Two months ago, when starwars.com announced Christie Golden’s novel Inferno Squad, it seemed kind of out of left field. Rogue One fervor seemed to be dying down as The Last Jedi hype ramped up, but here’s a sequel novel? Wait a second, where have I seen a sequel to Rogue One before?
But here it was. Inferno Squad would tell the story of its vengeful titular elite Imperial unit hunting down the remnants of Saw Gerrera’s extremist Partisans faction following the destruction of the Death Star. In an era where Star Wars publishing has focused largely on movie characters such as Tarkin, Luke Skywalker, Galen Erso, and the like, I was a bit confused as to why this story was getting such major fanfare.
On the eve Star Wars Celebration Orlando, a trailer for Star Wars Battlefront II (or 4, if you’re an insistent purist like me, but I digress) leaked. It featured a woman in TIE pilot armor watching the destruction of the second Death Star and swearing vengeance against the Rebellion. I was instantly intrigued. This single-player campaign might live up to expectations fermented in the twelve years since the last Battlefront II, which featured a still-legendary single player campaign focused on the 501st Legion.
During the convention itself, at the Battlefront II panel, developers revealed that this woman and her unit were actually Inferno Squad. Scattered remarks throughout the audience came from those who recognized the name of the unit from the announcement, and author Christie Golden was soon brought onstage to discuss her novel and the close working relationship shared by the game developers, the Lucasfilm Story Group, and herself which was fostered to tell the tale of Inferno Squad, spanning from the end of Star Wars: A New Hope forward over three decades into the time of the First Order versus the Resistance.
One remark that interested me at this panel was that the game’s writers had come to Lucasfilm having read every scrap of canonical information about the post-Endor period. Upon joining the panel, Steve Blank of the Lucasfilm Story Group revealed:
“[Game director Mark Thompson and campaign mode developer Motive Studios] had done a lot of great homework before they even came to us, and said, ‘Okay, we’ve been reading a lot of the new materials that you put out there. We’ve been reading Aftermath, we’ve read Shattered Empire, we’ve read Lost Stars, and so we understand those details that you’re starting to lay the groundwork for, and we really want to use those to help us tell a story.”
As an avid Star Wars reader with a particular interest in the post-Return of the Jedi canon, this made me eager to scour the trailer even more closely as soon as I got back to the hotel. My friend Trey Walker and I have probably collectively viewed it hundreds of times and spent hours discussing it, so here are some of the most interesting tidbits from other Star Wars stories we can expect to see in the long-awaited story mode of Battlefront II.
The Contingency and Operation: Cinder
Any reader of post-Return of the Jedi canonical material, particularly the Aftermath novel trilogy, is at least partially familiar with the Contingency plotted by Emperor Palpatine and executed by the mysterious Gallius Rax. The true nature of the Contingency is detailed in the final Aftermath novel, Empire’s End, and it is far more complex than a plan of action for the Galactic Empire following the death of its leader. It’s possible that Battlefront II could explore just how aware of the true nature of the plot the Imperial military grunts were, but that’s unlikely, as it would spoil one of the more interesting twists of Empire’s End.
One aspect of the Contingency that we will certainly see is Operation: Cinder, a particularly chaotic part of Palpatine’s posthumous campaign. “Palpatine’s greatest weapon was terror,” Leia explains in Shattered Empire, a comic series about the parents of Poe Dameron after the Battle of Endor. In Operation: Cinder, a few weeks after the Battle of Endor, climate disruption arrays were used on peaceful worlds to sow chaos and confusion. Palpatine’s motivations confused me when I read the comic in fall 2015. They become crystal-clear with a revelation in 2017’s Empire’s End (another example of interconnected Star Wars storytelling), so exploring Cinder from the perspective of Inferno Squad, who are likely not privy to the rationale behind the attacks, would be fascinating to both veteran readers who know the ins and outs of the Contingency as well as those new to this era of Star Wars.
