A.I

Read a new excerpt of Star Wars trilogy-capper Victory’s Price

In the new book Star Wars: Victory’s Price: An Alphabet Squadron Novel, author Alexander Freed reunites with his team of ace New Republic pilots, the Alphabet Squadron. In anticipation of the book’s March 2, 2021 release, we asked Freed to share his feelings on wrapping up his trilogy as way of introducing an exclusive excerpt.

Fifteen years of writing Star Wars stories, and I’ve got one basic trick: Let someone else lay the groundwork, then fill in the gaps left behind.

With the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic, I focused on spy stories taking place in the shadows of an epic war while other writers chronicled the clash between Jedi and Sith. In my first novel, Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company, the original movie trilogy served as a backdrop for the grunts of the Rebel Alliance — the sort we saw in the trenches on Hoth, who fought the Empire without the idealism or destiny buoying the Rebellion’s greatest heroes but who contributed to the greater good nonetheless.

In the case of the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels and Greg Rucka’s Shattered Empire comic book had already charted the course of the galaxy’s civil war in the year after the Battle of Endor. We knew from The Force Awakens that the Rebel Alliance-turned-New-Republic would seize victory at the Battle of Jakku. The most obvious questions — “Who’s going to win the war, and how?” “How did the First Order start?” “What happened to Luke, Leia, and Han?” — had been answered.

Note I said, “the most obvious questions” and not “the most important questions.”

For me, the Alphabet Squadron trilogy was an opportunity to dig beneath the surface. To fill in the gaps, and ask, “If that’s what happened, what does it mean? What does it imply about the galaxy, what it dealt with, and what’s to come?”

Through the eyes of five mismatched pilots (and an Imperial ace of aces, and a compassionate torture droid, and a spy, and a few others) I found a chance to explore trauma during a time of crisis and what it means to carry that trauma afterward. Reluctant defector Yrica Quell let me ask what it means to live alongside your ideological enemies after defeat, and scrutinize the challenges of redemption. Would-be martyr Chass na Chadic and ex-pirate Nath Tensent became studies in what people drawn to the rebellion for the wrong reasons might face, and what it means to go from being the underdog to an enforcer of the status quo.

With A-wing pilot Wyl Lark — starring at last on the cover of Victory’s Price! — I got to reflect on the question of how long a “just war” remains just, and when it’s time to recommit or time to go home. I got to sketch the future of General Hera Syndulla, who may not feel altogether at home as the commander of armadas but who remains as noble, charismatic, and caring as she was in Star Wars: Rebels.

(No, I’m not forgetting Kairos. Can’t talk about her without spoilers.)

And sure, there’s plenty at stake beyond the souls of our protagonists — in Victory’s Price, whole worlds see their existence upended within two chapters, and things escalate from there. There are dogfights and monsters and capital ships reduced to molten slag in the depths of space. It’s the end of a trilogy, and those always climax in spectacular fashion. Three books in, Yrica, Wyl, Nath, Chass, Kairos, Soran, and Hera all come to the end of their present journey.

Could I have done all that if I’d had to worry about laying the groundwork at the same time? If I’d had to explain the how of the Empire’s fall in the year after Endor, instead of charting the course of one very personal rivalry between Alphabet Squadron and the TIE pilots of Shadow Wing?

Maybe. But that doesn’t mean the trick’s gone stale. Let’s try to pull it off one more time.


In this selection, Wyl Lark leads a team of pilots on a routine mission that reveals the decay of the Imperial remnant. Hear a preview of the audiobook, read by January LaVoy, below.

The glow of hyperspace faded as the jolt of deceleration hit. Wyl’s harness dug into his chest as stars fell into place and the jade light of Midgor winked from the darkness. His head swam and he looked to the console, trying to parse the readings as his instruments recalibrated themselves.

“Picking something up!” Wyl heard Vitale, curt and professional—the woman he’d flirted with, almost befriended, before he’d become her commanding officer on Troithe. “Three, maybe four ships.”

