Lest you think I’ve been slacking in my reading, I’m here to report in on the completion of my latest, stress-free summer assignment.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been tearing through Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron collection. The three volume collection tells the story of the Rebellion’s bravest warriors as they fight to systematically take the galaxy back from the shattered remnants of the Empire following the events of Return of the Jedi.
There were two things I loved in particular about the X-Wing collection. First is the amount of collaboration. Numerous artists worked to bring the Rogues’ stories to life on the page, and their differing styles provide a fun contrast from story arc to story arc. I preferred some to others; Allen Nunis’ work was a bit too old-school Marvel for my taste, while I found John Nadeau’s work utterly inspired. The common thread holding these stories together is Michael Stackpole’s writing, which only gets deeper, richer, and better as the series goes on. My only reservation is with the rather abrupt end to the series, a decision that I imagine was out of Stackpole’s control.
The second thing that I loved about the X-Wing collection is that it shows how easy and wonderful it is to play around in the world of Star Wars without using the established main characters from the films. The focus of these stories is Wedge Antilles and his entirely original comrades-in-arms. These characters are as fully-realized, lovable, and fascinating as their canonical counterparts. Stackpole gives them strong personalities, complex histories, and conflicting viewpoints that add to the already high stakes drama of a galaxy still very much at war. He also crafts romances between squadmates with half the effort and twice the resonance as George Lucas does between characters in the films. My recommendation to those running the Lucas Empire is that instead of muddying up an already crowded chronology with the cartoon Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network, start adapting the X-Wing series for television. I’m talking a live-action, hour-long, weekly enterprise here. New, non-established characters means new, non-established faces, and between the creature work on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the CGI work on shows like Battlestar Galactica, the means from bringing this tale to life on the small screen are well within your grasp.
Highlights of the collection include the “Warrior Princess” arc, in which Rogue Squadron’s hard-hearted Plourr is forced to confront her past and hidden heritage, and “The Phantom Affair” arc, which makes interesting parallels between its villains and those who, in our world, deny that tragedies like the Holocaust ever truly happened. Yet the crown jewel of the collection is the near-entirety of Volume 3, which chronicles the Rogues’ confrontation and eventual partnership with the Empire’s deadliest fighter pilot, Baron Soontir Fel. Every Star Wars author has their favorite creations, and Fel is easily Stackpole’s most cherished. Fel is the most complicated and intriguing character in the entire collection, a man who realizes all too late that the masters he serves do not truly espouse the order and stability he believes in. His uneasy tenure with Rogue Squadron makes for some great personal drama, and his devotion to and never-ending search for his fugitive wife, Syal (who, in true Star Wars fashion, turns out to be Wedge’s sister), is as effortless a science-fiction romance as Penny and Desmond’s on Lost. Given the prominence within the advancing Star Wars universe of the Baron’s son, Jagged (the future ruler of a resurgent, remodeled Empire, and very likely the future son-in-law of Han and Leia), it was a real treat to learn the history of the man behind one of the next generation’s leading heroes.
Other great characters in the collection include cocky, competitive buddies Wes and Hobbie; the sultry silver-haired spy, Winter; music snob Dllr Nep; the innocently flirtatious Ibtisam; and hotheaded Nrin. The villains of the series stand on equal footing with the heroes. General Weir and Loka Hask embody all the extreme cruelty of the Empire in practice, while Captain Semtin and Moff Tavira showcase its corruption and greed. One of the most interesting baddies is Palpatine’s former vizier, Sate Pestage, who demonstrates that he learned well at the Emperor’s side, constantly playing individuals off of each other in a desperate attempt to survive.
Yet the biggest and baddest of all the Rogues’ enemies proves to be a woman. Surprising only because of the Empire’s established and institutionalized sexism, the ferocious machinations of Intelligence Director Ysanne Isard not only nearly shatter the Rebellion, but they quickly place her within reach of the Empire’s vacant throne. Her methods are nuanced yet merciless, and even if she never fights the Rogues face to face, her menace is felt across the gulf of space from Coruscant to the Outer Rim–the sign of a truly great villain.
I recommend this collection for the Star Wars fans out there. It’s a bit more accessible than the Tales of the Jedi collection, and is far better than either The Stark Hyperspace War or Mara Jade. X-Wing Rogue Squadron is action-packed, expertly assembled, thoroughly engrossing, and just damn fun to read.