There will be full traditional RPG character statistics with skill use and development.
You will start with the crew you see in the image on this page.
Northstar will definitely be a little more character driven in comparison to the recent genre trend of blurring "trading" with what is, predominantly, a spacefighter combat sim. So character interaction both in use and development will be fairly central to the Northstar experience. We believe you should be able to tailor and grow a crew that fits your style of play.
Skill specialization follows fairly realistic lines. A ships engineer will obviously be light on combat skills and heavy on technical skills at least to start with. Depending how you use the character, what tasks they perform and how much experience situations they get through you can shape their development within reason. A learning by doing aspect to experience will somewhat limit "My pilot has level 5 neurosurgery now and has never been in a hospital!!" syndrome.
The thing to remember is that you are just not running a group of D&D adventurers who are all in it because they hate Orcs. You are running a business. The Northstar must run in the black. People are with you for love, action or money — but mostly the money. People gotta get paid. Fuel has to be paid for. Repairs are expensive. Travelling with a small army of rambo's... may get a little pricey.
Loss of your ship through lack of payments is a loss condition, while various crew have varying levels of how much they are willing to put up with. Loyalty is worth more than gold out in The Scatter.
As for free will, agenda’s are an important part of a game and often you may find yourself in situations where other characters, including your crew, will have something more important to say or do than what you were expecting. Even NPCs should want to "win" at all times. The interesting part in an RPG is for the player to understand what that may mean for any given character.
Crew composition is dynamic.
NorthStar characters are able to move around inside the various ships as well as departing the ship. You choose their physical movement, with some assistance from the AI — as in odds are, during space combat, your engineer is at the reactor / drive system already. The communications system will also allow you to order crew to different positions as well during combat.
There is an experience counter that is influenced not just by combat but by attempts at various tasks in general. Characters will have an overall level but skills will also develop in parallel with that.