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Not Just a Walk in the Park: Why the Galaxy’s Edge Books are Worth Reading

Tie-ins have a bad name. The term isn’t neutral, and it frequently suggests low quality, or stories that are simple cash grabs. Discussions of the recently-released Galaxy’s Edge tie-in novels Crash of Fate and Black Spire have occasionally focused on references to locations and objects from the parks that come across almost like product placement or commercials for the Disney Star Wars theme park. To be certain, corporate synergies are at play when designing and creating products that tie into other aspects of a multimedia franchise, whether it’s a theme park or a newly-released movie. But are Star Wars tie-in novels published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press and Del Rey just commercials for other Star Wars products? I don’t think they are.

A lot of my favorite Star Wars novels published over the last few years have been tie-ins. Del Rey’s Battlefront novels are among the highest-regarded of the adult canon Star Wars novels, and they have the name of a video game plastered on the front of them. The Servants of the Empire series tied into the Star Wars Rebels television series, but they’re among the highest-quality middle-grade novels in Disney-Lucasfilm Press’s repertoire of high-quality middle-grade novels (I will always say that you should never miss out on the Star Wars young adult and/or middle-grade novels, because they are almost always superb). Heck, Rogue One was surrounded by well-regarded books from the film’s novelization to companion stories like Catalyst, Rebel Rising, and Guardians of the Whills. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the Marvel creations here because I’m focusing on the Del Rey and Disney-Lucasfilm novels.

These tie-in novels exist to do more than just promote a film or theme park, more than just making a quick buck out of people who are excited about a related product. They are genuinely good stories that flesh out and expand characters and locations from their baseline story. Think about the Canto Bight novella collection: we got a series of great stories about random characters we might see for just a moment in The Last Jedi. Those great stories are what you’re paying for.

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Cover Art of Myths & Fables

Myths & Fables & Bedtime Stories: On Reading the Tie-In for Galaxy’s Edge

“George, you can type this s[tuff], but you sure can’t say it!”

Harrison Ford

First night at Celebration Chicago, my dad and I plopped on the floor of our hotel room, pizza in hand, and cracked open Master & Apprentice, freshly purchased from the Del Rey booth. Trading off eating and reading at each double-paragraph break, my dad somehow always ended up with the sections filled with Kitonaks, Shawda Ubbs playing Growdi harmoniques, and long strings of Huttese. We finished the first chapter that evening and did not continue this activity the following nights. Partly, we were simply too exhausted by the end of each day’s events, but also – as good a novel as it is – Master & Apprentice was simply not written to be read aloud.

In contrast, when I decided to try reading aloud a single story in George Mann’s Myths & Fables, by the second page, my tone had taken quite the dramatic turn. By page three I was up out of my chair, pacing the apartment. Page five had me gesticulating with my free hand like a bard with an audience gathered about a tavern’s hearth.

Now this is a book tailor-made to be read aloud, beside a fireplace or at the foot of a bed.

Spoilers and Direct Quotes Ahead

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Saying Farewell to Thrawn (Probably) and Why it’s (Probably) for the Best

This piece avoids spoilers for Thrawn: Treason but does make vague mention of certain plot threads and new characters.

I fondly remember the day that Thrawn’s canon appearance on Star Wars Rebels was announced at Star Wars Celebration. There had been rumors and speculation that we’d be seeing Thrawn on the show, but nothing solid — and we didn’t even know if it would be the Thrawn we knew, or a new-canon Thrawn-inspired stand-in like Valen Rudor was for Soontir Fel. I asked a friend to text me if there was any official word — and we were pleased and relieved to hear that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be appearing on our TV screens. What none of us even came close to anticipating, though, would be that Thrawn’s TV appearance would be accompanied by a new Thrawn novel by the man himself, Timothy Zahn.

Years later, at the conclusion of a new Thrawn trilogy that isn’t officially a “Thrawn Trilogy”, it seems kind of strange that the Zahn Thrawn novel was the thing that blew our minds, instead of the TV appearance. We should have expected the books — that’s where he came from — and been surprised by his leap to the screen. Regardless, it was an exciting and wonderful time for old-school Expanded Universe fans and it was wonderful seeing Thrawn brought to life for new audiences young and old.

Thrawn’s fate remained unknown at the end of Star Wars Rebels, except that he was “taken off the board.” The three Thrawn novels — ending with the brand-new Thrawn: Treason — filled in the gaps before and during the third and fourth seasons of Rebels, never outpacing the TV show. It seems fair to say that Thrawn’s story is probably done — at least chronologically — until Dave Filoni sees fit to use him again. It’s not impossible that we’ll see Thrawn again in a post-Rebels story, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. But you know, maybe that’s for the best?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against Thrawn. He was a fundamental part of my EU fandom and I was and am glad to see him transition into canon. But after two seasons of television and a novel trilogy about him, it’s possible the story possibilities with him have run their course. At least, the stories of Thrawn the Imperial Grand Admiral (what happens to him post-Empire could be another story!). But that’s not a bad thing. My favorite part of the three Thrawn novels Tim Zahn has recently penned turned out to be characters who weren’t Thrawn: Pryce in the first one, Amidala in the second one, and a whole ensemble cast in Treason.

There’s a whole galaxy of characters out there, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.

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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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“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.

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