“I hear you, Wild Two,” he said. Wyl adjusted his sensors, felt the reassuring click of toggles through his gloves, and confirmed Vitale’s assessment. His comm scanner flickered, suggesting encrypted Imperial chatter in the system.

“Wild and Hail, hold position,” he said. “Flare, with me for a better look.”

Affirmative responses came in. Wyl opened his throttle and swung his vessel toward the bright marks on his scanner. When his course was set, the universe seemed still and his roaring thrusters impotent—in the vastness of realspace, the only signs he was in motion were his console indicators and, far behind, the lights of the other starfighters.

It was almost a minute before he could pick out specks against the darkness. His sensors estimated the distant vessels’ speed and mass. They were too large to be fighters but smaller than frigates—gunships, maybe, but Wyl couldn’t guess at their specifications. He didn’t have the encyclopedic knowledge Yrica Quell had possessed.

Quell.

Wyl had seen many friends die in the war. But the loss of Quell was different from the loss of Sonogari or Sata Neek.

“I need an ID,” he said. “Anyone recognize them?”

“One in the back looks like an Imperial cargo hauler,” Ghordansk replied. Ghordansk had an answer for everything, and half the time he was right. “Running hot, too—maybe a radiation leak.”

Wyl altered his approach, angling to one side. The specks of the Imperial vessels were flickering around the edges, as if their shields were alive with energy or—

He checked his sensors again, noted the heat signatures.

“Keep your distance,” he said. “I’m going for a flyby.”

He sent a burst of power to his thrusters and adjusted the comm again as he accelerated toward the enemy formation. The garbled sounds of encrypted messages echoed in his cockpit. He squinted and leaned forward until the specks began to crystallize—boxy, black forms, clearly Imperial but lacking the predatory angles of a Star Destroyer. Flames and electrical arcs danced along their sides and spilled into vacuum.

“This is Starfighter Commander Wyl Lark to the Imperial vessels. Please report your status.”

It could have been a trap, he knew—bait left by Shadow Wing to lure in New Republic ships. The Imperial cargo vessels could have been rigged to detonate, or TIE fighters could have been hiding a short distance away.

An answer came, too distorted for him to understand.

“This is Wyl Lark. Say again?”

“This is Captain Oultovar Misk of the freighter Diamond Tor. We are in need of assistance and are prepared to surrender. Repeat: We surrender!”

Wyl had entered firing range. A flash of light caught his attention and he swiveled his head, fearing a cannon barrage and instead witnessing an eruption of fire and molten metal from the port side of a cargo vessel.

It wasn’t a trap. He didn’t think it was a trap.

It might be something worse.

“Captain Misk?” he said. “What happened to your convoy?”

The voice hesitated then replied, interrupted by bursts of static and mechanical whines: “We were in a battle. TIE fighters attacked us. Dismantled our escorts in minutes, then moved on.”

“Why?” Wyl asked. “Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know. We were—we were operating under the protection of the Yomo Council. One of the other factions must have taken exception, decided to come after—”

The voice stopped speaking. Wyl thought at first that transmission problems had shut it down, but then he heard heavy breathing and what could only be weeping.

“Imperial against Imperial,” the voice said. “That’s what the war is, now. Family killing family, oaths unraveling. How can it—are you going to help us?”

Wyl flinched as if struck. “Of course. Of course we’ll help. Stay where you are, we’ve got more ships incoming.”

He transmitted an all-clear to the Deliverance and ordered his squadrons into range to assist with evacuation and damage control. He tried to keep the fighters from exposing themselves without compromising the rescue. It wasn’t a trap, not one set by the Diamond Tor and the other cargo ships, but that was no guarantee the danger had passed.

As Wyl worked, he thought of Captain Misk’s words and what Shadow Wing was capable of, and all the Imperial atrocities committed after the Battle of Endor. He’d witnessed none of them at the time, but he’d read about Operation Cinder—the murder of worlds, like Nacronis, that had posed no threat to the Empire.

He wondered what horrors were in store for all of them now, when the Empire was truly desperate.

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