Aaron Allston’s first foray into the Expanded Universe was akin to Dick Grayson’s first time putting on the Batsuit- it was a man filling shoes that most would deem unfillable, taking something rather close to perfection of art in a new direction. How well did this gamble succeed?
In the thirteen years since Wraith Squadron, Aaron Allston has become the most prolific author of adult novels in Star Wars history (kudos to Lightsaber Rattling for doing the math). Most of his success came based off one thing: the Wraith Squadron trilogy that brought the X-Wing novel era to a close. Based only on the first novel, let’s see if Allston’s future success is merited.
X-Wing: Wraith Squadron picks up where The Bacta War left off. This could be a huge downer, right there. The Bacta War was nothing if not an epic finale; if anything, any sequel should revolve around the possible survival of Ysanne Isard. Of course, they wouldn’t do that…
Anyway, the opening focuses on Wedge Antilles as he competes with the new leader of Rogue Squadron: Hobbie Klivian from the X-Wing comics, whom I personally know only from his cameo in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Immediately, the scene infuses the novel with the humor of Aaron Allston. Allston’s humor is the biggest change of writing style between his and Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing novels, keeping the breaks in the action fairly frequent and usually using them as a way to help define the characters or to let us relax between momentous events, much in the way that similar scenes were used in the Star Wars trilogy of films. Personally, I find much of this unnecessary, but unnecessary in a way that it can’t hurt the novel.
An example of this is the opening scene. It’s a very cut and dry affair: Rogue Squadron is returning, being hailed as heroes, while the acting Rogue Squadron welcomes them back. Wedge Antilles then has a conversation with the acting Commander and Assistant, both of whom are former Rogues, and assumes command of the squadron. Thanks to Aaron Allston’s writing, this becomes a competition in parade flying formations, creating a playful atmosphere between Antilles and Klivian, while simultaneously showing us the level of skill these pilots possess. Allston is definitely not a fan of playing these scenes straight, but the comedy in Wraith Squadron isn’t so out of proportion as to take you out of the novel; it all comes across as believable and like it has a purpose for being there.
Once the squadrons land and are settled out, Wedge Antilles is quick to go to Admiral Ackbar with a new idea: basically, the idea that the new Rogue Squadron was founded upon (Ackbar himself even says as much) except taken up a degree of magnitude. Instead of Maverick, Wedge wants to form a squadron of Rambo They still fly, but they’re pilots like Tyria Sarkin, who was in danger of bring drummed out. The focus is on personalities such as Kell Tainer, whose specialty is demolitions and repairs, Grinder, the Bothan Slicer, and Ton Phanan, a Hobbie knockoff and former doctor with a bent for killing and bad comedy.
To add to the… what, comedic potential? Unique character possibilities? Allst- I mean, Antilles, puts the squadron together only from those applicants whose careers are on their last legs. If your history looks like any commander in his right mind wouldn’t want you on their squadron, you’re a candidate for Rogue Squadron. Nobody who survived two Death Star runs is in his right mind, after all. Just look at what they’ve done with Luke. I enjoyed Admiral Ackbar and Wedge’s discussion of the matter, an exchange which portrays the comedic style in this novel perfectly:
“You’re more likely to get a proton torpedo up your engines than you are to get a functional squadron out of such pilots. The torpedo might be launched accidentally… but that’s no comfort to a widow.”
“Problem solved. I’m not married.”
In spite of this never quite explained, possibly unnecessary development, it does its job. All of these characters are fully fleshed out in a way that Rogue Squadron didn’t dare. Sure, Grinder could have more of a history, but when you compare him to Peshk Vri’syk, he had a ton of characterization. Despite other similarities I could mention.
Which reminds me, Grinder, your red shirt came back from the cleaners.
Allston is no shyer about killing off Wraiths than Stackpole was about killing off Rogues, but he’s far less shy when it comes to getting to know them. This isn’t a criticism of Stackpole’s work- the first three X-Wing novels, at least, were well done in this department. This is more about the epic task of handling a novel with an even dozen main characters (no Mirax analog outside of the squadron here, though there is a mechanic and a protocol droid) and how Allston was able to pull it off extremely well.
The weak point in Wraith Squadron‘s character writing would have to be the relationships. They’re not as abrupt and jarring as, say, Luke Skywalker’s proposal to Mara Jade in Vision of the Future, but they’re not as believable as, say, Corran Horn’s relationship with Mirax Terrik. They pretty much come out of nowhere. I expect this, by the way, from everything except for my Star Wars. That’s right, Star Wars is my golden standard when it comes to well written romance, and Wraith Squadron does not live up to that golden standard.
It’s not the worst romance I’ll be reviewing in 2011, though.
Wraith Squadron is the Bantam novel I probably hear the most praise for, outside of Heir to the Empire, and it’s easy to see why. It has all of the benefits of the epic X-Wing series, with some of the technicals toned down and replaced with a lighter, more accessible sense of humor that makes it easier for less anti-social readers to pick up and stick with. I would recommend this to everybody who can stand reading a Star Wars novel that doesn’t feature swinging lightsabers, the same audience I would recommend the Rogue Squadron books to- but I also think this book is more accessible to more people within that audience.
- A Long Time Ago: X-Wing: The Bacta War by Michael Stackpole (mibreviews.com)
- Spoiler Free: FOTJ: Conviction by Aaron Allston (mibreviews.com)
- A Long Time Ago: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael Stackpole (mibreviews.com)
- A Long Time Ago: X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael Stackpole (mibreviews.com)