book review, literary critique, literature, nonfiction, review

[review] X-wing: Wraith Squadron (Aaron Allston)

As a fair, broad-minded officer, I should ignore that. But as a Corellian, of course, I’ll manage some sort of revenge.

-Wedge Antilles, p. 6

Lots of people talk about Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy endlessly, but in my opinion, it does other fantastic Star Wars books and novelists a disservice. Out of the X-Wing Series written by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston respectively, I have always enjoyed Allston’s lesser known work, Starfighters of Adumar, the most. However, Allston’s Wraith Squadron trilogy is probably my second favorite set of Star Wars books within the now so-called Star Wars Legend franchise. In this blog, I will go into a detailed review of the first of the Wraith Squadron trilogy which is called Wraith Squadron, covering the plot, the characterization, and a concluding summary on whether you should read it or not. Later on, I hope to post another blog looking more closely at some of the interesting points broached within this lesser known, yet very enjoyable story.

The Plot

Yub, yub, Commander.

-Wes Janson, p. 26

The basic plot of the story revolves around a rag-tag team of X-wing pilot school washouts forming a new multi-talented X-Wing team led by the innovative pilot, Wedge Antilles. Wedge’s idea was to form a commando team first with secondary skills in flying. His success would determine his future path in the military – and Wedge begins to prove the worth of his idea within the first book of the trilogy.

Frankly, I enjoy this kind of a plot – the idea of screw ups climbing a hard path to hero status. Zero to hero is always interesting to me because I have never felt very heroic in my life. Yet, at the same time, Wraith Squadron shows us that the path to healing, self-actualization, and heroism is a rocky path and may result in death or at the very least temporary emotional pain.

I’m the one allergic to bacta. That’s why I’m twenty percent mechanical, and gaining. […] But every human cell longs to become better acquainted with this lady.

-Ton Phanan, p. 57-58

At the same time, the pacing of the story and the humorous beats within the tale provide a well-rounded look at the lives of the pilots. There is pain, yes, but there is laughter as well, which feels realistic to me. Instead of turning into emo, angst-ridden victims, the pilots of Wraith Squadron bring order to their external and internal worlds through various acts of self-sacrifice, self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-healing.

Although there is a kind of call to individual action, another fun part of Wraith Squadron is the building of a community that ends up propping each other up, calling each other out on their bullshit, and correcting less healthy habits amongst each other. In short, Wraith Squadron forms a sort of hilarious family, which provides the basis for a heart-warming tale.

The Characters

“Next, Garik Loran-” He was interrupted as Face stood and took a bow; several of the pilots offered mock applause. Amused, Wedge gestured for him to sit, then continued. “Face is one of our insertion experts, proficient in makeup, speaks several languages other than Basic-”

Face called out, “Don’t forget, master actor.”

Wedge nodded amiably. “And sometimes cook. You’re peeling tubers on kitchen duty tonight. Do you have anything else to add?”

“Uhhh… No, sir.”

-Wedge Antilles and Garik “Face” Loran, p.66

I could go into detail about the characters, but that would spoil a lot of the plot for you. I will however give an overview of where everyone starts off at the beginning of the story in order to pique your interest.

Wedge Antilles – After a successful operation with Rogue Squadron on Thyferra, Wedge has a plan to build a new kind of squadron. Admiral Ackbar, however, has other plans for Wedge – a general’s chair and a seat in a office on Coruscant. Wedge and Ackbar have an informal bet – if Wedge proves the worth of Wraith Squadron, he can remain a pilot. Will his plan succeed?

“…You play sabacc, son?” [Cubber]

“A little. But I’m not very good at it.” [Kell]

Cubber glared. “Do I look stupid? ‘I’m not very good at it,’ indeed. My six-year-old daughter is a better liar.”

“Well, I lie a little, but I’m not very good at it.”

-Kell Tainer and Cubber Dain, p. 72

Wes Janson – Wedge’s right-hand man and rapscallion. Full of humour and also a past of regrets, Janson has to overcome difficult when faced with a shadow from his past.

