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A novel by Aaron Allston (1998, Bantam Spectra)
Book 5 of the X-Wing Novels
6.5 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Wedge forms a group of commando pilots, who infiltrate one of Warlord Zsinj's capital ships.



2 stars

Read March 26th to April 2nd, 2001.  
    Many good parts, mixed in with a lot of detail about operations that I really didn't care about. The action sequences were well written, for the most part, but the book was riddled with contradictions that annoyed me greatly.

Part of the problem, I know, is getting to know a new cast of characters. I felt like the author didn't want to use Stackpole's characters, so he invented a reason for making up a new squadron, but putting Wedge in charge. Fortunately, my fears about this subject (after reading the characters and recognizing none) were somewhat alleviated by Rogue Squadron's appearance in the first few pages. After their reception, Wedge goes to Admiral Ackbar and asks permission to form a commando group with flying abilities. Ackbar grants it with one condition: if the new squadron does not work out, Wedge agrees to a promotion to General. By the end of this, I think Wedge will be promoted; after all, he's a General in future books.  He mentions that Rogue Squadron was formed with the purpose of pulling off commando-style raids, too, though that seems like an afterthought, and although they were used that way, I don't remember it being mentioned when that squadron was being formed.

Making a return appearance in these books is Wes Janson, Wedge's gunner from the Battle of Hoth (remember "good shot, Janson!"), and veteran of the Rogue Squadron comics. Hobbie also makes an appearance (from the same sources), but the most haunting one comes right at the end of the book. Baron Soontir Fell. He is flying with the Imperials again. He joined Rogue Squadron in In The Empire's Service, but obviously becomes disenchanted with the New Republic afterwards. There was certainly some hint of that in Mandatory Retirement

The story follows the development of Rogue Squadron fairly closely. There is some tension between crewmembers. Instead of Tycho and Corran, we have Janson who killed Kell's father, who cowardly abandoned and thus jeopardized a mission with the Rebel Alliance. Kell eventually learns to appreciate what Janson did after another crewmate becomes distant and suicidal and Janson covers for him, giving him another chance. Suddenly Kell's hatred vanishes, and he sees the truth. Of course, Kell has a sudden bout of the same cowardice every time he's given responsibility. Fortunately, he gets to prove himself by thinking about how his lover, Tyria, would feel if he abandoned her. Thus, he never has to worry about abandoning a fight ever again.

Tyria is hot for Kell, but refuses his offerings until he knows he is in love with her, not just in lust. She has to work hard for her reputation, because she's not that good in a starfighter. There are others, too, such as Grinder the Bothan, who can slice into any computer system, and loves a practical joke, until it's turned around on him. The scene where the rest of the squad gets back at him by recording the scratching of an insect he had planted on somebody else was very funny. 

And then there's Face, the former actor, who gets to play the really neat role of Corvette captain, under a holographic mask. I hated the way they took out the Corvette, and managed to splatter the real captain all over the ceiling, and it was lucky for them that he was really in love with his own image and voice, providing them with many holographic representations to give to Face. I also did not enjoy learning about Face's past, because it was done in a really juvenile way.

Their training and competition really takes off when their base is attacked by the Imperials. There is a rivalry between the A-Wing pilots and the X-Wings, which is kind of fun to read. The banter between the different squadrons and among the Wraith Squadron was realistic, though Wedge had to shut them up several times too many. It was as if the author could not resist throwing the comment in, and had his characters pay the price for it. 

The author gets to show off both flying skill and commando skill in the same book. They discover a bomb that can take ships from hyperspace, repair their ships in time to disable the Corellian Corvette Night Caller. Then they get to impersonate the crew of the Corvette, and that's when their commando work began. 

The main problem I have with much of the stuff in this book is that there is too much rambling with detail. We don't have to know every single detail about how they are going to accomplish a certain feat. It makes it seem even more unbelievable, when it is obviously supposed to convince us the other way around. The time it took to jury rig the pod through which Piggy entered the Corvette was way too short. There is no way even a Starfleet engineer could do all of that so quickly! And much of the detail is sloppy, too. There are so many instances where the author contradicts himself. I have no intention of going back and finding the specifics, but the contradictions brought me suddenly out of the story. At other points, I found my eyes glazing over when the author started to ramble. The book was not so short that cutting some of this out would have been a problem. On the other hand, I think it would have been better to voice much of what was said from the narrative point of view, instead of by the characters talking about what they are going to do. It is much easier to see characters talking in a conference in a movie than it is to read the same type of exchange.

