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A novel by Michael A. Stackpole (1996, Bantam Spectra)
Book 1 of the X-Wing Novels
6.5 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Wedge reforms Rogue Squadron with many new recruits, and they take on the Empire, while attempting to move in to the core, towards Coruscant.



3 stars

Read October 19th to 27th, 2000  
    I have been anticipating these stories for a long time, and perhaps that is why I was a little disappointed with the first book.  There are three or four main action scenes, fairly evenly spaced through the book, and the characters are well developed, but there were moments when I thought the characters were being too introspective, simply for the purpose of telling the readers what was going on.

This book, according to the credits at the beginning, was based on the exploits of the pilots in the PC video game X-Wing, from Lucasarts Entertainment.  And I could see the inspiration immediately.  I spent many hours at that game, and destroyed the Death Star once in an x-wing, and again in a b-wing in the second supplement to that game.  There were some tough runs there, and it took a lot of skill (read as experience -meaning many hours) to figure out how to get through many them in the allotted time.

The author shows this clearly in all the battle scenes.  The pilots shift their shields around, shunt power from one source to the other, link their weapons, shift throttle, set up targets and cycle through them to obtain the one that they want, or select the target closest to them.  It was like running through a segment of the game, which was great.  Unlike the last chapter in Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire, the game sequences were told with real emotion, and it felt like more than just a game.  There were even traces of the sequel game, TIE Fighter, in which TIEs have a detection system that alert them when missiles are being fired.

But the story is really about Corran Horn, and I was completely surprised by that.  I did not know that he was a major player in Rogue Squadron, and I thought he was made up in I, Jedi, or at least in the last Rogue books.  Fortunately, I like that character, and Stackpole is very good at writing him.  The first battle scene is really a simulator, where Corran tries to make it into the squadron in the first place.  It is well written, and introduces Tycho nicely.  But Tycho does not have a nice history.  After being in the Rogue Squadron comics, or perhaps in the last issues, Tycho is captured, and sent to an Imperial prison.  Now the higher up officials wonder about his escape, and think he has been brainwashed.

Of course, from the Imperial point of view, we know that there is a traitor in the squadron, so our suspicions are supposed to go directly to Tycho.  But I think it is another character, Erisi.  She is one of two humans from a bacta-producing world, which has not pledged loyalty to either side of the Galactic Civil War.  But I did not get suspicious of her until the last mission, where she pleads to know where they are going to attack.  She lost her x-wing on the previous mission, and it hasn't been replaced.  She makes up a lame excuse about wanting to place a memorial marker there if nobody comes back, but I'm sure she would have alerted the Imperials.

My previous suspicion about the traitor was the protocol droid, Emtrey, because he behaves in a suspicious manner.  Tycho seems to have discovered how to get information out of the droid (which maybe makes him even more suspicious), but I'm still not sure that I trust him.

I love the idea of giving two Imperials main character status.  Ysanne Isard was well-developed in the comics, and here she is fleshed out into person even more evil (or perhaps desperate?) than the Emperor.  She used to be director of Intelligence, after her father (the previous director) was killed.  The other character is Agent Loor, who has been charged with destroying Rogue Squadron.  Of course, he used to be stationed on Corellia, where he was Corran's supervisor.  He has been hunting Corran and his two associates for two years now, with limited success.  Isard gives him the more worthy goal.  Both of these people are very intelligent, and I can see them believing in what they do, and being able to wound the squadron.

The characters get to know each other, but not well enough that when their base is infiltrated, and one of them is murdered (the rest barely escape), that I was shocked at her death.  She seemed a potential love interest for Corran, but nothing more.  I didn't get the feelings for her that I think I should have.  But Corran has plenty more love interests.  Erisi (my suspected traitor) lusts after him.  But his heart is already stolen by the freighter pilot Mirax Terrik, though he doesn't know it yet.  Their fathers were rivals, and Corran's father even sent Booster to Kessel for some time.  But they are married in I, Jedi, and so far, the relationship is proceeding at an incredibly realistic rate.  I am truly impressed. They met while en route to their temporary base, as they were pulled out of hyperspace by an Interdictor Star Destroyer.  Mirax's ship was caught smuggling, and Rogue Squadron saves her.  Of course, we know from the comics, and it is reiterated here, that Mirax and her father took care of Wedge after his parents were killed.