Jesmin Ackbar – As Admiral Ackbar’s niece, Jesmin has found it difficult to be placed in danger’s way as many of her superior officers rather her sit on the sidelines far from harm. Jesmin joins Wraith Squadron to prove her worth, even at the risk of her life.

“…So, what do you do around here for entertainment?” [Han Solo]

“Nothing.” Wedge kept his face straight. “There are no women assigned to Folor Base. Because of the general’s philosophical beliefs, there’s no alcohol, no gambling, and we can’t watch broadcasts from Commenor. This has led to a rather high suicide rate, but there’s no getting around that. We do have some holorecordings of Coruscant diplomatic functions, if you’d like to see them.”

Han wore an expression of growing horror, then it became pure outrage. He pointed a finger at Wedge as though it were a blaster barrel. “You- you-”

Wedge grinned. “I had you going. You believed every painful world. Come on, I’ll introduce you to General Crespin, and then to DownTime, which has the moon’s greatest supply of Corellian brandy. We’ll see if we can put a dent in it.”

“I should never listen to you.”

“No, you shouldn’t.”

“Even Leia finally realized that you’re a liar.”

“Well, she’s right.”

“She always is. But if you ever tell her I said that-”

“I’ll be vaped for sure. I know.”

-Han Solo and Wedge Antilles, p. 75

Hohass “Runt” Ekwesh – An alien with multiple personalities that barely remains controlled, Runt’s dreams of becoming a pilot are threatened. If he can learn to control his minds, he can prove himself in Wraith Squadron…

Garik “Face” Loran – Ex-Imperial actor Face has to overcome prejudice as many officers in the Rebellion either do not take him or his commitment seriously – or hold his past life acting in pro-Empire holograms against him. Face has to prove his stripes to remain in the starfighter corps.

If you want to go by numbers and survivability, of course, there’s only one pilot who has survived two Death Star runs. From that perspective, Wedge Antilles is the best pilot ever.

-Wes Janson, p. 89

Ton Phanan – Due to his severe allergies to bacta, Ton Phanan is a walking liability for the Rebellion starfighter corps. Rapidly losing his body to cyborg enhancements, Ton struggles to prove his worth beyond his medical skills as a doctor.

Falynn Sandskimmer – Falynn, a native of Tatooine is sick and tired of being compared to Luke Skywalker – and she will tell you so! Her aggressive attitude and negativity to a well-known Republic hero puts her in the hot seat. Wraith Squadron is her chance to prove her personal worth.

Voort “Piggy” saBinring – Unlike the rest of the Gamorrean species, Piggy is the only Gamorrean with intelligence. Even more so, Piggy is in fact super-intelligent having been enhanced in secret Empire-run laboratories. Now, as part of the Republic, Piggy has to show that he is not the aggressive meathead officers would have others believe. What will he bring to the Wraiths?

The supply officer’s arrival was heralded by a set of rhythmic squeaks.

“We’re in trouble,” Kell said.

Squeaky, DownTime’s 3PO server, walked in and up to the speakers podium. He turned to the pilots. “Let me begin by saying that I am delighted to bring my years of experience to this novice squadron. I expect that my skill will keep some of you alive.”

Phanan whispered, “Inevitably, some of us will prefer to die.”

-Squeaky, Kell Tainer, and Ton Phanan, p. 95

Tyria Sarkin – With weak Force abilities and a tragic past as a Toprawa survivor, Tyria struggles with confidence. She feels as though she will never become a good pilot OR great at the Force. Wraith Squadron is her last chance to improve and achieve her dreams of bringing down the tyranny of the Empire.

Kell Tainer – Kell’s father was shot down due to a cowardly act – and Kell has always carried memories of hate for the man who did so. Even worse, Kell himself struggles with taking responsibility for his failures and over-focusing on those failures when they arise. In Wraith Squadron, will Kell be able to become the leader he could be?

Lieutenant Myn Donos – After losing his entire X-Wing team in a horrific strafing incident, Donos is in deep shock and can barely keep himself together. Wraith Squadron might be his last shot at flying X-Wings for the Republic. The question is whether his deep scars will ever truly heal and allow him to move on to fight another day.

