock for me because it was a name I didn’t expect to see again in the Star Wars canon (hint: it’s someone from canon but an earlier time period).
Another problem I had with the novel though was how many Dreamers there actually were. At times there felt like a ton, at others it felt like almost none. By the time we actually got a number, it turned out to be a much smaller group than I was anticipating. This left me wondering why it was that THIS group was such a problem. Why not torture the information out of them? They were already infiltrated, why not just kill them all? But by the time we get to the end, I didn’t feel like the characters’ actions were justified at all by what had happened earlier in the story. I was just so confused. There were also plot points in the story that I felt were rather shoehorned in there; like they were created just so we felt sympathetic for the character, for example Iden’s mother being sick. It felt overly much.
So overall, I felt that the novel is extremely well written with characters I could usually get behind. I felt invested in the main characters’ lives, including the main Dreamers, and their nuanced psychologies had me believing in them as characters. There were several problems I had with the story though. But in the end, the problems were’t big enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of the story.