The hardest part of any trilogy is the ending, and that’s no less true when it comes to Star Wars. You only need to look at the latest film, J.J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker, and the rampant criticism of its underwhelming ending to the Skywalker saga, to see the level of pressure that a finale set in a galaxy far, far away inherently faces. Alexander Freed’s Star Wars: Victory’s Price manages to avoid all these pitfalls, ending the Alphabet Squadron trilogy in a way that’s satisfying, addictive, and deeply character-driven.

Victory’s Price picks up at least a few weeks after the events of Shadow Fall, with the battle on Troithe leaving the New Republic forces severely depleted, and Alphabet’s former leader Yrica Quell rejoining with Shadow Wing leader Soran Keize in the crumbling Empire. The plot threads from the second book are handled brilliantly here: we learn more about Chass’ unconscious temptation to join the Children of the Empty Sun cult, and Wyl Lark’s pining to return Home after being the last of his planet’s inhabitants still battling in the war.

Yet unlike any Star Wars film other than The Last Jedi, the plot here really feels like a war of attrition, with both sides slowly falling apart. Crucially, Freed uses this to humanise the Empire, adding some depth to Shadow Wing personnel that Shadow Fall was desperately lacking. Quell’s defection to the Empire – done as an undercover ploy to aid the New Republic – affords a ground-level viewpoint of Imperial soldiers, exploring their celebrations, their camaraderie, and the bonds between them, that unearth the idea that these troops truly think they’re doing the right thing. It beats the well-trodden path that neither side of the war is truly evil – at least the soldiers – and is communicated really well through enjoyable scenes of Shadow Wing and New Republic pilots talking over comlink, telling stories of their pasts and forming bonds. It’s a side to war we never get to see in the franchise, and adds some nuance and humanity to an otherwise clear-cut good-or-evil conflict.

The main star of the book, and adorned on the cover, is Wyl Lark, who certainly takes centre stage here, leading Alphabet after Quell’s defection. The moral debate over leaving the war prior to its conclusion plagues Wyl throughout the novel, as he starts to think any more action against Shadow Wing would be overtly violent, leading to an arc that subverts anything we’ve really seen of the galaxy’s military leaders. He also tells a fascinating anecdote of his time in Endor – one I won’t spoil here – that’s an amazing little Easter egg, and ties perfectly into the themes that Wyl’s arc conveys.

Equally intriguing is the development of Yrica Quell, as Freed tracks her trajectory from New Republic leader to Imperial defector. Seeing her interact with Soran is fascinating, and as it emerges that her intentions for Shadow Wing are driven by justice, it becomes clear that Freed is carving a steady but satisfying redemption arc, that pays off beautifully in the second half of the novel, as Quell is kidnapped by Chass and Kairos – the latter of whom is much more fleshed out here. The relationship between the three, as they traverse the galaxy in an attempt to return home, and slowly but reluctantly grow closer, is handled really confidently by Freed, who wraps it up with a genuinely terrific final section that tells the conclusion of these characters’ stories in such a rewarding way.

And that’s the crux of what makes Victory’s Price such a delight to read: Freed’s admiration and love of the characters seeps through into every page, and he builds them all so well that it’s genuinely emotionally affecting when their journeys come to an end. Every twist and turn lands perfectly – and there’s quite a few here; you’ll be speeding through chapters to get a resolution – and the battle scenes, while teetering on bloated at times, are written with such vivid and rich detail that it’s impossible not to get invested. Freed does something no other Star Wars story of late has done, by introducing elements of all three trilogies here, as Victory’s Price narrates the Battle of Jakku that precedes the rise of the First Order and The Force Awakens.

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Ultimately, Victory’s Price really deserves the highest praise possible. It takes a franchise otherwise focused on super-powered people, galaxy-defining battles, and mystical prophecies, and carves a story that’s just as engaging out of characters whose only powers are their personalities. Freed’s love for these characters is rooted in the story he tells, wrapping up a sprawling trilogy in a way that provides satisfaction while also telling a brutal, heartfelt, and at times desperate, story. You’ll find it impossible not to a miss these characters once you finish reading, but Freed’s trilogy-ender never quite closes the door fully – and if we get the pleasure of seeing these characters once again, it’ll be a treat.

★★★★

Star Wars: Victory’s Price is out now from Del Rey Books.