Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Review: The X-Wing Series

This week we have a guest post from jzhanfan since she has read these books and we have not. She actually had a review ready to go before last week's COPL as it falls before that in the timeline, but I think we all needed to start ranting on COPL ASAP! Enjoy the review!

In case you didn’t get the message from Zyra’s epic rant about COPL, the Han and Leia who appear in that book bear only a passing resemblance to the characters we know and love. In continued support of the theory that COPL is nothing more than a hallucination, I’d like to share with you some tidbits from an overlooked section of the EU, namely, the X-Wing Series. You may have seen these books listed in that handy time line that’s in the front of every last EU book, and you might be wondering why we've skipped right past these seven books (or, you might not care, come to think of it). If you have wondered, you probably assumed that it's because these books don't feature Han or Leia very prominently, and you'd be right.

However, there are a few worthwhile moments for us Han/Leia fans in this series, which is where I come in. As your guest reviewer, I have read all seven of these books and picked out all of the Han and Leia bits for your reading pleasure. And I’ve gotta tell you, the Han and Leia who appear, albeit briefly, in this series, don’t seem like the people who turn up in COPL at all. After I’ve spent any amount of time flipping through COPL and growling in disgust, I usually have to haul down Solo Command or Wedge’s Gamble to wash away the sour taste at the back of my mouth.

As its name would imply, this series is primarily about the X-Wing pilots that make up Rogue and Wraith Squadrons. It’s the first group of EU books not to focus on the original trio of Han, Leia, and Luke. There was actually a flight simulator type video game by the same name, and some of the battles that take place in the books are ones that you could reenact in the game.

It should come as no surprise that this involves a lot of discussions about battle strategy and details about who flew where and shot at whom. Personally, I find this somewhat yawn-inducing, but if this happens to be your thing, then by all means, start with Rogue Squadron and plow right on through all seven books.

Otherwise, allow me to sum up for you the first four books (Rogue Squadron - Wedge's Gamble - The Krytos Trap - The Bacta War; all written by Michael Stackpole) right now: After the battle of Endor and the death of the Emperor, the New Republic’s next big challenge is to take control of the Imperial Capitol (Coruscant) and random Imperial baddies attempt to thwart them.

Wedge Antilles, who appears briefly in all three films as an X-Wing pilot, has taken over Rogue Squadron now that Luke Skywalker has gone off looking for more potential Jedi. Wedge had no back story in the films and not much more was added in the book adaptations. Thus the door is wide open here and Stackpole takes full advantage, building a whole history for Wedge as well as a whole cast of characters who fly with him.

Along with Wedge, these books introduce several more characters who hang out in the EU and whose stories intersect with the Big Trio over time. There's Tycho Celchu, who was an Imperial officer before Alderaan was destroyed, when he deserted and joined up with the Rebels. Tycho was talking to his family back home on Alderaan, via holo-call, right at the very moment when the Death Star arrived (the call, needless to say, cut off rather abruptly). As a former Imperial he is always being suspected of being a spy but in the end he is proven to be squeaky clean. Later on in the EU, he ends up married to Leia's friend Winter.

Winter, conveniently enough, is also from Alderaan and she and Tycho hit it off back in the old Dark Horse comics series, during which she had a whole career as an Intelligence agent for the Rebellion. Later on, of course, Tim Zahn demoted poor Winter to the status of perpetual babysitter to the Solo children. In this series, though, she’s still a super smart spy chick, also the best slicer (aka hacker) that the New Republic has, and during the climactic battle to take Coruscant, Winter and another Intelligence agent, Iella, are pretty much responsible for the New Republic’s victory. (Yeah, girl power!)

Another popular and recurring EU character whom we first meet in this series is Corran Horn, a former security officer from Corellia (CorSec), Corran’s dad, Hal Horn, spent years in CorSec chasing down notorious smuggler Booster Terrik, so naturally Corran falls in love with Booster’s daughter Mirax. Corran is Stackpole's “pet” (the way Mara Jade is Tim Zahn's) and as a result, the Corran/Mirax relationship gets way more romantic moments than Han and Leia ever do, which annoys me to no end. I’ve never figured out why everyone keeps insisting on inventing brand new characters and then pairing them up, when there’s a perfectly good couple right in front of them. Anti-Han-and-Leia bias rears its ugly head again.

