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“This is the beginning” – Hera Syndulla, Alphabet Squadron, and the Road to Jakku

This piece contains minor spoilers for the novel Alphabet Squadron.

For folks who follow me on Twitter or know me from the Jedi Council Forums over at TheForce.Net, one of my obsessions…err…hobbies in the new canon has been trying to make sense of the final year of the war between the Rebel Alliance-turned-New Republic and the faltering remnants of the Galactic Empire. Four years ago this September, I started a discussion on this critical year, the “Endor to Jakku” period. Thanks to the ever-expanding new canon, we are slowly but surely filling in the gaps. We’ve come a long way since Lost Stars and Shattered Empire gave us our first hints at this period. Our first real deep dive was in the Aftermath trilogy, but even that created as many questions as it answered. This week’s release of Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed answers many of those questions, by hearkening back to the earlier reference in Shattered Empire of an Imperial counterattack after Endor: Operation Cinder. This galactic atrocity would have far-reaching repercussions, including one that was presumably unintended: the almost overnight growth in power, appeal, and reach of the fledgling government known as the New Republic.

Before jumping into the topic at hand, let’s remember the status quo immediately prior to the Battle of Endor. The Alliance to Restore the Republic was in dire straights. Despite victories at Scarif and Yavin, major losses in the Mid Rim Campaign, at Mako-Ta, and at Hoth had whittled the Alliance down and forced them to flee to the edges of the galaxy. They held no territory—major allied worlds like Chandrila and Mon Cala were under blockade and they were fighting a losing war of attrition against the Empire. The threat of the second Death Star was enough that the Alliance risked everything to take it down. The scattered warships and fighter squadrons were assembled at Sullust, concentrating the entirety (or nearly that) of the Alliance’s fighting strength. We all know the story of the Battle of Endor, so let’s now jump to the day after. The Alliance’s assets are still the same: a roving fleet and a quasi-government-in-exile. Admirals and generals are faced with determining their next military move, while Mon Mothma and her council of former senators are faced with the nearly impossible task of laying the framework for restoring democratic rule to a galaxy oppressed for two decades.

Let that sink in. The Alliance, without solid supply lines, a main base, or actual territory, needed to seemingly overnight start a campaign to liberate the galaxy and start a new Republic. If C-3PO was asked, I’m sure he’d say that the odds of success were almost incalculable. The next subsequent twelve months would be a whirlwind of events. The New Republic, for all it’s heroic ideals and victories, would benefit more from events outside of its control than those it dictated.

As you dive into Alphabet Squadron, one thing that becomes immediately clear is that the New Republic is truly making things up as they go. Reactionary more than proactive. The nature of a fast, changing war. Our Republic point of view on a larger, strategic level is none other than Hera Syndulla. Freed does a great job fleshing out new characters in the book. Hera is the only significant previously-canon character to get a lot of attention. Sure, we get a few references to Chancellor Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, and General Calrissian, but the book’s foray into these first messy months of the war revolves mostly around the pilots of Alphabet Squadron, Hera, and Caern Adan, a Balosar male working for the still-forming New Republic Intelligence agency under Airen Cracken. Quick side bar—I’m intentionally avoiding key plot points and descriptions of the pilots of Alphabet Squadron, as those are best enjoyed as you meet them yourself as you read.

As the New Republic struggles to put together a semi-cohesive offensive and campaign of liberation, it is forced to deal with the urgent threat of Operation Cinder. My colleague Jay Shah will be touching on some of the moral implications of Operation Cinder in an article next week, but it’s clear that in a military sense it is a galaxy-wide attempt to punish Imperial worlds and Rebel worlds alike, in a scorched-earth attack that both denies the New Republic resources and tests the loyalty of Imperial officers to the words of their fallen Emperor. Freed really paints a picture of the devastation wrought or narrowly averted by the heroics of the New Republic. Vardos. Naboo. Commenor. Abednedo. Candovant. Nacronis. Senthrodys. Planets both familiar and new are ravaged by the merciless attacks of Cinder. For every last-minute New Republic success in thwarting Cinder at worlds like Naboo or Abednedo, worlds like Vardos, Senthrodys, and Nacronis are utterly devastated. The death tolls are estimated to be millions or billions, but as is noted in the book, the final toll won’t be known for years. Freed was able to take what was already established in Shattered Empire and Battlefront II and really expand on it. It’s a phenomenal example of the new canon’s connectivity and interwoven nature.

While Cinder does push many worlds into the arms of the New Republic, it had a major effect on the initial post-Endor campaign. Keep in mind that the book only covers those first few months; this isn’t the New Republic we see in Aftermath: Empire’s End, with solid borders, a larger fleet, and new ships like the Starhawk battleship and MC85 heavy cruiser coming off the lines. General Syndulla is in charge of an ad-hoc battle group operating in the Colonies, north of the New Republic’s Core holdings around its provisional capital of Chandrila. Based on an aging Acclamator-class assault ship converted into a warship, her battle group is comprised of a dozen smaller cruisers and capital ships.

The use of Hera was a stroke of brilliance on Freed’s part. Not only is she a fan favorite, but her roots and connections to the earlier days of the Rebellion make her the perfect POV to see how the movement has changed since it became the New Republic. Gone are the days of measuring victory as a delivery of food to a starving populace. Now, as her battle group liberates worlds in the Barma Sector, she is forced to deal with supply lines, coordinating with local resistance forces, and struggling to juggle the needs of her theater of battle with other NR battle groups in adjacent sectors. Hera not only serves as a great insight into the New Republic military and its campaign of liberation, but her more personal moments interacting with the pilots under her command, including those of Alphabet Squadron, are one of the book’s master strokes. This is where we see the Hera we know from Star Wars Rebels. More vulnerable. Not a ranking officer, but a pilot at heart. A woman who has known heartbreaking tragedy, but risen above it. A general who, at the end of the day in the quiet of her bunk, wants nothing more than to be with her old Ghost crew and her family. For me, this was a standout part of the book and I hope we see more of Hera in the next two novels.

The year between Endor and Jakku is almost overly packed from an event standpoint. In a little over a year, the new canon destroyed an Empire, awoke a new Republic, re-established the Galactic Senate, conducted a campaign of liberation, and ended the Galactic Civil War. While I still struggle to make truly coherent sense of it, I give authors like Greg Rucka, Claudia Grey, and Chuck Wendig a lot of credit for what they’ve tried to weave together. Now, several years into the new canon, Freed is able to tie together various sources into a more cohesive narrative. The messy nature of it actually fits well with the Rebel Alliance, as they are used to operating in less than ideal circumstances. Overall, Alphabet Squadron is a wonderful addition to the canon, both on its own as a story and as a key part of piecing together that messy, violent, and ultimately triumphant year.

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