A Long Time Ago: X-Wing: Solo Command by Aaron Allston

Solo Command: it’s the novel that fans of the X-Wing novels couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into. After all, who could pass up the opportunity to see Han Solo, the man with all the capabilities of command but none of its desires, in control of an actual military situation?

Return of the Jedi threw Lando Calrissian and Han Solo into positions of command that seemed completely senseless for a pair of independent pilots who had finally decided to sign on for a single mission with the Rebel Alliance. The Expanded Universe would occasionally shine some light on this, by simply throwing these characters into positions where they never commanded anything but wouldn’t have been there without their flags (such as Dark Empire), and occasionally treated them as simply symbolic ranks, something to be quickly resigned and recalled only when it was time for the author to summon them back. It wasn’t until Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor that Lando Calrissian really had a chance to shine as a general of the New Republic. Thanks to Aaron Allston, Han Solo got that opportunity much earlier in Iron Fist and Solo Command.

X-Wing: Solo Command carries on the story from the ending of Iron Fist. Like its predecessor, Solo Command starts off with a briefing and a new pilot, in this case Devaronian Elassar Targon. Unlike its counterpart in Iron Fist, this meeting does not bring the squadron up to full fighting strength, nor are there any members just waiting to be drawn into the unit this time. What this means for the story is that we don’t have to deal with chapters of unfamiliar characters and that there is little or no need for dozens of pages of character development (Elassar himself is fairly one-dimensional and his career is a blank slate, what with Wraith Squadron being his first assignment). What this means for the characters is that Wraith Squadron is destined to a support role in this novel, acting only alongside Rogue, Polearm and other squadrons until Han Solo’s command.

It’s this latter point, more than you might expect, that really sets the tone for this novel. As the end of Aaron Allston’s first Star Wars trilogy, it’s a very different novel. Rather than focusing on a particular mission with the squadron, Solo Command is about Wedge Antilles- and to a lesser extent, Han Solo- and his leadership.

Really, Dual Command– hell, even Iron Fist– would have been a better title for this. Weighing all the elements, the only reason Solo Command is the title is because this book has the most of Han and Chewie… being Han and Chewie. Don’t get me wrong, Han shows himself as a great general, but he’s not near as in charge here as he was in Iron Fist. More and more, he’s relying on plans made by Wedge- whom he treats as an equal, which is fitting for a number of reasons- and by his squadrons. Wedge even acts as the marshal for a fleet of twenty four snubfighter squadrons- that’s a General if I’ve ever seen one! While the last book included the squadron getting used to operating under Solo’s command, this book is about their mission to destroy the Iron Fist.

As the last book in the series, there were a handful of loose ends that absolutely needed to be tied up here. Who will Wraith Leader be when Wedge returns to Rogue Squadron? What personality- and loyalty- will Gara Petothal/Lara Notsil end up with? Will her dual identities be exposed to Wraith Squadron, and if so, what will be the reactions of Myn Donos, survivor of Talon Squadron, and the rest of the Wraiths? Who will win, Zsinj or Solo? And this one, a plot set up over the past two novels specifically for the last book: why is Soontir Fel, Imperial Baron, former Rogue and brother in law to Wedge Antilles, working for Warlord Zsinj?

All of these are resolved, although perhaps not in the best way. Gara/Lara doesn’t seem any closer to sanity than she was in Iron Fist– if anything, she’s worse- and child stars-turned-starfighter pilots seem to be popping out of the woodwork lately, but at least these issues aren’t left open. Then again, just as the “Zsinj or Solo” plot comes to a head, the climax is ripped apart by a scheme of Zsinj’s from Iron Fist.  What function does this serve? That of a giant commercial for The Courtship of Princess Leia.