Speaking of our favorite couple, they don’t get much stage time at all in Stackpole’s four books. We encounter Princess Leia early on, handing out medals, and then later when during a couple of Council Sessions where the Council and the military leaders argue about what strategy to take. There’s one nice little bit where Wedge sits in on one of the Council sessions and pops in to visit with Leia during a break.

This is the only time we hear anything from Leia besides speeches, and the casualness of the scene illustrates that Wedge is on a first name basis with the Leia and is also friendly with both Luke and Han. Wedge asks after Luke and how the Jedi search is going. Leia then asks him if he’s got anyone special in his life these days. He says he doesn’t and she seems kind of sad for him, like she’s about to start fixing him up on blind dates or something. He tells her not to worry about him and asks her about her love life in return.

[Wedge] "Now, what about you and Han?"

[Leia] “We're happy, when we get to see each other. It's kind of rough on a woman to finally admit you love someone and then have him frozen in carbonite for the better part of a year. Then again, during that time he didn't find little ways to irritate me.”

“That's his nature, though - he's chaos incarnate." Wedge smiled. "Han Solo, you have to love him..."

"...or freeze him in carbonite, I know." Leia stared wistfully off into the distance. “He's a good man. Even with his quirks and rough edges, I don't think I can find better in this galaxy. And I'm not really interested in looking, either. But there are times when I wonder, 'why him?'"

“If you ever have doubts, serious doubts, come see me. I can give you a dozen reasons to answer that question.” Not the least of which [he thinks] is that it takes a guy as fast and sharp as Han Solo to keep up with you, Leia.

(from Wedge’s Gamble)

It’s clear that Leia and Wedge are comfortable with each other from this conversation, and it seems in character to me for Leia to say this. I mean, it’s no big secret that Han can be a real pain in the rear some times. He and Leia are both strong personalities and we know they argue a lot, but this shows her making light of it, not acting like she hates him. Also I like that Wedge is quick to defend Han, and that he obviously thinks they’re right for each other. (Something we don’t see much of in the book-that-must-never-be-named) Too bad Leia didn’t remember this conversation and go chat with Wedge before she decided to marry Fabio and ditch Han.

Wedge is not only in favor of their relationship; he’s a bit jealous, as we see in this brief internal dialogue he has with himself in The Krytos Trap, mulling over his own love life, or lack thereof.

“He'd really given little thought to romance and relationships. He'd certainly found companionship with a number of Rebel women”

[Wedge, you horn dog, you!]

“…but he’d not found a single companion, a partner, the way Han Solo or Tycho Celchu had.

"Avoiding relationships meant the chances of getting hurt when the unspeakable happened were much less. He'd seen Leia over the time Han Solo had been encased in carbonite. She'd been driven almost to the point of recklessness in her attempts to free her beloved... While he envied Han Solo the passion with which he was loved, he dreaded the idea of being plagued by the pain Leia had known."

Wedge’s take on Leia’s mindset while Han is in carbonite seems in character for her, too, and in agreement with how she acts in Shadows of Empire. I think those who were close to her at the time had to know how much she cared for Han and how much she was hurting. I’m guessing that being around her at that time in her life is how Wedge got to be such a good friend. And I like the idea that she has friends to rely on, as opposed the frequent EU depiction of her being the ice princess, aloof and stoic about everything.

OK, that’s about it for Leia in the first four books, and Han doesn't actually appear at all, except when various characters refer to him off stage. Sometimes they are scornful of his past as a smuggler, and distrust him because of it. Other times there's a legendary quality about it – the younger pilots see him as this larger-than-life hero, or buy into the whole scoundrel-made-good image.

For example, in Rouge Squadron we have this conversation between former Imperial Tycho Celchu and former CorSec agent Corran Horn. Corran doesn’t think much of Han and dismisses the idea that Solo could inspire loyalty, or understand anything about honor, since he’s just a criminal. Tycho tries to explain to Corran that’s he's wrong about Solo – and maybe that Han knows more about doing what’s right than Corran is giving him credit for.

