by Michael A. Stackpole.
Oh, wow. That’s a very good way to start a review off, isn’t it? I had forgotten just how excellent these books are. In spite of the fact that I love I, Jedi and have read it repeatedly, I just haven’t gotten around to re-reading Corran’s original series since the first time.
The X-Wing series is one of the best ideas for a series anyone has ever had. It came out in 1996, with well over a dozen predecessors — which meant that its early place in the timeline (the next step in the timeline after Truce at Bakura) was well-bolstered by Stackpole’s knowledge of surrounding events. Various warlords and villains receive their “first mentions” here, making for comfortable after-the-fact foreshadowing. The only disadvantage was Stackpole’s getting influenced toward a racist empire, but that’s somewhat immaterial.
Two and a half years after Return of the Jedi, to be precise (year 01144), Wedge Antilles, hero of the rebellion, decides to re-form the famous squadron that brought down the second Death Star. The best pilots the Alliance has to offer (or the best and most politically expedient pilots) are brought together under Wedge’s direction to take Rogue Squadron from legendary status to imp-vaping terrors.
Corran Horn is one such pilot, a former officer with CorSec with a complex past and unusual clear-headedness. But if you read I, Jedi first, be aware that this is a young and brash Corran just starting off with the Alliance without friends or allies yet.
Other pilots include Gavin Darklighter, a cousin of the famous Biggs; Jace and Erisi, a couple of Thyferran pilots from opposing factions in the bacta trade; and Orryl Qyrgg, a Gand and one of my favorite people ever. They’re being trained to be the best of the best of the best by Wedge, who is facing plenty of politically-charged obstacles — like the ongoing persecution of his XO Tycho Celchu, another hero of Endor who is under suspicion due to his harrowing time as an Imperial POW.
All of these elements — lone-wolf pilots being forged into a single deadly unit without all the homoerotic volleyball of Top Gun plus political interference from top brass, potential traitors and spies in the unit, and one quirky protocol droid — are stirred together in a cauldron of the early New Republic environment: aka, the alliance wants to claim Imperial Center (Coruscant) away from the Empire.
It’s a thrilling premise with strong, dynamic characters written in Stackpole’s typical forthright style. I don’t have a lot of interest in combat, but his dogfights and descriptions of air force life are compelling and exciting. There can be a blurred line between exposition and padding, but with this particular series — nine books in all, and possibly originally planned for more — the exposition is a vital part of the structure’s development. Stackpole sketches out his characters until you know them and care about them, and intersperses hints and pieces from other books until the web between realcanon is a solid, binding thing. It’s just good novels.
There’s no doubt whatever about the X-Wing series’ place in realcanon, and this book is a firecracker to start the series off with. I’m actually glad I only read the first four back in ’99, because I haven’t had a fresh realcanon book to look forward to in a long time, and now I have half a series!