I did enjoy much of the commando work, though. After impersonating the crew of Night Caller, they destroy all the facilities that the ship gets to visit. This made for some interesting setup, as well as ample opportunity for the author to get deep into details. Bombing the assembly plant where Star Destroyer parts were made was good for most of it. Obtaining a disease to spread among the crew of a ship they were to rendezvous with, so that they could not meet face to face (and give away their identities) was also good, but went on far too long. I especially liked the disguises they used to get onto the Imperial world. But again, things went on too long, made to complicated. At one point, Kell observes that they can put the ailment on the air intake vents, instead of having to break into the shuttle. But they were a maintenance crew! They were actually in the cockpit and checking out the shuttle's systems! They didn't need to break in at all -they were given access! And his observations to the Imperial mechanic whose job he was doing were even more lame. And if I have to read "yub-yub, commander" again, I'll be very annoyed.  There's a reason they removed the Ewok song at the end of Return of the Jedi.

This group was more lucky than skillful. But they made their point, using that luck. They were able to successfully pose as the crew of Night Caller, terrorize planets into obeying with Warlord Zsinj, and then destroy those facilities that were supplying him. Even Zsinj didn't suspect anything. 

In the final two battles, the Wraiths somehow single-handedly take out another Corvette, a Frigate and a Star Destroyer. Granted, the author was wise enough not to tackle the Star Destroyer at the same time as the other ships, but as General Crispin said, why have any cruisers on station at all, when if just takes Wraith Squadron and a Corvette to take the enemy out! There is no way to take out a frigate the way they did it. I managed to do it in the game, but it took a lot of effort, and way more torpedoes than they used. 

The destruction of the Star Destroyer was more realistic. Caught by surprise, with their shields down, with a squadron of X-Wings, friendly TIE fighters, and the Corvette, and with its fighters off on an ambush of their own, the Star Destroyer never really had a chance. Once a hole was blown through its belly, a TIE swept in and started gutting it piece by piece. Tragically, the pilot lost her life when she got caught by a piece of debris. 

I did not like the way the two pilots died at the end. It seemed like they deserved a better-written sequence as their final moments. Instead of catching their wings or laser struts on hanging metal, perhaps they could have been shot, or caught in an explosion that they themselves caused? Instead all we got was "Grinder was no more", which is a pathetic way of putting it.

The one death that got a nice tribute was Jesmin Ackbar, Admiral Ackbar's niece. I think she was put in for shock value, but she also served to make the story more emotional, not because we got to know her, but because we know the Admiral so well. Wedge's letter was really touching.

For my tastes, this was too much like the Rogue Squadron books, in characters and plot. Corran Horn had as a wingmate an exotic alien who referred to himself in the third person, and Kell has an exotic alien wingmate who actually has many brains and personalities, justifying the use of the third person. Corran and another pilot were physically attracted to each other (before he found Mirax and the other turned out to be a traitor), Kell and another Wraith fall for each other, physically and then emotionally, too. Corran hates Tycho, but gives him grudging respect eventually? Kell does the same with Janson. 

In four books, the Rogues defended a planet, took a planet, were commandoes in undercover missions on Coruscant, where they got to dress up as other people to infiltrate the planet. They traced a disease to stop its spread, and led a war to capture a Star Destroyer and destroy another one. In this single book, the Wraiths defended a planet, destroyed a planet (the pirates), went undercover on several planets, one of which they used disguises for. They traced a disease to use it on another crew, and led an undercover war to capture or destroy a Corvette, a frigate and a Star Destroyer. Hmmm...

Fortunately, it was done well. I did enjoy this book, I just wish it could have been more original. The author's style also wasn't as professional as Stackpole's. And the many minor gaffes in storytelling made it annoying in parts. It did, however, successfully push the story forward, and I am looking forward to the next installment, where the Wraiths take on Zsinj. Whether they will be successful is not clear; after all, he is a major force in The Courtship of Princess Leia. Maybe Wedge will get his promotion, after all...

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