"Much like other Star Wars novels to emerge from the mid-90s, Wedge’s Gamble became a trendsetter for later innovations within the old Expanded Universe."
LEGENDS LOOKBACK is a series of articles that will review Legends books for Star Wars fans that want to jump back into some classic Star Wars literature!
Welcome to the second of my reviews of the X-Wing series of Legends books for Youtini. As before, I will attempt to be sparse on spoilers, but some will inevitably slip through. I shall do my best not to ruin the book for anyone looking to read it, because I’ll tell you right from the start: Wedge’s Gamble is a true gem. Let’s break down the main points!
In Rogue Squadron, Michael A. Stackpole devised and ended with a promise that the Rogues were going to be at the forefront of the Alliance’s efforts to capture Coruscant (also called Imperial Center) from Ysanne Isard (better known as Iceheart, the primary villain of the beginning of the series). It isn’t long before Stackpole delivers on this promise in Wedge’s Gamble, and the story quickly becomes a special ops infiltration of the galactic capital. Despite the series being primarily about fighter pilots, this book has relatively few moments inside a cockpit, save at the beginning and end.
The key difference of being relatively light on snubfighter action makes this story stand out amongst its brethren in the rest of the series, and the characters relying on their wits and skills outside of an X-Wing make this entry especially enjoyable. In a multi-tiered plan engineered by General Airen Cracken, the head of Rebel (and later New Republic) Intelligence, the Rogues land on Coruscant to undertake a variety of missions in just as many disguises, but not before a stop by Kessel to free some Black Sun criminals who they release on Coruscant to sow chaos for the Imperials. Nobody ever said morality was black and white, after all. There are also some side plans Wedge puts into action that end up being a saving grace for the squadron, but to discuss those would be too much of a spoiler.
The primary goal of the infiltration of Coruscant is to bring down the planetary shield through whatever means necessary so that Admiral Ackbar can jump the Alliance fleet into orbit and seize the world before Isard’s stretched out forces can mount a better defense. What the Rebels don’t realize, however, is that Isard has her own plan in action to make Coruscant an unmanageable problem for them when they seize it.
Much as in the previous book, the primary point of view characters are still Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn. Wedge’s Gamble also introduces several new cast members who help drive the plot as heroes, villains, and the people caught in between. Stackpole succeeds here in demonstrating the many layers to galactic civilization in his use of noble Rebels, clean-cut Imperials, untrustworthy criminals, and the civilians forced to choose a side in the endless conflict.
Aside from General Cracken mentioned above, there are also a couple of other Rebels brought into the story who would go on to make other, chronologically later appearances in the old Expanded Universe. These Rebels include Lieutenant Pash Cracken, A-Wing pilot and son of General Cracken, and Winter, the white-haired Alderaanian intelligence officer with eidetic memory you likely remember as Princess Leia’s aide in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. Iella Wessiri, Corran’s old partner from his days as a cop on Corellia, makes an additional appearance on the side of the Rebellion. We are also introduced to a variety of non-human characters either fighting for the Rebellion or sympathetic to it, such as Captain Aril Nunb (Nien Nunb’s sister) and Asyr Sei’lar, a capable Bothan forced to live in the Empire’s alien ghetto.
Further, perhaps the most fascinating villain-turned-ally in the story is Fliry Vorru, one of the high-ranking members of Black Sun that Wedge released on Coruscant. Vorru is particularly intriguing, because at another point in his life, he was an Imperial Moff in the Correllian Sector and seen as a rival by Grand Moff Tarkin, himself. He was eventually pushed out of the Imperial hierarchy and made a name for himself as a high-profile criminal.
Another noteworthy villain, General Evir Derricote, though introduced in the previous book, truly becomes integral to the series’ plot in Wedge’s Gamble through his work in genetic engineering, carried out at Isard’s behest. The projects that Derricote and Kirtan Loor (also a returning villain) are engaged in will remain relevant for the next two books, at the very least.
Wedge’s Gamble (1996) is one of the earliest books in the old Expanded Universe that contains detailed descriptions of aspects of Coruscant, especially in its many abandoned warehouses and factories and the many-tiered underworld sectors we only actually get to see in the prequel films and the Clone Wars animated series. It is quite the experience to read this book for the first time now, after the prequels, when I already picture a set appearance for Coruscant. Not only do the two versions complement each other, the statues and holograms of Palpatine everywhere are utterly believable and easy to imagine across the established landscape.
Much as with Rogue Squadron, Wedge’s Gamble places emphasis on the common soldiers of the Rebellion, but it also adds another layer by separating its characters from their X-Wings, forcing them to scrounge for weapons, supplies, and aid while acting behind enemy lines. I do not believe this sort of military science fiction story had been adopted by Star Wars up until this series, and this book in particular. The market for the sorts of stories told in Wedge’s Gamble endures to this day within the fandom, as seen by the successes of the Battlefront tie-in novels and the Rebels animated series. Much like other Star Wars novels to emerge from the mid-90s, Wedge’s Gamble became a trendsetter for later innovations within the old Expanded Universe.
Stackpole’s writing continues to be a treat, not least of which because of his carefully assembled military slang for all the pilots. This is an expected comfort at this point, adding a real-world sense of security to the overall structure of the story. Every aspect of the book, from intimate moments between characters, to dogfights in X-Wing and Z-95 Headhunter cockpits, to the plotting of various Imperials on what to do about the Rebel threat that you see early on they have no understanding of, all work toward a total synthesis of plot, action, and character—a true harmony of components.
"...no one is safe on a mission of such magnitude."
I found this book to be quite enjoyable, much like the first one. A lot of the enjoyment in this one, however, is in seeing how all the various threads and character schemes finally come together for that big moment at the end, something that will form the basis for the next two books in the series at the very least. This one holds some surprises and some gut punches as well, so go into it recognizing that no one is safe on a mission of such magnitude.
This was my relatively spoiler-free review of X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble, and I can’t wait to jump into the third book, The Krytos Trap. The Rogues’ mission to liberate Coruscant has been a success, but at what cost? Who made it out alive, and who didn’t? Check back next time for the consequences of a plague left behind on Coruscant by the fleeing Imperials and the trial of Tycho Celchu! Will we finally, definitively learn whether we can trust him? Come back to see!