|Inferno Squad by Christie Golden|
I'm very excited to play Battlefront II once the game releases and thought it would be fun to get a little more background on the main characters of that game's story. The book is readable and totally adequate but not very memorable either. Many books (and other products) like this appear to be written for the express purpose of promoting the main attraction, in this case the video game. A journeyman writer—someone like Christie Golden, who has a large and growing number of books credited to her—is brought in to bang out a competent but mediocre story to generate buzz and excitement among an already excited swarm of fans. From a marketing perspective it seems to work fine—why else would they do it?—but from a storytelling perspective it doesn't exactly seem to promote new works of literary art.
The focus of the upcoming Star Wars game, as well as the book, is Inferno Squad. The Empire's equivalent of special forces. It's an interest enough idea; although, Golden takes this elite team in a different direction than I was expecting. In Inferno Squad the book, the team completes a series of under-cover operations, which seemed strange to me since I had first envisioned these characters as being more akin to Navy Seals than to CIA operatives. I'm not sure the derivation worked as well as a straight Black Hawk Down-esque type of story would have. I think the book's story would have been more interesting had it looked a little more like Rogue One, which contained only small elements of undercover tactics. Due to the course the book takes, the story drags out a little bit too long, albeit Golden makes honest efforts in attempting to complicate the Inferno Squad members' relationships with the several members of the separatist group they have infiltrated. (The separatist group is known as "The Dreamers," which I thought was an absolutely ridiculous name). The narrative pay-off comes and goes but doesn't leave too much of an impression.
In addition, I think Inferno Squad the book shows the difficulty of writing a story—whether it's a novel or a video game—about the bad guys. Star Wars: A New Hope pretty well establishes that the Empire is evil—through and through. The other films in the franchise's history do plenty to reinforce this narrative truth. So how does a writer—and the audience for that matter—now approach a story about those fighting the Empire's war? How do you get the audience to like or sympathize with them? The approach taken in the book makes sense; to wit, the Empire provides order and therefore peace to the galaxy. Anyone who disrupts that, such as the Rebel Alliance, deserves and needs to be destroyed. Furthermore, the book doesn't show Inferno Squad systematically murdering Rebel Alliance members, who could presumably be Han Solo and Luke Skywalker's buddies, but targeting corrupt Imperial officials and an extreme separatist sect. This, I assume, is an attempt to make it a bit more palatable to root for the bad guys. It partially works but doesn't go far enough. I would have liked a more nuanced and meticulous exploration of the "order and peace above all" argument. Hopefully the video game handles this difficult storytelling balancing act more thoroughly and persuasively.
Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad is adequate and forgettable. It did its job in that I'm just as if not more excited for the upcoming video game. It was fun to jump back into the expanded universe of Star Wars, and I hope for more stories a little better told. Star Wars is rich with potential stories of importance and consequence but also ripe for simple, marketing-driven fare. I would love the former but readers will probably end up with a lot of the latter.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Mass Effect: Revelation
Reflections: Ready Player One
Page-Turners: Black Hawk Down