Updated: Aug 12
(Warning: This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.)
As soon as they flew into the frame for the first time in A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance have been the unequivocal underdogs of the Galactic Civil War, be it from a small force consisting of three fighter squadrons facing the planet-killing tyranny of the Death Star, or the narrow escape from AT ATs raining fire on Hoth, to the all-or-nothing assault on the Second Death Star. The Rebel Alliance were constantly outgunned, under armed and with their backs constantly to the wall, yet somehow within nine years they toppled the Imperial regime and established the New Republic, keeping the galaxy at relative peace for nearly three decades. There were a number of factors which played into the success of the Rebellion, many of which are explored through Yrica Quell’s journey from Lietenant of the Empire’s elite Shadow Wing squadron to New Republic Pilot during the novel Alphabet Squadron.
A key factor in the Rebellion’s success can be seen within its structure and motivations. When Mon Mothma sent out the declaration of Rebellion above Dantooine, dozens of ships from across the galaxy responded. They were from different reaches of the galaxy, ships from Corellia, Mon Calamari and Alderaan, as well as the Rebels from Lothal that aided Mothma. They were from different worlds, with differing lives and goals and dreams, yet they all shared one thing in common, they knew the pain in living under the tyranny of the Empire. This can be seen with the various members of Alphabet Squadron. Yrica seeks redemption through her actions because of her role in Operation Cinder, Wyl Lark joined other tributes from his home world once the Empire set up operations in the system, Chass-Na-Chadic had suffered under the Empire’s policy and been inspired by Jyn Erso, her hero who’d personally save her life, Nath Tensent was driven by revenge and profit, while Kairos’s story is one seemingly driven by pain. Despite coming from different paths, the team has a shared goal, to fight against the Empire and end Shadow Wing. It was a force driven by the dreams of the many.
Meanwhile, the Empire had operated under Palpatine’s reign for the entirety of its existence, served under his will to enforce his dominance as a singular entity. While high-ranking members held power like Grand Moff Tarkin and Gallius Rax, they were still enforcing Palpatine’s regime, and once Palpatine seemingly met his demise over Endor, the Empire fractured. Opportunists grabbed what power they could and became warlords, the loyalists were issued orders by Palpatine to conduct Operation Cinder, which itself was Palpatine’s scheme to punish the galaxy for allowing his death and separate those he saw as worthy from the unworthy. Without its key architect, even the most loyal members could not ensure the Empire would last. This is shown through Colonel Shakara Nurress, Shadow Wing’s commanding officer, who after carrying out the orders left to her by the late Emperor takes control of the Tibanna mining station Orbital One at Pandem Nai, sending out the 204th to wipe out any potential witnesses to their operations. Nurress is shown throughout the novel with the red-robed Messenger Droid of Palpatine, hoping for it to issue her more orders beyond her initial commands, yet the droid never speaks. Even in her final moments, she questions the droid about her orders, and it remains unresponsive. To her final moments, she was hoping for one last response that would never come. The Empire was first and foremost constructed on the visions of a cruel man who would never allow it to prosper if it failed him.
As well as their motivations, the tactics and equipment available to the Rebellion further set them apart from their foes. The Rebellion were always at a disadvantage, lacking the vast, endless resources that the Empire held. The Empire’s methodology has been defined Tarkin Doctrine, rooted in the Grand Moff’s belief that the Empire could maintain their dominance through shows of power, much like he states when discussing the Death Star, “Fear will keep the local systems in line.”. As such, the Empire’s main strategy often consisted of overwhelming their opponents through force, be it through overwhelming squadrons of TIE Fighters to large superweapons such as the Death Stars. These shows of power were meant to not only end the current insurgencies, but deter any other possible future rebellions from rising up out of fear. These tactics would however be the Empire's undoing, as once losses like Scarif and the destruction of the Death Star happened, the galaxy saw the Empire was not invulnerable, it could be fought against and even beaten. Ruling through fear and power only works when the opposing force believes that they don't stand a chance, and the Empire's choice to continue to simply scare the galaxy into submission through the Death Star II's construction and seemingly Operation Cinder beyond such losses showed they lacked the will to change their strategies, as seen by the threat Wyl recieves from 'Blink', a pilot of Shadow Wing, intimidation still remained a key tactic, even as the Empire fell from power.
