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Yrica Quell’s Defector Shields: How Alphabet Squadron Plays With Expectations

The introduction of this piece is spoiler-free. If you don’t want details of Alphabet Squadron a warning will let you know when to stop.

We think we’ve seen this story before. But we haven’t.

There are certain types of stories in Star Wars that seem to recur again and again. Stories of Imperial defectors joining the Rebellion / New Republic tend to be among the most common of them. Even since the continuity reboot of 2014, we’ve seen stories of defectors more than once. Zare Leonis, Thane Kyrell, Sinjir Rath Velus, Alexandr Kallus, and Iden Versio were all Imperial defectors. It’s a type of story we know well: a character believes in the Empire and its mission, comes to a realization or crisis of conscience (often during an atrocity), and joins the good guys with their past seemingly forgotten and behind them. The stories play out a bit differently each time and the specific details vary – but the broad strokes are the same.

Those small differences do matter. In a galaxy-wide Empire, we would figure (or hope) that it’s a common thing for people in the Emperor’s service to recognize the error of their ways and defect. The details affect how the story is told, and even why it’s told. Famously, Battlefront II’s promotional materials led us to believe that Iden Versio and her Inferno Squad were helping to establish the die-hard First Order. When the predecessor novel Inferno Squad underscored the idea that Iden and her group were Imperial loyalists, we were surprised that Battlefront II would end up being a story about defection from the Empire. Rather than being “gotcha” subversion for the sake of a twist, it invited the reader to look again at the novel and look at the seeds that had been planted; it turned out that the story was less about defection and more about the whys and the hows and the what-nexts of defection.

Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron examines all of this – the ideas and expectations we have for Imperial defectors and the idea of subversion of expectations less for its own sake and more for telling a more interesting story. Beyond that, Freed does what Freed does best – he grounds the story in reality and causes painful realizations through the characters’ emotional journeys. Sure, defection is common – but what does that mean in a post-Endor, post-Operation Cinder galaxy where the Empire really has outstayed its welcome? And just how trusted would an Imperial defector be by those who the Empire has harmed not just once, but many times? Is there such a thing as too little, too late?

Former Imperial pilot Yrica Quell is our window into all of this – we see things from her perspective, and from outside her perspective. She’s the leader of a fighter group, but she’s not the unifying squad leader that we’re used to in pilot stories. She holds herself apart – both because of her past and because of her actions, and that what makes her interesting. Alphabet Squadron is a story about many things – but I want to dig most deeply into Yrica Quell and the topic of Imperial defectors.

Article will contain spoilers after this point! If you have not yet finished the novel and do not wish to be spoiled, come back to the rest of the article later!

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The 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, Part II

Welcome to Part II of our Memorable Moments feature–Part I can be found here! This thing is long enough already so let’s get right to it…

sloaneposter13. Admiral Sloane Orders the Retreat, “The Levers of Power” (Jay Shah)

Initially, my entire list of favorite moments consisted of key events from RAE SLOANE’s story across different media and throughout the timeline of novels in which we’ve seen her. That would have been a little silly for a list of moments, even though I believe RAE SLOANE’s journey through the new canon has been the most remarkable and every moment we saw her in another context was a surprise and a sheer delight. But if I had to pick a single moment, I would choose her appearance at the Battle of Endor in the short story “The Levers of Power” — it’s the pivot point around which her whole career orients and changes.

Before the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is a dutiful Imperial true believer who does the right thing as she sees it but is unable to rise as far as she merits due to the Empire’s internal politics and her unwillingness to play those games. After the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is one of the most powerful forces in the Empire and becomes the very face of its surviving military as a grand admiral (literally, in the case of propaganda posters).

“The Levers of Power” shows Admiral RAE SLOANE on the precipice, just as her Empire is. It is a harrowing story. The Battle of Endor felt like it could go either way, until disaster mounted on disaster and it couldn’t. We see all the classic hallmarks of RAE SLOANE: her tactical skill, her dislike for power games (exemplified by a particularly odious ISB loyalty officer), and her ability to cut through the expected to get things done. She does not suffer the loyalty officer’s second-guessing as she leads as ably as any Imperial officer could. More than that: when she has to make the key decisive call that the battle is lost and duty requires the fleet to be preserved, she shoots the loyalty officer dead and gives the order to retreat. She has to. Read More

Star Wars Celebration Chicago: How Did it Stack Up?

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Mike: Last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Chicago was not just my first Celebration but my first major convention of any kind. I had a blast and got to meet dozens of people from here and Twitter for the first time, but having technically covered the last few Celebrations here at Eleven-ThirtyEight and seen lots of rumblings about organizational issues (from both past events and this one) the thing I found myself most curious about as the weekend wound down was: how did Chicago stack up to the others?

