Much like they’re the backbone of the Rebel Alliance, pilots are the backbone of Star Wars storytelling, having been the subject of countless books, comics, and video games. But this is perhaps the best depiction they’ve ever had.
Victory’s Price, the final book in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed, gives us a tense, emotional conclusion to this story of daring pilots. Nearly a year on since the death of Emperor Palpatine, the fledgling New Republic is ready to bring the war to a final end. One of their prime objectives? Defeating the Imperial aces of the 204th, Shadow Wing. Who under the command of Colonel Soran Keize, have begun a second Operation Cinder, bringing devastation to world after world.
To hunt them down, Alphabet Squadron was brought together. Consisting of a defected, traumatized Shadow Wing pilot, Yrica Quell. A sweet, sadly no longer innocent boy by the name of Wyl Lark. A Theelin with a death wish struggling after an affecting experience with a cult, Chass na Chadic. An ex-Imperial rebel pirate, now seemingly a war hero for actions against the 204th, and somehow the most put-together of the squad, Nath Tensent. And finally, the mysterious Kairos, who no one knows much about, though we do peel back some layers to her in a beautifully told sub-plot throughout the book. The entire squad has been, are going, and are about to go through, a lot.
When we pick up, Yrica Quell has defected back to the 204th, in a story that leaves us guessing at her true motives. It’s a heartbreaking look at the damage divided loyalties can do to a person. This leaves Alphabet in a rough place, though they’re not alone in the fight. They have assistance from a battle group under command of Rebels fan-favourite Hera Syndulla, giving us someone of sound-mind to center us against the turmoil our other characters are going through. Even still, Hera struggles with the responsibility of command, finding herself missing the days of being part of a small crew of rebels.
This book, and the trilogy it belongs to, are some of the most impactful stories ever told in Star Wars. Taking a look at the trauma caused by war, none of our “heroes”, and I use that term in the lightest possible definition, are doing well. They’re all hurt in their own way. How Victory’s Price goes about showing this will break you emotionally. It broke me.
Alexander Freed may well be the Star Wars author with the best understanding of the toll war can have on someone, especially those who have lost countless friends to a constant stream of seemingly endless battles. While he writes some truly engaging, edge-of-your-seat battles between the pilots of Alphabet Squadron and the 204th, it’s in the quieter moments, when there’s no battle to win, or dogfight to duel, that he hits the highest of highs. These moments, especially one specific scene of a radio conversation with the enemy that is held without malice or objective, are where the book shines brightest. When it digs into who these characters are at their core.
To keep talking about Victory’s Price would mean going into spoilers. I don’t want to do that, because this trilogy has easily emerged as my favorite piece of storytelling to come out of Star Wars, and one I hope everyone can experience for themselves at some point. I’ll finish by simply saying that when I came to the end of the book I was left an emotional wreck for at least an hour, and it’s going to stick with me for a long while yet.