[Tycho] “I think there was a time that Solo, who had bound his conception of honor to his service to the Empire, forgot that honor could exist outside Imperial Service. This seems to be a misconception that has been corrected."

[Corran] "And correcting it won him fame, glory, and Princess Organa."

"True, but what's important is that he knows honor exists inside you and can only radiate out. What goes on outside can't change it or kill it unless you abandon your honor”

I like this little speech of Tycho’s because a) it’s great to see someone standing up for Han and b) it’s a great explanation for how Han's thinking has changed over the years. It’s silly, I know, but I figured Tycho had to be a good guy from this point on, because he ‘got’ Han Solo, and I just knew he couldn’t turn out to be a spy after that!

So that pretty well fills you in on the high points of the first four books of this series and at this point I’d rate it somewhere around a 1 on the Han/Leia factor scale, because when Han and Leia do appear, it’s ok, there’s nothing really out of character about it - there just isn’t very much of it.

The series is about to improve, though, as a new author takes over.

In the last three books of this series, written by Aaron Allston - Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, and Solo Command – the story goes in a new direction. We learn how a bunch of the former Imperials have gone off on their own and turned into "warlords" and aren't taking orders from anyone at all. They’re all fighting to grab as much of the pie as they can while there’s still something left of the Old Empire. The biggest and most obnoxious of these is a character named Zsinj, who we see again in COPL. He seems to have a major Napoleon complex going on. At first he's just part of the crowd, but eventually he turns into the major baddie and the New Republic cooks up a task force to take him out, which is led by none other than our favorite General, Han Solo. Wedge forms a new covert X-Wing group, Wraith Squadron, to work with Han's task force and take out the bad guy. Since he’s in charge, Han is more of a major character in these three books, and we get several fun little peeks inside his head.

Han's transformation from smuggler into respected leader really takes place over the course of the X-Wing saga, and mostly over these last three books, as he becomes a real player in the strategic and military part of the war, and comes to terms with his own role as general.

Being an officer clearly isn’t Han’s idea of fun, but he’s actually better at it than anyone seems to have expected.

Solo no longer looked uncomfortable. He looked serious and intent and finally seemed the officer his uniform said he was.

(from Iron Fist)

"You know, in spite of the way you seem to hate it, you're pretty good at this management stuff."

Solo lost his smile. "Don't ever, ever say that. Someone important might hear you. And then I’d be stuck with it."

(from Solo Command)

Wedge remains a main character, but now Han enters the story and Wedge takes on the “buddy” role. In the beginning of the Star Wars story, Luke was the kid and Han the big brother figure, and then they sort of became equals for a while, but now Luke's morphing into this Jedi Master thing. Jedi Masters don't go out drinking and playing cards. Han bonds with Wedge in a way he doesn't with Luke because to a degree, Wedge – as Commander of the squadron – is in the same situation as Han is. Neither of them is ‘one of the guys’ any more. Like Han, Wedge is a reluctant leader. He leads because he wants to keep his pilots alive. He fights being promoted to general for a long time because he doesn't want to give up flying. Han hates not being out there himself, in the Falcon, and if he had his wish, he’d be the one blasting the bad guys instead of the one issuing the orders. This is all very much in character for Han, I think.

Han is also very comfortable mentioning Leia to Wedge in casual conversation, which furthers the impression that Wedge is sort of a confidante for both of them.

[Han] "I should never listen to you."

[Wedge] "No, you shouldn't"

"Even Leia finally realized that you're a liar."

"Well, she's right."

"She always is. But if you ever tell her I said that -”

"I'll be vaped for sure. I know."

(from Wraith Squadron)

There are several fun moments between Han and Wedge, as Wedge is obviously very glad to be the one out there flying and loves to rub it in.

[Wedge] approached Solo and threw a precise salute. "Commander Wedge Antilles and Wraith Squadron reporting for duty, sir."

Solo's return salute was far less military. "Welcome aboard Mon Remonda. Let's get the rest of your pilots in so I can get out of this torture suit."

Wedge affected surprise. "But, sir. I was just going to say how smart you looked in your uniform. I think we ought to stay here, in uniform, a couple of hours so the holographers can capture the image. You know, for the historians."

