The members of Alphabet Squadron are reporting for duty. The first novel of a trilogy that brings us back to the galaxy mere days after the destruction of the second Death Star, in its pages we meet some unique and not-entirely-trustworthy pilots who just might hold the fate of the New Republic in their hands.
There’s Yrica Quell, an Imperial defector who can’t completely escape her past; Chass na Chadic, a B-wing pilot has seen her entire squadron destroyed twice; Wyl Lark, a veteran inside an A-wing cockpit who just wants to go home; the roguish Nath Tensent, who also outlasted his squadron; and Kairos, a silent U-wing pilot clad all in black with a mask that hides her every expression. Together the ragtag group of pilots must take on one of the New Republic’s biggest threats, the Imperial TIE squadron Shadow Wing — an elite group of pilots that Quell belonged to before she switched sides.
To celebrate the release of the book today, StarWars.com climbed into the cockpit with author Alexander Freed to get some readings on the members of Alphabet Squadron, details on how the novel ties in to other Star Wars stories, and more.
Note: This interview does not contain detailed spoilers regarding the plot of Alphabet Squadron, but it does shed light on its characters. Fly carefully!
StarWars.com: When we first meet Yrica Quell, it’s difficult for the New Republic to determine which side she’s on. Why do you feel that the story of a former Imperial, someone who’s very late to the Rebellion, is a meaningful one to tell?
Alexander Freed: No one doubts that Emperor Palpatine was an evil man who needed to be deposed. But he was willingly served by millions of Imperial citizens — some true believers and some not — who were, in their way, complicit in the Empire’s crimes.
One of the first questions the New Republic has to face is what to do with all those ex-Imperials. Do you imprison them all? Put them on trial? Give them a second chance? It’s a hard question without an easy answer, and Quell is right in the thick of it. She is, as you say, very late to the Rebellion. But is she too late to absolve herself? Too late to become a hero? And if she is too late to set things right…what does she do next?
I’ve got plenty of thoughts about how these questions relate to life in the modern world, but I’ll let readers debate that themselves. Fundamentally, though, I think Star Wars works best when it’s full of both characters we can aspire to be like…and characters who may be flawed, and whose failures we can empathize with.
StarWars.com: Chass loves to blast music in the cockpit of her B-wing. How did you arrive at this particular character trait?
Alexander Freed: We see (and hear) lots of music in the Star Wars films — cantina bands, Ewok celebrations, Coruscant opera companies — but we rarely see characters talking about it! I try to make sure my characters have interests beyond what’s immediately plot relevant, and it seemed a nice way to give her texture.
I don’t recommend listening to music at full volume while flying a starfighter, by the way. But Chass has never been the most disciplined pilot.
StarWars.com: We’ve seen a few dark figures wearing a mask in Star Wars, but none on the Rebellion’s side, until we meet Kairos. How challenging is it to make a character with no expressions and almost no voice feel like part of the story?
Alexander Freed: The funny thing is, it’s not hard at all. Because Kairos tends to lurk quietly in the background, it means every time she steps into the spotlight it’s immediately clear that she’s up to something important.
And, of course, unlike in a film, we can also dip into her head on occasion and get an entirely different perspective on the action.
StarWars.com: Alphabet Squadron has a major tie-in to the story of Star Wars Battlefront II with Operation: Cinder and its red-robed messengers. Why did you want to bridge these stories?
Alexander Freed: I first encountered Operation: Cinder in Greg Rucka’s Shattered Empire comic books, and thought it was a fantastic concept — the notion that the Emperor would order acts of terror and devastation after his death felt utterly appropriate for a wicked narcissist like Palpatine. But neither Shattered Empire nor Battlefront II really had space to dig into what significance Cinder had for the galaxy at large, and I wanted to take advantage of the space a novel provides to explore the subject in more depth.
StarWars.com: Speaking of connections to other stories, there’s also a shared character with Jody Houser’s TIE Fighter comic series, Commander Nuress. How did you collaborate together on the two books?
Alexander Freed: Carefully! We wanted TIE Fighter and Alphabet Squadron to be complementary works, so a reader could pick up either and feel satisfied but also feel like reading both rewarded them with a broader view of our corner of the galaxy.
Jody and I wrote lengthy emails to one another looking for places to intertwine the comic and novel while also working very hard to give one another enough space to not be creatively “boxed in.”
StarWars.com: Were there any particular space battles from the films that inspired you when writing your own?
Alexander Freed: All of them in their way, of course, but the battle over Scarif at the end of Rogue One is beautiful in how many elements it puts into play and adeptly juggles. Starfighters! Rebel capital ships! Imperial capital ships! Bombing runs! Ramming attacks! Space stations! Energy shields! It encapsulates so much of what’s viscerally thrilling about Star Wars space combat.
StarWars.com: Although this isn’t your first Star Wars novel, you’ll be making a huge impact on the universe with three books to tell this story. What does it feel like to be a part of the growing story of Star Wars?
Alexander Freed: Between video games, comics, and novels, I’ve been dipping in and out of the Star Wars galaxy for well over a decade now. I feel pretty comfortable here! But Alphabet Squadron is my first time working post-Return of the Jedi, and that’s exciting for me — there’s so much to say about a society where the underdogs have finally won and need to figure out how to rebuild.
On top of that, having three books to work with is an enormous privilege — I haven’t been part of a Star Wars story of this scope since Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I’m doing my best to use all that room as effectively as possible.
StarWars.com: Finally, if Chass listened to the music of our galaxy, which songs or artists do you think would be on her cockpit playlist?
Alexander Freed: A lot of Chass’s music collection is inspired by songs from the real world, but I dare not give specifics! It’s safe to say that her tastes are eclectic and that she’s (let’s be honest) not overly choosy. I imagine she would scoop up lots of obscure reggae and punk, some mainstream pop hits in a variety of languages, a smattering of rap albums, techno club remixes of all the above, the occasional novelty tune, and whatever else she could get her hands on.
My real hope is that some enterprising fans compile a Chass playlist or two. I’d much rather see other folks’ interpretations than inflict mine on the world!
Alphabet Squadron is available now.
Kelly Knox is a Seattle-area freelance writer who loves creating Star Wars crafts with her daughter. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox.
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