I’ll be sharing more of my own thoughts soon, but suffice it to say that aside from a fair amount of stress over the status of my media application, I found the whole thing to be moderately logistically challenging but not to the point that it infringed upon my good time. If I wasn’t able to get into a panel I’d been hoping for there was always something new in the main hall to check out, or a friend to track down, or shitposting to do, so I never found it too bothersome.

But with this being my first con, I had no prior experiences to compare it to—better than average? Worse? Or typical? Luckily I had the novel opportunity to ask some of my staff writers—like, their actual physical selves—what most surprised them about this year. I should mention that while most of them are battle-scarred veterans of the convention floor, this was Abigail Dillon’s first Celebration as well—but I’m nice so I decided to ask her anyway. Read More

Twenty Years in the Making, Padmé Gets Her Due

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The intro, first section, and conclusion are spoiler-free. The second section will discuss spoilers and will have a separate spoiler warning. 

We have been waiting a very, very long time to get a Padmé book. She’s been in plenty of books, comics, and TV shows — including a plethora of Phantom Menace-era books that a whole generation of fangirls has seemingly grown up on. But she’s never gotten the central billing in a book before. In situations like this, we usually end up with a typical “too little, too late” entry. Well, it’s definitely late — but the twentieth anniversary of The Phantom Menace‘s theatrical release isn’t a half-bad time to celebrate Padmé, given that the people who grew up with her never forgot about her. As for too little? Oh no — Queen’s Shadow is far from too little. In fact, it might be the perfect book for Padmé to finally get her due. 

There are a lot of parts of this book that read like a love letter to Padmé fandom, handmaiden fandom, and the women who grew up as part of both. I’m not the best person to speak to that aspect of the book, although I can definitely see parts of it. There’s probably more there that I haven’t even noticed: things like how Padmé interacts with her friends and handmaidens (for they are both), things about female comradeship and navigating situations that I just couldn’t know anything about. You’ll hear plenty about that from people who are better equipped to discuss it than I am — in fact, check back here tomorrow for a piece on the handmaidens and what they mean to their fans. But what I can tell you is that anyone who is a fan of Padmé as a character, a fan of her faith in political idealism and willingness to get her hands dirty despite of it, and heck, even just a fan of Naboo, will love what E.K. Johnston did for Padmé in this book. 

A lot of times it felt like the films after The Phantom Menace weren’t quite sure what to do with Padmé. She had a lot of potential that was sidelined in the other two films. But despite that, she was still a key part of the prequel trilogy and she had great development in Clone Wars-era books, comics, and TV despite rarely getting to headline stories. Queen’s Shadow recognizes both these things: the unrealized potential and the potency of the character, and does them justice. It’s set like a bridge novel between Episodes I and II, giving her the post-TPM development that Anakin and Obi-Wan received almost twenty years ago. But Queen’s Shadow isn’t just “Padmé’s turn” — it’s a genuinely incisive look at her character. Despite taking place between I and II, the novel also engages with ideas the audience knows will come up in The Clone Wars and in Episode III. E.K. Johnston just gave us a well-rounded portrayal that does everything it should have, and exceeded my already high expectations. 

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A Springboard for the Imagination – Reflections on Women of the Galaxy

WotG-coverThis fall saw the release of Women of the Galaxy by Amy Ratcliffe, an expansive collection of profiles and original art featuring seventy-five different female characters from across the Star Wars franchise—from the original trilogy and the old Ewoks cartoon all the way up to 2018’s Solo. Since Eleven-ThirtyEight is always game for a fashionably late arrival to the party, Abigail and Jay wanted to take a moment to discuss some of their favorite entries from the book and what they meant to them.

As it happens, though, we may be late for the original release but we’re right on time for the digital release—if you’re paper-averse like yours truly but still want to check out Women of the Galaxy for yourself you can pick up a copy on Kindle starting January 8th. For now, though, I yield the floor. — Mike, EIC

Abigail: There are so many entries in this book that I adored and would have liked to discuss, so before I dive into my chosen characters, I’d like to point out what this book reminds me of. And you’re going to have to stay with me for a moment, because this comparison is going to start off sounding horrible.

I had a book about dog breeds as a kid. I loved it and it was critical to my play. My friends and I would flip through the pages and select what we wanted to be during that round of make-believe. Some days I would want to pretend to be majestic and wild, other days small and cute, and so the book was how I would choose my character. It provided a springboard for my imagination, based on the pictures and accompanying description. Read More

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