It’s hard to put in words just how frustrating this is to a long-time reader of X-Wing. You’ve followed these characters around, some for three novels, some for more (all of the surviving Rogues have at least a speaking part in Solo Command), watched their battles with Zsinj, seen battles that just barely failed to pay off with the death of this tyrant, and then you get to the final page, informing you that in order to see the next part in “Han Solo and Warlord Zsinj”’s story (no mention of Antilles or any of the Rogues), you must buy The Courtship of Princess Leia. Doubtless this was a command from Sue Rostoni or her Bantam Spectra counterpart at the time, but still, this really stings the ending of an otherwise epic novel. There’s nothing like getting really engrossed in a novel, getting to the climax, and being told to buy something barely related to reach the end. Yes, Courtship and X-Wing are both Star Wars, but it’s like being told to wait until Caravan of Courage to find out how the battle between the Ewoks, Han, Leia and Chewie, and the 501st turned out. Most people aren’t going to buy the vastly differing product just for that, and the few that do are going to be disappointed at best and enraged at worst. You know what, I take that back; that should have been the Holiday Special, not Caravan, because Courtship of Princess Leia and its hasty depiction of Zsinj was published five years before Solo Command. This does add an air of art to Allston’s depiction of Zsinj, matching everything said in Courtship in a way that makes it seem the inspiration for the elder novel, but it doesn’t do all that much for someone who wants to see Wraith Squadron put a blaster through the corpulent warlord. What’s worse is the reference to “Rancor Base and the Force-witches” and “weapons the Rebels and the Empire can’t cope with”, which ties Courtship in with this novel about as much as half of the X-Wing novels foreshadow their sequels.

Like the other Wraith Squadron novels, character is the primary focus here. Thanks to the loose ends I alluded to earlier, Gara/Lara continues to receive characterization, while Myn Donos finally gets some POV chapters and becomes a character in his own right. There’s no real main character here, though- maybe Gara/Lara, but even she doesn’t have as much solo screentime as she did in Iron Fist. This is an everybody novel.

I guess right around here I need to figure out why it is that I consider The Bacta War unnecessarily cameo-riddled, while I consider this a novel about everybody. In Bacta War, characters from outside the series literally come in the novel, somebody makes a reference about either not knowing where they came from or not knowing them beforehand, and then they take the backseat to the next appearance. In Solo Command, on the other hand, many of the cameos are from within the X-Wing series, even though the Rogues have barely been mentioned by name in the past two books- and they’re treated as though they’ve always been there. Even for somebody who picked the series up with Wraith Squadron, the writing style lends itself more to the idea of giving an identity to the extras that have always been present in the story. And then taking them out for a beer. What, you didn’t know that Captain Kirk and Yeomon Redshirt actually bonded once over a cup of hot chocolate and their love for fine alien hips?

Oh, and when Tycho Celchu is forced to eject, Corran Horn takes over as Rogue Commander. Which means that Hobbie Klivian played no role in this trilogy, and it would have been better for the novels of the Expanded Universe if he had *cough* canonically died in the Empire Strikes Back novelization.

Warlord Zsinj and General Melvar function together as another of these characters, rounding out the novel and giving it a false sense of finality. This gives you a bit of an inside look at the Warlord’s strategies and mindset and raises the stakes for readers. My only objection here is that while Zsinj is described in outside sources as appearing differently to everybody, he behaves in only two ways: as a very businesslike and successful leader, with some sophistication and a ruthless streak as broad as his torso, and in fits of rage that involve him destroying his office without surprising anybody and screaming profanities in 60 languages. The latter tantrum was an act, but it still accurately portrayed his personality. So where’s the deception?

Of course, I left out one or two important character developments. That’s because, what with this being a book about the Wraiths, I’m contractually obligated to devote a paragraph or two to the comedy. No, seriously. If I left this paragraph out, Kirr would start asking me why I’m treating this review as if the book has no plot.

As always, it is hilarious to see the Wraiths grow as a squadron by nature of their unique personalities. Face learns what it’s like to be a fair leader as he tries to brief two elite squadrons on his plan, which is improved upon after every sentence. By the time the mission executes, he states, “you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for her to say yes,” a line followed by another pilot by quiet mumbles that I like to imagine were “that’s what she said”.

But the actions of the regular Rogues are nothing compared to the pranks pulled by Wedge Antilles. I won’t spoil you on the punchline of this gag, but suffice it to say it involves a naked Wraith running into a crowded room in pursuit of an Ewok and you’re on the right track. The original Lieutenant Ketsch- the stuffed one- doesn’t return, although he is explained, but we have potentially not one, but two live action replacements for him. I’d have to check with the witnesses, but I’m not sure if it was mentioned if these Ewoks blink or not.

Solo Command is one of the most epic military science fiction novels I’ve read. I’m not sure that it can be called space opera only because it lacks any sense of standard main characters, but this is not a drawback in the context of the story. What is a drawback is the way that I’m forced to feel sorry for any and all souls who go into this novel expecting it to be the epic ending to an excellent trilogy without having first read The Courtship of Princess Leia, because those are the souls that will be staring at the last page of this novel mouthing words while the novel grins back at them. Therefore, I recommend this novel to fans, with a vague yet strong warning.

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