Solo's grin didn't waver but his expression was suddenly somehow different. Something like an animal backed into a corner. Han kept his tone cheery. "Wedge, I think I'm going to have you killed"

"Yes sir. I trust you'll wear your dress uniform for an event like that."

Han slumped in mock surrender. "You know, with my history, I'd be the laughingstock of the New Republic if I ever brought one of my officers up on charges of insubordination."

"Yes sir. I was sort of counting on that."

Later, in the same scene, we have this exchange:

[Han] "Rogue, Nova and Polearm have been doing all the work while you Wraiths have been playing pirate"

[Wedge] "Is that irritation or envy in your voice?"

"Envy. Want to trade?"


"You could boss this whole anti-Zsinj task force. I could arrange for a generalship for you."


Solo sighed tolerantly.

[both from Iron Fist]

If you are interested in just a taste of this series, I’d suggest Solo Command, which takes place right before COPL begins, and has more of Han than any of the rest.

There is one really cute scene in this book where the pilots are chatting in their lounge "no decor" – meaning, informally, no pulling ranks - and a chair turns around and there's Solo, "not wearing the uncomfortable-looking uniform that was apparently his bane but wearing the comfortable trousers, shirt, and vest that were his preferred dress. His expression was amused." I can so see Han hanging out undercover in the pilot's lounge to hear what the guys are saying…and because he misses being ‘one of the guys’.

Another scene between Han and Wedge later in Solo Command illustrates this point even more:

[Han] "I would have thought you’d be at… [the] party”

[Wedge] “I didn't stay too long. It tends to make the children nervous."

Solo managed a faint smile. "I know what you mean. I used to be one of the guys. Now I walk into a room and all conversation stops. I didn't imagine, when I took this job, that I'd become some other thing. An outsider."

“Sometimes that's what an officer is. Someone who's 'one of the guys' can't maintain discipline.”

“I suppose."

The other reason to read Solo Command is because it includes this most poignant moment, aboard a YT-1300 that the Rogues have scrounged from a scrapyard to fool Zsinj into thinking Han has left the fleet temporarily and lure him into the open. The pilots have dubbed it the Millennium Falsehood. Wedge finds Han sitting in the cockpit while Chewie is cursing at the ship:

"He hates this wreck almost as much as I do.”

“Why do you hate it more?”

“Because… it's just enough like the Falcon to make me homesick."

"For the Falcon, or for Leia?"

Solo rubbed his face, easing away some of the lines of tiredness. "Yeah… The Falcon is the thing I value most, not the person I value most, but the thing. I think I left her with Leia so Leia would know.”

“That you trusted her with what you valued most?”

“Something like that. And I wanted her to remember me”

“As if she'd forget.”

“Sometimes I think she should.” Solo was silent a long moment and when he spoke again his voice was quieter. “I don't deserve her. And someday she'll realize that. When she's away from me I think, maybe today's the day, maybe today she'll figure it out and get on with her life.”

“That's ridiculous.”

“No, it's not. She’s the one with the goal, the plan for her life… without her I don't have a place. I'm just a drifter with an irresistible dose of roguish charm. And someday she'll get tired of the charm and there won't be anything else for me to offer her.”

“You know,” Wedge said, “I can't do it myself, because you're my superior officer, but I could call Chewie down here and tell him what you've just said and then he'd beat you nearly to death with a hydro-spanner. Maybe then you'd figure out how wrong you are.”

Solo managed a smile. “I think maybe that's why I volunteered for this Zsinj assignment... just to show Leia, ‘here I am, see, I can function in your world.’ But after months of it, I just get tireder and crazier. I find myself wishing I could leave Zsinj be, and Leia could come home right now... so things could go back to the way they were. And if she knew that she'd be ashamed of me. "

“…I have a three stage plan to let you get back to the way things used to be.”


“Stage one.” Wedge opened a comm channel on the copilot's control board. “YT-1300 to the bridge. This is Commander Antilles. Please cut all lights in Bay Gamma One." A few moments later, the light around the mag-con field faded.

Now they sat in near-perfect darkness, illuminated only by the stars outside the field... a perfect space vista. Solo fell silent just staring at the view for a long moment. “That's nice,” he said “I think you’re right. I could use more of that.”

