December 09, 2005

X-Wing

The last of the novels occuring between "Return of the Jedi" and Zahn's Thrawn trilogy is a series of books written by either Michael Stackpole or Aaron Allston, depending on which book you are reading. The first seven books of the series make a kind of cohesive, continuous story, but there are a few more that have been added on later in the timeline. I'll just talk about the first seven books here. They start with "Rogue Squadron" by Stackpole and end with "Solo Command" by Allston.

There are two major positives this series has going for it. First, there is a lot of strategy, tactics and combat. Not a whole lot of time is spent on deep, personal stories, which pulp fiction like this is almost always embarrassingly bad at, throwing around stereotypes like crazy. Instead, the Rogue Squadron (later evolving into Wraith Squadron), a group of a dozen or so X-wings led by Wedge Antilles (who acts mostly as a rear admiral instead of a fighter pilot), is sort of an elite commando force sent on dangerous missions against overwhelming odds, etc.

You put a dozen of these X-wings in a battle against about 50 tie fighters, and about half the ties will get blown up before running away and maybe one X-wing clipped. They only get shot down if there is some kind of surprise attack or some other form of dirty pool. Ok, fine, I can get past that. That's part of the elite mercenary/commando genre, not limited to Star Wars.

Hell, even Cook's "The Black Company" trilogy is guilty of that, though it is a bit of an insult (to Cook) to compare the two series. The cat-and-mouse stuff between the imperial ships and rebel ships is fun, a hint of the best parts of the Thrawn series still to come. The concept of Interdictor ships is big in this series. These are ships are create dead zones that force ships to come out of hyperspace and prevent them from jumping out again.

The second big positive is that the major Star Wars universe characters are rarely to be seen, and the new characters work just fine in their place. And there is the added bonus that you just don't know what is going to happen to them. Every once in a while, someone gets killed off, and it is a bit of a surprise. Also, since they're often dealing with small situations instead of "galaxy hanging in the balance" battles, that means sometimes the Imperials get to win. And you are never quite sure going in what will happen.

The negatives. Outside of the typical negatives I've mentioned above that you'll find with any pulp series (e.g. Star Trek), I would also mention that the compelling villains in this series are few and far between. As anyone who has watched "Die Hard" knows, what makes a good story is not an interesting hero but a cool villain (like Grand Admiral Thrawn), and that is lacking here. Despite the different authors, I found the quality of this series consistent and readable. The only major new character here who has a presence beyond the series is Corran Horn, who has some force ability and so draws attention for that. Horn pops up again in the "New Jedi Order" books.

This series falls pretty much in the meaty middle of quality for the genre. Definitely a step below the work of Zahn or Tyers, but as I review later books, you'll see there's a *lot* further to fall.

Posted by Observer at December 9, 2005 07:55 PM
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