“Commander, this is Five. Shouldn’t we be up there, engaging them, slowing them down so the transports can launch?”

“That’s a negative, Five.”

“But they’re going to arrive and pound their target flat!”

“That could well be, Five.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.”

“That’s affirmative, Five.”

-Wedge Antilles and Kell Tainer, p. 100

These are just a few of the really cool characters in the book. Other fun characters pop up – Squeaky, Grinder, Cubber Daine, the R5 and R2 units, Hobbie Klivian – as well as mysterious characters such as Gara Petothel.

Each character mentioned above goes on a journey – and some of the journeys are funny, some are heart-warming, and some are tragic.

“[…] I’m having a hard time anticipating them.” (Wedge)

“Hey, you picked them.” (Wes)

“I-I picked them? What were you doing during those pilot interviews?”

“Daydreaming.”

“Traitor.”

-Wedge Antilles and Wes Janson, p. 124

The Writing

As stated before, although many people think of Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole when they recall the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, Aaron Allston does a great job writing the X-Wing Squadron series. The Wraith Squadron trilogy and his even more humorous book, Starfighters of Adumar (which I will review at a later time), will provide a great time for most Star Wars fans.

“The chrono’s running, gentlemen. Do it. And may the Force be with you. You need it.”

Face said, “I have some Force here in my pocket. Kell, Cubber, you can have it if you need it. Oops, no, it’s gone. Maybe it’s in my cargo.”

“Eight?”

“Yes, Leader?”

“Be quiet.”

-Wedge Antilles and Garik “Face” Loran, p. 137

His style, easy to follow in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure, can be enjoyed by any Grade 9 student or above. With a solid editing team at his back, Allston’s work remains error free and simple to understand – which is a plus when it comes to unravelling what is going on in space battle scenes.

Furthermore, his technique of mixing drama with humor allows for a nice blend of heartwarming, hilarious plot lines alongside other more deep commentaries on human suffering and sacrifice. Whether pranks are being pulled or whether Wedge Antilles is writing a letter of condolence to the family of a pilot he has lost, I find myself laughing or getting teary throughout the entire trilogy.

Kell whistled. “Well, unless we get a better idea, Piggy, I think you’re our man.”

“Your Gamorrean.”

-Kell Tainer and Voort “Piggy” saBinring, p.139

Another important thing to note about Allston’s writing techniques are his solid dialogue scenes, where people sound like real people (not like bad acting) both internally and externally. I have to say that when it comes to my own writing Aaron Allston is one of the two writers I copied in terms of voice when it comes to writing dialogue because I found his flow to be very natural and fun to read.

Face nodded, a head-bobbing motion more suited to a carrion bird than to a man. Wedge duplicated the motion. A moment later, Donos caught on and did the same. The official looked between them as if mesmerized.

“I’m Dod,” Face said. He jerked his thumb at Wedge. “This is my brother Fod. Also from Agamar.” He gestured at Donos the same way. “This is my brother Lod.”

“Also from Agamar.”

“Oyah. That’s right. You’re pretty sharp for a city man.”

-Garik “Face” Loran and Official, p. 271

Read On!

In summary, I highly recommend Wraith Squadron for any Star Wars fan, especially those who feel that they would enjoy a non-Jedi-focused book. This book is about “ordinary” people, who are viewed as losers and washouts, finding within themselves the resources to overcome their internal and external conflicts in order to save each other and the New Republic.

Well-written with a humorous yet drama-filled plot, Wraith Squadron is a great way to enjoy Star Wars, learn something new about the universe, and also wrestle with the ways we can also maximize our own potential.

“We’ve now stolen a Corellian corvette and two TIE fighters. That’s good, but it’s not enough. I think we should steal at least one of every type of ship in use by the Imperial Navy or the warlords.”

Wedge smiled. “Ending with a certain Super Star Destroyer called Iron Fist?”

“That would round out the collection, don’t you think?”

-Wedge Antilles and Wes Janson, p. 313

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