[Stage two is a “mutiny of anonymity” where everyone hangs out “in blissful irresponsibility” and ignores rank and insignia.]

The mutiny endured from early evening to late evening of the next calendar date, with a pair of sabacc games the last to break up... Solo and Wedge were among those who abandoned the last surviving card game. Solo rubbed tired eyes and said “Not bad, man-who-looks-like-Wedge, what's stage three?"

“In stage three, we track down Zsinj and blow him up. “

“Good plan. I like it.”

It’s kind of sad because Han’s losing heart and wallowing a bit, but I like that Wedge tries to set him straight about what matters. After this conversation, can you really see Han giving up and walking away from Leia like he does in COPL? Me either.

And there’s one more reason to read Solo Command - the scene where Han famously puts Chewie on the comm when Zsinj calls to offer him a chance to surrender (Han starts off by suggesting “Ignore it, I bet he hates that.”). This leads up to this priceless moment at the end:

[Zsinj] “You realize you have cost me very dearly.”

Han summoned up… a mocking smile. “I don’t have much to offer you in compensation. Maybe I could let you kiss my Wookiee.”

Chewbacca grumbled, a noise of dissent.

[Zsinj] spoke again – words Solo did not know… the rant went on for nearly a minute, and Solo was glad they routinely recorded bridge communications – he wanted one of the 3PO units to translate this multilingual composition of profanity for him...

Solo… looked up at Chewbacca… “No, I never really would have asked you to kiss him.”

I rate Allston’s trilogy, particularly Solo Command, a 3 on the Han/Leia scale, because it’s very focused on Han. Also because although he’s depressed a lot, the Han we see here is way more in character than the guy we see elsewhere in the EU; for example, one book later.

It’s actually too bad they didn’t let Aaron Allston write one more book in this cycle and finish off his Zsinj storyline and reunite our favorite couple in some reasonable way instead of letting Dave Wolverton loose with Force witches and Fabio and all that. I bet Wedge could have set them both straight on the whole “she doesn’t deserve me”/”he’s really annoying a lot of the time” thing and we would have been spared things like 3PO singing “What a man, Solo!”

Just sayin’.

Thanks so much to jzhanfan for the guest review. And to anyone else, she simply contacted us and mentioned she might like to write a review, so if any of the rest of you are interested in something like that, whether it be a book review or a regular post or another answer to the challenge (or any future challenges) please don't hesitate to contact us!

Also, as one last reminder, please keep in mind that there will be no book review this coming week as it is Christmas. I know, what better present than thinking about Tatooine Ghost? But I think we could all use a little reader breather before we delve back in and surely have better things to do next Sunday than read a review. And if you don't, just use this as an opportunity to get ahead in your reading!


  1. That was a really nice review jzhanfan, thanks for sharing it with us.

    I had no idea Han and Leia featured at all in those books, so it's nice to hear about some snippets of them I didn't know about.

    You're right, the H/L presented here are much more consistent with the characters we love. Poor Han though, feeling so down, and you really feel for him knowing what he's got to face when he returns to Coruscant.

    I loved how Han and Wedge seem to get on so well. You always think of wedge being best buddies with Luke, so this was nice. I guess as they are both Corellian they would probably have a fair bit in common.

  2. That was a really excellent review jzhanfan. Thanks for volunteering! I had never given this series a second thought, but now you've got me wanting to read them. I've always loved the Rogue Squadron and it sounds like it may be a good read about them with a little bit of Han and Leia sprinkled in there just for good measure. Thanks again!

  3. I read this series because I wanted to know the history and the inter-relationships among the many characters that populate the EU, and I ended up enjoying it as much, if not more, than some of the books in the NJO and LotF series that made me curious about the characters in the first place. They're all still young and hopeful and there aren't any Vong or Sith in the galaxy yet. They are maturing but they are still recognizably the characters from the films.

    Thanks Push and Zyra for letting me share.

  4. Sounds like an interesting series. Other than Han and leia, the rogues are my favorite star wars characters. Might try to read some of them at some point. Thanks for the review!

  5. I might give them a read eventually after reading this review. I've always been curious about the series but I wasn't quite sure what I would be in for. And thanks for picking out all the good parts for us. ;)