In Shadow Fall, the second book in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, author Alexander Freed continues the story of Alphabet Squadron’s pursuit of the elite Imperial TIE fighter squadron, Shadow Wing. It’s a chaotic time for both Rebels and Imperials trying to find their place in the galaxy after the fall of the Empire and there’s a lot to learn about characters from both sides, especially those who are holding onto secrets from their past. To celebrate the release of the latest novel in the series, StarWars.com spoke with Freed about his experience writing his first canon Star Wars sequel and taking a closer look at the pilots of Alphabet Squadron.
Spoiler warning: Light spoilers ahead!
StarWars.com: How much time has gone by between the end of Alphabet Squadron and the beginning of Shadow Fall?
Alexander Freed: We’re around a month or two post-Alphabet Squadron at the beginning, something approximating half a year after the Battle of Endor. Enough time for the pilots to have settled into a routine, but not enough for their conflicts to have boiled over.
StarWars.com: The past is on the minds (and is catching up) with many characters in Shadow Fall — most noticeably for Yrica Quell and Quell’s former mentor Soran Keize. What is it about a character feeling pulled in two directions that appealed to you as a writer?
Alexander Freed: I think of the year after Endor as a period of transition — the war’s still going on but peace is within reach, and everyone is grappling with what that means for themselves. At this pivotal moment of change, many characters are being confronted with their actual, immutable pasts and how those may contradict their hopes for the soon-to-arrive future. In some respects, that’s the heart of the trilogy.
You can absolutely write a compelling story by saying, “The audience knows who this character is. The question is how will they get through a situation intact or how will they affect the world around them?” But Shadow Fall is largely about characters who haven’t fully decided who they are themselves — and hopefully the reader feels that tension, and wants them to resolve it one way or another. Who will Quell become? What of Devon remains in Soran?
StarWars.com: I enjoyed the relationship between Hera Syndulla and Quell in Shadow Fall. They respect each other but aren’t best buddies. How would you describe their relationship in this book?
Alexander Freed: Hera sincerely wants to mentor Quell, but she’s a general now — she doesn’t have the time to be as hands-on as she was in the past, and has to make do with the opportunities she’s given. Quell, meanwhile, longs for a mentor but isn’t ready to trust Hera with her secrets — even though she recognizes that Hera is the sort of person she aspired to be.
StarWars.com: Much of Alphabet Squadron was about the pilots of Alphabet Squadron coming together as a team while in much of Shadow Fall the team spends time apart from one another. Why did you decide to spend so much time focused on members of Alphabet Squadron on their own journeys?
Alexander Freed: Quell brought the team together, and Quell, in the end, caused them to fall apart. She was integral to Alphabet as a unit, but their bond was based on a lie and that had to reverberate through the whole team. Plus, it’s a Star Wars tradition to split the group in the second part of the trilogy!
StarWars.com: Conversely, why did you have Wyl and Nath spend so much time together?
Alexander Freed: I found Wyl and Nath to be one of the more interesting combinations of characters to write in the first book, and I wanted to get deeper into their relationship for Shadow Fall. Their arc together is an important one for the trilogy — and there’s much more Wyl-Nath content coming in book three.
StarWars.com: I loved how Chass kept comparing herself to Jyn Erso as she was looking for meaning in Shadow Fall. Do you think your experience writing the novelization of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story influenced your decision to mention Jyn here?
Alexander Freed: I’m sure it did! Writing the Rogue One novelization meant living with that film for quite a while. It uses space in my brain in a way the other films don’t, no matter how many times I’ve seen them. So I see opportunities to connect to Rogue One more rapidly than I do with, say, Solo: A Star Wars Story or Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Which isn’t to say I don’t grab those opportunities when they arise…
StarWars.com: There are a lot of interesting moments with Kairos in Shadow Fall. I’m wondering if Kairos was inspired by a previous Star Wars character from a different story or what made you want to include a character that is such a mystery to others.
Alexander Freed: Kairos was partly born of necessity — I needed a five-person squadron to fill out the different ship types, but I knew it would be a struggle to give ample page time to five different characters in book one. Rather than accept this as a structural weakness, I decided to use it to my advantage and create a character who would be more interesting because of — not despite — her lack of point-of-view scenes. She’s become one of my favorites!
StarWars.com: Who are your favorite characters in this trilogy to write dialogue for?
Alexander Freed: When it comes to dialogue, Nath Tensent probably wins — he’s (to my tastes) the funniest of the team, and it’s enjoyable to bring out his duplicitous side. Ito, the torture-slash-therapist droid, is pretty high on the list as well. Ito has a mixture of craftiness and sincerity that’s appealing to write, particularly when I picture the dialogue coming out of a black sphere of death.
StarWars.com: There’s a new group introduced in Shadow Fall, which one character describes as a cult. Will we be hearing from them again in the next book?
Alexander Freed: Let’s just say that the cult has had a significant impact on one of our lead characters, and that impact will continue to be felt in a major way. Anything else would be saying too much!
StarWars.com: How do you approach writing battle sequences? Do you outline the main points before you start writing or sketch anything out to visualize what you are describing?
Alexander Freed: It depends on how elaborate the sequence needs to be. For a big action set piece like the Pandem Nai sequence from book one or Shadow Wing’s attack on Cerberon, I’ll break it down in great detail as I outline the book — I want to make sure every beat resonates with the characters, figure out the pacing, and know that everyone is where they need to be. Smaller scale battles I’ll often figure out the particulars as I go. For those, it’s usually less about making dozens of pieces align in harmony and more about evoking a visceral physicality — feeling the pain and elation and fear of the characters involved.
StarWars.com: The pursuit of Shadow Wing is unfinished business for Alphabet Squadron, but both groups struggle to destroy each other without destroying other worlds in the process. Do you think the characters in Shadow Fall are driven more by their affiliations with the Rebellion and the Empire or by their individual sense of right and wrong and in some cases personal vendettas?
Alexander Freed: By the time of Shadow Fall, the New Republic is clearly winning the war. That’s a good thing! But if the Empire is going to collapse one way or another, it casts a different light on the question of why a pilot might be fighting. What are they really trying to accomplish? How do they fight — what tactics do they emphasize — when victory seems assured? What vendettas arise that might risk what’s been gained?
StarWars.com: I’m curious if before you wrote the first book of this trilogy, Alphabet Squadron, you outlined all three books and knew how the third book was going to end.
Alexander Freed: I didn’t plot out all three books in exquisite detail, but I had a pretty clear idea of the overall arc. For example, I knew the emotional journey Quell would be going on in book two, that she’d be separated from the team at one point, but I didn’t know exactly the way it would play out — the nature of the Cerberon system, the particular battles, etc. My earliest outline had slightly more detail on book three than book two, simply because I needed to know how the story would ultimately end!
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Amy Richau is a writer, lifelong Star Wars geek, and diehard Denver Broncos fan. You can find her on Twitter @amyrichau and more of her writing on FANgirl Blog.
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