Rogue Squadron goes after vengeance after the attack on their base, and the scenes there are really well done, until the end.  Corran ends up saving everybody by making a very gutsy move, and when they arrive back on their docking ship, Erisi desperately wants to sleep with Corran.  But he refuses, knowing that it is just the adrenaline from the near-death experience.  He enters his room, and finds Mirax there.  She needed a bunk, and thought Corran would be sleeping in Erisi's room.  They share stories, and fall asleep, taunting each other, wondering how a smuggler and a security man could possibly be friends.  That sealed Erisi's fate, as far as I was concerned.  She has to die, and I'm afraid Corran will be the one to discover that she is the traitor.  Unfortunately, that makes for less interesting drama than if he actually had to make a choice between the two women.  But I'll leave that for now, because it is definitely possible that she is not the traitor.

The failed mission that destroys half of Rogue Squadron is pulled off very well.  After several fights, and no losses on Rogue's part, I was beginning to wonder if we were going to live with Main Character Syndrome, like Star Trek and the rest of the Star Wars books do (other than Vector Prime), in that the main characters cannot die, and the squadron would be at full force (personnel-wise) for the duration of the series.

Their mission is the first step in taking Coruscant away from the Imperials, which would go a long way in making the New Republic seem like the legitimate government.  Unfortunately, to Wedge and the rest of the squadron, it looks like a suicide mission.  If they take the planet that they are after, they will have a base with easy access to the Core, which makes the Capital that much closer.  As usual, the Bothans are sure that all the intelligence they have uncovered will be enough to ensure victory.  But there are things about the planet that even the Imperials do not know about, including a second, and stronger, power source, for the shields, and an extra wing of fighters.  And so the mission goes horribly wrong, because the Imperials let the shields go down, and draw the New Republic Star Destroyer in closer, only to pummel it with ion cannon blasts and raise the shields to 200%.

Tycho is the hero here, because he takes his unarmed shuttle into the thick of the action, and rescues the ejected members of Rogue Squadron.  His shuttle is unarmed because the high command levels do not trust him, yet, and even the rescue does not change that.

Corran's R2 unit takes detailed scans of the planet before they pull out, though, and that leads to the discovery of the hidden resources.  Rogue Squadron then leads a three pronged attack that eventually captures the planet.  We only get to see the Rogue part of it, and that is enough.  Things go according to plan, but Corran is left without enough fuel.  But that's okay, because Mirax convinced Tycho that the mission was at risk, and flew out there, hid until the mission was over, and ended up rescuing Corran.

Those were two things that I disliked.  I don't like the concept of fuel in tanks in the x-wings, partly because in the game, fuel was unlimited, and second, I was under the impression (right or wrong) that they were fueled by reactors (nuclear), which could power them indefinitely.  Also, Mirax's discovery of the security slip regarding the mission seemed very forced, as if the author tried very hard to put it in, instead of letting it flow naturally.

I can  see a lot of setup here.  General Derricote I remember from (I believe) the Young Jedi Knights: Rise of the Diversity Alliance.  A brief glimpse into the Star Wars Encyclopedia shows that he designed the Krytos virus, which is mentioned there in connection to the viruses that the Emperor designed.  Obviously, the title of book 3 shows that the Krytos plague will affect this storyline.  Also, the mention of the Bacta Cartel foreshadows book 4's title, The Bacta War.  What still remains a mystery is how everything is connected.

So by the end of book 1, we have moved the New Republic closer to the Core (and Coruscant), and Rogue Squadron has a new base on that planet.  Several relationships have been established, and the characters are fairly well drawn out.  There are many points where the characters talk to themselves too much, explaining things that were explained several times already, or trying to convince themselves that such-and-such a thing is right or wrong.  It got tedious at times.   But all in all, it is a very good introduction to the series.  There was a lot of continuity between these books and the books that come later in the timeline, including Warlord Zsinj and the Hapan Consortium, from The Courtship of Princess Leia, the Diktat from the Corellian Trilogy, and many others, which I liked immensely.  Here's hoping the next book of the series brings an even better story, now that we know the characters so well.


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