One of the eeriest parts of the Contingency, one that has appeared in Shattered Empire and Aftermath, is the Sentinels. These droids clad in red robes deliver the will of the Emperor to those he preordained to receive his final commands. They verify identities by blood sample and then project Palpatine’s face against their own featureless glass faceplates. The more important someone was to the Contingency, it seemed, the more autonomy Sentinels under their command possessed. The prologue to Aftermath: Life Debt reveals that these creepy messengers were in Palpatine’s employ even before the end of the Clone Wars. One of them appears in the trailer relaying a command to Inferno Squad, marking the first time we will see them in motion. A long time ago in the uncanny valley…
The rise of the First Order from the ashes of the Empire
For the longest time, the “ashes of the Empire” quote from the opening crawl of The Force Awakens was the most information we had about the rise of the First Order. The Aftermath trilogy and the novel Bloodline have given indications that the First Order arose from Imperial remnants who left the galaxy following the failure of the Contingency and the victory of the New Republic. They returned, existing alongside the New Republic in a tense but overall peaceful period in which leaders such as Leia Organa were seen as paranoid or stuck in the past.
Where did Starkiller Base come from? How did they amass their armies? In the novels, shortly after Return of the Jedi, one character seems to be leading the Imperial exodus. I won’t spoil Empire’s End here, but this character is someone I’m pretty certain can’t be Snoke, so when does the transition of power happen? What differentiates the First Order from the old Empire enough to warrant a name change? Obviously, some of these questions will be answered in The Last Jedi and ensuing stories, but with that film looking once again like an intimate character piece more than a story about the greater war, Battlefront II is poised to bring new backstory about the First Order. It was confirmed in the panel that the story of Iden Versio and Inferno Squad will span from the end of Return of the Jedi up until The Force Awakens, and a thirty-year tale of Imperial loyalists would be an ideal platform to show the rise of these new antagonists.
The Battle of Jakku (again, but more cohesive than ever)
The Battle of Jakku has been shown in Aftermath: Empire’s End, Lost Stars, and of course 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront (not to mention my personal favorite, the Disneyland roller coaster Hyperspace Mountain). We have known since Star Wars Celebration Anaheim two years ago that it would be the decisive final battle of the Galactic Civil War, clearly a New Republic victory. It was not until Empire’s End’s February release, however, that we finally got a detailed sequence of events for the entire battle, as several of the series’ core protagonists played key roles in the engagement. We now know the battle raged for months, we know the strategic importance of Jakku to the Contingency and a post-Palpatine Empire and how that connects to its emotional importance to the mysterious figure leading the Empire in this troubled time, and certain cataclysmic events triggered during the battle that may be depicted during the trailer. With the Battle of Jakku apparently appearing yet again, this depiction should be the most connected and fleshed-out yet.
The greatest mystery of this time period is that of Luke Skywalker. We know bits and pieces from Aftermath, The Weapon of a Jedi novel, Shattered Empire, and other sources. Bloodline alludes to Skywalker spending the time period mostly traveling the galaxy, training his nephew Ben Solo, and learning the lore of the Jedi, which is supported by remarks from C-3PO in the epilogue of The Weapon of a Jedi. Shattered Empire has him hunting for relics of the Jedi with Shara Bey, Poe Dameron’s mother, and Aftermath tells us he has been training Leia in simple Force techniques and that his whereabouts and intentions are as mysterious to the New Republic as they are to us.
Skywalker is referred to sarcastically as the “golden boy” by some in the New Republic, and really, when viewed from the lens of a clueless Rebel soldier, his actions in the original trilogy are essentially that of a brash young war hero who deserts to go join a strange dead fringe religion. His appearance in the trailer was a very welcome surprise, but the revelation by Steve Blank during the panel that he would be playable during the course of Inferno Squad’s story set me over the edge.
Blink and you’ll miss it, but Luke is with R2-D2 (another welcome surprise!) on a strange world (potentially Sullust?) being confronted by a member of Inferno Squad. He looks older than he did in Return of the Jedi, but not by much, and he is wearing an outfit that differs only slightly, if at all, from his black Jedi ensemble in that film. My prediction and my hope are that we are seeing Luke and Artoo early in Luke’s quest to rebuild the Jedi Order. The virtual reality experience Trials on Tatooine shows us that Luke was already training Padawans when the Empire still had a presence on Tatooine, presumably within a year after Return of the Jedi, so it will be fascinating to see where his new Jedi stand when he encounters Inferno Squad and what that meeting means for everyone.
While the first EA Battlefront felt empty and unfinished, although fun, Battlefront II already shows that the developers have listened to fan criticisms and are producing a more well-rounded experience. I can’t wait to become Iden Versio and explore a post-Imperial galaxy as she finds her place in it. Star Wars Battlefront II releases worldwide on November 17, 2017 for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Origin on PC. Origin Access or EA Access members can begin their adventures with Inferno Squad with an early release on November 9.