The Rebellion did not have the luxury of near limitless resources and would not ever allow itself to adopt such a methodology as shown with their post-war disarmament campaign. As such, they were consistently shown to be scrambling for resources. A key example can be seen through the Lodestar, the flagship under the command of Hera Syndulla which Alphabet Squadron are stationed on. It is an Acclamator Assault Ship, the cruisers first seen in Attack of the Clones and later The Clone Wars series carrying legions of Clones into battle. By the events of the novel, the ship has long been out of service, with Hera suspecting “there wasn’t a single hull plate left on the vessel that hadn’t been replaced” and thinking it would be a miracle that it’d survive the war. However, as we see in other media, having a less rigid and narrow structure gave the fledgling Rebellion something the Empire didn’t, a greater sense of ingenuity and adaptability. A key example would be the structure of Alphabet Squadron itself. Unlike more traditional squadrons, it is composed of five vastly different fighters. This invites plenty of room for error, as Yrica notes during their first training sessions, things like the differing speeds could easily lead to formations breaking up and even possible collisions. Yrica is shown to be unused to the improvisational methodology in comparison to the order she saw in the Empire, even losing her temper with Adan after the failed mission to Abednado over the lack of structure and resources. Despite this, after a heart to heart with Hera and a trip with her team, she begins to leave her Imperial mindset behind and adjust to her new life, and as such she was able to adapt when during the mission to Pandem Nai almost resulted in a large number of civilian casualties and prevent a catastrophe, saving many lives in the process. Her letting go of the rigid and structured Imperial thinking not only ensured victory, but also led to her becoming more closer with her team.
Much like how Yrica had to break away from the Empire’s strict formations and protocols, she also had to break away from the mindset in which the Empire viewed its own personal and the people within it. As previously noted, the Empire ruled through fear and submission, those beneath them were lesser and expendable. This can be seen with Yrica looking back upon her Imperial service, recalling planetary bombardments, recalling cheering crowds on observation decks when they succeeded, before imagining being a citizen on the planet who’d just been fired upon. While warships and vast legions of Stormtroopers would keep the populace in line, they also saw their own troopers in a similar manner. Imperial pilots were crammed into fighters that offered the bare minimum protections, as Yrica notes when she first enters a X Wing. Not only that, but Yrica also recalls Loyalty Officers, individuals from the Imperial Security Bureau whose goals were to keep those who served the Empire faithful to their leadership, going as far to performing raids on individual’s quarters to outright torture. The Empire didn’t see its citizens or even its forces as more than another resource in maintaining its rule, they were expendable so long as the Empire survived.
In comparison, the Rebellion is shown to be more compassionate. This can be seen through Yrica’s adjustment to her new life and role in the squadron, after Hera sends the squadron to Harkova I after barely scraping through previous operations, the group begins to bond, leading to Yrica eventually understanding her squadron more, as for a show of faith and understanding in her team, she chooses to fully embrace them by having their uniforms and fighters adorned in the squad’s colours. This compassion is extended to the citizens of the galaxy when the civilians of Pandem Nai are put at risk, the squadron chooses to prioritise a rescue operation over finishing Shadow Wing, despite their initial mission falling short, they’d saved a world from certain destruction. Not only this, but the Rebellion was shown to be more accepting of those who defected if they'd hope to make things right. This can be seen through both Nath and Yrica, as Hera defends Yrica when Caern tries to dismiss her on the grounds of her past career. Even I-TO, Caern’s assistant and Yrica’s therapy droid, started life as an Imperial Torture Machine, only to become a key aid in Yrica’s recovery. The Rebellion is shown to be built with care and trust first and foremost, not serve like machines for a greater, more wicked power. Where the Empire is a monument to cruelty and malice, the Rebellion is a symbol of kindness and care for those who suffer, and was more than willing to provide people with second chances.
In conclusion, what made the Rebellion and New Republic achieve victory in the Galactic Civil War was its sense of humanity and individuality. The Empire operated much like a machine, with a single goal, rigid structures and uncaring policies, when that system broke down, the Empire came with it. The Rebellion on the other hand rejected that system. It was driven by the many, not the one. It was willing to adapt beyond simply overpowering it's opponent. And most importantly, its clear compassion for those it served and those it hoped to protect proved it valued its personal and didn't just see them as assets. Yrica's journey from Imperial Pilot to New Republic Squadron leader throughout the novel is a microcosm of how each side differed, and how a group of individuals from different lives with minimal resources can break a tyranical Empire.