Note: This review of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad contains minor spoilers.
I'm a rebel... in the Star Wars universe, that is. The Rebel Alliance insignia is a permanent decoration on my upper left arm. I would follow Mon Mothma into any battle. I stand against the Empire. But as much as I adore following the exploits of X-wing pilots and seeing good triumph against evil, I'm also curious about what motivates someone to align themselves with the Imperial side. Thankfully, I've got Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden, which gives a whole book full of insight about why Imperials don't see themselves as the bad guys.
Recent years have given us a number of canonical stories exploring Team Empire. Lost Stars is a standout example of getting into the heads of Imperials and hearing the rationalizations and reasoning for taking a stance against the rebels. Tarkin and Thrawn each offer day-to-day experiences inside the working Empire and glimpses at the motivations involved. Inferno Squad goes deeper.
The Battlefront II novel is set before the events of the upcoming game. The game takes place after the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, while the book happens in the weeks and months after the loss of the first Death Star in A New Hope. The book shows how and why Inferno Squad, an elite special forces group, came to be. Namely, they exist to plug information leaks and protect secure data so that nothing like Galen Erso's sabotage of the Death Star in Rogue One can happen again.
The squad is comprised of four humans, each with particular skills—Iden Versio, Seyn Marana, Gideon Hask, and Del Meeko. This is the group at the heart of Battlefront II's story campaign mode; they receive missions from the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) and operate, to some degree, under the radar. Covert ops are their specialty.
When you talk about the Rebellion and the Empire, it's easy to slip into a black-and-white us-vs.-them mentality. Inferno Squad isn't a recruitment book. It's not here to get anyone to visit an Imperial office, sign a piece of paper, and get a stormtrooper helmet. It is here to offer perspective, and I found it. I experienced impactful moments with each character of the group, especially Iden Versio.
To Iden and her team, the rebels are the terrorists. This line of thought is easier to understand when the group infiltrates a society of partisans. Extremists like Saw Gerrera paint the rebels in an unflattering light. The Rebel Alliance doesn't endorse extreme tactics, obviously, but if you think you're part of the organization that can bring peace to the galaxy through law and order, you don't much care about whether the partisans are working with a stamp of approval.
That I was able to put myself in the shoes of the members of Inferno Squad and tilt my head in understanding is a testament to how much Golden pushed, explored, and provided context. She didn't treat Inferno Squadron as the “bad guys,” but instead looked at them as soldiers doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. They believe they're making a difference in the same ways the crew of the Ghost or Leia think they're making a difference. They have some fundamental similarities, and as with Lost Stars, that discovery led to some navel-gazing.
I couldn't quite cheer for the successes Inferno Squad found, but I was riveted and invested in what happened next. I found myself wanting Iden to excel, even though any of her triumphs ultimately hurt the rebellion. The novel brought questions about nature vs. nurture into focus and made me view some aspects of the Empire through lenses I've never used before, which I think is important for any rebel.
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Images: Del Rey, EA