REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: Shadow Fall’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Shadow Fall Cover

Hearts were beating fast as Alexander Freed’s Shadow Fall (beautiful cover art and design by Jeff Langevin and Scott Biel) hit shelves, the first Star Wars adult novel since the release of The Rise of Skywalker from publisher Del Rey Books. As the middle chapter in the Alphabet Squadron series penned by an author known for killing off beloved characters, pressure, and expectations for the novel were high. Shadow Fall takes place five years after the Battle of Yavin or about one year after The Return of the Jedi.  For further in-universe context, The Alphabet Squadron series is also more or less concurrent with the 2015-2017 Aftermath series, Star Wars: Battlefront II, and the upcoming Star Wars: Squadrons.

Shadow Fall picks up shortly after the events of its prequel, Alphabet Squadron. The New Republic is on the rise across the galaxy, felling Imperial remnants, and liberating planets and systems from holdout loyalists. General Hera Syndulla leads ground and naval forces in the Cerberon System, including a special Intelligence project headed by Caeran Adan and his Alphabet Squadron to hunt down and defeat the Empire’s notorious Shadow Wing.

Alphabet Squadron is an absolute mess. Its five pilots, Yrica Quell, Wyl Lark, Chass na Chadic, Nath Tensent, and Kairos, as well as Adan himself and his therapy droid/former Imperial torture droid IT-0 —messes, all of them. They were messes in Alphabet Squadron and they are all even worse for ware come Shadow Fall in the aftermath of the disaster at Pandem Nai. Yrica is emotionally detached as ever, Wyl is as hopelessly optimistic as can be, Chass’s death wish is insurmountable, Nath is still a space cowboy, and Kairos is, well, Kairos.

Freed is superb at capturing the complexities of war in his Star Wars novels. Whereas most of Star Wars is full of hope and happy endings, Freed’s novels illustrate and explore the full range of emotions and circumstances that war draws out. Shadow Fall, in both its characters and its plot, beats around no bushes as it sucks you into the tragedy and atrocity that is the Galactic Civil War.

Alphabet Squadron gave us a glimpse at the trauma of each of these individuals and how utterly dysfunctional they are as a group. Rather than the typical story structure where everybody grows and they come closer together, Shadow Fall just digs everybody in deeper. As a book on its own, it’s a tad frustrating to watch these characters you grew to respect and find intriguing plunge deeper into their most toxic qualities. Yet, knowing that this is the middle book in a trilogy, this unusual character development is excellent and welcome.

Most of the characters in Shadow Fall receive ample point-of-view time, including Shadow Wing’s newly returned leader Soren Keize. In these rotating points of view, Freed gives great insight into each of their psyches and how they are completely distinct from one another. The two characters I hoped would receive a bit more attention were the two who left me wanting more. Kairos remains as much an enigma to me as ever, being taken out of action shortly after her most exciting moment yet. Meanwhile, Hera still does not once mention that she has a child and while I understand Lucasfilm is letting Dave Filloni have the first crack at any post-Star Wars: Rebels stories with the show’s characters, it still feels like a weird thing to omit.

The entire plot takes place in the Cerberon System, which at first, felt a bit plodding. Star Wars rarely takes place in a single location, hopping from planet to planet. But after the first few hours of the book, it becomes clear that the Cerberon System is one of the most fully realized and interesting planetary systems in Star Wars. First off, the system has no sun. Its planets revolve around a black hole, with only the singularity populating the sky during the day. Second, there are multiple planets, moons, and planetoids in the system. Third, the planets aren’t just single-biome space rocks. They have continents and cities and everything a planet has. While it’s more of a stereotype than reality that all Star Wars planets are just a single biome, it’s still nice to a full system realized in Shadow Fall.

While I am certainly excited for the upcoming Star Wars: Squadrons game and how it ties into the same time period as the Alphabet Squadron books, it was a bit much the number of times Vanguard Squadron, the protagonists of that game, were not-so-slyly mentioned. It just kept alluding to them and their super important, super-secret mission with Hera without ever giving a single real detail about what they are doing or, worse, the names of any of their pilots. Other squadron pilots and their missions are mentioned frequently, so the obvious obfuscation around Vanguard Squadron came off a bit more like an annoying advertisement than a subtle or effective tie-in to a game still several months away.

The audiobook version of Shadow Fall, narrated by Carol Monda, follows the same trend as Alphabet Squadron, utilizing much less Star Wars symphonic soundtrack that most other Star Wars audiobooks and instead, employing it only at the moments of greatest intensity. Otherwise, the soundtrack is very subdued. The occasional sound effects set on loop do accompany most battles, but since the battles are not all especially captivatingly written in the first place, they never became grating like they sometimes do in other Star Wars audiobooks when they are on loop for too long. Monda’s narration was, at first, felt like a monotonous rendition. However, as the book went on, I came to appreciate the way her tone reflected exactly the tone I would expect Yrica. The main characters were pitched and accented distinctly enough to most always know who the point-of-view character was without it having to be pointed out, which is impressive in a book with so many POV characters. Overall, her performance was enjoyable and well-done.

Shadow Fall was not always completely captivating, and its place as a trilogy middle-novel sometimes felt like it was holding it back. But ultimately, Freed’s exploration of the dark depths of war through his now-familiar characters and an increasingly familiar period in the Star Wars timeline is excellent. The harrowing ending also sets up enormous anticipation for the Alphabet Squadron trilogy’s conclusion.

Shadow Fall is available now wherever books are sold.


Shadow Fall
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TL;DR

Shadow Fall was not always completely captivating, and its place as a trilogy middle-novel sometimes felt like it was holding it back. But ultimately, Freed’s exploration of the dark depths of war through his now-familiar characters and an increasingly familiar period in the Star Wars timeline is excellent. The harrowing ending also sets up enormous anticipation for the Alphabet Squadron trilogy’s conclusion.