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 first of ten reviews of the X-Wing novel series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. Thank you for stopping by! Spoilers will be sparse, but not non-existent, so be forewarned. Let’s dive right into a breakdown of the book using Youtini’s main points as a guide.
As a relatively early entry in the (then) Expanded Universe line of novels, Rogue Squadron fills in some blanks between Kathy Tyers’s Truce at Bakura and Timothy Zahn’s now legendary Thrawn Trilogy, beginning with Heir to the Empire. Specifically, Stackpole works toward moving the Rebellion from its victories at Endor and Bakura to fully establishing itself as the New Republic on Coruscant by the time of Thrawn’s return. The plot of Rogue Squadron concerns itself with re-establishing the famous X-Wing squadron, finding it an out-of-the-way base of operations that will not draw attention to larger Rebel holdings, and inconveniencing the remains of the Empire on Coruscant under Director Ysanne Isard.
Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron also succeeds in bringing the galaxy-spanning conflicts of the Star Wars universe down to individual soldiers and their experiences. Main characters are injured, members of the squadron are killed in the line of duty, and the noble purpose of the Rebel Alliance marches on. This is perhaps the strength of the plot of the X-Wing series as a whole, that being the events it concerns itself with, though at first glance small because of the individual human and alien faces associated with them, are integral to everything that follows in the old Expanded Universe.
Perhaps Stackpole’s greatest strength in writing Rogue Squadron was in his sparse use of pre-existing characters and heavy use of newly created ones. In fact, the X-Wing series is noteworthy for being the first set of Star Wars novels to hold their own without leaning heavily on the Original Trilogy main characters. But Stackpole is also successful in expanding upon several pre-existing characters, growing them beyond the handful of scenes they enjoyed in the original movies. It is also worth mentioning that each book in the X-Wing series comes with a handy dramatis personae listing at the very beginning to help readers keep the sizeable cast of characters straight. With that to lean on, only a handful of the standout characters need to be examined.
Of the pre-existing characters featured in Rogue Squadron, the most notable are (of course) Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar. Wedge, the decorated hero of both Death Star runs, uses his reputation as leverage with his commanding flag officer, Admiral Ackbar, to allow him to resurrect and expand the titular Rogue Squadron from the most elite fighter pilots in the Rebel Alliance. Ackbar, though not without his reservations, indulges Wedge’s plans and meets his demands, bringing more pilots into the fold and into the wider Star Wars Expanded Universe, now Legends.
Stackpole steals the show with his original characters. Though there are many in Rogue Squadron, a handful truly stand out. First off is Corran Horn, Corellian lawman intended to be one of the novel’s protagonists along with Wedge, whom Stackpole created in a short story called “Missed Chance,” originally published in a gaming periodical before being collected in Tales from the Empire. Next up is Whistler, Corran’s green and white R2 unit, whose sarcastic personality and advanced law enforcement hardware package effectively make the pair a grittier version of Luke and R2-D2. Another Corellian, Mirax Terrik, smuggler daughter of infamous space pirate Booster Terrik, is a standout as well, both as a childhood friend to Wedge and as an honorary member of the squadron in her freighter, the Pulsar Skate.
The character introduced in this book to watch, however, is the Alderaanian Tycho Celchu. Wedge hand-picks Tycho to be his second-in-command of the squadron, despite all eyes in the upper echelons of the Rebellion being upon him. Though Tycho has the utmost trust and respect from Wedge, he is still suspected of being an Imperial sleeper agent after an earlier capture and imprisonment by the book’s primary antagonist, Ysanne Isard, Director of Imperial Intelligence and purported lover of Emperor Palpatine. Tycho is worth keeping an eye on not only for his skill as a pilot and loyalty to Wedge and the squadron, but also because readers do not know yet whether they can trust him. More will be said about Tycho Celchu in particular in future reviews of the X-Wing series.
Though a common trope of military science fiction and fantasy, focusing on the experiences and struggles of common soldiers was largely unheard-of in Star Wars up to this point (1996). It can certainly be argued that Star Wars already had its fair share of common brigands and farm boys, but it is also fair to say that there was a market within the fandom to gain a better understanding of those other pilots who survived attacking the Death Star, or those soldiers who fought bravely on Hoth. Who formed the backbone of the Rebellion? Stackpole made great strides in answering that question.
The idea at the core of the X-Wing series also sees expression in the recent tie-in novels to both Battlefront games, and most especially in the upcoming Alphabet Squadron release. It is fair to say that an interest in the common soldiers and pilots of the Star Wars galaxy has never gone away, but there are some big shoes to fill for the new Expanded Universe.
Michael A. Stackpole’s writing style is easy to slip into. His use of details falls into a pleasant Goldilocks Zone—not too little and not too much. His dialog never feels wooden or strained; the characters speak believably and unpretentiously. Of special note is his coining and inclusion of military slang for the Rebel pilots, such as “eyeball” for a TIE fighter, “squint” for a TIE interceptor, and “Impstar Deuce” for an Imperial Star Destroyer Mark II.
The X-Wing books are some of the best offerings of the old Expanded Universe, which still possesses many, many worthy books and comics. In fact, there is also a companion comic book series to the X-Wing novels that was published by Dark Horse and featured stories by Michael A. Stackpole that ran alongside his novels. Those will also be worth reading and reviewing in the future. That said, fans of Wedge Antilles, aerial combat films, or military science fiction and/or fantasy generally will find a lot of entertainment value in these books. The early books especially are sparse on Force-sensitive characters affecting the outcomes of battles, so those conflicts often come down to pilot skill and tactics.
Fans of Wedge Antilles, aerial combat films, or military science fiction and/or fantasy generally will find a lot of entertainment value in these books.
Michael A. Stackpole’s X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is but the first of a ten-book series co-written with Aaron Allston. It is my goal to work my way through each book as I have here, so be sure to stop back through the Youtini book reviews section from time to time to see what I have to say. Next up: Wedge’s Gamble! The Rogues set their sites on the biggest target of all—Coruscant!